Mirrorless cameras have a lot to answer for.. 🙂
It cant have escaped anyones notice that theres a lot of Fuji’s out there these days. A walk through many of London’s best street photography areas and I’m seeing XT’s and X-Pro’s everywhere. A few X100’s (though not many) scattered around, and a few Pen’s too (that new Pen F is awful sexy, I think)…but the street is fast becoming the domain of the ‘X head’…
I have no problem with this. The more the merrier. Photography is truly democratic these days, and along with the selfie obsessed tourist, there is plenty of room for everyone. What I DO have a problem with is crap street photography. A really quick scroll down on a ‘Fuji Street Photography’ facebook group churns out something straight away:
This does nothing. Tells me nothing. Did it challenge the photographer? It can’t have…its very very poor. Sorry dude, it just is. What would you title this? ‘Woman walking past shop with phone’ – right. Other than a nice skirt, there is nothing here – no story, no composition to speak of, not even a decent edit – and it clarifies my point. This got 20 likes. So, because it was shot on the street, does this really qualify as street photography? Well, yeah, it kinda does I guess…doesn’t make it authentic though, does it?
(AND ITS STAMPED!!! who’s going to steal it, really…)
You see, with so many ‘street photographers’ out there now, it stands to reason that there is a LOT of shit street photography too. The above example is fairly typical – its a safe shot. And when you shoot safe, you normally get something unmemorable and well…dull. Robert Capa was SPOT ON. If your shots aren’t good enough, its because you’re not close enough…
That shot was not good enough.
Take this example, from London based street shooter Becky Frances:
Obviously not shot in London, but an example of great street photography. (Incidentally, Becky doesn’t shoot with a Fuji, I believe she’s an Olympus and Canon shooter) Why? It tells a story…and to me, that is of paramount importance. Here we have a woman of religion walking towards a ornate building, ignoring two other women in need. BOOM! A story…a picture that tells me something. And its terrific. Nice one, Becky.
Spotting opportunities comes with practice.Believe me, I was taking utterly banal shots like the colour shot above too. We have ALL been there. When asked what makes a dull street shooter into a ‘street photographer’, I have a few answers:
- Very Very 1st answer – SHOOT EVERY DAY. Practice Practice Practice. Pack your camera next to your lunch before you leave the house. Its true, great opportunities find you if you shoot often enough. Some of my favourite shots have been taken on the short journey to (or from) work, or in my lunch break:
2) Avoid shooting via oblique angles – they nearly always result in a boring image (see the colour shot I referenced at the top of this article). Face on is nearly always the best way. Its also the most uncomfortable for the shooter, but success favours the brave so stop being a wuss and shoot, for the love of god. If you’re in a public place, you’re doing nothing wrong. Shoot. Then scarper, if you have to, but get the bloody shot.
3) Shooting backs is a huge fail. Unless its an especially interesting back, or (as in Becky’s case above) you have an excellent supporting cast. What story can you tell by shooting someones back? Well, in some instances:
Yeah, ok, thats an interesting back too, and is helped along by ‘sandwich guy’. But you get my jist – there is no expression in a back shot. Backs don’t offer up a ‘look’ or feeling of emotion. Back shots (and oblique angles for that matter) are the domain of the ‘scaredy’… don’t be a ‘scaredy’. (and no, tele’s or zooms don’t get you off the hook either. Street photographers shoot close with primes, 50mm equiv or wider. If you want to use a zoom, be a sports guy…)
4) Don’t be Bruce Gilden – be HCB.
I happen to like *some* of Bruce Gilden’s work, if I’m honest. But thats for another day. What I DON’T especially like is his bullying style of street photography. Remember, you’re there to catch natural human behaviours, not ruin someones day. By all means, direct your subject if you feel its integral to a shot, but as a rule you’re there to capture a candid moment of uniqueness that no one else has captured…thats the best thing about street photography. That one stolen moment belongs to just you and your subject. Embrace it always. Be covert, be deceitful, but don’t be a dick…
5) Don’t sweat it. Lightroom is your friend.
I’m all about the moment. Yes, I would prefer it if everything was dead level and tack sharp, but that is just not always possible if you’re shooting from the hip, chest or shoulder. The ‘rotate’ tool is freaking sweet. You’re not ‘doing a McCurry’ and removing elements or adding some others. You’re enhancing – and thats cool. Jack up that contrast, tweak that clarity slider…add grain, make it look like HP5 for all I care – just don’t detract from the quality of that original moment. If you really need to over edit, the chances are it really isn’t a very good shot to begin with. Quality control is also a handy skill to have.
6) Shoot Film. Sometimes.
I like Eric Kim – yes, he may take 19 shots (on film – he must be loaded) of the same thing, but the eventual selected shot you see is normally of a very high standard. He’s also a kind and giving soul that the world needs more of, so with that aside, check out his work. He loves to shoot film, as do I, and there is a bunch of wonderful analog street shooters out there. I was raised shooting film, and it still fascinates me. When you watch these guys work, the one thing that sticks out a mile is how ‘considered’ they are as photographers. You can call it slow if you like, but just look at the results…composition and exposure are everything when you’re limited to 36 exposures – with no chimping- and thats why I still shoot film. Not for the aesthetics (which I do find pleasing, admittedly) but more for the effect it has on my photography overall. I really try to get it right in camera first, and I NEVER use burst mode. I do chimp though…but I am working on it. 🙂
Shoot film from time to time. It slows you down, and really concentrates the mind on composition and exposure accuracy. It gives so much value that you really notice it when you go back to shooting digital.
(shot on a Leica Minilux and Ilford HP5 film.)
I’m going to stick my neck out and say ‘sorry’ to all those that are offended by this post, especially if you’re fond of the old ‘back shot’… but feel free to check out pretty much every street photography themed facebook/instagram/twitter out there. I was actually urged to write this after subscribing to ‘Street Photography’ magazine – its only two quid a pop, but MAN is there some utter tosh contained within. I was actually pretty disappointed with both its pretentiousness and lack of quality that I felt urged to say something.
(If you were here for the Lensbaby Trio review…its coming soon. 🙂 )
Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. Here’s to a WONDERFUL 2017 – may you be creative and spontaneous always. And hopefully, Trump will be impeached within his first week and Brexit was just a bad nightmare…yeah, I know….one can wish.
Be well all.
Come see me on Instagram:
Interested in shooting film? Check out these channels, I find them massively inspirational:
Azriel Knight: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLfGwQwIzK2tdup4QkXr0Bg
The Art Of Photography: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7T8roVtC_3afWKTOGtLlBA
Erik Wahlstrom: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8a1kQF2DdXiTu1ucRvOhxA
EduardoPavezGoye : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCR-I25_yEl_frEZ26I9ty-w
Negative Feedback: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTgaiv8YdmmNqI8STrpWc7w
Danny Pops: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLLUENXM6HZG9gjXbYJN2stiTgt_Q3bBgM
Nate Matos: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLg6z_ITnjtO_EhZL59ObSg
Brian Soko: https://www.flickr.com/photos/45609113@N04/
Jason Lee (yes, Earl…) : http://jasonleephoto.bigcartel.com/