Street Photography Articles
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 !
In front of Rosario’s old train station, everything still looks like 50 years ago. Only the news have changed … and the amount of clothing the cover girls wear nowadays. (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F2.8, 1/3000, ISO200
One can tell a lot from a country’s citizens by looking at how they wait for the bus. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on Argentina. (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F8.0, 1/350, ISO200
This is at least what the poster advertises. Though the little girl seems to agree by not paying to much attention to her parents’ instructions. (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F8.0, 1/750, ISO200
Sometimes while walking in Rosario’s downtown, you encounter a scene where you feel somewhere else, in another period of time. The New York of the 60’s ? (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F1.4, 1/4000, Pull 80
Last week I launched a new column called “Critique-a-shot” where I analyzed on of my pictures in detail. This week, it is time to look at the first two shots submitted by readers.
“Some chocolat on a cold winter’s day.” by Kevin Hall.
Before I go in depth into the analysis of Kevin’s picture, let me state that this picture is the kind that the web does no justice to. Indeed, it is all about detail and careful observation, which is always difficult on a 13″ inch screen This picture should be looked at on a large print to fully appreciate it.
Let’s now move on to the three main components of the critique.
The horizon line is centered yet this is not much of a bother since the bike and the woman on the left are on the same first plane. The tree branches and the buildings on the right create a tunnel effect, accentuated by the depth of the avenue. I love depth in pictures, it often gives a 3 dimensional effect that seems to absorb you in the frame. I think I would have framed slightly higher or got a bit closer to get rid of some of the space below the bike. Kevin probably had a timing issue in this shot as some of his subjects were walking towards him and others away from him, so it certainly was not easy to put all the pieces together in this instance. The woman on the left is in a perfect position, both heels on the ground (always shoot people when both heels hit the ground…), yet unluckily the group of people on the right ended up behind the bike. It bugs me a little since the bike is where Kevin decided to focus on, probably electing it as main element of the picture. Finally, let’s briefly mention the orange man, hidden behind a tree. Though I missed it the first time I looked at the shot, it is there and I’ll come back to it in the last section.
Kevin used a 50mm lens with at F1.4 on a Leica M9. With the M9’s full format sensor, the depth of field resulted very thin. It shows on the picture as the blur appears already about 1 meter after the bike. I love out of focus areas and I think it is well used in this picture to create a special atmosphere and bringing the attention to the first plane. I would have liked though that the woman in the left were in focus too. Not much of a bother on a computer screen, but it would show in an big enlargement.
The light is gorgeous, a winter sun that stays pretty low all of the day. It creates great diagonal shadows that act as counterpoint to the branches of the tree. The color space is probably desaturated a bit and the amount of contrast is spot on. I like how the red cross of the flag adds some color to the shot. This same red color, is mirrored on the left by the traffic lights.
Meaning / mood / feeling
Hotel Chocolat, Bang & Olufsen, a jewelry store, … this is probably a cozy neighborhood somewhere in the UK. This shot could simply be about an afternoon walk in cold weather with a hot chocolate as deserved prize. Probably a weekend since the jewelry store is closed (yes, every detail counts). All in all, a great mood that almost has me wish for snow here in Argentina.
What about the orange man … Either Kevin timed his shot on purpose to have the man and his flashy coat hidden partially by the tree, or he wanted to add an element of mystery to the shot. I would go for the first reason, because I am not sure about how a story can be built around this orange man.
Overall, this shot has a sound composition though I would have like to have a human on the same plane of focus of the bike. A slight crop of the bottom and left part could be worth a try. The orange man is my main bother but not a significant one, the shot works as it is. The light and mood are great and convey a feeling of coziness. There is no complex meaning to this scene, just the depiction of life in an English town on a sunny winter day. So all in all, a good street shot that would deserve a large print on one of Kevin’s house wall ;)
To discover more about Kevin’s photography, click on this link for his Flickr stream.
“Troubled” by Fokko Muller
Canon EOS450 with 50mm 1.8, F4.0, 1/2000, ISO200
This shot is a classic B&W street scene. I like the central triangle formed by the man and the building’s structure, it brings some dynamism to the composition. The zones of brightness and shadows are well managed too, creating a contrasty scene and leading the viewer’s attention to the important part of the scene. Also note the smart trompe l’oeil effect as the man seems to rest on the woman’s back. Both of them are also about the same size which adds realism to the effect. Fokko elected to take roughly a 45 degrees angle to the subjects of the picture, probably to avoid being spotted. Yet, the door on the left does not add much to the picture, so I would have liked to see this shot from a bit closer and perpendicular to the main elements. Indeed it is not so easy to understand the man’s state of mind from this distance, is he mad, bored, or … troubled ?
The picture was taken with a 50mm lens on a 1.5 crop sensor, which translates to a 75mm lens. It shows by the compression of the lines which resulted positive to slightly attenuate the bent building structure. Kevin used a F4.0 aperture which makes sense since there was no distant background and maximal sharpness was needed to allow the ad to be read in detail. The B&W post-processing was well executed since a wide range of tonalities was kept in that contrasty situation. On that same topic, there seems to be no burnt highlights except for a tiny part of the man’s jacket, no big deal. Finally note that the man and woman’s clothing are of different tonalities, as well as the hair (or lack of …), this all allow a clear read of the picture.
Meaning / mood / feeling.
Obviously, one must know Dutch to understand the words written the ads. Yet, a little common sense and the main part of the text can be interpreted as “Styling advice”. And this leads me to my main criticism of the picture which is the message the photographer tried to convey. Is it about the man’s attitude, is it about the ad title, or is it a combination of both ? Maybe the man needs a styling advice, but then his attitude shows more boredom then trouble. It does somewhat work, but the relationship is not very strong. A look of the man towards the ad would probably have clarified the message. Another reading could be the contrast between the smile of the woman and the boredom of the man, “life is always easier in magazine”.
Long lenses are great to avoid being spotted but in this case, it would have been worth to risk it to have a closer and more centric composition with a wider lens. Not that the composition does not work this way, it is well constructed and supported by a great B&W post processing. Yet it is taken from a bit too far from the action to have a good read on the man’s attitude. This leaves room to several interpretation of the scene which might result confusing for the viewer. This could very well by Fokko’s intend, give hints and let you create your own story around it. This is also what street photography is about.
You can discover more of Fokko’s pictures by following this link.
Thanks to Kevin and Fokko for submitting their picture. Remember that this is just an opinion and in the end your own is the one that matters the most !
Interest to have a picture of yours in go through this critique ? Please read the instruction here.
The main shopping street in Rosario, Calle Cordoba, looks like any main street of a Spanish or Italian city. And like in any part in the world, when comes special sales time, it becomes a woman’s Paradise City. (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F8.0, 1/750, ISO200
Why should citizens ever think (“pensa”) about politicians since they mostly don’t care about them ? Clowns have usually more success in the people’s mind. (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F8.0, 1/750, ISO200