Tokyo in Abstract – Painting with Light. Interview with Rob Tilley.  

Tokyo in Abstract – Painting with Light. Interview with Rob Tilley.  

“I was trying to capture the hustle and bustle that you can experience when visiting Tokyo as well as the image of a city that never sleeps.” The world’s largest city has been photographed endless times, but not like Rob Tilley.

Starting out as a college yearbook photographer and then working in finance for over 20 years, Rob Tilley has led his own business in fine art photography specialising in culture, nature and people. Now with 15 years under his belt as a professional photographer, he has established himself in the industry. Throughout his time living in Tokyo, Tilley captured the metropole and its iconic street lights with his own twist. 

For our month-long Colour, Candid and The Street series, IMAGO dug up some unique shots of Tokyo’s streets and spoke to Tilley from our partner Danita Delimont agency, to find out his relationship to the city and how he managed to capture his abstracted photos. 

imago/Danita Delimont
IMAGO / Danita Delimont / Rob Tilley | Tokyo, Japan.

Looking at your photos from Tokyo, what brought you there, and what interested you most about the city as a photographer? 

I lived in Tokyo for almost 15 years so it was natural for me to turn my lens towards Tokyo both while living there and also when I returned to visit. Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world and like many other large cities, it has a hustle and bustle that one does not find in smaller cities. When photographing Tokyo I tried to capture the energy of the city. I also strive to capture a sense of place in my images.

 

Your night shots seem almost like an abstract digital painting. While this long-exposure method is very common in street photography, you took it to another level. Can you tell me more about your whole journey and process for these photos? 

Tokyo is also a city that never sleeps so I wanted to capture that aspect of the city as well. It is known for its amazing neon lights so I spent many hours capturing them. Many of my photos use a technique called zoom blur. Basically I zoom in while the shutter is open. This creates a sense of motion which I think gives a feeling of Tokyo’s high energy.

imago/Danita Delimont
IMAGO / Danita Delimont / Rob Tilley | Tokyo, Japan.

To follow that up, can you tell me more about your photographic method on a technical level when taking these shots? 

For my zoom blurs I always use a tripod and set my camera for a multi-second exposure, often the exposure can be as long as 15-30 seconds. When I open the shutter I leave the zoom in place for a second or two and then start slowly zooming in. I like to finish the zoom so that the lens is fixed at the end for a second or two also. This technique produces 2 sharp images both before and after I zoom with streaks of light while I am zooming in. If there is some traffic in the scene the long exposure will also create some motion blur of the moving traffic.

 

Can you tell us a bit more about your day-to-day work as a photographer? What sort of subjects interest you the most? 

In my photography I am always trying to photograph the beauty of our world often in places that are often overlooked. I shoot many different subjects including nature landscapes, nature up close, abstract images, architecture and of course cityscapes. 

imago/Danita Delimont
IMAGO / Danita Delimont / Rob Tilley | Tokyo, Japan.
imago/Danita Delimont
IMAGO / Danita Delimont / Rob Tilley | Tokyo, Japan.
imago/Danita Delimont
IMAGO / Danita Delimont / Rob Tilley | Tokyo, Japan.
imago/Danita Delimont
IMAGO / Danita Delimont / Rob Tilley | Tokyo, Japan.
imago/Danita Delimont
IMAGO / Danita Delimont / Rob Tilley | Tokyo, Japan.
imago/Danita Delimont
IMAGO / Danita Delimont / Rob Tilley | Tokyo, Japan.
imago/Danita Delimont
IMAGO / Danita Delimont / Rob Tilley | Tokyo, Japan.
Other recent articles on street photography include:
Photography in the streets of Hefei, China. Interview with Liu Tao and “To stand up and tell your story is an act of power, strength, and courage.” – Gulnara Samoilova on Street Photography. 
All photos by Rob Tilley. Article & image selection by Sofia Bergmann. Part of this month’s Colour, Candid & The Street series. 

Related Articles

GOAL CLICK presents: Storytellers.
FANSided

GOAL CLICK presents: Storytellers.

Each of the following collections was created on film, capturing real fans, clubs, places and cultures. Our friends at Goal Click feature some of their international photo-stories from fans perspectives, giving us a glimpse into their teams, communities and fan culture.