Divided Attention

The noble pursuit of street photography requires a good measure of cunning and bravado. Of course, there is the ever present hurdle of luck and opportunity. Beyond knowing your streets, their patterns and ad hoc events, getting that wonderful shot is a guessing game.

When you are in the right place and you see the converging paths that will result in a great decisive moment, you need to be able to capture the scene. This can be learned and practised. Here are some practical tips to help you build your street photography confidence.

I feel like I’m wearing a sign that says, “Look everyone, a street photographer!”

I know what you mean. When I first started out, doing street photography, I was so focused on seizing photo opportunities I could see people staring back at me. On numerous occasions people I spotted as a potential photo saw me and moved away. Market vendors are deeply suspicious and, even now, I still get glared at.

I quickly realized I was missing shots because I was looking conspicuous and acting a bit weird. That slow purposeful walking and excessive bobble headed looking, then stopping and staring for longer than normal people stop and stare. Very conspicuous.


What changed?

Tourists. London is a tourism mecca and even on week days, the capital is buzzing with visitors from all corners of the globe. I take quite a lot of photos of tourists but, when I don’t want them in my shot, they can be quite annoying. In fact, tourists annoy everyone as they parade through other peoples’ photos with no remorse. Here’s the real value though. While people are irritated with tourists being in their way, they are also tolerated. Others, particularly locals, don’t shy away from their business. They jostle through the visitor throng, or continue their conversations. Tourists are, for the most part, ignored!

This was a great revelation for me and, as a street photographer, I decided to be just like a tourist.

Don’t look conspicuous

Days Gone By

Dress casually and for walking

Check the weather and wear layers for the best and worst of the predicted forecast. I would steer clear of photographer jackets and other ‘practical’ photographer clothing. Think tourist: jeans, sweaters, hoodies, etc. I’ve tried a street photo walk in a three piece suit after a morning meeting. Don’t wear a suit either!

Personally, I recommend a small camera

Before you all jump to berate me, this is my recommendation for being inconspicuous as a street photographer. I used to walk the streets with a 1D Mark IIn and a 50mm f/1.2L lens. An extraordinarily capable camera with a decent fast lens. More often than not, the people I paused to photograph would see this camera and curtly move aside because the professional wants to take a photo and we’re in the way. And the shutter! On a train, I would stealthily raise this camera and fire off a shot. The looks I would get from people being loudly ‘papped’!

Use the neck strap on your camera

Raising a camera from your side to your face could be enough to be seen. With your camera around your neck, raising it to your eye is much less apparent. Of course, you can point your body and shoot ‘from the hip’ without moving the camera.

Carry a small bag or backpack

I take a spare battery, SD card, lens cleaner pen, business cards and a waterproof bag. That’s all, for the entire day’s shooting.

You don’t need a tripod.

Now step forth and be bold!

Hard Sell On The Vintage Cameras

So now you look pretty much like a stereotypical tourist with a camera, how do you act like one?!

Tourists look around a lot and walk slowly, but casually, taking in the scenery. As an exercise, try putting your camera in its bag and just walk around taking in the location. Can you still carry off that casual saunter with your camera in your hand or around your neck?

The second tip, and equally as important as the first, is to look through people rather than at them. Tourists look at the scenery and other people are simply obscuring their view. People will quickly realise they are not the focus of your attention if you are looking past them to what is behind them. It will take a while, but you’ll become practised with seeing a potential photo whilst still looking nonchalant.

Personally, I shoot with a rangefinder. Most of my shots are from around 15 feet away, so I leave my lens focused at that distance for quick response captures, like when someone walks toward you.

Otherwise I will focus for distance and then frame the shot. The trick here is to focus on another object which is the same distance as your subject. Then turn to your subject and shoot. You have minimized the time you are gazing at them by focusing elsewhere.

Street Portraits

Girl Without A Name

Occasionally I will see someone who would make a great street portrait. I carry business cards around and this supports my brand as a street photographer. It’s this that gives me that needed boost to actually approach someone.

Be bold and polite and, this is imperative, know how you want them to pose. You have one chance to get them in position, after all, they’re doing you a favour.

As I approach the person I might say, “Hi, I really like your outfit/tattoo/hair/etc and I wondered if I can take your portrait?”

Take one shot. Check composition on your LCD. Take one more if necessary.

This is where I thank them and hand over a business card. I explain I’m a street photographer and point out my web site so they can go find their picture. This post photo exchange makes me feel less of an intruder and, hopefully, they are not fazed by the two minute distraction either.

Final thoughts

Hopefully these small tips will help you take street pictures while getting over the nervousness of simply trying to take photos. Through practice and experience, you will learn how people react and what you can get away with.

I don’t like to invade the intimate privacy of people or chase them down or ask them to walk back along the route I liked, so I do have a line I won’t cross, but I don’t miss a shot through lack of confidence.

Good luck!

2014 was an eye opening year for my photography. I realised I am still not capturing a real sense of London and I took quite a break to further think about the message to be conveyed in my images.

There were a few decent snaps though and here are some, in no particular order.


Puddle Jumper

Hot Wash

The Apple Effect


Please Open

The Walls Have Eyes [Explored]

Baker Street [Explored]

Step 4 For Phone Calls [Explored]

Time Enough To Sleep [Explored]

Having A Baby I regularly get asked how I achieve the look in my photography.

I start with incredibly flexible, albeit low contrast, monochrome RAW files from my Leica Monochrom. London is saturated with brick, tarmac and concrete, so my post processing will frequently separate foreground objects from the scene. The reason is the structure slider in Silver Efex Pro. Pushing structure in faces and fluid objects works well, but not so for concrete. Example below.


And this brings me to Photoshop. I work in layers and whilst I believe Lightroom will allow me to find the same end result, it’s not easy to ‘stand back’ and appraise the current image of stacked layers and tweak their individual opacities until I’m happy with the composite image.

What now follows, is a layer by layer build up of this image. All processing is achieved in Silver Efex Pro 2, because I’m lazy, and Photoshop CS6. So this is essentially the low contrast image from my camera. In the Adobe Camera Raw dialogue I’ve dialled down the highlights a little and brightened the blacks.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.27You can click on these images to see a larger version.

I’ll place myself to shoot with the best light I can, but it’s infrequent a ‘moment’ occurs that I can get into position for, if there’s a better position at all. This being the case, I will often have to process subjects specifically to boost their light.

First, for this shot, I’m concerned about getting the sidewalk and building correct. I like to make London’s concrete look cleaner than it usually is. See below.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.33

I chose a lowish structure filter from the Modern section and increased the soft contrast, boosted contrast whites and decreased structure. You can still see the bubblegum, but the scene is lighter, less cracks and stains.

The guy is not doing well with this filter and this is often the case where filters are great for one portion of the scene, but not elsewhere.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.37

Again, from SEP2’s Modern section – the first high structure filter I think – I increased the soft contrast a little. I’ve applied a mask to the man. He’s brighter and with a nice texture in his clothes.

I duplicated this layer, adding a mask, for the window panes. I bang up the contrast and structure on any reflective surface. There’s nothing worse than dull lifeless surfaces that should shine and reflect the world. High contrast!

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.40

Tell me those windows don’t look better?!

Still not happy about his face and arms, so I’m going for even more structure and slight increase in exposure.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.45

Same filter, higher structure, boosted fine structure and overall brightness a little and a layer mask for his face and arms. This layer is not 100% opacity though. The effect should be subtle and Photoshop allows me to view the compound image and adjust opacities for each and every layer concurrently.

I know some would stop here, but I prefer my photography high contrast and, on a wall, it has greater impact. This means additional contrast layers.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.48

The guy’s exposure is pretty low compared to the scene, so the first contrast layer is masked for everywhere but him. I use a low contrast Modern filter usually, boosting the whites and softening the shadows. negative structure. Then set the layer’s blend mode to hard light.

He does need contrast and I’d like to focus the viewer on him, so I’ll employ another contrast layer on the entire scene. Using SEP2’s Vintage Pinhole filter, grain off, brightness down and increased soft contrast to change the light in the centre of the scene. Layer blend mode to hard light again.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.51

This is the effect I was after. Slightly de-emphasising the edges, even whiter walls and a controlled level of contrast on the guy.

Never trusting monitors, I always perform a Image>Adjustments>Levels (Auto) check. It slightly brightened the scene, which I’m happy with. I also sharpen the image in preparation for print.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.54

Flatten the image and duplicate the image twice. The first additional layer, perform a High Pass filter of 4.0 and set the layer blend mode to overlay and opacity to 20%.

To the second addition layer, perform a High Pass filter of 2.0 and set the layer blend mode to overlay and opacity to 20% again.

And flatten the image. I keep the PSD for print runs, but create a smaller jpeg for the internet.

How this image ended up is not to everyone’s taste, but the take home is that I could process what I wanted and subsequently tweak the opacity of individual effect layers.

Sorry about the whacky histogram; my cat walked over the keyboard and I need to set that back.

Good luck processing!

I’m not sure why I chose to take this guy’s photo, but being caught taking the shot has actually made the shot interesting.

City HeatCity Heat

Why this is a keeper is that it was baking hot and I distinctly recall being parched and in need of hydration. This guy, in boiler suit and gloves, is a contrasty harsh vision of the heat that day.

It could be my eyes too but, full size and from about 5 feet, the perspective is strange too!

I hope the Summer isn’t quite finished with us just yet.

Wandering through Gerrard Street only to pause at this chap who was staring intently at one end of the street. Who knows why, but his brolly could not have been more useless under the searing sun.

Zero Chance Of Rain

Walking round the West End and Mayfair, it was wonderful to witness tourists and London locals all soaking up the summer sun.

Sunny London Friday Afternoon Part I

Kids and water! Whoever designed this monument to Bill Shakespeare knew there would be zillions of kids and their families in the summer.

Sunny London Friday Afternoon Part II

Ye old drinking culture shot is a bit misleading, what with Londoners drinking each and every lunch time rain, shine, winter or summer!

Sunny London Friday Afternoon Part III

Not my usual style, but I took a few of these scenes giddy from the atmosphere, dehydration, call it what ever.

Hope your weekend is relaxing and sunny!

From London’s Streets

July 23, 2014 — 2 Comments

The challenging street photography continues with London’s ongoing meltingly hot summer. I’m not complaining, well I am a little about the harsh light, people on the streets are entirely different in winter and summer. Different like wanting to be outside versus having to be!

Head Start

The Look

Uphill Battles

Incidentally, the London Suit will wear jacket and tie 46 weeks of the year. 3 weeks, at the apex of summer, they’ll remove their jacket and tie and, transversely for the remaining 3, in the most inclement cold of winter they’ll don a winter coat. Which is just a knee length suit jacket with thicker material.

Enjoy the sun and the coming weekend folks.