Paris is a unique city, you walk past a corner of a street and suddenly you feel thrown back in time. The times of Coco Chanel ? (click on picture for high res)
Leica M9 with 50mm Summicron at F2.0, 1/350, ISO160
Often wrongly considered as a gimmick in street photography, the capability to blur backgrounds (or foregrounds) is to the contrary a wonderful creative tool when used appropriately. To illustrate it, let's have a look at two similar pictures taken in Paris by Notre Dame. In both cases, the focus was set on the little girl being portrayed by the painter. An aperture of F4.0 was used in the first frame while the second was taken with an aperture of F1.4 (on the 60mm Konica Hexanon F1.2). What are the key differences generated by these two different exposure settings ?
In this first picture, the mid aperture choice generates a depth of field where both the painter and little girl are in focus. Due to the full frame sensor of the Leica M9, the Notre Dame cathedral results partially out of focus, yet it will be only noticeable in relatively large magnification ratios. One could say that this picture is an exact reproduction of the scene as witnessed by the photographer.
Have a look now at the second picture, taken with an aperture of F1.4. The only plane that results completely in focus is the head of the little girl. Due to the 60mm focal and the large aperture, the head of the painter is already partly out of focus. Notre Dame is now significantly out of focus and resembles almost an impressionist painting. The resulting picture is a creative representation of reality.
So which is better? There is no absolute answer, here what we are really talking about is personal taste. The second picture has in my opinion a more poetic dimension, which depicts well the essence of Paris. Also, I consider the use of blur as as a key attribute of my street photography. In some ways, I like to think about my pictures as a mimic of my fading memory; some details remain always clear, while some disappear with the pass of time. But again, this is personal and I'd be interested to hear about other opinions (please use the comments section below)
Now, the use of thin depths of field and the resulting blurs must be used cautiously, and in some cases even avoided :
- when your main goal is to impress your friends with an effect that they cannot reproduce with their IPhone or compact cameras. Blur does not make a photographer better by itself.
- when used to hide lousy composition skills. Blur won't make unwanted elements magically disappear. They'll just become less easily identifiable. Any composition fault will remain and nobody will be fooled, except maybe for your aging mother.
- just because you recently acquired that expensive 50mm F0.95 lens does not mean that you have to shoot exclusively wide open to amortize it. Fast lenses come with a full range of apertures, use them when needed too.
- finally, in case you did not know, let's mention that Bokeh does not mean "great picture" in Japanese.
Blur is no gimmick and can be enhance a lot your creative approach to street phtotography, when used appropriately. It does require some technique to get your focus right since a slight error will impact immediately your picture. Yet it can be done with some practice, so mount that fast lens on your camera and hit the street.
Maybe they should implement special mailboxes for love letters. 100% certified that it will reach destination.
I often take my Sigma DP2 along the M9, especially for unprocessed color work. It is where I feel it especially shines. These pictures are out of camera JPG, in vivid mode. You'll also notice the influence of my future job in this pictures … the shoe business ! (click on pictures for high res)
Sigma DP2 at 41mm, ISO100
This picture led me to think about the street photographers of last century, in the times when digital was not part of the equation. Indeed, I could not help wonder how many amateur street photographers had their lifetime work also end up in a flea market box ? And how many of them actually never got to share their work beyond the circle of their friends and family ? Being published or having its own exhibit was extremely challenging, especially if one was not part of an agency or did not possess a good network. In the end, I suppose that most amateur street photographers eventually gave up or simply did not care. Their pictures were lost to History.
I guess that this is what Paris is about for many people. 18 years old, maybe the first trip away from home and a passionate kiss over the Seine River. Obviously, I would never have taken this picture if the couple was over 40 years old. The odds of it being an extra marital affair would simply be too high. Let's stick to the innocence years. (click on picture for high res)
Leica M9 with 50mm Summicron at F2, 1/1000, ISO160
While shooting in Paris, I estimate that I walk an average of 10 kilometers per day with peaks at 15kms. Quite a way to stay fit, especially since stretching is also part of the game. Indeed, have a look at the shot below and imagine my position when taking the picture. The answer will be found in the second shot, courtesy of fellow street photographer Thomas C. which I had the pleasure to meet yesterday.
At almost two meters all, I still had to raise on my toes to get the point of view I wanted. Why is it so ? Because I love when my subjects clearly stand out from the background. I wanted the girl's head to be completely surrounded by the Seine River. A couple of centimeters below, and I would not have gotten the shot I was after.
Both images taken with Leica M9, first with 35mm Lux Asph and second with 35mm Cron IV.
About to get married and looking for a photographer ? Well, your task just got more difficult because I strongly recommend you to hire two of them. Indeed, you'll need a regular wedding photographer for all the cheesy stuff and the masterpiece that will throne for decades (hopefully) on the top of your living room's chimney. He will also make sure that nobody is forgotten, even 102 years old Aunt Annie, and rightly have a place in the 657 pages album proudly titled "The happiest day of our life".
Yet if you want a real feel of how the wedding went, hire a street photographer too. No guidelines, no restrictions and, of course, free access to the bar. You'll get a few surprises for sure, such as Aunt Annie flirting with Uncle John under the cocktails table, yet this is the book you'll always look at and show your friends. (click on picture for high res)
Leica M9 with 35mm Lux Asph