Photographing teamLab’s Borderless Art Museum
Happy 2019! It’s the first day of the new year and we are wrapping up the last bit of our trip to Japan. Due to the holiday, most places around Tokyo were closed, but we were lucky enough to grab some tickets to teamLab’s Borderless, a digital art museum in Odaiba known for its visual projections and infinity room exhibitions (hence the name “Borderless”).
I’d seen some photos online of the most popular rooms and knew it was going to be tricky to photograph in low light. My mirrorless camera set up is pretty good in low light environments, but I was a bit worried about my iPhone. Thankfully, the Google team recently upped my photography game with their new Pixel 3 which excels in low light conditions, so I brought that along to test out how it compared with my brand new iPhone XS Max.
As soon as you enter the exhibit, everything is pitch black. Unlike the Museum of Ice Cream where you are ushered by guides from room to room after a set amount of time, this museum is a fully immersive and exploratory experience. We spent about 3 hours there, but could have easily stayed for even longer.
We first wandered into the Flower Forest, a room filled with projections of flowers blooming and blowing in the wind around you.
You’re open to walk around and discover the rooms as you please, and some rooms are even a little difficult to find. We wandered into a Light shell & Vortex room that played loud music like we were at a club. Then, the Black Waves room, reminiscent of the famous Japanese waves painting and filled with bean bags to lay down and relax on in the center of the room.
Next, we found my favorite room: Crystal World. Decorated with rows of string lights that hang from ceiling to floor, the only paths in this room are spaces carved out between the dangling lights that constantly change colors and patterns, creating an endless light show as you walk through.
I first captured a few shots with my mirrorless camera…
…and then whipped out the Pixel to test out its ability to process this amount of light. The phone is even able to save photos in raw format — take a look at the JPGs (left) and raw files (right) produced side by side. There is so much more detail capture in the raw format which allows for even more manipulation and editing in post!
As you walk through the exhibition, lights glowing and changing colors, there’s even a constant ethereal instrumental piece playing that makes you feel even more at peace.
The Pixel’s portrait mode also made for some interesting shots! With (left) and without (right) below.
Because it was a holiday today and we didn’t arrive until late afternoon, we thankfully missed most of the lines and it took us only 20 minutes of waiting to enter the most popular exhibit, the Forest of Resonating Lamps. The colors of the lamps change slowly from a deep red to a calm blue, so there’s no guarantee what the room will look like when it’s your turn to enter. Museum guides allow only small groups at a time inside, and once you’re in you have only 90 seconds to take photos and enjoy the exhibition.
Thank goodness for the Pixel 3’s night mode. Look at the difference between the lighting in the shots taken on my iPhone (left) and Pixel (right & below).
The Memory of Topography room reminded me of a field of flowers, but instead of flowers you walked amongst a field of circular plates on stems instead. It’s extremely dark in this room as the lights travel to different areas of the room, changing colors all the while. Below are a few shots we snapped, two of which (on the right) we captured using the Pixel’s night mode.
Our last stop was the tea room located next to the Athletic Forest. For 500 yen, you can select a freshly brewed tea to enjoy in a truly unique interactive experience. I picked the cold brew green tea, and shortly after being seated, a glass bowl was placed in front of me with my tea inside.
As soon as the bowl is placed down, a visual projection of a flower starts to bloom inside. Once the flower blooms and you pick up the bowl for a sip of the tea, the remaining flower projection’s petals blow away, flying from the table in front of you towards the wall and ultimately disappearing. Put the bowl down once again, and another flower will bloom in its place.
As you drink your tea, the refraction from the glass bowl changes and adds even more to the visuals in front of you. This was such a cool and mesmerizing experience to include while visitors can enjoy a refreshing cup of tea!
Overall I was extremely impressed by the museum, especially as a popular location that is frequented by tons of photographers and bloggers. But I was even more impressed and grateful that I had the Pixel 3 to shoot with! My iPhone was totally incapable of coming close to capturing the beauty of the exhibits, and the Pixel was comparable to the shots I was able to shoot on my mirrorless camera.
In the end, I could have spent another few hours wandering around inside, shooting more photos and taking in the immersive experience of both sound and sight. Maybe next time we’ll have time to visit teamLab’s Planets exhibit!