Monday, 10 January 2011

People Unaware – some first ‘street’ images

About a week ago, I went out into Huddersfield for a couple of hours, simply with the intention of taking some photographs of people in the street.  I had no other particular goal than to walk around, looking for something that caught my eye, however trivial it might have seemed.  I took my compact Ricoh camera rather than the DSLR, so that I could be as discrete as possible, and I had the idea that I would keep it at a reasonably wide angle, with a view to photographing people from fairly close range.  (The camera has a 35mm equivalent range of 24-72mm.)
It wasn’t a ‘comfortable situation’, or should I say that I didn’t feel ‘comfortable’ enough to simply raise the camera to my eye and shoot away ‘willy-nilly’.  In fact, I ended up using this small camera in a ‘surreptitious’ way.  I pre-set it to the wider focal lengths and to ISO/aperture/shutter settings that would give me the best chance of capturing something reasonably sharply, and then I held it in one hand, thumb ready over the shutter button, raising/angling the camera as I judged necessary to capture what I had seen.  It was a bit of a crude approach and I wasn’t expecting high quality results, but I just wanted to make a start and give it a try.
A few days later, I was in Sheffield City Centre for a short time and, using the same approach, took a few more photographs there. I am posting some of the images here to demonstrate this part of my learning process, even though they have technical limitations and are mostly short on impact. Firstly a batch from Huddersfield.

Critiquing this set at various levels, I would firstly have to say that there are no really striking moments, incisive observations, interesting juxtapositions etc; so they immediately lack genuine credibility in the street genre.  There is a colour theme – pink – running through a number of them, and the duo of the lady with a pink shopping cart and ‘matching’ bright green scarf works quite well.  It might be really effective if it was a sequence of several images shot over a number of days!  There are a few ‘moments’ captured, even if they are not ‘striking’ e.g. the lady opening her envelope, the couple eating, the two men mirroring each other’s leg positions, and the contrast in the last image between the stressed young woman with her two dogs an the two behind her who seem to find her amusing.  But, finding really good street images takes time and patience, and if I want to progress this I need to spend a lot more time at it.
Secondly, there is the technical issue.  As I know from studying Joel Meyerowitz for the Landscape course, a fast shutter and a steady hand are crucial.  In many cases above I had neither!  The Ricoh gets very noisy at high ISO settings, so most of these are at ISO100, with shutter speeds of less than 1/125th second, even down to 1/40th in some cases.  My hand was often less steady than it should have been, especially shooting ‘blind’ as I was (and a bit nervously, I think), and I would need to work on the technique if I wanted to use this approach to produce technically acceptable images.  I think it is worth practising, though.
These from Sheffield are marginally better, I think.

I absolutely promise that the guy in the red hat did not know I was taking his picture and was not posing!  The last shot at the bus stop is probably the one that comes closest to qualifying as a decent street image, I would say.  It is still technically deficient and doesn’t quite have a strong enough ‘story’, but there is some possibility in the composition (parallels of the woman’s hiking stick and the lamp post; the diagonal of the glass roof leading right to the man in the mobility vehicle) and the contrast/juxtaposition of the two main subjects.
The chief positive to come out of these two sessions is that I have made a deliberate start on working in ‘the street’.  There is a technique here that has enabled me to get ‘up close and personal’ whilst retaining discretion, but I need more work and practice before I can be confident that it will produce images of a viable quality.  The next step is to go out and try some more this week, if at all possible.

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