I have a confession to make – I’ve never really ‘got’ street photography. What exactly is it for and why do so many photographers take pleasure roaming the streets of cities around the world snapping unsuspecting citizens going about their daily business?
Although I have dabbled in making street photographs over the years, if I’m honest, I’ve always struggled a little with the ‘legitimacy’ (for want of a better word) of this genre of photography. Is it right to be taking photographs of people with them being unaware and who is the target audience for such images? Most of the time I suspect it is just other ‘street photographers’.
My opinion on this is beginning to change however – I recently had a couple of eureka moments.
Eureka Moment #1: I recently came across this great interview with Henri Cartier-Bresson which, as well as showing the master at work, also has some great and inspirational quotes. In particular I like “life is once and forever” as well as “the difference between a good picture and a mediocre picture, it’s a question of millimetres”. I think both of these actually sum up pretty well what street photography is about, capturing the moments in life before they disappear and how fleeting some of the moments are that you can so easily miss if you are not at the right place at the right time. The role of the street photographer is to capture these moments, or these ‘decisive moments’ as Cartier-Bresson characterised them.
Eureka Moment #2: These days I always carry a camera with me. Unless I am shooting for a client or going on a trip with a photographic purpose in mind this usually means I carry my little fixed lens Fujifim X100T. A superb camera that can easily be pocketed or packed away in my laptop bag. On a recent trip to London, whilst walking through Covent Garden, I spotted the above poster advertising Kurt Geiger bags which I thought would make a good backdrop if the right person walked in front of it. I guess I just got lucky because within a few minutes the lady you see above did just that. It was not until I actually downloaded the image and looked at it in Lightroom that I realised what a great juxtaposition this was (her legs in a similar position to those of the model, the fact she is carrying a bag also, how her right hand is up to her face and the similar looking boots she is wearing). I was hooked! The ability to capture little insights into everyday life and spot things you would not normally see other than in a few brief seconds was for me my ‘decisive moment’.
Having realised what I guess most other street photographers have known for ages I’ve started to explore this style of photography a lot more. Here’s a selection of some street images, both from the same day as my Covent Garden ‘revelation’ and from earlier outings.
As I discussed here there are three techniques for capturing interesting street photographs.
- Technique #1: The Fisherman. This requires some patience. Like the fisherman standing on the riverbank waiting for a catch you find spot that looks interesting and wait for something to develop. It my take a few minutes or maybe a few hours.
- Technique #2: The Hunter. Rather than waiting patiently this approach has you prowling around looking for ‘prey’, shooting then moving on. Don’t spend time looking at your catch just go for the next one.
- Technique #3: The Craftsman. Here you find a place or a person you want to capture but need to work the scene, possibly taking many shots until you have what you want.
I’m a relative newbie at this sort of photography and am sure the above is barely scratching the surface. I intend to develop these and possibly more styles as often as I can this year though.
A word on gear. I mentioned I usually carry my X100T around with me most places I go and it turns out is almost the ideal camera for street photography. It’s small, light and indiscreet and has a few nice features that make it a device well suited to this genre of photography. Most notably:
- The key functions of aperture, shutter speed and over/under exposure are all available on dials on the top of the camera so can easily be changed with out having to fiddle around looking at a display.
- Other frequently used functions are available through a Quick Menu button as well as function keys on the menu button so can be quickly set with having to scroll through menus.
- It will work wirelessly with a phone allowing you take images without actually having to look through the viewfinder.
- You can set up to three auto ISO settings specifying a default ISO, a maximum ISO and a minimum shutter speed. This means that in low light the camera will first drop the shutter speed but if there is still not enough light without going lower than the minimum speed will then raise the ISO up to the maximum you set. It’s good when capturing street pictures not to go below 1/125 or 1/60 at the slowest so having the camera up the ISO to try and get the shot is a great feature to have.
Check out Valerie Jardin’s blog for a practitioner who really knows how to get the best out of this little camera.
On a final note, I find it better to use a wrist strap and hold the camera rather than have it around my neck. It makes the camera even more discreet, allows you to quickly bring the camera up to your eye or hold it at waist level to shoot. Here’s the camera with a nice leather strap available from Rigu Camera Accessories (a highly recommended online store that gives a personalised service and is based in Cumbria, England).