Street Photography Articles
Indeed, color photography is the best, here is why :
– because God did not create Man with black and white vision.
– because life is not all black, nor all white. It is mainly in between.
– because you can transform colors in B&W, but can’t do the reverse.
– because of Quentin Tarantino and Kar Wai Wong.
– because light browns work so well with orange. A grey is a grey.
– because Benetton would have gone bankrupt without colors.
– because the fifties are long gone, get over it …
– so are the forties …
– because B&W photography was never an aesthetics choice, but a technological one.
– because HCB, Capa and Frank could not afford color film.
– because any shot can look good in B&W, yet it takes skill and taste to match colors together.
Obviously, I am joking here, I am a big fan of B&W and most of my library is made of B&W street photography book. But admit it, this shot below would have never worked in B&W. ;) (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 50mm Summicron at F2.0, 1/1500, ISO200
A fruit merchant talking with passion about his decades old brass scale. Not all business here might have the most up to date technology, but for sure some of their vintage equipment could sell for little fortunes in Europe’s antique markets.
Leica M9 with 50mm Summicron at F2.0, 1/125, ISO800
For those unaware of the Street Photography Now Project, it is a one year venture where street photographers are given an instruction weekly and must shoot accordingly. This week’s instruction, proposed by photog Arif Asci, states the following : “Look for a window. Through a window, out of a window, or at reflections on a window.”
Therefore, after reading the instruction this morning (they are delivered to you by email every Friday), I headed to town and decided to visit a couple of bars. (I am starting to know a lot of people in there, not a good thing …). While looking through their windows, I took the time to reflect on this instruction and decided to write about it.
In some ways, it is a very easy instruction since the window will act like a protection. As a matter of fact, you won’t be seen and people probably won’t know that you are taking their picture. What a great way to take candids. Yet, shooting through a window also brings a new range of issues that one must take special care with :
– watch out for your own reflection. Sounds obvious, but how many times did you take a picture and see your lovely face appear while reviewing the shot. To avoid it, the only way is to record in your brain the following equation “Window = reflection”. It must in fact become an automatism to look for your own reflection whenever in front of a window. If you do see yourself in the shot, position yourself with an angle to the window, like I did in the shot below. (click on pictures to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux Asph at F2.8, 1/350, ISO160, ND filter
– another point similar to the the one above is the reflections on the window. You must actually compose twice; the scene behind the window and what is reflected on it. The multi-tasking capability of your brain will definitely be challenged here. (if you take another look at the shot above, you’ll probably notice that a car made it somehow in the shot …)
– for those shooting with rangefinder cameras, the parallax might cause problem. Indeed when you shoot through a window, including elements of the glass surface might result interesting to give a feel of your location to the viewer. Of course, it means that these elements will be close to you, so think about compensating for parallax. In the shot below, I wanted to include the “zone” tag in the shot, I had to reframe significantly to include all what I saw in the viewfinder in the final shot.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summilux at F2.8, 1/500, ISO160, ND filter
– most windows are dirty. Small aperture = all the dirt will show up in the picture. It might not be such an issue on web postings, but if your print big, it might be bothering. The way to avoid it is to shoot with a large aperture which will cause a new problem. Indeed, it will diminish your depth of field, blurring both the window elements and the background of your scene. In the shot below, I elected a F2.0 aperture, it took care of the dirt, yet the WIFI sign was not very well defined. Not a big deal in this case.
– when sitting inside a place, your field of view and ability to move will be very limited, meaning that you won’t be able to track your subject with the camera. So concentrate on what is going on in your frame and simply let people come and go until something interesting happens. Patience is your best friend here. In the shot below, I was stuck in a car for a few minutes (the joys of shopping…). I noticed the reflection of the poster in the rearview mirror and therefore waited for another element to close the composition. A woman on a bike rode by, I had my surrealist jealousy tale …
There is still a full week ahead to comply with this instruction and it is never too late to jump on this project’s train, so try it if you are interested. As for myself, I’ll hit the street a few more times to experiment with this instruction. Practice and curiosity are probably some of the better ways to improve in street photography.
It is 9am, the town slowly wakes up. In front of me a coffee and two small croissants freshly baked. It rained last night, but the colors of Argentina make it harder for grey tones to prevail.
I look out the window, I see depth, the curtain and the brick wall could border a shot. I raise the camera to my eye, pre-focus and wait for something to happen. A few passer-bys’ make it in the frame, not much of interest. Then suddenly, she appears riding her bike with energy, her shirt says she is the superstar. And she is, in this shot at least. (click on picture to enlarge)
Today is the first post of a new column : Critique-a-shot. On a weekly basis, I’ll write a critique of one or several pictures, be them mine or more interestingly, the ones submitted by readers. (see “how to submit” in the section after the critique).
Indeed, every once in a while, we shoot a picture where one is not so sure whether it will be interpreted as initially intended. The goal of this column will be therefore to analyze the selected pictures methodically and come up elements that will help to build an answer. To do so, I will look in details at three components of a picture, that is composition, aesthetics, and meaning/mood/feeling. The elements outlined in these three sections will then be combined to come up with a final opinion on the shot.
So let’s start by this first shot that I took at the job site of a small Argentinian town.
Leica M9 with 50mm Summicron at F2.0, 1/4000, ISO200
A classic example of a rule of thirds construction. The scaffolding breaks the field of view in equal parts. The worker in the first plane acts as counterpoint to the brown car entering the picture. Both workers’ heads point to different directions, giving a sense of activity going on in the street. The orange cones help the viewers to anchor their attention to where the main elements are located. Other constituents can be seen in details such as shovels and hoses to give hints on the tasks being performed. The third plane is made of parked cars and bikes that probably hint to a busy street. The bit of the chair that sticks out on the left bothers me somewhat though, a slight crop could maybe take care of the problem.
This is the strong point of the picture in my opinion. The color gamut encompasses tints that work well together such as browns, orange, black and white. The orange cap of the worker is similar to the construction cones. The lines of the car are the reverse pattern of the wood planks that hold the dirt mount. The choice to select a large aperture (F2.0) resulted in a thin depth of field, creating a blur just after the first plane. This choice can be questioned. As a matter of fact, the three planes are important to the reading of this picture, so a smaller aperture would have brought all elements to the same detail level. The author probably wanted to emphasize the action on the first plane and use the background to build a mood around it.
Meaning / mood / feeling.
Given the shadows, the sun is probably at his highest point of the day. The bright road conveys the feeling of a very hot temperature, which is emphasized by the blur of the thin depth of field. The water spillage might mean that a water pipe cracked, creating a nice wink to the high temperatures. The car helps locating somewhat the shot, definitely not in Europe, especially given the light security measures around the job site. This could also be a hint on the work conditions of the two employees, though this interpretation has definitely no strong ground to stand on (in the literal sense…). The main negative critique of this shot comes to the meaning of the picture. It cannot be read clearly about what the workers are doing or thinking. There is little interaction between the two. Perhaps, there is simply no wanted connection and both workers hover in their own world. All in all, the message conveyed by the author cannot be clearly defined, which might or might not bother the viewer.
I believe the shot works in terms of composition and aesthetics. Yet something seems missing, I would have liked more information, maybe a small gesture from the first plane worker, or a better connection with his colleague. I believe it is a above all a moody shot, it transmits an atmosphere more than a meaning through composition, colors and depth of field. It intends to convey the feeling of a hot summer day, at the time when activity starts to slow down in a little town. Yet little can be said about the underlying message of the photographer, if any.
Please feel free to add any input to this critique in the comments section. Obviously this first critique is a bit biased since I took the shot and had insider information ;) Feel free to be positive or negative, it will be fine as long as it is written in a constructive manner.
Interested to have you shot go through this critique exercise ? Here are the instructions on how to submit:
– send a picture of a minimum width of 1280 pixels and no more than 1 MB size to email@example.com . Obviously, you’ll retain all copyright of your pictures, I will only use it once to illustrate the corresponding critique.
– add your name, location and any link to the portfolio/website that you would like showcased.
– if possible, add info on the camera / lens / exif. Please do not mention any information on the background and location of shot, let’s see if the shot speaks by itself first. You might nevertheless add it to the comments section after the critique is published.
– all pictures must be street photographs, involving strangers and unstaged. No portraits, flowers or cats shots will be reviewed. To make it interesting, send pictures where you are not sure whether the shot works or not in its initial intend. Submitting your best memorabilia is not the goal of this excercise.
– and above all, be ready for a sincere output, be it positive or not. I won’t be harsh but if the shot fails in some of its components, I will tell you so. If I feel it is great, I will also tell you so ;) Readers are also encouraged to give their own opinion in the comments section, again please do it in a constructive manner.
Note that I am not a professional art critique. I will just give you one opinion which in no way will determine whether a given shot is a good one or not. Taste is highly subjective, and so is the interpretation of street photography shots. The end goal of this column is to provide hindsight on how one might read a picture and a general sharing and learning experience to all readers interested in street photography.
As you stroll along the streets of a city and shoot strangers, every once in a while people will get angry at you for taking their picture. It is understandable, street photography is quite an obtrusive act towards your fellow citizens. You scrutinize them, interpret their behavior and decide whether their doings are worthy to be recorded or not. The resulting array of reactions is therefore very diverse, from total indifference to anger, even though smile is still the most common answer you will get. Yet, whatever the reaction, consider it as a legitimate part of street photography which must be dealt with. Indeed, whenever a person portrayed is mad at you, remember that you provoked this reaction.
There are many reasons why a subject might get mad. It ranges from having a bad day at work, not feeling attractive, paranoia, being caught in an embarrassing situation or fear to appear in the press or on the web. It will thus be very difficult to determine what is the root cause of the displeasure and to find the correct way to ease his/her wrath. Indeed, every subject is different, there is no trick that will suddenly turn your subjects into docile and understanding mates.
One of the main issue with taken pictures of strangers is that street photography is quite unknown to many. Indeed many people just don’t understand why you are taking their picture and they become suspicious on your intention straight away. The dialog below illustrates the interaction you could very well face when taking a shot.
Subject : Why are you taking my picture ?
Photographer : Because I do street photography.
S: – What is that ?
P: – I take pictures of strangers in the street interacting with their environment in order to depict the society we live in.
S: – …… (puzzled silence) ….. why me ?
P: – because the scene looked interesting
S: – why, I am just sweeping a broom ?
P: – Well, I like the way you sweep the broom and how the colors of your clothing match the fruit shop behind you.
S: – ….. (the guy scrutinizes you suspiciously) … are you gay ?
P: – no, I am not.
S: – well, you can’t do that anyways, it is illegal to take pictures without permission.
P: – Yes, I am allowed to take any pictures while in public areas.
S: – No you can’t.
P: – According to the law, yes I can.
S: – I don’t care about the law, I don’t want you to take my picture. What newspaper is it for ?
P: – I just shoot for myself, I like photography.
S: – …. (a second scrutinizing look) … well, you can’t.
P: – Yes, I can.
S: – No you can’t …. (starts raising his broom towards you) …
P : – …. (you run for your life) ….
While obviously a bit satiric and exaggerated, this dialog incorporates a lot of the common reactions you might get by angry people. So, apart from running for your life, what is the best way to deal with such situation ?
– Act normal, there is nothing wrong about taking pictures in the street. Be confident and give the impression that you know what you are doing.
– Smile, behave friendly. If you act like a spy or in a sneaky way , you’ll legitimate even more his angriness. A smile always shows good intention and while it might not ease the anger, it will not escalade it further.
– Move on. I usually break the eye contact and move on, sometimes with a short apology. Most people will just give up as they soon realize it is just a picture and probably not worthy of a big argument. Angry people have usually more then one reason to be mad, it is not just about you taking their picture, so if you decide to engage conversation, it will often be a downward spiral. Also arguing about whether what you are doing is legal or not is useless, mad people either don’t care or tend to assimilate “celebrities’s lawsuits versus people magazines” with common law. Indeed, there is a lot of misinformation and confusion on privacy and rights of image law in general. Moreover I strongly doubt that you’ll have be able to convince an angry stranger that you know the law better then he does. So again, move on and hunt for the next shot.
I know this is tough as we all like to defend our rights, but every single time I engaged conversation with an angry person, it pretty much got worse. So focus on your photography, arguing will just make you more anxious and distract you from what is happening in the street.
As for Argentina, I have yet to face an angry person. A vast majority of people are very friendly and don’t mind being photographed. I would even say that many enjoy it, which makes it quite a great place for street photography.
Leica M9 with 60mm Hexanon at F1.4, 1/350, ISO200, ND filter
Located on the shores of the Parana river in Rosario, the Monumento Nacional a la bandera (Flag’s monument) is a structure that glorifies the foundation of Argentina in 1812. It boasts a 70 meters high tower where one can enjoy a breathtaking view over the River and Rosario’s cityscape. (click here to see a wonderful 360 panomara taken from the tower.)
I guess this little boy wanted to give a special honour to the monument by wearing the colors of Argentina. (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 60mm Hexanon at F8, 1/125, ISO200, ND filter
Newell’s Old Boys is one of the two main football clubs in Rosario. Theses Boys really did look old tonight as they showcased a very lousy performance versus U. Catholica from Chile. Hopefully, there were a few girls in the stands to cheer up the attendance. (click on picture to enlarge)
Sigma DP2 at 40mm, F2.8, 1/50, ISO800
Having a bad outing ? Here are some obvious symptoms :
– your first exposure is all white. ISO’s are still set at last night’s 1600.
– your first exposure is all black. You left the lens cap on.
– the first person you shoot starts running after you.
– the first person you shoot runs faster then you.
– you went out with a wide-angle lens but wish you had your standard lens on.
– you went out with a standard lens but wish you had your wide-angle lens on.
– nothing interesting is happening, everybody is just damn walking today.
– you ask your girlfriend to act like she is stranger and run after pigeons (“and please honey, don’t smile or look at the camera”)
– you start shooting some experimental stuff (and delete them straight away).
– you start shooting bikes, street signs, or worse … landscapes.
As for a great street photography outing, symptoms are much more straigthforward:
– aliens land next to you while you walk alone by the Seine River on a misty Sunday morning.
– and they took Megan Fox along.
More seriously, like many hobbies or sports, we all have bad days once in a while. It does happen in street photography too. Bad timing, lack of interesting subjects, negative state of mind, …, all these factors can lead to a very disappointing outing. Hopefully, it never lasts, so hit the street as soon as you can again, and it will get better.
As for myself, I had my bad day yesterday, about five keepers in five hours. As you can witness below, one of them was really no aliens, nor Megan Fox, but a humble nun walking down Rosario’s main shopping street. (click on picture to enlarge)
Leica M9 with 60mm Hexanon at F1.4, 1/500, ISO160