Nov 012012

I often get emails from readers who are new to street photography and ask for an opinion on their work. While the level might vary from one to the other, I have noticed certain trends in the mistakes most commonly found in their pictures. I thought I would list them to help beginners forge themselves a first opinion on their work. This being said, if you are a seasoned street photographer, a routine check up can never hurt.

Note : all the lousy pictures below were taken in my first 6 months shooting street photography.

I) You are not close enough

Taking pictures of strangers can be quite intimidating, especially during the first outings. Therefore beginners tend to always stand a bit too far from action, or alternatively, shoot people from the back. While it doesn't automatically mean that the resulting pictures will bad, getting close to the action is usually a sure recipe for better pictures.

This scene had a lot of potential for a good street photograph. Yet the distance makes it difficult to understand what is going on. A seasoned street photographer would have probably rushed down to water level and gotten within a few meters.

II) Excessive use of blur 

After inevitably upgrading to a more "serious" street photography camera, beginners soon discover their great capability to blur backgrounds. Of course blur is nice, and I do use it a lot, but it does not dispense you from composing adequately and creating meaningful scenes. While they will produce outbursts of wouaaahs! and beautiful! with your friends and family (who can't do the same with their Iphones), blur must not be used systematically as a mask to hide your compositional deficiencies.

Yes, bokeh is great. Yet a bit less blur would have made it a much more interesting picture, by allowing a clear read on the action going on in the background.

III) People … walking

While repeatedly taking pictures of random strangers is a great way to overcome your fear, a person simply walking or sitting does not make a good street photograph by itself. I understand the feeling of pride involved in mastering one's fear, yet it will still result in a picture of someone just …. walking.

For sure, the girl is cute yet she is just sitting in a park. Unless you consider her scratching her nose of great documentary interest.

IV) Street artists / vendors

Again, the fear of shooting strangers tend to lead beginners to pick subjects that will not object to being photographed. It is therefore not rare to see pictures of street artists (or vendors) make up a big part of a beginner's portfolio. In some ways, it is a great way to help you improve your framing and timing, yet don't expect to impress anyone with that type of pictures.

This is definitely an interesting expression but you'll probably find dozens of pictures of the same street artist on social networks. You owe more to your creative capability.

V) Bent horizon lines

Ok, Winogrand did it, but he had a whole approach built around it and was a precursor. Unluckily, most of the pictures that have a bent horizon line are failures. Composing well a frame is already very challenging, so keep your 45° inclinations for next time you go skiing in the Alps. Your audience won't appreciate to get a neck ache each time it views your portfolio.

Disclaimer : I never meant to have a bent horizon line on this one … the position of the bag probably influenced it (or was it what is written on it ?)

VI) Over-processing

Digital has opened the way to easily post process our pictures and bolster our creativity. It doesn't mean you should push it over the limits. Too much contrast, too much saturation, selective colours, HDR or even … too much grain! don't usually fare well in street photography. Remember that it is remains a documentary discipline. Don't be afraid to be artsy, but don't Warholize your pictures either.

My first presets were so heavily post processed (vignette, sepia) that it hurts my eyes to look at these pictures again.

VII) Inclusion of ads / street art

Always ask yourself the question : am I taking the picture of someone's else picture ? Juxtapositions can be fun, but usually you are just using someone's else creativity to make your own pictures look better.

Great model, great fashion photographer (and great Arch …) but what's my achievement here ?

So, found a lot of these mistakes in your pictures? Don't worry, it is normal. Like any discipline, there is a learning curve in street photography. And it is much steeper than just going out with a camera and shooting strangers. Be resilient, learn from these mistakes, look at other photographers' work and you'll soon start to improve.

Oct 282012

I took the two following pictures this afternoon on the shores of Lake Geneva. At first, I thought I would only show picture A due to its clearly identificable human presence. Indeed, one of the key attributes of street photography is the presence of humans and the way they interact with their environment.

Yet, I'd be curious to know your opinion on picture B.  (as always, you are welcome to elaborate on your answer in the comments section)

[cardoza_wp_poll id=3]

I'll reflect back on this with some insights on these shots in a couple of days.

Picture A)

Picture B)

Both pictures taken with Leica M9 and 60mm Hexanon at F1.4, 1/4000, ISO160

Oct 242012

A draft of my future Paris book has been sent to Blurb for a first print and I hope to receive within a couple of weeks. Meanwhile I did a quick analysis of the 70+ pictures that are part of it, and more specifically, the lenses that I used to shoot them. The results are roughly as follows :

M9 + 35mm Lux Asph : 33.3% of pictures
M9 + 50mm Cron        : 33.3%
M9 + 60mm Hexanon  : 33.3%
So, what is my take on it ? Well, as I mentioned in this week's poll "What is your favourite focal length for street photography?", I am probably more of a 50-60mm shooter, or to put it in another way, I probably get more keepers with that focal length. This being said, the time of the day, the setting, the weather and my mood also influence which lens I opt to mount during an outing :
- 35mm Lux Asph : Tight streets, crowded areas. Multi-subjects scenes.
- 50mm Cron  : Sunny days. Wide open areas (parks, river front). It also makes a great "take anywhere" combo when not out specifically shooting street due to small size and weight.
- 60mm Hexanon : Cloudy and rainy days. Low light. Wide open areas. Background separation. The Hexanon is my go to lens when in a poetic mood.

This evidently leads me to the recurring debate on "one lens only vs switching lenses". Based on my experience, I'd say that it is good to have several lens options on one's shelf. Not only can it help to break the routine, but it also allows you to match your system to the shooting conditions/mood of a given day. This being said, I am also convinced that once you picked a lens for an outing, you should commit to it for its whole duration. Indeed, there are already so many variables to take into account while out there shooting, that having an internal debate on which lens to use only becomes a distraction away from the action. So all in all, I'd advice to make your lens choice at home, but while in the streets, put all your attention to what is going on in your viewfinder rather than to the lens that is (or isn't) mounted in front of it.

Today's picture (part of the draft) is another version of a shot I had posted a couple of years ago. It features a band of young people celebrating the grape harvest in Montmartre.

Leica M9 with 35mm Lux Asph at F2.8, 1/500, ISO200

Oct 162012

Discover your level of street photography knowledge by taking the 10 questions quiz below. Read carefully the questions, some are not as easy as they might seem.

Click on Get started and do not hesitate to share your score in the comments section. (Note that no registration is required to take the quiz and answers are kept anonymous)

Your score:  

Your knowledge level:  

Good students get their grades posted on ads in India. Would be part of them if attending the Street Photography Academy ?

Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F8.0, 1/500, ISO160

Oct 092012

This is a new section whose goal is to allow readers to share their practices in terms of gear, technique and style. I thought it would be great to do it in the form of a weekly poll, with any further discussions taking place in the comments section. So let's start this week with a topic on gear : What is your main camera to shoot street photography ? (poll is now closed)

On my side, I am still a rangefinder shooter (Leica M) but the Leica X1 has been making a strong push to replace it lately.

Leica X1 at 36mm, F2.8, 1/250, ISO800

Oct 012012

To discover this interview with an extensive selection of pictures (and a fun quick questions section), please click on the picture or link below.

As for the picture below, "The angel guardian", selected by to illustrate the interview, it was taken in 2008 in the Paris metro. I am not particularly fond of juxtapositions yet this picture seems to always generate quite some interest from viewers.

Sep 272012

Click addiction : To take pictures when nothing of interest happens.

1) Your index finger has become L shaped. (and your thumb too since you got an Iphone)
2) You usually take 15 pictures of each scene, and hope the decisive moment is somewhere in the burst.
3) Your girlfriend has just dumped you. She got tired of you checking out that beautiful Japanese girl in her back, a so called "Bokeh".

Evolution cannot be stopped. Our kids will have L shaped index fingers.

4) You start shooting people "walking", "sitting", or "lost in their thoughts". And dogs too.
5) You have been drinking a lot of tea lately when returning from an outing. (waiting for your computer to download the 522 pictures you have just shot)
6) You just returned from a shoot in downtown Peoria, Illinois, with 1698 pictures.
7) You take you camera to the toilets, and practice focus technique on the paper rolls.

Shooting books is usually a symptom of click addiction. Yet, in this case, the subject is safe since the book is not located on a shelf at home.

8) You buy 1 Tetra-bytes external drives every month.
9) You snap some pictures before going to sleep. The "Bokeh" behind your feet is just so gorgeous. (and your new girlfriend slaps you)
10) The next morning, you frantically click on your alarm clock's snooze button, and expect a picture to appear on the LED screen.

On the same topic : The five scenes that matter in a street photography outing