Monday, 14 September 2009

Head out onto the streets..

7:30am Les Halles, Paris 2001

My approach to street photography : Part 1

I'll be heading out to Paris in a few weeks to accompany a group of photographers to photograph street and architecture, along with Andy Craggs. Street photography can mean different things to different people and yes, it is one of the most challenging styles of photographs to make and highly rewarding if accomplished well.

Kosovan girl with Stars and Stripes, London, 1999

I started delving into this genre in 1998/9 when I attended my 'first' public rally in Trafalgar Square, photographing the Stop The War campaign in Kosovo. Since then, the street has been my playground, and thus led to my Outside Looking In : Kuala Lumpur book in 2000.

Some ground rules first. Street photography, because of its nature, is basically a beast. It is uncontrollable, a bit haphazard, and oh, yes, there's Lady Luck involved as well. Once you are 'in the zone' so to speak, things will become clearer, as the fog of indecision lifts. Slowly but surely. You begin with a hit rate of zero, and the odds will improve. Shooting digital helps, but not always.

In our image-overkill world of flickr galleries, facebook posts and online slideshows, we seemed hooked onto the 2-dimensionality of photography of the 'instant', constantly sharing our photographs and thoughts on a daily basis. Photography, for many, has become the LCD screen we gaze at, day in day out. Street photography brings us back to reality, where real life exists, and unscripted. The street is where you will engage with people, and existence is fluid and active. The street is your camera's playground.

Let's start with the Rules of Engagement :

Point 1 : Objective

Ask yourself, how are you attracted to street photography. Ah yes, many people will cite HCB, Winogrand or even Moriyama (and dare I say... Araki) or Doisneau's famous 'Hotel De Ville kissing couple'. Elliot Erwitt's dog series? Can you see and photograph what these masters saw in their streets? Can you walk their walk? Forget about it!

Penny for the Guy, Columbia Road Market, London 1998

You shoot your own streets and alleys. Apply your own technique and approach, and you will be rewarded. The important thing to remember is - its only street photography, its not papparazzi-stalking or photojournalism. Its photographing people like yourself, walking about your streets and pavements, your neighbours, your local fishmonger, your local cafe owner don't upset them. Its about documenting a slice of reality which is completely ordinary. Nothing fancy and nothing contrived, like a wedding function. There's no pressure to deliver, or deadlines to meet. You take your own time, go out and sit in a coffee shop and just people watch.

Point 2. Observe, observe, observe

Start with a nice cup of coffee, sit quietly and just observe. See how people behave, families with their kids, mothers with the pushchairs, waiters taking orders, people that pass you by. After a while, you'll see moments or instances that humour you, make you cringe or take you aback. These are the so-called 'decisive moments' that you are subconsciously seeking as you begin to understand the human condition.

Beggar and school kids, Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur, 1999

Take a walk, and observe the passing scenery before you. Because you are now moving, reality is quickly taking on another dimension, it becomes 3D. Your pace and your choice of lens will define the bubble of space or zone that you will encounter people and hence photograph them. Objects, people and scenes will flicker in and out of your space, and it will be at this moment that you begin to see photographs. I recommend a wide angle lens 35mm to 50mm is ideal, and pre-focus to 3m to get real close to your subjects. If you have studied what a 35mm lens will cover at 3m, you will have mindframes in your sight at all times.

Go to Part 2

More later.... (got to go shoot some fashion!)


-f-l-o- said...

Hey Steve, thanks a lot for this post.

I do have series of street photos that I need to write about but I've been occupied.

You'll know when they're done then you can have a look and let me know what you think!

svllee said...

Hi Flocy, thanks. Sure looking forward to your photos.

Anonymous said...

I originally did landscape photography, but couldn't challenge myself anymore. I always dreamed of having the courage to do street photography. Now I love it. The thrill of documenting real life is fascinating. Thanks for your writing.

svllee said...

Hi Wouter, thanks for your visit and comment. I often see photographs when I am out and about usually when I'm without my camera. Hence I find the GRD2 so useful.