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Street Portraits Capture


Even to those unfamiliar with the genre, its obvious that street photography is not just stepping outside your front door, raising your camera and pressing the shutter. For one thing, we wouldnt have dedicated an entire issue to it

At its very best, street photography is a way of making observations about the world by using a camera. The grandfather of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson, called the subject of such images the decisive moment, a ash of clarity in the mundane; a picture that shows the photographers sudden recognition of the relevance, pattern, humour or importance of a scene. It has been argued that street pictures let you see the world through another persons eyes more effectively than any other branch of photography. What one individual considers important enough to warrant capturing on camera could (and frequently does) go unnoticed by a second photographer, which is what makes this genre so completely fascinating. Famously, it is said there are no rules to street photography. Of course, normal photographic rules of exposure, composition and focus still apply. However, when shooting street your pictures can be blurry or overexposed as long as theyre like that for a reason. F/8 and be there is a

commonly quoted maxim. The overarching guideline for street photography should always be: make it memorable. The very greatest practitioners will be creating street images that provoke a reaction in the viewer: laughter, reection, thoughtfulness, disgust, sadness, surprise or plain old wonderment that the photographer managed to open the shutter at precisely that moment. Be warned, those who start enjoying street photography often nd that it takes over their lives completely, and with great passion comes great debate. Is it ethical to take a picture of someone without their knowledge? What about shooting pictures of children? Should a street scene ever be staged? Is taking pictures in a public place illegal or totally ne? With the help of Eric Kim, an American street photographer, well attempt to answer some of these points and hopefully inspire you enough to summon up your courage, head out into the public and start capturing your own decisive moments.

Street furniture like arrows and signposts, especially ones of this scale, make for pictures with great impact.


Street Portraits Capture



Street Portraits Capture

What you need

One of the great pleasures of street photography is that you can do it on your lunch break. You dont have to spend hours building relationships with a model or trek to beautiful locations for the right light, you can literally just grab your camera and go. But what camera? On page 79 we put four current digital cameras through a real world test and here well explain how using different equipment can provide a different experience to the act of capturing a street image. But at the end of the day, the very best camera is the one you have with you

Cameraphones The primary benet to using your smartphone is that it will probably always be in your pocket, so you can whip it out, grab the picture and be gone in the blink of an eye. Also by using a mobile phone as a camera you melt into the background, making this an excellent camera for those people who are nervous about photographing the public. Using a phone has its downsides: a tiny sensor, limited le sizes (in some cases) and very reduced control can leave you facing a photo opportunity without the proper tools to capture it.

Compacts Professional-spec compacts such as the Canon G10 and the FujiFilm X100 offer improved image quality and the manual controls of an SLR, plus you rarely look threatening or like a photographer when using one of these tiny cameras. However, when using a compact its difficult to get the sort of depth-of-eld or background blur that a CSC or DSLR can offer, and if your device doesnt offer instantaneous capture (such as Ricoh GRD IIIs snapshot mode) then you can nd yourself becoming victim to the dreaded shutter lag.

Rangenders or CSCs Famously the tool of legendary street photographers, lm rangenders are still very much an option for those keen enough to shoulder the continuing costs of developing lm. Theyre small, light, offer beautiful image quality, are quiet in operation and let you see the world around your frame through the viewnder. Digital rangenders such as the Leica M9 are the stuff of dreams for most of us, but digital compact system cameras provide a cheaper alternative and often come with a pancake lens.

SLRs Unless youre able to bag yourself a digital rangender, SLRs will give you the best image quality for street shooting. However, theyre heavy and instantly mark you out as a photographer, which can make people aware of your presence. Try sticking a bit of black electrical tape over any obvious branding, and brush up your shooting from the hip. For those using SLRs, your main decision to make concerns the glass on the front of your camera. Try a classic street photographers wide-angle prime lens.


You dont always need a speedlight to add a pop of ash to your images. The photographer Michael David Murphy has no ash corner, an intersection in his home town where natural reections create a beam of intense light that spotlights subjects as they walk. For the confrontational Bruce Gilden, the New York-based photographer who sticks his camera right into peoples faces for fascinating reaction shots, his use of ash is vital for conveying the sense of location. He says of his highly charged shots: I use ash a lot because ash helps me visualise the feelings of the city the energy, the stress, the anxiety that you nd here. If ash suits your style and youre brave enough, then use it.

One of Eric Kims images taken at night with a Ricoh GRD III and in-camera ash. Working close up with a ash might not cause as much confrontation as youd think.


Street Portraits Capture

This means exactly what you think it does: holding your camera at waist-ish height and taking a picture without using the viewnder or LCD screen. The rst 500 pictures you take like this will almost certainly be rubbish, with the occasional keeper amongst the dross. Digital capture can really save you money here shooting continuously from the hip as you walk past a subject might land you the shot youre looking for. If your cameras AF is reliable, centre the focus point and leave it up to your device. Alternatively, use pre-set focusing (discussed in the panel on the right) to give you more of a chance at sharpness while working in manual focus. A lot of street photographers try this style out while learning the ropes and then once their condence levels are up, return to the viewnder but it can be useful when in a crowded place and you dont want to stand out.


What settings do I use?

With street photography, content is inversely proportional to technical perfection: if the content is fascinating, you can sacrice pinsharp focus and perfect exposure, but if the content is mundane, good composition and focus can help you tell the story. So what settings should you be using to ensure that your images wont technically be letting you down? Eric Kim advises that you should stick in program, or aperture-priority mode, or even full auto if youre presented with an immediate situation that demands capturing. Im sure if I always shot in manual mode, I would have lost so many photo opportunities due to the fact that I might have not had the right settings at an unexpected time, he says. Let the camera do the maths for you and itll get it right on most occasions. If you have more time to consider your settings, try to follow the sunny 16 rule of keeping it at f/16 in bright sunlight with ISO the same as your shutter speed. Keep your shutter speed above 1/250sec. Autofocus is not great for street photography, as so often the key element of your shot will be the object thrown into blur. Cameras dont know what you want to be sharp so you may want to dodge this and go manual. Try setting your ideal working distance by pre-focusing at a known distance and using an aperture of around f/8 and f/11 in order to give you a workable depthof-eld. If youre using a prime lens, use the depth-of-eld scale to establish how much of your shot will be sharp. Shoot in Raw mode and you may be able to salvage a pictures exposure and white-balance when youre back at the computer. Some photographers advocate putting cameras into black & white mode. As you can see from most of the images in this feature, monochrome suits street photography.

Some alternative approaches to shooting from the hip ipping cameras upside down, concealing them under folded arms and always looking as nonchalant as possible.

Though its tempting to shoot from afar, candid pictures can become voyeuristic when the photographer is using a long lens. Robert Capa famously said: If your pictures arent good enough, youre not close enough. Or as Eric Kim points out: Creepiness is directly proportional to focal length. A wide prime lens such as the classic photojournalist 35mm (or equivalent length for your cameras crop factor) is ideal. Most prime lenses have a depth-of-eld scale to show how much of your image will be in focus at a specied aperture. Theyre also often faster, making them more useful in low light situations. Primes will also force

ABOVE LEFT: Avoid creepy behaviour. ABOVE RIGHT: Olympus new 12mm MFT lens has a depth-of-eld scale.

you into a compositional decision, making you move your legs rather than zooming in and if you stick with it, you can learn the

eld of view and compose accordingly. All time-saving lessons which may make the difference between getting a shot and not.


Street Portraits Capture

Portraits with permission

If youre having difficulties with the ethics of pictures without your subjects knowledge, you could take a leaf from Danny Santos book. The Singaporebased photographer specialises in a sub-genre of street photography, commonly termed street portraiture. He set himself the project of shooting 100 strangers walking on a specic street in Singapore, but rather than capturing candids, Danny approaches strangers, asks if he can take their picture and then uses a Nikon D300 with an 85mm f/1.4 lens to take three shots wide open at f/1.4 and another three shots at f/2. No ash was used in any of the portraits, only available light on overcast skies or in shade, he says on his blog. Ive always considered myself lucky whenever I get a yes from a stranger. Some would say sure immediately, which is always a wonderful surprise others would be a little wary and ask what for? I would tell them exactly what Im doing: shooting portraits of people, a personal project. Working in colour also marks it as different from the usual monochrome that street shooters tend to use. Capturing portraits of strangers with permission is a challenge that will help your condence no end.

Looking for the luck An excellent street photograph may look like a spontaneous moment. But whats hidden from view is the years of pounding the streets, the thousands of binned images that went before, the decades spent looking at life and people and the way they behave, that enabled the photographer to know exactly what settings to use, where the buttons were located on the camera in order to change them quickly, to wait a heartbeat longer so the subjects arm was no longer in shadow. Exhausting stuff. The British street photographer David Gibson talks of going out to take street pictures as looking for the luck, which is an excellent way of describing the hunt but the more you practice, the luckier you will become. Here are some ways to help you get lucky. Pound the streets Knowing your home turf inside out is the perfect way to improve your odds. When you walk around, keep your eyes out for patches of light, for clever advertising posters, for areas where people converge then try studying one of these places to see if they have any photographic potential. Creating a street photograph by seeing a potential picture and waiting for an individual or event to come along and complete the scene isnt cheating it could be likened to the common practice of waiting for the light to change in landscape photography. You still need the creative vision to see the possibilities. Although its important to study an area, the longer you stay in one location, the more likely it is that youre missing chance opportunities elsewhere. This is something that youll have to judge for yourself every time you nd yourself with a potential shot in front of you. Is it ever actually going to come together in the perfect image? People pictures For Eric Kim, street photography is nothing without people in the pictures. I prefer shots with people in my images, as I nd the human face utterly fascinating. However, I would still say that images that dont include people can still be street photography although the best shots typically include people, he says. When shooting people, try to get images where the person is looking towards you.



Street Portraits Capture

TOP: Unusual activity in an ordinary location can create a fascinating nal image. ABOVE: If your camera can handle it, go out shooting in the rain weather makes people behave strangely ABOVE LEFT: Interesting advertising set against people on the street is always a great place to start your street photography habit but make sure you wait for the perfect framing moment to press your shutter.

As humans, we like looking at faces rather than backs of heads, and expressions are far more interesting. Eric agrees: I am fascinated in human interaction, both individually and in groups, and I love capturing these interactions in my images, he said on his blog. Whether it is people communicating, a person showing to others whats on their mind through their body or facial expressions, or how people communicate how they want to be perceived by others. Most street photographers choose to move into the scene or person that theyre shooting. In order to give a meaning to the world, Henri Cartier-Bresson said, one has to feel oneself involved in what he

frames through the viewnder. Though it might feel odd, moving closer to the person will normally result in a better image. If you want to take it further, Eric has recently been trying out a style very similar to Bruce Gildens potentially confrontational approach getting extremely close to people and crouching down and kneeling and taking a photo of them at a vertical angle. People usually notice me doing this, but I pretend like Im taking a photo of something else. Very few people have bothered me regarding this. The main hurdle to overcome when taking pictures of people is your own fear, but overleaf there are a few steps you can take to help yourself get over it.


While walking, keep an eye out for groups or contrasting objects that might make excellent subjects. Juxtaposition is king set things against their opposite, or their perfect pair, and youre golden. Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke of a rhythm a rhyme between different elements that helps to create a world-class street image. He enjoyed geometry in pictures and groups of three or ve objects or motifs are famously much more pleasing to humans than even-numbered groups.




Street Portraits Capture

Theres a popular self-help book titled Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway which is good advice for those looking to brush up their street photography. Most people hesitate because theyre nervous about their subjects reaction. If you ip it round and ask how would you react if you saw someone taking a photo of you, youll probably nd that youre not too bothered. You might be intrigued as to why they were taking the picture, but not outright offended and furious. Especially if they were smiling and friendly while they snapped you. Practice smiling at strangers and youll see that most of the time theyll smile back theyre busy with their own lives. If someone in your picture does go to the trouble of stopping you and asks what youre doing, be polite: tell them that you found them interesting, or that you liked their hair, or their shoes which is the truth. If a random person complimented you in such a manner, itd probably make your day. Be friendly. Weirdly, getting close to people may help your candid pictures. I always love to say that you actually are less noticed when you shoot up and close to people, rather than when youre far away, Eric says. When you are so close and taking photos, people typically turn around to see what you are taking. Also, if you try to avoid making eye contact with people, you will be invisible. If your device of choice has a viewnder, you could try making eye contact through your camera rather than doing it in person keep your camera strapped to your face and lock eyes with your subject. The street photographer Thomas Leuthard has developed a style based on people wondering if hes taking pictures of them. He waits to take the picture until theyve looked away and then taken a second look back at him. If you do nd yourself making eye contact with your subject, you could try looking past them into the distance as if youre trying to compose a picture of whatevers behind them. Dress congruously so you wont stand out from the crowd, and act natural. If you relax and just act like youre waiting for someone or checking some settings on your camera, you wont stand out at all and most people will just walk straight by. Alternatively you could try acting the non-threatening tourist, completely delighted with everything around you and thrilled to be out with your camera.

ABOVE: Shot in Berlin with an Olympus E-P1, using the in-built grainy lm art lter setting to force my hand into a style of shooting. BELOW: Keeping an eye out for interesting graffiti can be worth a ve minute wait to see who comes along to complete the picture.



Street Portraits Capture

The law Bottom line: if youre shooting in the UK, you do not need a permit to take pictures in a public place and the police have no power to stop you taking pictures. It is not illegal to take pictures in a public space. Here comes the grey bit: this applies in public spaces, but you might nd yourself surprised what isnt a public space these days. Train stations and large areas of London might look public, but theyre under the control of private companies, so you may nd yourself tapped on the shoulder by an inquisitive security guard. Capturing pictures of people in a public space is also not illegal. You cant invade peoples privacy by taking photographs of them somewhere they would expect not to be seen, such as in their own house or garden. On top of this, you cant harass anyone. Pursuing an interesting-looking person with your camera in hand might be fun, but is it worth them feeling uncomfortable? Probably not. If you are planning to sell your images for commercial use which is unlikely - then you will need a model release from any people that appear in your shot. Youll also need permission for any shots involving other companies advertising. If youre using your images for personal use or art (as most of us are) then its not a problem. Though theyre hugely tempting subjects, its best to avoid children. Photographing children is not illegal, but you may nd yourself being investigated, and nine times out of ten, its not worth the potential hassle. The best street photography advice is to learn to judge the situation. Carry cards, offer to send the pictures and SMILE. There is a four-page PDF on photographers and the law available from which has more detail, but try not to get too bogged down in it. Always have in your head: is the picture worth it? If anyone official does stop you, be polite and co-operate and remember you can shoot in any public space and no one can force you to delete an image, not even a police officer. Most of the time, street photography will come down to your own personal ethics. Do you feel uncomfortable? If so, then youll have to make the decision for yourself. At the end of the day, it is not illegal to take photographs in a public space in the UK but if you move quickly, you wont get caught anyway. Best of luck.



ERIC KIM Eric Kim runs a fantastic street photography workshop that will run you through the thinking behind street images as well as practical information for capturing better shots. Though he has no dates planned at present, keep an eye on his website for information on future dates. While youre there, his site is an absolute goldmine of information for those looking to try street photography for the rst time. PROJECTS As mentioned previously, projects can help you focus your mind and it just so happens that the Street Photography Now group is halfway through a year-long project designed to get photographers out taking street pictures. Visit the website below to sign up for weekly email-based questions or pointers set by other street photographers, which you then have to try and capture in a photograph and upload to the relevant Flickr group within the timescale. Its an excellent way to think differently about your street work and the accompanying discussions within the Flickr groups are hugely informative. www.streetphotographynowproject. The introduction to the book Street Photography Now is also online, and is an excellent read for those interested in the more philosophical side of this genre. OTHER SITES OF INTEREST 2POINT8 Michael David Murphys site for street photography, complete with ethics discussion, approach, topics to shoot and more besides. IN-PUBLIC Proles and portfolios from some of the worlds best street photographers, full of ideas, inspiration and discussion. IM A PHOTOGRAPHER, NOT A TERRORIST A group which has done much to highlight the targeting of photographers by security guards and the police. Its website contains useful information on the law and an interactive map of sensitive areas. FLICKR One of the best Flickr groups for street photography, this pool of images is a fantastic inspiration.

ABOVE: Of course, if your subjects are totally unaware, then youll denitely get away with it