It can be hard to know where to begin when finding the best photography spots in Tokyo. There is certainly no shortage, and deciding which are the best photography locations can be a challenge, especially if you’re short on time. Based on our time in Tokyo we’ve put together this article which contains our favourites. This will ensure that you can make the most of your time in Tokyo and come away with both memories and photos that will last a lifetime.
Getting around Tokyo
To make the most of your time in Toyko and to get to as many good spots as possible it’s important to get around efficiently. There are two key aspects to this, planning and the extensive network of overground and underground trains.
We would recommend that you ensure you have data on your phone, allowing the use of Google Maps to get around. Google Maps was not only useful for walking directions but also for identifying the best routes by train.
We opted for a Tokyo Combination Ticket one-day pass. This can be purchased at almost all metro stations from a ticket machine. If in doubt, ask around for the correct machine to use, as it can be confusing, especially if it’s your first time.
Photography spots in Tokyo
Sensoji/Sensō-ji (Asakusa Kannon Temple)
Sensō-ji (Asakusa Kannon Temple) is a large Buddhist temple in the Asakusa district and is also the oldest, completed in 645. In terms of temples, it’s a must-visit destination in Tokyo!
The view across the road to the main entrance, Kaminarimon, also includes Tokyo Skytree on the right down Kaminarimon-dori street, the main street.
Between the entrance, Kaminarimon, with its large lantern and Hozomon gate there’s a street lined with shops called Nakamise-dōrito street. Depending on the time of day this could either be closed or bustling with people, both offer unique opportunities for photography.
We were at the temple between 7-8 am, and for me, Nakamise-dōrito Street offered the best views and was where I took my favourite photos. The soft early morning light shone through between gaps in the buildings lighting up the autumn foliage.
Sensoji temple is at the far end, which is the oldest, completed in 645 and built to honour Kannon, the goddess of mercy. From here there are views back towards Hozomon gate and also the Five-storied Pagoda, shown below.
If you’re fine with walking, Sensoji is only around 20 20-minute walk from Tokyo Skytree and offers some great views along the way. Especially walking along the river as shown in the route below.
If the wind is light the reflections in the river of the Skytree can form a nice composition.
We went to the Skytree Tembo deck (350m) which was brilliant providing views over Tokyo from up high. Although it was a little hazy, we could just make out Mt. Fuji in the distance and see the huge expanse of Tokyo sprawling out into the distance. The sheer size of Tokyo impressed me, as it’s difficult to see the size when you are down at street level but far easier from up high on a clear day.
Although the 450m higher Tembo Galleria deck may offer a higher viewing point, however, it can be a challenge in terms of photography as the windows are further away from the railings. This doesn’t allow you to get close, therefore reflections can become near impossible to avoid, especially at night. See the final section on tips for shooting through glass for further information, these tips are also essential for night photography.
There is no time limit at the Skytree observation deck allowing you to make the most of the 360-degree views, searching out for compositions across the city skyline. However, it can get busy so it’s a good idea to leave yourself plenty of time. The last thing you want is to be stuck in a queue waiting to pay your admission fee during an incredible sunset, missing the best view!… we’ve unfortunately personally been there and done that at the Empire State Building in NYC, and wouldn’t wish it on anyone!
What time of day is best to visit the Tokyo Skytree?
This may depend on what you already have planned for the day and evening, for us it made sense to go when it first opened in the morning as we were nearby. Going early in autumn and winter increases your chances of a clear view, as there is typically less haze.
In terms of the optimal time, this would have to be before sunset, to be there while it’s light, during sunset and then as it gets dark when the bright city lights start to light up the streets of Tokyo.
With the direction of the sunset, this can create an orange glow in the sky which allows a perfect silhouette of Mt. Fuji in front of the incredible city of Tokyo.
What camera lens should you take to Tokyo Skytree?
Given the height of Tokyo Skytree and the size of the surrounding city, a zoom lens with the option to go to medium to long focal lengths is preferred. But a wider angle lens option will also come in handy to capture wider scenes. Although I took my Tokina 11-16mm I found I could cover all my shots with the Tamron 16-300mm superzoom lens just fine. When looking at all the photos taken and the focal lengths used they were fairly evenly spread across the 16-300mm focal range, this is proof that a wide range of focal lengths will help you pick out compositions in Tokyo below.
See the chart below showing the number of photos taken by focal length used of the 122 photos taken at Tokyo Skytree with my Tamron 16-300mm superzoom lens. Also my favourite lens for travel photography when paired with the Nikon D7200.
A trip to Tokyo cannot be complete without visiting this hectic crossing! Also known as Shibuya Scramble Crossing, this is known as the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world and is one of the most popular Tokyo photo spots. Many train lines pass through the nearby Shibuya Station making it one of the top three busiest stations in Japan. The pedestrian traffic around Shibuya crossing is a combination of workplace, shopping and of course tourist pedestrian traffic.
There are many different viewpoints to choose from, all providing different angles and vantage points of the crossing. Some are free, and others require an entrance fee. If you want to see a busy crossing then arrive at rush hour, or early afternoon/evening on a weekday.
The best Shibuya crossing photography locations
Mag’s Park Rooftop at Shibuya109
Also known as MAGNET by SHIBUYA109 – Crossing View & Rooftop Lounge MAG8. This is located on the 8th floor and can be found using the escalator and then lift. In 2023 there was an admission fee, but this also included a drink. When we visited it wasn’t too busy, and there was plenty of time to get a few photos and videos of the crossing below.
Note that there is a perspex screen and therefore to avoid reflections in your photos see the section on photography through windows. There are also seating areas so it’s a good place to sit down for a bit.
If you’re looking for something similar to the closed Starbucks. L’Occitane has opened a Cafe on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Here you can purchase drinks and sweet treats to enjoy. However, you may have to queue, and there is no guarantee of a window seat to enjoy the view.
The bridge that connects Shibuya Mark City shopping centre with Shibuya Station’s Toyoko Store. This is shown top left of the photo above is a great spot and is also free. However, as with L’Occitane Cafe, as a viewing point, it’s a lot lower than Mag’s Park rooftop.
Shibuya Sky Observation Deck
This is the highest option and also the most expensive. However, Shibuya Sky also doubles up as one of the best Tokyo photo spots looking over the city, although not as high as the Skytree. The observation deck is a great location as it offers 360-degree views from the 45th and 46th floors.
It’s a great place to see the skyscrapers of Shinjuku with the expanse of green at Yoyogi Park in between. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a clear day you’re also high enough to see Mount Fuji.
When booking you need to decide on a slot, and popular times such as at sunset can sell out fast. Tickets can be booked in advance online. Note that there are restrictions on what’s allowed to be taken, tripods are not allowed. Once up you can spend as much time as you like.
We originally planned to go up Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, however, it was closed for a private event, therefore we went to Tokyo Tower instead. We decided on the main deck which is at 150meters in height.
Arriving at Tokyo Tower just after sunset there was an incredible orange glow across the sky. This is certainly the best time to capture the silhouette of Mt. Fuji.
Photography at Tokyo Tower
As we had been out on our feet since 6.30 am, I didn’t fancy taking my tripod around all day, but arriving at sunset I wish I had brought it with me! If you’re interested, head to travel photography gear for beginners.
As I didn’t have a tripod I had to hold my camera as steady as possible while relying on my lens skirt to block any reflections. This worked well, as demonstrated by the photos below. See the final section of this post for recommendations on photography through glass.
Bright city lights of Tokyo captured after sunset from the main deck of Tokyo Tower at 150m.
Shinjuku is a busy district surrounding the bustling Shinjuku station. If you’ve seen photos of Neon signs and lights in Tokyo there is a high likelihood it was taken here.
Shinjuku train station also has the title of the words busiest railway station. Many of Tokyo’s highest buildings can be found west of the station in the Shinjuku Skyscraper District.
Kabukicho is the largest Japanese red light district and is Northeast of the station. It has a large assortment of bars, restaurants, nightclubs and crazy pachinko parlours (well worth a visit!)
You will also find Golden Gai and Omoide Yokocho (memory lane) together with many large department stores including Isetan, Keio and Takashimaya and electronics stores such as Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camer. We enjoyed browsing these stores, the scale is something we’ve never seen before.
In terms of photography, it’s best to visit Shinjuku at night, and therefore wide aperture lenses are preferred given the low light. Prime lenses with focal lengths in the range of between 35 and 50mm on a crop sensor camera would work well for street photography. Even a wide-angle lens such as 11-16mm would work well given the high-rise buildings and narrow streets around Shinjuku. If you don’t want to carry your camera around, a phone can also work, as shown in the three photos below. Although for me, I wish I had got my camera out.
Imperial Palace & Gardens
The Imperial Palace is the main residence of the Imperial Family, the innermost grounds of the palace are closed to the public. However, the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace are worth exploring, together with the perimeter of the palace grounds.
If you follow the paths outside the grounds you will also reach the iconic Nijubashi Bridge, which is one of the most famous bridges in Tokyo. Although referred to as Nijubashi Bridge, its actual name is Kōkyo Seimon Ishibashi (Imperial Palace Main Gate Stone Bridge). The best places to take shots of this bridge are from this exact location.
The modern buildings’ backdrop against the Japanese black pine trees in the Garden Plaza area in front of the Imperial Palace makes for some great photos.
Other photography destinations in Tokyo
- 25th Floor of Bunkyo Civic Center – Free observation deck
- Omoide Yokocho / memory lane – Worth visiting at night. It started out as a black market in the late 1940s after World War II
- Capturing the cherry blossom – Due to changes in season timing, they can be difficult to plan for, we went during autumn, but it was yet to get cold, therefore the leaves had only turned in places of higher altitude
Top tips for photography through windows without reflections:
As I’ve mentioned throughout many of the destinations, shooting photos through glass or perspex can be common, especially when visiting high-up viewpoints. This can be extremely challenging and trusting if you don’t consider a few important aspects. I’ve provided some of my top tips below to ensure your photography through windows is successful.
- Get as close as possible to the glass. This is especially important for the two following points.
- If you plan on shooting through windows a lot, invest in a lens skirt to prevent reflections/glare from inside. If not, use a black jumper to prevent any reflections around the lens.
- If shooting in low light or at night use a tripod. It’s a must to ensure lower shutter speeds can be used, allowing low ISO and therefore reduced noise. Without a tripod, you will need higher shutter speeds to shoot handheld, and therefore a higher shutter speed and ISO will be required. This is also a key enabler for long exposures taken at night.
- If you have them, use lenses with a wide aperture (low f/stop). These let in more light, enabling more favourable settings for low-noise images in low light. These either come in the form of prime lenses or low-aperture zoom lenses.
In summary, Tokyo has no shortage of locations for photography and we had a great time! This article has covered our best photography spots in Tokyo, most of which we managed to cram into one action-packed itinerary which included Sensoji, Tokyo Skytree, Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo Tower, Shinjuku and Imperial Palace.
Where to next? If you are on a cruise in Japan, check out our 1 day itinerary in Hiroshima!