Repost: Basic street photography techniques

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Offerings for sale. Sony RX100

Following on from the previous photoessay and numerous emails, I thought it’d be useful to repost this article I wrote previously on street photography techniques. Although it’s possible to describe most of them in some detail, full understanding requires both demonstration and practice – this is where the Street Photography video comes in, or alternatively joining one of my workshops. Together with the basic principles of balance, perspective, composition and what makes a good image – these techniques may be used singly or in combination to generate strong street images. In fact, they also apply to documentary and reportage work, too; the only difference between good street photography and photojournalism is that the latter has a consistent theme and subject.

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Can you tell the difference?


Obfsucation.

Following on from an interesting suggestion made by knickerhawk in the comments section of an article a little while back on achieving visual consistency, here’s both a little test/ exercise for you and a little more expounding on the idea of sufficiency. Read on if you think you’re up for the challenge.

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The pre-shot checklist

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All of the below applies, even in a situation like this. What you’re not seeing is that it isn’t a Wild-West quick draw: it’s more like the preparation of a sniper.

There are many different types of photographers; all the way from the fully spontaneous use-whatever-falls-to-hand-and-just-hit-the-shutter-so-long-as-I-get-an-image, to the people who only photograph under 100% controlled situations – think still life in a studio, tethered. I’m somewhere in the middle, though definitely much further towards the latter end of the spectrum. The reason I’m writing this article is because during a recent workshop, I was asked by a student if I really kept all of the ‘four important things’ (and sub things) in my head and under active consideration even in a split-second instant; the answer is yes, and there’s quite a bit more on top of that – but I’ve been doing it for so long that the vast majority of the whole capture process becomes second nature.

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A photo reflects the photographer

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Escape from yourself: clouds are like thoughts, the clear blue sky is freedom, and the person left behind is your ego. The car represents your way out, and the road is the constraints of your mind, complete with bright areas, order, logic, and dark, unconscionable ones.

I’ve often been accused of making images that are precise, cold and soulless; the more I look at images from other photographers, I’m inclined to agree. Taken in context with the opening title of this article, that probably doesn’t bode well for impressions of me as a person. It did get me thinking, though: since the act of photographing is really one of conscious exclusion in which we eliminate all of the elements that are distracting or unnecessary to the subject/ story, what does this say about us?

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Getting over the hump

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There comes a point in the growth of every photographer where they reach a ‘hump’ which appears to be insurmountable in any obvious way: you just don’t think you can get any better, no matter what you do. This may be at a very low level, or a very high one; depending on your natural visual aptitude. But it happens to everybody – it’s happened to me several times in the past. Today I’d like to talk about things you can do to move past it and up your game. After all, everybody wants to make better images, right?

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Questioning the ‘art’ market

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Too commercial, with no artistry required, apparently.

Attempting to make the transition – perhaps augmentation is a more accurate description – from commercial photographer to fine art photographer as a profession in the last six months has not been easy. I suspect there are quite a few reasons for this: firstly, [defining a product] has become a significantly larger challenge since you are not creating to-spec for a client, but creating something you imagine from scratch. That something has to be visually distinctive enough to stand out, aesthetically pleasing enough to elicit desire, and exclusive enough to appeal to the typical art buyer.

And here the conflict begins.

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Why I must do all the things I do

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I struggled to find an appropriate image to go with this article. I think this works, though: firstly, it was shot with an iPhone, on an occasion I could not foresee doing any photography. But having an open mind and an active eye meant that I saw it; experience/ practice meant that I could make do with the bare minimum, and enjoying cigars meant that I was in the right place at the right time to begin with. All will be explained towards the end of the article…

Don’t worry. Despite the slightly off-topic title, it’s very much a post about photography. This isn’t a moment of existential angst, but rather a clarification of purpose. It isn’t quite the same as article on Why We Photograph from some time ago; it’s far more personal than that. On reflection, I think it’s very important to understand the motivations behind certain things so that a) we might do them better and b) we avoid doing things we don’t enjoy. Especially when there’s a choice.

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Too little, too late – or, rebirth?

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CFV-50c, image courtesy Hasselblad.

It’s no secret that Hasselblad has been in much financial trouble lately. And it’s also no secret that the company appears to have lost its direction following a large number of private equity CEOs, who frankly, appear not to understand the photography market at all. So it was with some surprise that I opened my email getting off the plane home from London to find that not only had they made an interesting product, but one that hinted at a return to common sense and a somewhat brighter future, too.

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Conscious exclusion

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Including everything: too much to focus on just the stairs. But since the objective was to show the mess/ busyness, it’s just enough. Think carefully: what do you need?

We almost always discuss composition and framing in terms of putting things in to the frame: on further contemplation, I don’t think that’s correct or accurate at all. The act of composition is in fact the complete opposite. And embracing that can lead to some surprising shifts and improvements in one’s compositions.

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Film diaries: why we shoot film and digital differently

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Irrespective of format and camera, there’s definitely a difference in the way we shoot film vs digital: a lot of comments from an earlier article examining the economics of shooting both media to a similar output standard suggested that this is the same for a lot of other photographers, too. We may not feel qualitatively that there’s much of a difference, but the higher keeper rate suggests the complete opposite. I think I have figured out why this is the case – at least for me – and beyond that, what we can take away from the process to improve our images – independent of the medium.

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