One of the phrase you might hear when someone reviews some of your shots is “It’s been done before”. The question then becomes : does it really matter ? or should one be educated on the history of street photography before hitting the street ? A great interview of Peter Earl McCollough on the Leica blog covers this topic. Some great points are made and I definitely recommend the read.
As for today’s picture, let’s say that I acknowledge that my photography is sometimes quite naive and often not all that experimental. (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F2.0, 1/1000, ISO200
For this week column, let’s head back to Europe and analyze work from photographers located in Germany and Austria.
If you would like your shot to go through this colum, please read here for instructions on how to submit. If you have already submitted a shot and it has not appeared yet, it will come soon !
Untitled by Konstantin Mihailov
Konstantin’s picture has a panoramic structure as the key elements all happen within a thin central band. A crop would definitely work here though I know most people like to remain with the original field of view of their picture, which is fine. There are three key elements in that picture, a man walking, a couple kissing and another man sitting on their right. I like how they are positioned though I would have preferred to have the man sitting on the right fully included in the field of view. Indeed, the main subject is the couple, yet the man being half cut distracts a bit away from them. Indeed I couldn’t help wondering why he was cut out. I think Konstantin should have included entirely in the frame as he is an essential to its reading. Konstantin took the shot with a rangefinder so perhaps his initial intent was not to include that man as he is positioned roughly in the area corresponding to the camera’s safety factor. Anyways, that man still makes the picture more interesting, so it is good to have at least a bit of him. As for the couple, great timing here, the kiss is just perfect. Note the great interaction between the subjects as the two men look towards the couple, bringing further the attention towards them. Finally, remember to watch out for your reflection in the windows when you shoot … I am not sure it is Konstantin that I see in the back, but it could be ;)
According to the Exif data, the shot was taken wide open. It does show as the foreground is slightly blurred as well as the man on the left. When I face situations like this one with a wall behind my main subjects, I usually tend to stop down my lens for a longer depth of field. Indeed, there will be no background blur so there is no real advantage to shoot with a large aperture. Konstantin might have chosen the large aperture for the special look it provides yet I usually find that that special looks are not enough to offset the problem of the thin depth of field it might bring to a shot. In this case, the man on the left is slightly blurred, not because of a low shutter speed but because it is not within the acceptable focus line. Not a big deal but something to keep in mind when you shoot wide open. Focus is spot on on the two lovers, good job since it is never easy to focus and shoot quickly with a rangefinder at that kind of aperture.
Konstantin used a Silver efex for the post processing which is very high contrast. Here it seems a question of preferences, but I find it a bit heavy on the dark. Indeed the shot has few tonalities and large pans of black almost give it an oppressive feel. Is it adecuate for a topic as light as love ? I guess Konstantin wanted to fully isolate his subjects from the surrounding to have the viewer focus on the three key elements. It does work doing so but a bit to the expense of the picture’s finesse. Another positive aspect of Konstantin’s processing is how the frame of the windows in the background appear to break a bit the horizontal composition. It also adds a mystery touch to the picture. Lastly, remember that both heels should preferrably be on the ground when you shoot walking subjects, it always improves the picture when the legs form a perfect triangle and give a clear reading on the person’s whereabouts.
Meaning / mood / feeling
This is a light and easy scene to read. Two lovers kiss under the eyes of passer-bys. One of two men almost has an envious look while the other is laughing. It shows some of the many reaction of humankind towards love. There is no ambiguity on the meaning of this shot, just a pleasant urban scene about love. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.
I would have really liked to have the man on the right fully included in the frame to clearly close that love triangle. I also think the post processing is a bit too strong on the darks. This apart, timing was almost perfect, the message is clear and Konstantin triggered at the perfect time. A decisive moment shot I would say. I would suggest Konstantin to try a panoramic version of this picture, it would probably look great printed this way.
To discover more about Konstantin’s photography (as well as several other interesting centers of interest), click here for imperfiction.com.
Untitled by Axel Cordes
As an introductory comment, Axel asked me whether pictures taken within museum count as street photography ? The answer is in my opinion yes, provided there is an interaction between a human element and the museum setting.
Axel’s topic is quite unusual and allowed for creative framing. Round shapes are obviously not always easy to include in a rectangular frame of view. By centering the artwork, I think Axel took a good decision as it creates equidistant lines to the border of the frame. I wonder though if it would not have been even better to include the full circle in the frame. Indeed by leaving the lower part out, it almost feels like Axel did not go the full way of his original creative intend. As for the woman’s position, it respects the geometry of the picture since she located in the center of the picture. Note that her head is the center point of the circle, very smart choice from Axel here.
The main problem when shooting artwork in street photography is to avoid making it the key aesthetic element of your picture. Indeed, it sometimes feels like the photographer relies on the skill of an other artist to make its picture interesting. In Axel’s picture I don’t think it is the case since the woman and the circle create an association where both subjects are of equal importance. At the same time, both elements seem to melt in each other since they use roughly the same color tones. I am not expert in colors, but I feel the red and brown tones in this picture bring a feeling of coziness, probably emphasized by the coat of the woman. I also like a lot how the blond hair of the woman brings contrast to the red and brown tones. Same can be said of her scarf which brings a different shape, almost like a fluid flowing from the circle’s center. I also liked the detail in the woman’s hair as well as her square shaped earring, I think it might tell about her personality. Finally, I think there is a slight under exposure on the shot. I would suggest Axel to increase it by a half to a full stop to bring some more pop to the picture.
Meaning / mood / feeling.
This is a very difficult shot to interpret meaning wise. The color of the circle reminds me some of Rothko’s work, which was known to spend hours in front of his paintings in contemplation. Did Axel follow this line of idea ? There is no element to sustain it but that leads me to the main issue with that picture which is the woman’s behavior. What is she doing ? I looked at this picture for a long time and could not get a clear reading on her expression and attitude. Is she lost in her thoughts ? Is she looking at the paint texture ? Has she a hard time understanding the meaning of the painting ? Several interpretations can be given to that scene yet none seems more evident than the others. Evidently, the choice can be left to the viewer. Yet I usually like when the meaning of a picture is pretty straight forward, even if it requires a very meticulous read of the picture.
In terms of composition and aesthetics, I think Axel did a great job. Add a bit more exposure and this will be a very pleasant picture to look at. I wonder how it would have looked framed slightly wider, encompassing the full circle and maybe even part of her legs. My main regret is that Axel wasn’t able to record more precisely the woman’s state of mind or behavior. The goal of street photography is not to depict the truth, it is impossible, yet to give enough elements to the viewer to come up with his own interpretation. Here I am left in between, I could not come up with my own story. I’d love to know though what was Axel’s interpretation of the woman’s behavior.
Click here to discover more about life in Vienna and Axel’s work.
Fishermen often come close to our residency. They spend hours waiting for a nice Dorado or Boga to bite on their hooks. Meanwhile they’ll quietly drink their mate scrutinizing the Parana River waters. They also like to chat and almost got me trained on fishing in a couple of hours, such great people. (click on picture to enlarge)
Quite amazingly, Rosario has a wonderful beach called La Florida. By looking at the white (imported) sand, one would even expect to see blue waters and an infinite horizon line. No, to the opposite, the waters are brown from the sediments of the Parana River and huge cargos pass by in the distance fully loaded of precious soy and cereals. Finally, note that in Argentina, dogs also seem to know about “La dolce vitta”. (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F8.0, 1/1000, ISO200
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F8.0, 1/750, ISO200
So you had no date for today’s Valentine ? Don’t worry, I know of a great shop where you’ll find the perfect companion. (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 35mm Summicron IV at F2, 1/3000, ISO200
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F1.4, 1/180, ISO200, 0.6 ND filter.
At every taxi stops of downtown Rosario, you’ll find the taxi doors openers. Be them adults or kids, they’ll help you to get in the cab in hope of a few coins in return. (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F1.4, 1/4000, ISO200
When I first caught size of this scene, I thought the store owner had put a Mc Donalds type of dummy at the entrance as decoration. After I took a second look, I realized he was moving … (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F1.4, 1/750, ISO200, 0.6 ND filter
A few days ago, I read a very interesting article by fellow street photographer Eric Kim about “6 reasons why shooting film will make you a better street photographer”. It immediately made me reflect on why I actually used digital. I therefore contacted Eric to know if he minded that I wrote a similar article, yet on the reasons why I thought digital would make you a better street photographer. He gladly accepted as a way to share point of views and I thank him for that. Be it his reasons or mine, there will valid points in both opinions, the ultimate goal being to let you decide by yourself which of film or digital suits better your needs and personality. So please find below my 5 reasons why digital will make you a better street photographer. Note that I have left out some more obvious ones (ISO, convenience, flexibility,… ) trying to point out these more inherent to the photographer’s behavior than those related to technique.
1) Street photography is instinctive.
Film is expensive. Unless you are a millionaire, there is so much shots you will be able to afford on a given day. Your shot selection will therefore depend on how much you got left before the end of your day. It will be there in your mind whenever you take a shot “Is it worth it?”. Not good to me, street photography is instinctive. It is fast and there is no room for doubts, follow your instincts and click whenever what you see (and not what you have left) seems worth a click. Indeed it is a risk vs reward discipline. If you restring yourself from risk, there will be less rewards too.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F1.4, 1/4000, ISO200, 0.6 ND filter
2) Shot selection comes with experience, not force.
During my first street photography outings, I would come back home with about 150 to 200 shots. Of these, I would probably keep half, most of them crappy. Nowadays, a full day of shooting in the streets will have me come back with around 50 pictures. I have learnt which shots not to take, I have developed specific interests, I master my camera better and I believe I found what my style is. This comes with time, trial and also many failures. It won’t come by a self-imposed shot restriction, indeed, the only way to analyze a shot is to take it. You can then determine afterwards the reasons of failure or success.
3) You mind is not your camera.
I think we all pre-visualize shots, meaning we see a scene and imagine how it would look as a picture. The problem with that it that we see it in three dimensions, while a picture has only two. So don’t be surprised if the output does not have the feel of what you originally saw. Also, our eyes do not have a horizon line problem, it self-regulates. Same apply with out of focus areas, it is very difficult to imagine how they could look like on a given shot. So in doubt, you can have a quick check on your LCD whether your vision translated correctly, and therefore correct your misinterpretations on the spot. I believe it is a great advantage of digital to be able to be confronted straight away with incorrect visualizations. It gives you that second chance that you do not have with film.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F5.6, 1/750, ISO200
4) It’s not about the camera, it’s all about you.
Shooting a film camera won’t make you get closer, nor stealthier, nor less obtrusive. It is all about you. Overcoming shyness and learning to interact with your subjects is not easy and takes time and practice. Few people are natural social animals, so getting to know how to interact with strangers is a skill that must be exercised. I remember my days in Paris when I would go down to Les Champs-Elysées Avenue for a couple of hours and just shoot strangers as an exercise. I took dozens of shots without the worry of wasting them (nor either with the aim to make great shots). Digital gives you that flexibility to practice as much as you want. It accelerates your learning curve both technically and socially.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F1.4, 1/1000, ISO200
5) Express your creativity.
In the film days, unless you were willing to spend endless hours in a lab, you did not master the final output of your shots. Film was pre-selected so there was little latitude on what you could done after the shot, especially color wise. Nowadays, software will allow you to basically do anything your creativity will come up with. No more need of years to spend before one masters a chemical lab. Nowadays it is a only a question of months and decent computer skills. And by doing so, don’t feel like your are doing something wrong, isn’t black & white the ultimate stage of the desaturation slider ? Let your creativity fully express itself. Coming up with a unique style is a differentiator. Possibilities are endless nowadays and your street photography might be defined as much by the aesthetics then the content itself.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F1.4, 1/750, ISO200
So again, have a look at Eric’s article (and his great street photography website) and make yourself your own opinion. Your conclusion might fall in between both, and in the end, nothing prevents you from using both film and digital, right ?
I noticed many men wearing sunglasses in Rosario. Is it the bright summer sun, or a way to peek discreetly at the beautiful Rosarina’s ? (click on pictures to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F4.0, 1/250, ISO200
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F1.4, 1/4000, ISO200, ND filter
Today let’s look at two shots coming from the US, let’s stop first on Hollywood Boulevard before we proceed on to Chicago.
If you would like your shot to go through this colum, please read here for instructions on how to submit. If you have already submitted a shot and it has not appeared yet, it will come soon !
Untitled by Sergey Shakarian
Sergey’s shot is a classic street scene composed following the rule of thirds. There is depth in the shot, which is always good, and the trapezoid shape of the street leads the eyes of the viewer towards the girl and the flow of the traffic. The line of stars also point to the end of the street which adds futher to the depth. Also notice how the girl’s shadow falls within the frame, well composed here again. I am a bit bothered by the fact that the action on the right of the frame is partially cut, I think the couple could have been part of the picture’s story. The point of view elected was pretty low (shot from the hip) but still Sergey managed to keep the horizon line straight, good job here as it is often very challenging when using this shooting technique (or was it adjusted in post-processing ?).
There is a problem here that jumps straight to my eyes: burnt highlights. I don’t usually mind when the sky is burnt as it is often difficult to avoid it in high contrast scenes like this one. Yet, I feel the main subject has to be well exposed which is not the case in this shot. Indeed the girls’s hair, her shirt and arms have noticeable blown highlights, which instantly gives a digital look to the scene. I doubt Sergey would be able to recover all the burn highlights in post processing but I would tone down slightly the exposure, maybe half a stop. As for the colors, it is all about the girl and I like her blue shirt as well as her multi color bag. Tt makes it visually appealing and emphasizes clearly on who is the star of the picture.
This picture shows one of the dilemma you will face in street photography. Whenever you encounter a potentially interesting subject (and that girl was a pretty good subject), you can either go for the street portrait shot, or include your “portrait” in a street shot. I would define a street portrait as a close-up where the subject is the main part of the field of view. Usually, some of the subject’s environment can be seen but the expression and look of the person portrayed are the key elements of the picture. In this case, Sergey opted to portray the girl as one element of a street scene. The question becomes then, how does the environment and the girl connect in this picture? Or in other words, why did Sergey frame the shot so widely ? The element critical to the scene were in my opinion the girl, the stars, the Palm trees and the boy on the right. I would therefore have framed more on the right to include the girl that looks like his companion. All other key components would have remained in the frame. Finally, see how the boy’s look is pointed towards the photographer … a second later it would probably have gone towards the girl. Imagine then the result : a boy peeks out at the girl while his girlfriend looks away … all of the sudden all the elements connect between them.
Sergey’s shot has a sound composition and he did record an interesting pause from the girl. Yet the shot is a bit too digital looking due to burnt highlights and I don’t feel all elements connect between them as good as they could have. This illustrates the complexity of street photography. In a second you must compose, expose well and take special attention to all details, preferably before being spotted. This was a tough shot to make work and I think Sergey got it half right. The choice to frame wide was the correct one but the camera was pointed slight too leftwards. This illustrates somewhat why I am not a big fan of hip shots, framing will never be as precise as when you raise your camera to your eyes.
Untitled by Erin Girard from Chicago
Erin included a subject in the first plane of his shot. This is the trademark of some great photographers such as Jason Elenaski or Eric Bouvet. Yet it is a very difficult way to compose since you a slight movement from your subject might throw him out of the frame. Also, that first plane purpose is usually to either have an interaction with the second plane or add aesthetically to the picture. In this instance, I think both the position and the composure of the boy in the first plane are interesting. Looking at the shot, I get the feeling that the shot was taken a bit approximatively, maybe on the fly or maybe from the hip. The horizon line is bent which can add dynamism to certain shots. In this case, it does not serve the purpose, but maybe it was just unplanned for.
Again in this shot, I get too much the feel of digital. There seems to be very little dynamic range on this snapshot and exposure is off. To Erin’s discharge, it was a tough one due to the very high contrast between the left and right part of the image. Maybe a localized exposure adjustment could have deal with it and unify a bit more the two sides of the picture. The focus point was very close to the photographer therefore the picture is blurry right after the subject on the left. This results in a background where people’s expressions are blurry and does not allow an interpreation of the second plane subjects’ expressions. Except for the boy’s T-shirt, the color space is a bit dull, probably due to the mis-exposure.
Meaning / Mood / Feeling
I looked a long time at this picture but could not find a meaning to it, even less a feeling. The whole shot stands only on the boy in the first plane. His attitude and look are interesting, but what is doing, why is he looking this way ? And more important, how does he connect to his environment. A market merchant ? A man passing-by ? The rest of the frame does not bring any more clues, nor mood as no elements connect to the main subject, either in terms of action or aesthetically.
Kudos to Erin to have tried an unconventional framing. The boy’s attitude and his position could have been the part of a great picture. Yet, the rest fails in many regards, be it technically, aesthetically and above all, in terms of message or feeling conveyed. I personally don’t use the first plane technique a lot, because it is extremely difficult to visualize and anticipate. I would advice Erin to experiment a bit more with it, this could be part of one’s style. Another way to take this kind of shots is to focus beyond the first plane. Indeed Erin could have focused on the boy sitting in the back which would have resulted in a blurred foreground. This effect works sometimes great and is used by many professionals. The shot I just posted today gives you an idea on how to use this effect.
You can discover more of Erin’s pictures by following this link.
And remember, this is just my opinion, the one that counts most is ultimately yours !