Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Street Photography - As a bit of a journey

They Stride Among Us Like Giants

This is how many people feel about street photography, they see some images they like that carry a moment in the street, perhaps that perfect moment and they think I wish I could do that. They see the famous photographer as a giant in the genre and that their work is impossible to better and that since everything has already been done there is no point in having a go.

The opposite is actually the truth, you are the giant, you are the one that is interested. Don't be put off because other people are making grand images - get out there and join them.

The hardest part about street is balls. To get up close to someone and take their photo you need balls of steel, well more correctly you  need some confidence in yourself and your abilities and have enough nous to get through if challenged by the subject.


The Hardest Part About Street is Balls

You are going to be photographing people in the street and yes this does take some confidence to do it up close. Doing it up close being within half a metre of your subject is quite challenging. You may not have that now but it will come as long as you challenge yourself. In the mean time try being what I call a sniper. I move back and forth depending on the day and how I'm feeling about myself.

Be A Sniper

This image is a good example of being a sniper, safely ensconced inside the visitors centre at Federation Square I was talking to mates and watching out through the windows and doors for interesting people. I saw these two, they were engrossed in conversation, I figured they'd be good subjects so from about 10 metres away I focussed and set up the shot, then she said something that surprised him - his face opened and he leaned away and I got it. Luck. Pure luck. Sniping can work pretty well, but you never get the chance of engaging your subject because they don't even know you're there unless they spot the image later on social media. Oh and be ready for that, it does happen from time to time.

When you're sniping use a zoom lens, I tend to use a 24-105 f/4 which lets me get fairly close or be fairly far back and still compose an interesting frame. f/4 gets me good sharpness and depth of field gives an idea of the background while retaining all the features of the person.

Festivals and celebrations such as big public events like Australia Day tend to give you thousands of happy people who don't mind having their photo taken. Parades can also be a good place to practice.

What If You Get Caught?

It's not really If, but When you get caught. You will. Sooner or later. In this image the young lady was putting on the silly Australia Day hat she'd just bought. I was quite close to this one and as I focussed on her she noticed the lens. I smiled at her and putting it simply she smiled back and I took her picture. Try to convey confidence and happiness. Be open and honest - don't be creepy and you and your subject will probably have a pleasant experience.


I'm not going to tell you that I've never had an unpleasant experience, because I have. Sometimes, like in this image where I photographed these two girls who were in turn being photographed I was using a fish-eye lens which meant I was actually only about 12cm from the nearest girl in this shot. She was quite surprised when she realised I was there and I really was invading her personal space. She wasn't all that upset and we went our separate ways amicably enough but it did teach me that the fish eye is not so hot for close up street.

Shoot From The Hip

That's not to say don't use your fishie, if you want to use the technique of shooting from the hip so you're less obvious then the fishie is the way to go and crop later as it includes everything. You can zone focus to say 2 metres, set your aperture to "don't care" f/8 and set a shutter speed (or rely on aperture priority) that will stop motion then just wander around camera on hip shooting what seems interesting. It's a bit hit and miss but you will get some shots you can work with in post to make good.

What About a Really Unpleasant Experience?

Sometimes you'll come across someone officious or angry about you taking their photograph. Especially people in uniform. They'll yell at you. They may threaten you. They'll tell you it's illegal (it's not) and you're violating their privacy (you aren't). So what do you do? Do you stand there and debate the issues with them? No way. Get out of there, fast. Run if you have to. Don't wait around to find out if that heavy response is all bluster or if they'll back it up physically, just go. Now. Go.

I've been shooting street for about four years, most seriously in the last couple where I've been using small prime lenses which mean I need to get fairly close.

Only once in all that time have I felt unsafe, I photographed an individual waiting on a tram stop. Nothing was said until we both got onto the same tram when she let fly at me. Trapped I just had to put up with it until the next stop where I alighted. I didn't argue, I did not try and debate I just let her rant. I'm careful to never photograph drunks or druggies. Let those sleeping dogs lie.

Is Street Photography Legal?

In the state of Victoria, Australia, yes it is, you can photograph anyone who is in public who has a reasonable expectation of being seen. Someone who is walking down the street would reasonably expect to  be seen and they're fair game. Someone hiding behind a bush with their lover would not. Leave them alone. Common sense plays a big part, while it is legal in this state to photograph children for example it's pretty creepy to hang around a playground and you will find yourself questioned sooner or later. Shoot them doing something fun and you'll be ignored.

Likewise down at the beach, it's perfectly legal to photograph the girl with her boobs out but you can
expect her and bystanders to be angry about it. I'd suggest you don't do it. I did see on a popular TV program Bondi Rescue where a lifesaver confiscated and cut up the memory cards of a tourist photographer. This was actually illegal and the lifeguard could have been charged. Know your rights but at the same time keep it reasonable. Shooting a general beach shot will rarely get you into trouble but when you make someone uncomfortable they are likely to react.

If someone shakes their head or says no when they see you, then respect that and don't shoot them. If you already have would you delete? Well, I would not, I'd just move away. In this image there were a bunch of uni girls having a wearing white party, I chatted with them and they were happy, well except one - can you guess which one? She called me a creep. I just moved on.

Does a person own the copyright of their own image i.e. their face - no they don't, if you make a photograph of a person you own that image.

Property rights can be interesting, make sure you know that you are photographing on public land, the street corner outside a shopping centre might not actually be public. Be sure. Be safe.

Finally The Journey

The title of this article describes it as "a bit of a journey" and this is exactly how I feel about street photography. Start out simple, long lens or zoom lens and snipe from the side lines 10 or more metres away. Make the people on the street a part of your scene. The land/city scape will be the main subject with the people in supporting roles. This is how most tourists shoot. They're capturing the feeling of the street, the location and it's people.

As you feel more confident start to get a bit closer. Start being more obvious. Most people don't seem to mind having their photo taken. Once you've reached this point swap to a prime, perhaps 85mm at first and get in a bit closer, work from 5 metres away. Progress down to a 50mm or 30mm prime and get in closer. At this point you're down to between 1 metre and 3 metres and the people have become your scene with the surrounding land/city scape taking a supporting role. Keep your f number down the wide open end f/2.8, f/3.5, f/4 - I don't tend to go above that unless I've got a good reason.

Take on a theme or project - mine is #oblivious I shoot people who are unaware of their surroundings, perhaps they're on the phone, reading a book, in conversation or whatever. I capture them and add them to a progressive album on social media shared with that hash tag. Please don't overdo the hash tags on your posts, that's like screaming at someone "look at me I'm desperate".

Sometimes in my project I come across the occasional person who isn't as oblivious as I thought and they catch you, they don't always look all that happy about it but you can't please everyone. Even a smile didn't unfreeze this one but nothing was said to me although I'm betting whatever she was posting on the phone changed after she saw me. I suppose my last piece of advice about being obvious is it's fine to hang around in the one area for the duration, the people get to see you and they come to relax then you'll get better shots. You don't want posed, you want candid and for that to happen they either need to not realise you're there or they need to be comfortable with your presence. Once you're there long enough they probably even start to ignore you.

What Makes A Good Street Image

Dah! One with people as the predominant subject. Look for the unusual. Look for the everyday. It doesn't really matter, basically you are making a portrait, either close or distant doesn't really matter. You're the artist, go make yourself happy, who cares what critics think?

I'd love to know what you think about Street and about this blog. Comment either her or find me on g+ https://plus.google.com/+PaulPavlinovich