London Street Photography – my favourite spots.

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You may have guessed (being called ‘capitalfaces’ and all) that I spend the bulk of my time shooting around Britain’s great capital. And it is great. I work in London too, which means on average I spend about 6 days a week – work and ‘play’ – in and around the city. I’m often asked if I get bored of it, and the simple answer is ‘no’… in my humble opinion, it is the greatest city in the world.

There is something going on every day – a festival, a march, a run, a game, a concert, a gathering, a fete, a vigil, the list is endless. It’s streets are teeming with life anytime, day or night, and it is never EVER boring. From Stoke Newington to Southwark, life happens at pace and although the intense bustle is not for everyone, I thrive on it. I couldn’t live in London however, as I think the ‘spin cycle’ of city life would eventually become too much for even me (I live in a small village about 16 miles north of the Emirates Stadium) eventually, but to have easy access to a world capital like this on a daily basis is one of the great joys of my life.

Im also often asked where the best places for street photography are. If I’m honest, I think pretty much ANY London borough offers up something worthwhile if you pound the streets long enough, but here are my favourite three.

3) Brick Lane/Spitalfields/Hanbury St

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A short walk from Liverpool Street station, you’ll find this trifecta of visual stimuli’… Brick Lane is one of the most popular areas in London. In the summer especially, its difficult to move (I find a superwide lens helps in this instance). Along this street you’ll find colourful street vendors selling food from all over the world, exotic smoothies, buskers and performers, plus the usual shops selling vintage clothing, leather goods, a cafe serving nothing but breakfast cereal (dont go, its crap) and a plethora of fantastic places to eat – this is also home to London’s famous ‘Curry Mile’ and the most fantastic Bagel shop. I recommend the salt beef bagel with English mustard. Its incredible. Although much of East London has been taken over by the hipster invasion (not to mention the selfie stick carrying tourists), there is still plenty of authentic London fare and characters to keep your memory card full. I suggest you start on the corner of Hanbury Street and Brick Lane and walk the full length up, cross the street at the end and go the full length down. And take your time to look around – there are a LOT of people and you wont want to miss a magic shot.

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There is much more to see in the summer months, for sure, but winter times – though quieter – do tend to bring out the local element, which I really enjoy too. And you wont have to queue for hours for a bagel either…

2) China Town

You may think China Town (close to the West End and Soho) would be an easy place to shoot street photography. Well, you’re partly right – the buildings and streets are adorned with cultural decorations and lights, which look pretty cool, and the atmosphere is pretty special too – but be warned, the locals are bastards. Don’t be surprised of you get someone shouting and swearing at you if you get busted taking their picture. A heads up – they don’t like that here. Not one bit.

Having said that – this is a great exercise for photographers wishing to refine their timing AND compositional skills. And never was there a better time to invest in a small mirrorless system. You’re asking for it if you lug about your 5d and an L lens…. pack light and be as nimble as Spiderman on crack. You’ll get your rewards if you don’t become obvious….

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Beijing Dumpling

For shooting in China Town, I would even go as far as to suggest taking a short telephoto. One doesn’t want to get too close…if you know what I mean. Also, shoot at dusk or later here, to get full benefit of the incredible back drop. This place is magical at night.

  1. Dalston Kingsland/Ridley Road

This part of London is freaking awesome for street photography. I found it totally by accident too…funny how these things happen.

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Similar to China Town, it pays to be deft and deceitful here. However UNLIKE China Town the locals here are absolutely lovely, but this part of London still has very much a ‘community’ feel to it, which on one hand makes you feel very welcome and familiar, but on the other, a polite need for privacy as people go about their business. You would do well to respect this here.

The star of the show is without doubt the Ridley Road Market. On a hot summers day, you could be in downtown Kingston. The vibe is like no other in the city – reggae blaring, colourful clothing, amazing food, exotic fruit stands, and authentic African and West Indian stores lining both sides of the street, selling everything from fresh fish, electronics, beauty services and wigs. This place rules.

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Its worth walking up and down the High St too – still plenty to see, and a little less bustle.

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So that my three top picks. For now… 🙂

But please remember, there are literally hundreds of great places to shoot street photography in London. Im still a regular in Soho, the West End, Regent St, Oxford St, Finsbury Park, Trafalgar, The Strand, Hyde Park (Speakers Corner is wonderful) , Kensington, Mayfair…the list really is endless.

Have fun regardless – youre in one of the greatest cities for street photography, and unlike many other great cities, London has incredible textures and back drops which just add more secret sauce to your images, whatever the weather.

As always, feel free to stop over to my Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/capitalfaces/

Be well.

 

 

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My photo project for 2017.

‘At night’…

That answer really annoyed me. It was cold, callous and glib – I deserved better. I had put my heart and soul into making her life better, making this relationship work, as well as investing considerable sums into her photo business and new apartment – all the while living five hours ahead in another country.

Ah, those five hours. You can do a lot in five hours…

I had suspected her cheating for a while. She had become colder and more distant, started to pick faults, looking for excuses. I knew the signs..sadly its happened to me twice before (weirdly, both had the same name – lesson learned). Our Christmas Skype gift exchange wasn’t especially happy…it must have been killing her, poor love, getting boned by another man then shortly after, opening gifts from the one you should be boning…

To add insult to injury, she expressed surprise that I wouldn’t wish her happiness. Im thinking ‘you’re sleeping with someone else, and you want my blessing? Has the word ‘asshole’ been written on my forehead? Holy crap…’

And thats when I asked her…’Where was I when this was going on? When did this all happen?’

Long pause….

‘At night’…

Ah yeah, those five hours. Knew they would bite me on the ass eventually. She apologised and said goodbye. I told her to fuck off.

But I did have the inspiration for this years project…so I thank her for that. Shoot for Five Hours. Stay out the whole time – with an hour put by for ‘Pho’… The Five Hour Project Series- lets see what I can get done in that time.

If you’re struggling, spend five hours to create something worthy and beautiful and honest. Spend five hours doing something constructive, not destructive. Doesn’t even have to be five hours, but for me it seems appropriate.

I shall shoot – but you can write a song, a poem, a short film, a story, draw a picture, anything…something original, a creation that means something to only you. Keep it to yourself if you like. Or feel free to share it.

I cant think of a better way to get over heartbreak. Or the winter blues.

#thefivehourproject – feel free to join in.

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(Fujifilm XE-2 + 35mm 1.4)

Street Photography – make it mean something…

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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:

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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:

  1. 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:

Happy Wednesday

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:

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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.

Chalking for Change

(shot on a Leica Minilux and Ilford HP5 film.)

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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:

https://www.instagram.com/capitalfaces/

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

Matt Day: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCopwCE5bVtffQif8IFkbUuw

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/

Super-Wide Street Shooting w/ Samyang (Rokinon) 12mm F2.

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I doubt there is a day that goes by, when on one forum or another someone is either asking about the Samyang 12mm F2 or someone is telling us how good it is. I fall into the latter. Often.

This lens is terrific value for money. Period. I think I paid £210 for mine. Brand New. I have no idea if its better or worse than the Fujinon 14/16/10-24 or the Zeiss Touit – and furthermore, I don’t care. I can manage expectations on a two hundred quid lens, and if it turned out crap I could always send it back. But I’ve had it three years now, and its going nowhere.

As I have alluded to, many times, on previous posts – street photography is what I love to shoot most. I’m a film maker by trade, so naturally, I want to shoot the polar opposite of the gruelling, mentally draining and highly regimented world of film production. Street photography is my release – I am alone with my thoughts, not relying on anyone else, yet still being creative and striving for that one ‘decisive moment’…sorry, Henri. And I cant blame anyone else but myself if I’m disappointed with the results…  🙂

I normally use my 23mm F1.4 for street. Sometimes the 18mm, sometimes the 35, but the 23 covers most of the subjects I like to shoot. The 23 offers *some* width, optical excellence and is pretty snappy on the X-Pro 2 – and 1.4 is pretty bright, so its good for most conditions, even without flash. Its a solid lens – the Angry Photographer is dead wrong about this glass, unusually.

I first started to use the 12mm for street a couple of years ago on my X-Pro 1. There were times when I got REALLY fed up with the AF (like we all did) on the early X bodies in certain conditions, and of course the great thing with ANY manual focus lens is a) there is no focus delay and b) hyperfocal shooting is a DODDLE – so easy on super wides. So I began to take the 12 out with me more, especially to events where I knew there would be packed crowds, as this focal length would allow me to fit a lot in without getting too far back. I also realised the 12mm has a REALLY short focus throw, especially from 1m to infinity, so you didn’t have to be super accurate with distances to subject. I would set it to 1-1.5 meters, and just snap. No delay, and pretty much always ended up with a sharp (sometimes sharp-ish) image.

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The one drawback (some may not consider it a drawback) is you really do have to get in close. The 23 was perfect, 2-3 meters back, great. The 12? Nope, a meter…four feet, tops, or everything would just look miles away. In a bustling, large, crowd, this wasn’t really that much of an issue – there would be so much else going on, I was barely noticed at all. And I was quick. I may be getting on a smidge, but my reaction times are still pretty tasty – thankfully.

But on Brick Lane today? Not so easy.

I don’t know whats happened to Brick Lane recently. Its gotten really quiet. A couple of summers ago you could barely walk five steps in a minute. There would be fantastic street performers (Lewis Floyd Henry is really the only one left – thankfully, he’s amazing.), and incredible food vendors and colourful fruit and juice sellers all the way up to the High Street, both sides of the lane – there was an amazing atmosphere, any time of year. Now? There is barely anything happening…a lot of the food vendors have moved indoors in the nearby Trueman Building, the fruit sellers have gone, and today not ONE street performer…sad times. I hope its not the sign of things to come for East London. To a certain extent, the much maligned hipster has taken over this part of town (and a lot more vintage stores have opened as a result) – I hope the sadly depleted Brick Lane is not a by product of that.

I had to have my wits about me if I was going to make this shoot a success…looking ahead all the time, trying to spot (and prepare for) my next capture, and for the most part, it worked:

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These were all shot on the X-Pro 2 at 1000ISO. The bottom ‘crossroads’ pic has about a 10% crop. And again, focus set to 1m, aperture at F3.5. A little more forgiving if my distances were a little off.

Also (and this is fairly rare these days, for me) these are all JPEGS, with minor adjustments in post. I REALLY enjoy Acros (R) +2 h/l +2 shadow. Gives me a look that reminds me of HP5 – on a good day.

And this, I think, was my pic of the day:

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(I’m tempted to crop down to a square format, and try to get rid of some passers by…what do you think?)

I got bored pretty quick of the sparse looking Brick Lane, and moved down towards Liverpool Street station – it had a bit more bustle.

I stopped off to eat at a new place called The Diner in Spitalfields. They do chilli cheese fries. And they were superb:

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Then a slow amble towards the station:

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Overall, I was pleased with the shoot today. It was cold, surprisingly quiet – but there was still a character or two to make things interesting.

And what of the 12mm Samyang? Well,see for yourself. Its good. Sharp, and with all those long words like vignetting and  chromatic aberation either under control or a non-issue. In truth, there IS a little purple fringing in bright light/high contrast areas, but I only found this out when I was on vacation somewhere sunny. Not such a problem in London, in November.

edit: AND NO DISTORTION! 🙂 This is quite a big deal. None of these images were corrected at all. Its a standout feature of this lens, and I cant believe I overlooked it! Sorry…

It is worth mentioning build quality too. The focussing is buttery smooth, the aperture ring has a pleasant, purposeful ‘click’ to it, and it has a decent heft to it too. A good blend of metal when you need it (mount) and high quality plastics to keep the weight down. It doesn’t feel like a cheap lens.

Depending on where you live, this Korean made optic is available (and branded) as Samyang, Bowens, Rokinon, Walimex and even Vivitar (now theres a blast from the past!), but they’re all the same so you’ll be happy with any of them.

So hopefully, now, you’ll have some idea of why these incredibly good value lenses get mentioned on those forums so much. I know I wont stop posting. I do recommend these optics for street, but only if your the sort of photographer who has no problem getting really close to your subject, and doesn’t mind the possible flack that comes with it. Today, I was lucky. But this being a famously grumpy London, I could just as easily have been confronted with choice anglo-saxon and a threat of violence. It happens rarely, but it does happen.

But I like this focal length for street. Its different and fun, and forces you to think differently about composition and speed. Don’t worry about it being manual focus only – its really easy on this lens, even without focus peaking. I suggest you set your distance, and see how brave you are…. 🙂 go on, whats the worst that could happen?

Please do say hello on Instagram if you get the chance (or if you have Instagram!):

https://www.instagram.com/capitalfaces/?hl=en

Any questions, do let me know. Have fun, stay safe, and keep shooting. Cheers!