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Street Photography

After many years of shooting all types of images, I have finally decided to concentrate on street photography as my 'niche' subject.

Street photography is most enjoyable but finding the 'art in the image' still remains a challenge.

People and places provide fascinating subjects, especially whilst travelling abroad.

Hopefully my images of today will stand the 'test of time' and prove to be of interest to some folks in the future?


 

 

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - "Street photography is an art photography that features the human condition within public places and does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. The subject of the photograph might be absent of people and can be object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic. The origin of the term 'Street' refers to a time rather than a place, a time when women achieved greater freedom, when workers were rewarded with leisure time and when society left the privacy of their sitting rooms, people engaged with each other and their surroundings more publicly and therein the opportunity for the photographer. Framing and timing are key aspects of the craft, with the aim of creating images at a decisive or poignant moment. Much of what is now widely regarded, stylistically and subjectively, as definitive street photography was made in the era spanning the end of the 19th Century through to the late 1970s; a period which saw the emergence of portable cameras. The advent of digital photography, combined with the exponential growth of photo-sharing via the internet, has greatly expanded an awareness of the genre and its practitioners".

Street photography is one of those excellent hobbies that takes you out and about in the fresh air and there is nothing better than a dedicated camera system to enhance the experience. You can use virtually any type of camera and the size does not seem to matter, I have even seen photographers' on the street with large and heavy 35mm 'full frame' cameras. Then there are photographers' who swear by a 35mm field of view, others who prefer 24mm, 28mm, 50mm and even longer at 450mm but the field of view is dictated by the type of street photography that you want to shoot. It could be close up and personal in the crowd with a wide scene or perhaps slightly further out or even pulling out portrait shots from within a crowd at an even greater distance.


The subject of street photography often arises in photographic discussions and invariably many photographers express the view that they can see no meaning to some of the street images which are seen on the internet.
Some go even further and state that 'street photography' is just a collection of 'snapshots' of people and street locations..........with very little meaning or interest. With aging, these 'snapshot' photographs somehow, just like some 'art' develop a 'historical' acceptance and invoke the emotion of nostalgia in the viewer. Even worse, do young photographers hunger to view 'old' images' of past societies and street scenes and use them as a metaphor to justify their own street photography today?

Lets face it, anyone can purchase a 'point and shoot' digital compact and head of down the street and capture images of people milling about, in coffee shops, pubs, leaning against a lamp post, queuing for a bus, even waiting at the train station but the majority of the shots, with ANY camera, can be just plain boring. I should know, I have taken plenty of street pictures that have absolutely no character to them, no statement, no content.

You can get all strung out by shooting street photography, especially if you attempt to read too much into the 'analysis of street images' by the purists. So just get out there, shoot lots of pictures and keep the ones you like. I can look at any one of my street images and I can remember the location, the street interaction at the time and the moment I pressed the shutter button which is just as important to me as the message (if any) in the image.

 

Edfu - Egypt

Taken with a Canon 5D MK I DSLR Camera + Canon 24-105L IS Zoom Lens


I wish I had taken up photojournalism in the 1960s, its the ideal way to capture the human condition on the street and in many locations across the world. The nearest I can get to it at my age is whilst travelling abroad on holiday which unfortunately has taken a back seat since 2010 due to my commitments at home. There is no doubt that locations are all important but new material to a visiting photographer say in Rome may turn out be old hat for a photographer or a person who resides there. However, I firmly believe that a defined project abroad with set goals is the optimum way to shoot street photography rather than just walking around your town or a city, although that does bring it's own pleasures if the project is defined beforehand and you are shooting a local event like a Mardi Gras or perhaps a rain storm and people with their umbrellas being blown about. Images of an event, something that is stamped in the knowledge of time and captured by your camera is a worthwhile project; not only can it be more interesting but it can become even more interesting in later life, not only to yourself but to a large number of people. I have been cataloguing all my
Street Work from my stock collection using Adobe Lightroom 5.8 software and although there is great deal of rubbish in it - there are a few that are definitely worth keeping.

Then you see images that are simply out of this world, check out this video containing some of the work from
Steve MCurry who has spent more than three decades on the road as a documentary photographer and is the recipient of the Leica Hall of Fame Award for 2011.



 

Matt Stuart is a street photographer who uses a Leica MP (mechanical film camera) - check out the following video and also more information on Hyperfocal Focusing and on Film Photography + The Darkroom

William Klein is a photographer who was born in New York and is ranked as No 25 in the 100th most influential photographers. He is one of a few photographers that still shoots black and white film and he said about his photography, "half of everything I've done is chance" - he talks in this following video about close up street photography.

Please check out the video
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Vivian Maier - "Vivian Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009) was an American amateur street photographer who was born in New York but grew up in France, and after returning to the US, worked for about forty years as a nanny in Chicago. During those years she took about 100,000 photographs, primarily of people and cityscapes most often in Chicago, although she traveled and photographed worldwide"

Check out the following video containing some of Vivian Maier's Street Photography and more information on the official website -  Vivian Maier

Henri Cartier-Bresson
He is reckoned to be the forefather of street and reportage photography and many of today's street photographers have copied his style. There is a great deal more to
Henri Cartier-Bresson's style and body of work than just walking down the street taking pictures with a Leica camera. In his early days he studied music and he did train as an 'artist'. From the very start of his photography he did have an eye for the 'artistic' image and this did influence and accelerate his photographic skills. Martin Munkasci's Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika greatly influenced him as did the 'Surrealists' who helped to channel his photographic direction. I am not totally in 'tune' with the 'Surrealists' who maintained that ordinary photographs contain a wealth of unintended, unpredictable meanings. I think that the image 'Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika' does make an 'artistic' impression and embodies 'human life' within the image which is surely the statement. It was much more than an image that could be defined by the 'Surrealists' and I firmly believe that Cartier-Bresson transcended their perceived photographic ideals............this combination of 'art' with the 'visual statement' within the image is why his images were so successful!

The Ideal Focal Length – It is no coincidence that Henri Cartier-Bresson preferred a 50mm lens on his Leica 35mm ‘Film’ rangefinder camera. Henri was a man that started with art and painted the scene as caught by his eye.

Henri’s 50mm lens produced a true 50mm ‘field of view’ and delivered an image very similar to a scene as seen by the human eye and with minimum distortion. It also provided the ‘optimum’ camera to subject to background distance ratio, depth of field and on subjects (especially the entire body of a person at a reasonable distance away from the camera) he had the ability to create a 3D effect where the person is separated from a blurred (out of focus) background with a creamy smooth bokeh effect! Today’s version of his kit is the Leica M digital ‘full frame’ rangefinder and Leica 50mm f1.4 ASPH Summilux M manual focus lens.

Many photographers have abandoned the 50mm lens on a ‘full frame’ sensor digital camera and prefer the 35mm ‘wider’ lens for their everyday shots. A 35mm focal length lens will provide a wider ‘field of view’ and the scene is further back from the lens but the photographer can still manage to create a 3D and bokeh effect, especially if the lens has excellent image quality when wide open at aperture stop f1.4 or f2. However, the photographer has to take up a position much closer to the subject, especially when capturing the full body of a person and the effect will never quite match the perspective of the 50mm lens.


Henri Cartier-Bresson  -  'The Decisive Moment'
This must be one of the best bits of 'SPIN' in the history of photography! From his book, Images à la sauvette, whose English edition was titled The Decisive Moment this phrase, leapt out - "There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment". Those words originated from the 17th century Cardinal de Retz and Cartier-Bresson used them as part of the keynote text in his book. Henri was reputed to have regretted ever mentioning them. Today, many photographers still conjure up 'grandiose ideas' and write rubbish about the decisive moment..............the academics love the debate!

All photographers have their 'decisive moment' the 'fleeting' opportunity to catch the light on a grand landscape, the smile on a wrinkled face in a portrait, an interaction on the street, in sport or in wildlife photography but that's all it is............the shutter button is pressed, the image is good or bad, other people love it or dislike it.
 

Henri was known for his 'inward analysis' that to be creative in photography you must be quick to seize the moment, that point in time where the scene, the art, the statement are interpreted by the eye and the shot is taken, the image captured. Photography to Henri was a vocation, it would cause him great anxiety when he over indulged and the images did not come. He regarded it as a physical pleasure that stimulated his senses and admitted that it did not take any brains to be a photographer. Henri admits to planning some of his locations and waiting on subjects to enter the scene, he recognised the possibility of 'art' in the shot, whilst he waited for the right moment, the right step and the image he desired. He also accepted that there was no rule, no set limits on the number of shots he would take to achieve one suitable image.

Like many of today's aspiring photographers, Henri often thought he recognised the quality in the scene, he lined up the camera viewfinder, pressed the shutter button but later when he saw the end result of the image in print, he binned it. In this digital age, images are being deleted in their thousands if not millions, great shots in the mind's eye that later turned out to be rubbish. Strange though it may seem, this is a positive analysis of photography!


There is a great DVD which you can purchase on-line. It is an 18 minute 'short film' which was made back in 1973 with samples of his images and narrated by Henri Cartier-Bresson himself. He speaks very good English with an interesting accent and discusses his images and technique - Decisive Moment DVD

Photographer's Block!
Just like a writer with writer's block (that inability to come up with new ideas and exciting material) a photographer can suffer photographer's block. You don't have to be a professional photographer who depends on income to suffer the anxiety, even the enthusiast photographer can succumb to that sense of failure!

Suddenly, photography is no longer stimulating, the enthusiasm is gone and you wonder - why bother - because all you are doing is capturing the same type of material and images, over and over again. Many enthusiast photographers give up at this point and the camera simply becomes a means to capturing those social images of family and friends. Even street photographers with a wealth of material at their disposal can become disillusioned when they lose that 'rush of excitement' from their images. Some photographers might change the camera perhaps the lens, even convert images from colour to monochrome in an effort to raise that sense of achievement with their photography.

Defining the sense of achievement gained from photography is difficult as many enthusiast photographers improve their technique over the years and just like writers the bar level is raised again and again until finally it is material that becomes illusive rather than the ability to take the shot.

A colour image converted to monochrome - 


Staging Photography!
In this ever changing world of photography more and more photographers are being driven to staging their scenes for material effect. Is it new - not on your life, even Henri Cartier-Bresson admitted to staging photographic art in his images.

Is it acceptable to stage your street photography, similar to planned studio work for magazine covers, websites or is it deemed a betrayal of skills, similar to touching up war images with smoke and mirrors to create the effect? Where is the true joy, the buzz, the accomplishment of your skills if you plant a subject in your picture and then marvel at the final result and worse, is it not a betrayal to then accept the praise from an audience that are unaware of the staging.

Suddenly the 'decisive moment' is no longer decisive but then the hunger for acknowledgment in your photography can be the overriding factor. However, staging could be construed as art, taking the ability of the eye to see the picture before it is captured beyond the norm, to planning a scene in the mind's eye. If so, then art in photography can also be expanded beyond the staged scene to post processing and altering the captured digital image to deliver greater depth in the light and shadows to create the desired effect! If art is the statement and it takes many forms, an photographic image that is staged and altered in post processing may have no meaning to some but offer many interpretations to others.
The 'lack of material' effect can be a serious problem for some photographers as Henri Cartier-Bresson knew only too well!
 

Lazise - Lake Garda - Italy

Taken with a Canon 5D MK I DSLR Camera + Canon 24-105L IS Zoom Lens   (Staged Shot)

This staged shot is one of me with my new motorbike, I suppose you could call it is a sort of 'Selfie' and it will probably be the only one. I don't smoke but I felt that the scene required a little more atmosphere rather than just me with my leather jacket, the bike and a brick wall so I borrowed a lighter and a cigarette (I don't smoke) from a man working nearby. It would have been even more atmospheric if my bike had been a black and chromed Triumph Thunderbird Commander, perhaps more 'retro' against the 120 year old brick wall.

The image was captured using my Fujifilm X100s compact which is my favourite street camera (11th September 2014) fitted on a sturdy tripod in 10sec timer mode. The 'RAW' file was post processed using Adobe Lightroom 5.3 software and softened by reducing the clarity by -40. I then popped the sharpness back up using Canon's DPP software on the converted jpeg file for the web.
 

Hermiston - Edinburgh - Scotland

Taken with a Fujifilm X100s Compact Camera + Tripod - 10 sec Timer - No Flash   (Staged Shot)


Planning Subjects + Locations + Making Your Own Luck!

It is very difficult to develop my own style of street photography. Location is all important and I guess that photographers who travel through various countries have a great deal more access to 'diverse' material.  Special events, such as carnivals, parades, great historical events and even wars, often provide a lucrative source for interesting subjects. I never forget that Henri Cartier-Bresson had access to some incredible 'historical moments' in history and documented them in his images with great success. I have reached a stage in my 'street photography' (2011) where I now plan the subjects and the location, just as I do with landscape photography. Sure, whilst I undertake the 'planned project' the odd 'lucky' street shot may jump out in front of me?

Then again, I enjoy street photography, I am not any good at it but I try my best. I always assume that Edinburgh is not as good a location as the hustle and bustle on the streets of New York or perhaps Hong Kong but it's not really the location that is the problem, it is the material that you have to find. Visiting the street once in a blue moon is not the way to achieve the luck, you have to make your luck and get those few images that are great by spending a lot of time on the street and taking those shots! Perhaps location does play an important role as many of what I regard as my best efforts were captured whilst travelling abroad but then strange surroundings often stimulate the senses and you tend to take more pictures.

Working in Monochrome

I have given a great deal of thought to my 'street photography' and I strive to produce an image which is broken down into two distinct areas, the artistic impression of the scene and the statement within the actual photograph as dictated by the content; without either the image seems to have very little meaning! As I move forward, I seem to be working more in monochrome as opposed to colour. I am not sure but monochrome images, just like old black and white movies, seem to promote an artistic statement.
 

Check out this Leica 'Purist' Camera review from The Camera Store -

Street Photographers
Some street photographers are absolutely brilliant at their 'craft' and have honed it into an art form. Their senses have evolved into
the ability to 'see a shot as art'. The finished image is visible in their thoughts, they see the location, the subject material, the statement and they know that this image will be perceived to have an art content already there; whereby post processing or alteration might be minimalistic in it's required application? Now that's what I aspire to achieve with my street photography!

Enzo Penna is an example of my style of street photographer. When you visit his website, let his home page 'slide show' run and also visit his urban collection.

Rui Palha is a street photographer who has some very interesting work on his site. Enlarge his gallery images and then use the right click arrow to move through them. The full size on the screen effect is most excellent, especially his rainy days section which is simplistic yet the art in the photography leaps out............his site is proof that to produce photographic art you do not have to alter the original image. Rui is surely the 21st Century version of Henri Cartier-Bresson and to me, he has improved on the style of Henri and is one of the foremost 'street photographers' of his generation.

I have long followed his work and he is an inspiration to all 'street photographers'. This is a very nice video of some of his 'street' images
and is well worth watching.


Lenses?
Each camera and lens combination can stamp their own quality and offer a different 'lens draw' on the image. This can affect the 'statement' that the photographer is trying to make in the final picture!

Many street photographers like to work in close and capture wider scenes, they invariably use a 35mm lens. Some prefer 50mm as it is nearer the native eyesight, others shoot further away from their subjects at 100mm to draw in the scene and create shallower depths of field for effect and others at 135mm up to 600mm for an even tighter field of view and depth of field control. In virtually all cases, each photographer desires a camera and lens that is unobtrusive, compact, lightweight and fast in its operation.

 

 

There are photographers who like to move around their chosen 'depth of field' in relation to the aperture they are using on the lens by manual adjustment. Either pulling it back from the subject or by pushing it away. This is achieved by noting the depth of field distances using the aperture to distance scale indicators on the lens, and then using the focus ring to move the known distances nearer or further back. Many photographers also use the lens aperture/distance scales for 'hyperfocal' photography. Manual focus lenses are a real pleasure to use in this way as they have aperture/distance scales selected manually on the lens barrel and you can do the same thing with autofocus lenses which also have lens barrel scales by using them in (switched) manual mode.

The choice of camera and lens combination is always driven by a budget which rules the aspirations! Ideally the camera follows the lens, within reason. It is the lens focal range and aperture coupled with the preferred type of street photography that dictates the choice. Prime lenses which are used include those with apertures which are wide f.95, f1.1, f1.4, f2, f2.8, and these are the 'desired choices' for better depth of field control and the ability to isolate a subject as well as working in low light conditions.

Many street photographers use a zoom lens and these days with the advent of compact system cameras a f2.8 aperture can be very compact and lightweight. Some digital compact cameras with their built in zoom lenses are smaller and some even go to f2 wide apertures.

With a budget in mind, many photographers will want to select a lens to go with a 35mm 'full frame' digital sensor camera but if the budget is tight, the alternative camera choices are many - the most popular being digital cameras with APS-C 1.5x crop sensors, Micro 4/3rds 2x crop sensors and down to the smaller compact cameras with even smaller sensors. With all of these cameras the actual lens of choice to match the desired 'FIELD OF VIEW' will be different, for example a 50mm lens on a 'full frame' camera will deliver a 50mm 'field of view' but on a 1.5x crop sensor camera to achieve a 50mm 'field of view' you will require a 33mm lens and on a 2x crop the lens is actually 25mm. The smaller compact cameras vary but usually a modern digital compact with a fixed zoom lens is now supplied with a 'field of view' from 24mm to around 110mm.


Low Light + Night
At wide apertures of f.95, f1.1, f1.4, f2 and with various digital cameras, you can work in dimmer lit conditions and even in the dead of night under street lamps. The shutter speed of the camera can be increased by raising the ISO to around ISO:400 up to ISO:1600 and in some cameras, even higher. At these ISO settings the image noise SHOULD still be manageable and the image quality maintained! A fast shutter speed and wide aperture are essential. This is the main reason street photographers like to work with a 35mm lens at night; 'hand hold' the camera and yet manage with a higher shutter speed against a wide aperture setting to 'freeze' a moving subject. One must be careful in selecting a camera and lens, as very often the wrong camera can be chosen for low light photography whilst the camera noise versus image quality at high ISO cannot deliver. These night images were shot 'hand held' without a flash with the Fujifilm X100S compact camera which sports a 23mm fixed lens (35mm field of view) -

 

 

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Richard Lawrence
Scotland
United Kingdom