Medium telephoto lenses for street photography

Given how widely practiced it is, its no surprise that street photography has many rules-of-thumb, and one of them has to do with focal lengths – the traditionally preferred ones have been on the wider end such as 28mm, 35mm and 50mm. However, I’ve often found myself using an unconventional focal length of 90mm. While the wider focal lengths may be more suited for environmental portraits and story telling, using a longer focal lengths allows me to break away from that stereotype and to create a more dramatic outcome.

In this article, I will explore why medium telephoto is my preferred focal length and the advantages of using tighter framing in street photography. It’s important to not that since I primarily shoot with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 these days, “medium telephoto” here refers to 90mm in 35mm terms.

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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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How to be a better photographer

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Shoot happy. Somewhere over Dirk Hartog Island, Western Australia

Question, statement or suggestion and directive? Or perhaps all of the above? I believe very few people are truly 100% happy with their work. I know for a fact I’m not, and most people at the top of their game never are: that’s a big part of why they are where they are. The gulf is one of education: when you start out, you might not know what’s wrong – but you know something is missing. When you’ve got experience, you’re searching for that fifth element of serendipity to bring the magic. But what can we actually tangibly do to keep pushing the game along? I’ve come up with ten things both from the world of photography and beyond, some of which I put into practice now, and some of which I’d like to. Read on if you dare.

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On critiques and critiquing

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Something here is off: but why? And how can we make it better?

The above image is meant to be an example: something is deliberately off. But if we didn’t know, how can we fix it? I feel the art of the critique is something that’s unfortunately both underappreciated and under-utilised. There’s no shortage of images online, and this number keeps increasing – but on the whole, it’s difficult to say that volume has any correlation with quality or discernment or curation. If anything, the opposite: volume smothers refinement. Responses to images have been simplified to ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ or some very strange animated GIFs, or worse, vitriol about something relatively minor and unimportant element of the image. Neither is really constructive – the photographer receives no useful information with which to make a better image the next time around. Consideration is rarely given by the audience when making a comment – this can be very dangerous because as the audience, you have no idea if the image was a throwaway or something the photographer believed was the absolute best they could do, and put their heart and soul into. Encouragement and discouragement are equally likely outcomes. Given photography is really a conversation – it is important to talk to (or at least gauge responses from) one’s audience – today we ask, ‘how can we raise the creative and technical bar for images?’

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Layering

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There are two obvious definitions to layering: the literal splitting of the frame into planes of different distances, and the metaphorical addition of implied meaning through careful choice of subjects and subject placement. Ideally, an image should employ both to reward the viewer on further contemplation and to provide a visual that isn’t overly literal or one-dimensional. Unquestionably, a degree of ambiguity is required too, especially when working with implied meaning. But how can we consistently make images that fire on all cylinders?

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The difference between trimming and cropping

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This may seem like nitpicking, but I assure it isn’t. There is a fundamental difference between trimming and cropping; I had a lengthy email discussion with a reader recently on exactly why it makes a difference – both compositionally and conceptually. There’s a third ground too, which is very much intention-driven – and unlike situations that require attorneys, photographic/creative intention is much easier to prove.

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Tension and balance

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Two of the most common words I hear used when describing images are ‘tension’ and ‘balance’. I’ve got a good idea what the latter means, and how to translate it into an image – but the former is much more nebulous. A brief look around online also showed that they’re both not that well understood, or badly defined, too. At the risk of putting my neck on the block, I’m throwing my contribution into the ring, too. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section…

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Photographing concerts

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This is a slightly unusual topic for me: concert photography is something I’ve done quite a bit of, but never generally publicise because it falls out of my preferred commercial work. I started with being interested in the music first, in the mid 2000s; I shot a number of small venues locally, and these actually formed some of my earliest work – licensed to musicians and the like. Sadly, musicians are much like photographers: 99.99% of us are broke, but there are a small number of rockstars who make it into the big leagues. There are a few more who do okay and get by; we’re thankful we can sing for our supper and not drive a desk. That said, I have never (and will never) be on the other side of the microphone.

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Tilt shift 101

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No, they’re not broken. But your wallet will be after buying a set.

One of the most frequent things I get asked about is the use of tilt shift lenses; it isn’t surprising given the apparent complexity of the hardware and lack of any clearly understandable documentation or literature. There are plenty of good technical explanations of movements, but often they leave the reader more confused than when they started especially if you do not have a background in optics! This article will therefore aim to address the whole question of camera movements in as straightforward a manner as possible – necessitating some simplifications. Read on if you’ve ever been bothered by insufficient (or too much) depth of field, or geometric conversion of verticals with a wide angle…

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