Archives For Observations

Happy New Year!!!

I hope your New Year celebrations went well? Did you make any resolutions to better yourself?

Personally, I have 2.

  • Keep Mrs Walker-Toye happy
  • Take every opportunity to make even better street photographs

Regarding No. 1, mind your own business ;-)

No. 2.

It’s all very well coming out with this bold, “…make even better street photographs”, but maybe it’s as simple as looking at your images and assessing why yours don’t look as good as those images from a.n.other street photographer you know. Can it be opportunity?

One substantial tip I can offer is to ‘take the shot’.

I’m serious. If you are walking by an interesting scene – obviously you have a camera! – stop and take the shot. Walk back, go down the side alley and take the shot! Cross the road and, yes… take the shot!

I’ve seen a few situations where walking on was a very sensible idea and, for safety reasons, I don’t regret not getting the photo. BUT, if you walk by and think, “that would have been a good photo”, then you and I are disappointed in you!

Confidence is the single biggest factor impeding your progress as a street photographer.

I can talk technicalities, composition and framing, and yes they’re significant but if you didn’t get in there and take the photo, it’s all for nothing.

This year, I challenge you to be bold. Get closer. Frame and shoot with confidence.

And don’t forget to smile when you get caught by the subject… which you will ;)

On this particular day, I was walking London’s Chinatown to the Leicester Square exit and I was literally seconds from bumping into this couple.

Either purposeful or late, no idea, but I had virtually no time to react. The light was not good enough to freeze them in their haste and get a long depth of field, so I opened up to f/2.8, raised the camera, tweaked focus and pressed the shutter.

L1003781

Scenes and backgrounds play a significant role in my work and, as such, they are selected and carefully composed. I intend for the viewer to scan the scene for the details that support the foreground subject.

Sitting Pretty

So I am left wondering whether I like the topmost image with its slightly out of focus background. The couple are more striking and isolated in their thin plane of focus and it is still plain to see what humdrum Chinatown life is going on about them.

35mm is a wonderful focal length for street photography where the street can gain as much presence as the people. Though more of a natural frame, at 50mm, I still prefer the wider 35mm. If you are wary of getting too close to people or relish the creamy backgrounds, the 50 is the wiser choice.

Invisible

As for achieving narrow depth of field with a 35mm lens you really need to open up to f/2.8 or wider remembering, for any given focal length, the wider the lens the longer the depth of field.

Creative or not, employing short depth of field for any photograph is purely subjective and can be abused into a state of mind numbing dullness as much as images with a long depth of field. Do consider whether the scene adds to the composition.

I’ll keep the image of the hasty travellers, but please don’t expect too many of these. London’s streets are fascinating and I want you to see the detail as I do.

Winter Is Coming!

November 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

Barflies
While the inclement winter weather rolls in I will still be out there photographing London’s streets.

Of course, the dynamic of people photography changes slightly with them not actually wanting to be outdoors, but great photos are still there to be had. We street photographers just need to work a little bit harder ;-)

With this in mind, here are my tips for keeping you productive out there in the freeze!

  • Lined, fingerless gloves are essential for keeping as much of your hands warm whilst retaining dexterity.
  • Lip salve certainly prevents my lips from splitting.
  • Good footwear is essential year round however, in winter conditions, I recommend well polished leather shoes or boots or breathable waterproof equivalents.
  • In addition, and again this is year round, I recommend Sorbothane style impact gel insoles. They make the difference between sore knees the next day or not!
  • Clothing wise I wear layers and, on the coldest days, a long sleeve thermal top – Marks & Spencer stock my favourite.
  • Minimise condensation in your camera when moving indoors to a much warmer environment by putting your camera back in your pack before going inside. Leave it in there to acclimatise slowly.
  • Batteries drain far more quickly in the cold, so have at least one fully charged spare.
  • I carry ziplock bags sized for my phone and batteries and camera. There will be a time when the heavens open and you will be caught 10 minutes from the nearest transport. You won’t mind getting soaked knowing your kit is dry.

Street photography is still fun in zero degrees, but only when you’re prepared for it!

I follow the continuing work from a lot of street photographers on the ‘net and I’ve noticed, by far, the dominant orientation is landscape.

I also frequent gallery spaces and exhibitions and the street photography in these spaces doesn’t have a bias for orientation.

Landscape

For a while now I have been mulling this over I am inclined to believe, for the less experienced photographers, this is a comfort zone issue.

Disregarding the aged compositional rules favouring portrait the more formal orientation and landscape the serene and distant cousin, the decision between the two should really be more related to scale and mood.

Reading Material

Personally, I remain constantly aware of surroundings and context. In the example, above, the railings and steps draw the gaze to the man who might well be reflecting on his book purchases. The framing would be lost in a horizontal scene.

The orientation choice for the top image was purely down to scale. I spotted the phone covering the man’s eyes as he persisted his own gaze to a photograph. I literally couldn’t convey the busy scene without the portrait orientation which, in this case, is all the more immediate and ‘in the scene’.

The reflection image below seems most natural in a vertical format. There’s an intimacy about the couple. The reflection, the lamp post, railings and foliage, draw the gaze up and down so that, maybe two or three times, your eyes fall upon the couple. Were this scene to have more to the left and/or right, you might not connect with these two at all.

Stories From The Southbank

Shooting portrait is a bold move and requires confidence; you are effectively widening your focal length and cropping your scene, but your street photography can be massively rewarded.

Landscape is not the ignoble twin, but portrait certainly isn’t as stuffy and formal as the old rules might have you believe.

As I wander London’s streets I look up. I’m not referring to a moment, I mean the entire day.

Long ago I discovered, all too slowly for a reasonably intelligent person, I looked at everything as a tourist and, as a London worker bee, virtually nothing I wasn’t about to trip over.

I try to see the landscape with the people in it and my street photography reflects a style of unwaveringly long depths of field and significant backdrops.

Sometimes you don’t need people.

Blackfriar's Solar Bridge

Urban Landscape
We all take photos of the Tube and why shouldn’t we?! Definitely one aspect of London’s identity.

More often than not people make the scene.

Future Perfect

It’s not an intrusion. Don’t ignore the landscape.

Tate Modern

This image, above, was my 14th capture on my current camera. If you look back a year, at your out of camera exposures. Could you have captured a better frame?

Going into the weekend, I will leave you with my mantra.

Shoot the best composition you can. Shoot RAW and nail the exposure.

You can edit again, but you can’t re take the photo.

Have a great weekend all

Michael

 

Get In There!

August 12, 2013 — 2 Comments

I watched this guy put the hard sell on these two to move his vintage cameras. A Polaroid in this case.

Hard Sell On The Vintage Cameras

My lightning quick ;-) composition brain concluded shorter depth of field and get his cold eyes locked in!

Around the world I am hearing, “So?!”.

At 50mm, on a full frame don’t forget, or longer this blog post falls on its moot little face, but I shoot at 35mm. This is a full frame capture at 35mm, processed but not cropped or rotated.

I virtually had to join in the sale and rub shoulders with these two to get the shot.

Shortly after, I got the icy stare and made a quick exit.

If you’re going to shoot street like this, get a 50mm.

Yesterday, and only through a random ‘off to London’ status on Facebook by friend and Street Photographer Stephen Cosh, I was invited to join a photowalk.

I must confess I was quite keen to meet other Leica photographers. I should not have been surprised when they turned out to be thoroughly nice people who are true fans of the brand and love to chat about it.

New friends! Common interests! Can’t get any better than that, surely?!

Three Leica 'M' Support Units
Three fellow Leica enthusiasts

So we met and the conversation flowed. With introductions out the way, we advanced from our Waterloo meeting place to the Southbank. I caught up with Stephen and, as we walked, I talked to the others.

I’m not rambling, the point is I was really enjoying meeting these new people, but I was not taking any photos!

This is about the only shot I captured with the group and it’s pretty much just a portrait.

Southbank Diva

After I left the group I could concentrate.

Calm

Smoking Zone

 

So, the moral of this story is to use your photo walk as a learning experience for new techniques or to catch up with friends or find new contacts. You won’t get any decent photographs though ;)

For me, I got an invaluable and all too infrequent opportunity to talk to fellow street photographers. I can’t wait for the next one.

Private Property [Explored May 9, 2013 #246]

Private Property

I spotted the space, the people and the security guard almost at the same time.

My very next thought was about the centre piece in this hidden from the street scene and how they might have engineered the water to flow invisibly to the surface and flow equally over the four edges. So, and now a few seconds have passed, I see the people – some tourists, some office workers – are going about their business and sitting and walking by.

The private security guard is staring at me as I survey the scene. He has decided for me that I should take a photograph.

It is becoming more and more frequent that I get approached by private security, which means that a) there’s a hell of a lot of great london architecture that is privately owned and patrolled and b) why target photographers?

I can understand stopping those of us that turn up with medium and large format cameras on a sturdy tripod. You might not be wrong jumping to the conclusion that this is a commercial effort for said photographer. I got pretty adept at setting up out of sight, running into position, shoot 3 frames and run away!

But as far as this guard knew, I had a little digital camera and was just taking a few snaps.

“You can’t take photographs here. It’s private property.”.

He’s right, I don’t have too many rights here, so I mumble protest and move on. I’d already got the shot.

I’m getting some flak for this image, but I stand by its value as a comment on so many of the architected spaces in central London.

Have a great weekend all
Michael

 

Constructing Mazes

Constructing Mazes

In a previous life, as an artist using traditional mediums, my brain didn’t really grasp the creative use of a shorter depth of field. On picking up a digital camera, it quickly became an obsession for me to use focus to pick out details and occlude the rest of the world in the name of creativity. My favoured style now is to see all, to capture as much of the world in a frame. And the world does reach to the horizon.

So is there a rule? What works, especially in street photography? What changed for me?

Over the years, my preferences in the photography of others and my own goals for my images chased each others’ tails. I definitely respond to photographs that reveal to me an aspect of the world I hadn’t previously seen or considered; an image, with nothing more to say or a photograph with a message or metaphor or simply an allegory. With this appetite for content in the images of others, why should I not strive for this in my own photography?

Not to get too distracted selective focus, and depth of field is just a selected plane of focus, is the sledgehammer of leading lines. The eye has no choice but to go to the focal area. It surely must follow that if the photographer is using a short depth of field they have something to say about a subject in isolation from the rest of the world.

As street photographers we have so many things to think about whilst wandering around. I am guilty of evaluating people, things and scenes for luminosity and tonal rendition as well as their position in space before I interact with them! But before I take a photograph I do consider the question, “when I publish this image, will viewers understand why I took this photo?”. It’s valid! They were not there, at the scene.

Where’s the rule?! What is it?! Well, there is no rule. Maybe a mantra, but no rule.

As a photographer, consider those who will be looking at your image whether on the internet, in a forum post, or as a print hung in a gallery. Did the fuzzy out of focus world really detract from the lovers sharing an ice cream on a bench, because I can’t think of many situations where the context of the world wouldn’t add to the scene.

As a street photographer, of course.