Drama in Street Photography

If you look at the pool of street photographs online (one that seems to be growing exponentially each day), the images that stand out tend to have some drama in them. Drama, as I define it here, can be the split-second when something interesting happens, the creatively incorporating visually stunning lines and perspectives or something completely unpredictable and random yet beautifully captured in a photograph. The presence of drama in a street photograph elevates its status to something standout and noticeable, compared to the otherwise ordinary, uninteresting and cliché shots which have been done to death. To define the characteristics of these “dramatic traits”, is not easy and there’s enough room for experimentation to let each photographer inject his or her own style/perspective.

As a follow up to the article on street portraits, today, I’m going to share my usual process in looking for and adding the elusive element of drama to my street photography. [Read more…]

Street Portraits

Today’s article makes a for a nice continuum from my thoughts on Shutter Therapy. A browse through that article and previous ones (on robinwong.blogspot.com) will show that there is inevitably a portrait or two, usually of strangers. In this article, I share my thoughts on shooting street portraits and also share some of my favourite photographs.

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Discussion points: Critical features

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For most of the history of photography, we only had shot-to-shot* control over four things with our cameras: focal plane, exposure via shutter and aperture, and the moment of capture via the shutter release. There were of course myriad ways of implementing this – but eventually, either camera makers did what was easiest from an engineering standpoint, or buyers voted with their wallets – and the modern control paradigm was born. We have ergonomic grips, control dials for shutter and aperture (either on the top deck within fingertip reach, or on the lens barrel) and some means of controlling focus. Fundamentally, all images can be made with control over these parameters. Yet somewhere along the way, we’ve decided that we cannot live without tilting LCDs, live view, sensor shift and optical stabilisers, auto white balance, panorama stitching, eye tracking AF…the list goes on. I firmly believe that it’s possible to get far too distracted trying to master the technology and remembering which menu item and button was set to do what – and as a result, make an image that’s compositionally and creatively compromised instead of technologically enabled.

*One could also switch emulsion sensitivity, color/monochrome and focal length – I consider these secondary controls because not every camera permitted this between subsequent images.

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Shutter Therapy

Shutter Therapy is a phrase I created several years ago and one I use frequently throughout my articles. I don’t remember defining it, and, inexplicably, the phrase is now widely used by many friends and photographers, in Malaysia and around the world. With a little time on my hands post-Olympus Malaysia, I found myself introspecting on what Shutter Therapy was, what it signified when I started using the phrase, its origins and why I set time aside for some Shutter Therapy every weekend? This post is a result of that introspection and my attempt to answer these questions.

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The un-camera camera

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Levels of commitment

What on earth is an ‘un-camera’? I think I’d better start by explaining the title of this post a bit better. I often find myself in a bit of a conundrum: I’m sure you are undoubtedly all aware of my role with Hasselblad and longstanding affinity for their hardware. I’m sure many of you are aware that I continually push the envelope for what’s possible with medium format and achieve some pretty unique results in the process. On top of that, I have the added benefit of having access to pretty much anything I need from the product catalog. I also still have a full Nikon system kicking around. So: what possible justification could I have for yet another camera?

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Crystal ball gazing: Predicting the photographic ecosystem in 10 years, part II

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That impending sense of something looming just out of view…

Today’s article continues from Part I in the previous post: where will photography land up in the next ten years?

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Crystal ball gazing: Predicting the photographic ecosystem in 10 years, part I

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During a recent flight and some (unusual) downtime, my mind started to wander idly towards both how much photography has changed in the last ten years, and idle speculation towards how photography would change in the next ten. The pace of change has been rapid, limited by technology; but I think the next big shift is that it’s going to be limited by the operator. Let me explain why: for hundreds of years, the fundamental principle of using photosensitive chemical media and printing onto non-photosensitive ‘permanent’ media has not changed; whether that media is larger or smaller, celluloid or glass or paper or something else. The process of photographing was destructive in a way: you had only one chance to fix the chemicals to preserve the graphic interpretation of luminance – i.e. the photograph – during which if you messed up, there were no do-overs. The biggest change from a single-use chemical medium to a digital one has really been getting the public used to the concepts reusability and easy post-capture manipulation*. Whilst the start was slow due to a) incumbency of film and film devices; b) cost of entry; c) output options – like a runaway train, we’ve now lost control of our collective visual output. Where does this leave us in another ten years?

*Always a popular/controversial topic: but reality is that manipulation in many forms has not just been around since the very beginning, but is very much at the core of the whole photographic process: you could not even view the image without applying some chemical changes, which might make areas of different brightness more or less visible. In reality, nothing has changed other than your average consumer can now do it at will and with greater ease and flexibility than before. Taste, as always, remains a subjective matter.

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Discussions: On going pro

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Something different for the first post with Robin: a transcribed discussion between us about the realities of ‘going pro’ in the current market environment. I think it’s pretty clear that the last ten years have been rather turbulent times for the industry, both for service providers/ creatives and the hardware manufacturers; consolidation has been the underlying theme but also a drop in barriers to entry and a real extension of possibilities at the high end – but only in very rarefied air. It’s become harder than ever, I think, and I’d definitely have liked to have the benefit of experience of somebody who managed to make the shift stick in recent times and who understood the climate; Robin and I have decided to publish this conversation in the hopes that others in the audience might find it useful too. Think of it as sitting in on a conversation rather than a traditional article in the in the usual style of the site.

Advance warning: this may be a lengthy post. MT&RW

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On photographing architecture

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This feels like an appropriate post given it follows both discussions around inspirations and a photoessay on buildings: good architectural photography is a bit of both, I think. (I also realise that I’ve never really written about architectural photography, or its close cousin, interiors – though there are subtle but significant differences between the two.) The subject has to be inspiring enough to motivate the photographer to spend a bit more time in, around and using the building to better understand how the intentions of the architects translate into practice; and on top of that, we must work around limitations in access, vantage points, light – and of course an immovable, living object that’s still in use. In short: it’s not quite as easy as one might think after casually getting a good image or two; read on to understand why and how to work around it.

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The design process

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Not a camera, but a watch is as good an example as any – perhaps more so, especially when you’re producing just one and it has to satisfy the most demanding client: the designer.

Whenever a photographer ‘has some ideas about camera design’, they often forget they’re only seeing one small portion of the puzzle. Inevitably, there are significant other considerations beyond the obvious – sometimes to the point of being physically impossible or functionally incompatible with their own intended result. At this point, having significantly more involvement in the design process will allow me to clarify why some things are the way they are, why some things should or don’t change, and where manufacturers shouldn’t have any excuses. Think of it as a candid ‘message from the other side of the fence’.

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