This last two weeks in Your Camera, Your World participants have been learning about Street Photography.
It isn’t easy – we even have one person in Berlin where German law prohibits photographing people publicly without their permission. We covered things like fear, getting permission, model releases and even how to carry yourself in public places when you’re photographing.
It also isn’t easy because the genre of street photography is immense in terms of possible subject. Traditionally it’s about photographing people in urban or public environments. But I broadened the definition for the assignment so they had five areas they could focus on – people, signs, transportation, night and pattern.
Henri Cartier-Bresson – one of the founders of the entire genre of Street Photography, says:
‘We seldom take great pictures. You have to milk the cow a lot
and get lots of milk to make a little piece of cheese.’
What does this mean? It means for each time you shoot an idea – let’s say you capture 30 frames – you are working through that idea in-camera as much as you can for composition, camera settings, lens choice, camera angle, decisive moment and lighting. For that one idea you aim to ‘land’ the image where all elements converge and the picture takes on a life of its own for a viewer to enjoy.
It’s about being patient with yourself, doing the best you can with the knowledge you have, assessing your work honestly, without ego as much as possible, and ideally, going out and shooting again, and again, and again until your ideas are well formed and executing successfully.
It takes practice, patience and perserverance. It ain’t easy.
As a photographer that has straddled the transition from film to digital I have noticed that nowadays people often say that post-production is where you ‘fix mistakes’ made during the exposure.
I believe post-production is the modern-day equivalent to printing an image from a negative in the darkroom. You can’t make a great print without a great negative. The tools have changed but the game remains the same. It’s no co-incidence that Adobe called one of their post-production programs ‘Lightroom’. Post-production is about furthering the execution of your idea in terms of depth, tone, colour, saturation etc. It’s a place for raising the bar on an already-good-image, it’s not a place for rectifying mistakes made in-camera. I advise spending the time doing everything you possibly can correctly in-camera, so that enhancement of idea is all that’s left to do in post-production.
Today I’m featuring Leah’s results to demonstrate how learning photography is a work in progress in getting to that piece of cheese. Leah did an excellent job having a go in spite of her reservations about photographing strangers in public places.
Firstly, here’s what Leah had to say about her results when she submitted them for feedback:
I really love this module but unfortunately, I’m not very satisfied with the results of my photos. Anyway, I’m submitting 2 photos for People category because I’m really interested in capturing fleeting moments in the streets. Although I’m very reluctant to photograph people on the streets, I decided to challenge myself and see what I could get.
For my first photo in black and white, I came across street performers in Melbourne CBD and I wanted to capture the people watching them. I chose black and white because color was a bit too distracting and the light I had was quite harsh so I thought black and white might save the photo. For my second photo in color, it’s again a photo of people watching but this time it’s a window display in Myer’s. I was trying to capture the people’s silhouettes against the window display here but I couldn’t really adjust the exposure properly in post-production.
Thank you Leah, for your bravery and willingness to share your learning journey so that others may benefit.
Black & white of street performers and spectators.
Leah first noticed an idea that interested her – to photograph street performers with spectators watching. She thought that she might ‘save’ the photo in post-production by going to black and white. We use post-production to bring our images to life or to enhance elements that bring emphasis to our ideas, rather than use post-production to save an image. The challenge here for Leah is the lighting – she’s fighting the light in-camera due to the angle of the sun. The resultant image has blown out whites and deep, dark shadows – a very contrasty scene that’s beyond the reach of the camera. The first step in shoot-flow is to assess the light. This means you don’t take photos yet, you just pause and really look at what’s happening around you, in this case, in terms of the light. Moving around the outside of the whole gathering would have changed the placement and angles of the light, thereby creating possibilities for Leah that would have been easier to work with that this particular positioning she chose. That’s OK, it’s a work in progress, so next time Leah encounters a similar opportunity, she knows to move around and check out all the angles. Then, her choice to render the image in black and white would be a creative one, rather than a band-aid measure.
Colour image at night of window shoppers looking in at a window display.
Leah was tempted to try to ‘fix’ this image in post-production. The hero of her image is the figurines in the window, so it’s important that she retains detail in those areas. In her capture, these important areas have blown out, rendering them white. She was unable to recover that highlight detail in post-production because that detail is irrecoverable. Again, better that she get the exposure right in-camera, so she is not required to fix it later in post. So, how to fix it in-camera? Reduce the exposure perhaps as much as a whole stop. It was shot at 1/30 sec. So if she had taken a second exposure at say, 1/60 second, she would have halved the light coming into the camera. Less light in those bright areas would mean a better chance and good details being retained there. Then there would have been nothing to do in post-production.
Thank you Leah, ten gold stars to you for putting up your images and I know for sure your learning curve here has been useful to others too.
Well done, keep practicing and you are well on your way to creating those wonderful pieces of cheese.