My 12 Street Photography Tips

If I thought for one minute that I was a successful photographer slash street photographer I might be a bit more confident in offering you my top tips for better street photography. You’ll find lots of other websites and street photography blogs offering similar advice with maybe a proven track record in the genre;  publications, sales etc etc. Nevertheless what you’re about to read I hope you’ll get something from. These are just  my thoughts and feelings on the subject based on over 30 years of using a camera.

  1. As Winogrand said something like ‘When you put four edges around a set of facts you change those facts’. It really is as simple as that. Don’t make photography hard for yourself.

2. Know your camera. We had an acronym in the iT world RTFM … ‘Read the F**** Manual !’, the same applies to photography. Know your camera and get to a point like driving a car where you operate it without thinking.

3. Follow your intuition and instinct. If something catches your eye it’s probably good for a photograph. Shoot first, think later.

4. Anticipate the moment. Keep looking !

5. Make lists of what to look out for when out with your camera. Make notes. Carry a notebook.

6. Study the work of other photographers and in particular the recognised Masters. know and acknowledge your influences.

7. Put the miles in. The more you practise the better you’ll get. Photography is like fishing. You have to be patient.

8. Know what’s going on in the world. Yes that means politics. Politics gets played out on the street everyday and everywhere.  Sometimes in grand eloquent gestures and sometimes very subtly.

9. Study human behaviour. Psychology and Sociology are good starting points but don’t forget there’s Anthropology !

10 Educate yourself. You never stop learning. Read books. Don’t just read about photography. Read about life. Read the critically acclaimed books about  your own country and people. Read the classics of literature. I read John Steinbeck because I like his style of writing but read anything.

11. Photography and especially street photography puts you in a unique position. Some would say a powerful position because you see people in a way they do not necessarily see themselves. Be aware of this ! Think about this.

and finally

12. You’re never going to survive unless you’re a little crazy !

Learning from our Failures

Strictly speaking we photographers don’t tend to show our failures. Why should we ? What would the point of that ? I’m going to break with that because  I want to share with you why the image below fails. We learn from our failures don’t we ? It’s obvious really and it was a damn shame because it would have been a good image for me. The reason this image fails is quite simply because the lady on the left is not looking at us the viewer. I asked her politely to look directly at the camera but she refused and continued to look out and down. This was taken at our town’s annual May Day March and these ladies were protesting about the pollution of the oceans. A noble and worthwhile cause you might say and I admire these ladies for taking their stance but the irony is that by refusing to look into the camera as directed, this lady she unwittingly made herself look a bit silly and thus unsure of her motives and personal political viewpoint. Had she looked into the camera as requested she would have presented herself as confident of her opinions and confrontation with us the viewer. This lady thus looks almost embarrassed to be there, unlike the lady on the right who is confronting us with an opinion and thus asking us to question this political protest. We are left in somewhat confusion and by that the image does not work as it should. The disappointment for me was that this lady did not put her trust in me to make the right kind of image even though I acknowledge she might not have wanted me to take a picture in the first place. The other disappointment for is that this lady was not sufficiently visually literate to know this. Compare the above to the image below and see how it works much better in this instance with the protestor looking directly out at us the viewer.

My Life in Cameras

Before I begin this article let me make it absolutely clear ! It’s not the camera that matters it’s what you do with it !

I’ve been playing about with this photography lark quite a while now. Since I was about nineteen and I’m fifty four now. Am I fifty four ? I’m beginning to forget which is a little scary. Thought it would be nice to do a life in cameras article.

  1. Olympus OM-10 – I got a B at Art O Level. My Art teacher a Mrs Turner told me off because she thought I should have got an A. I didn’t think I was that good. Yeah I could copy draw  and shade a  pair of black leather shoes and maybe a teapot and some flowers but my free hand imaginative drawing was dodgy despite my portrait of David Bowie which hung on the wall of the Art Classroom for months. I was a frustrated artist and so photography appealed. My Mum bought me an OM-10 for my eighteenth and nineteenth birthday combined. With 50mm lens they cost I seem to remember about £110. The OM-10 was a good little starter camera. Well built and reasonably simple to use in automatic. The Zuiko lenses had a good reputation even though they were bloody expensive. Eventually I had the manual adaptor, Winder 2 and a couple of Tamron Zoom Lenses, the full kit. The problem with the Manual Adaptor was that the camera would indicate by little red light in the viewfinder which shutter speed it thought you should be using if in auto  so you had to constantly check which one you were on when in manual. That said this aspect helped you learn quicker. The Pentax K100 was also a good little starter camera as well.

The Olympus Om-10 with Manual Adaptor and Auto Winder 2.

2. The Olympus OM1-n – Now you’re talking ! A bit more expensive than the OM10 these are still superb film cameras. Reliable, robust and amazingly simple to use. Fully manual correct exposure is indicated by a needle in the viewfinder which worked by one of those little round silver batteries. If the battery went flat it didn’t matter because you could still use the camera by either guessing the correct exposure or using an external light meter. I traded in my OM-10 to get one of these and eventually I had two OM1-n bodies. I still have one and I’m loathe to part with it. Pick em up on Ebay for a good price. The zuiko lenses are excellent as well.

The OM1n a little beauty, they don’t make em like this anymore

3. The Pentax SFX  – I actually won one of these  in a  national photography competition organised by Practical Photography magazine and sponsored by Ford Motors and Pentax. There were four categories and the overall winner won a Ford Escort Xr3i. I won one of the categories and got this camera, camera  bag and a t-shirt. We had to go to a photography studio run by car photographer Taly Noy in London’s Dockland area ……..which was nice. Some models had been employed to give the prize giving a bit of glamour which irritated the shit out my girlfriend who fancied herself as a bit of a model as well but she wasn’t tall enough.

The Pentax SFX I wasn’t overjoyed with although I did get some decent images from it and in a sense it kicked off my street photography  because it was fully automatic and autofocus,  ideal for just pointing and shooting. I used to take it to football matches to do some crowd shots with it. At West Bromwich Albion they took it off me in exchange for a raffle ticket until after the match.  It met a sorry end when I dropped it in the sea in Nigeria while cavorting with an attractive young lady from Angola. I tried to dry it off with my towel but the salt water got in it and when I switched it back on it started melting from the inside. Claimed back through the insurance.

Pentax SFX – heavy and clunky and sounded a bit cheap

4. The Nikon D300

I’m looking back on my life in cameras and beginning to think I’ve not had that many. The thing is I’m not an equipment nerd. As a reportage, documentary, street  photographer the last thing you want is to be weighed down with kit and it soon adds up. Besides I just simply can’t afford to spend that kind of money. I’ve seen photographers with the latest cameras and the biggest lenses and they couldn’t take a decent image to save their lives. I once knew a bloke ( looked like a fat Roy Orbison) he had a Hasselblad and all the lenses, a Mecablitz Hammerhead flashgun, Benbo tripod, filters, the full works and all he did was take his appallingly bad Glamour Weekend colour print shots to Trueprint on the High St.
I digress. Back in 2009 I spent some of my redundancy and leapt both feet first into Digital. The Nikon D300 had good write ups. It cost a lot of money with the wide to medium zoom lens attached. Over the last few years I’ve had some  pleasing images from it. Chunky and robust it was easy to handle. My mate a photojournalist gave me the best advice “treat it like you would the OM1-n” and so I did. Some of the menu facilities I still don’t understand but the D300 has a good reputation. The only regret is that it wasn’t Full Frame. It just irritated me that there was a calculation to make to work out the lenses, 50mm etc and trying to explain this aspect to a class of beginners is a real pain in the arse.  Nevertheless I got some good paid work out of it and I hope it goes to a good home.

5. The Fuji X-Pro2

In all these years have I only ever had five ‘serious’ cameras ? In thirty years have I only had five cameras ?

It’s a crazy notion I know but the Fujifilm X-Pro2 is making me feel like I’ve finally arrived as a photographer. It feels like a serious photographers camera. The kind of camera that any photographer who knows his stuff will look at hung around my neck and say to themselves that dude knows what he’s about. I’ve done it myself, seen someone with a Leica and thought they know what’s what. Either that or they’re rich and they always buy the most expensive ? Don’t get me wrong, for I’m a firm  believer and I always tell my students that it’s not the camera it’s what you do with it that counts. The X-Pro2 however doesn’t shout out loud about itself. It doesn’t draw attention to itself. It’s smallish, lightweight,  rugged and modest  looking. I’m still getting used to it, all the functions and after all these years with SLR’s the Rangefinder approach is taking some getting used to. As someone who shoots a lot of street type work it’s unobtrusive. Some might say it’s a poor man’s Leica but more than one person has told me they think it’s better than a Leica. I promised myself that my next camera would have prime lens as well so I got the 50mm F2 equivalent. The Nikon zoom lens on the D300 suffered from barrelling which irritated the hell out of me when shooting distant horizons on the wide angle. I’m looking forward to a few good years with this camera.

 

You Beauty !

6. Other Cameras I Own

Plastic 120 Film Camera – Great fun !

Twin Lens Reflex – Cheap Russian 120 film Camera.         A Lovely Thing

Minox 35GT Precious Gift from a Friend

Polaroid SX-70 – Design Classic !!   You’ve not lived until you’ve sampled the delights of the SX-70 !

 

Ten Street Photographers We Really Shouldn’t Forget

Here’s my not at all definitive list of Street Photographers we really shouldn’t forget. In no order of greatness or personal preference. You might argue that one or two of these are not ‘street photographers’ at all but you name me one which has not at one time or another pounded the streets camera in hand ?

1. Henri Cartier-Bresson  – I get the feeling Cartier-Bresson is not as popular as he once was. Side-lined now in favour of the post modernist photographers by the theoretical thinkers who’ve argued over what is exactly “the Decisive Moment” ? Well what exactly is it and who decides what it is anyway ? Nevertheless Cartier-Bresson’s influence on photography is momentous even though he himself preferred to talk about his drawings and painting than his photos. Maybe he was a frustrated pencil and paintbrush artist? I think a lot of photographers are but hey, stick to what you’re good at. Oh yes Cartier-Bresson gave us “the decisive moment”  and for thousands of photographers that starting point in knowing what to look for was erm ‘decisive’.

2. Weegee aka Arthur Fellig – One of my all time favourites. You don’t call yourself Weegee after the Oiuja Board without knowing that there’s something slightly surreal and well ya know ‘other worldly odd we just can’t get our heads around this subject’, about photography as well as having a supreme confidence about your ability to be there ! Here’s a man who had his radio tuned into the NYPD so he could arrive at crime scenes and accidents etc. before they did and what he captured was simply phenomenal. Not only that,  the boot of his car was a mobile darkroom to allow him to develop his negs and have them on the Editors desk for the next days newspaper print run. Cool ! as the young folk say.

 

3. Diane Arbus – I’m aware that this list is mainly of men but Diane Arbus is arguably ( and I say arguably deliberately ) the greatest photographer of them all. Her subject matter continues to be contentious. As one intellectual said, ‘her work allows us to gaze in a way we wouldn’t do normally’.  She’s a bit of a ‘marmite’ photographer, you either love her or you hate her but whatever you think  no serious photographer can or should ignore her work without study or consideration. A fascinating woman and photographer you just shouldn’t ignore.

 

4. W Eugene Smith – Manic, difficult and uncompromising W Eugene Smith gave us possibly the greatest image ever. This man suffered for his calling, but what humanity he gave us ?  Some of his images were contrived and by that I mean carefully composed. Nevertheless he’s a ‘street’ photographer we shouldn’t forget. Make an effort also to check out his Pittsburgh and Jazz Loft Project work.

 

5. Robert Frank – What was photography like before Robert Frank ? I’ve got a book called ‘Photography After Frank’  which is a selection of articles essentially discussing post Frank photography. Yes there was Walker Evans ( who no doubt influenced Frank)  and almost certainly others including Eastern European, Russian and Japanese photographers who I’m not aware of, and yes my list is Euro American centric but  ? Frank is considered to be one of the most influential photographers of our time. If only because he gave us the confidence to not worry if our verticals were not vertical and our horizontals were not horizontal and even if our shots were not in focus. Why ? because the subject matter is more important than the formal compositional rules laid down by God only knows. Content over Form. Actually sometimes it’s a toss up between Frank and William Klein and Klein’s book ‘Life is Good and Good For You in New York’ but at the moment I’m going with Frank.

6. Elliott Erwitt –  What was it Erwitt once said about photography ? Something like “It’s time we started taking this photography seriously and treat it like a hobby”. If you can’t laugh you can’t live ! It aint easy to inject humour into your work but this man makes it look effortless. Humorous and wry. His tribute to our canine companions is a must viewing.

7. Brassai – Take Paris one of the most beautiful cities in the world, explore it by night and what have you got ? Brassai of course. Sometimes you’ve just got to put the miles and the time in. How many of us go out at night looking for images these days ?

8. Walker Evans – Influenced Robert Frank ! Enough said but check out his New York Subway images. Here’s a lesson for all of us. Get an idea of s project to pursue photographically and chances are it’s been done before. 9. Robert Doisneau – Another early pioneer of street photography. What is it about Paris and New York that has this tradition of street photography ? Don’t let’s forget Doisneau.

10. Gary Winogrand – The street photographers street photographer ! I read a disingenuous article once that described Winogrand as being like the monkey with the typewriter theory. Ever since I took up photography he’s had this fascination for me. All those films that he didn’t develop ? All those contact sheets that he didn’t edit ? A photographer I would really have loved to hang out with, spend some time with and chew the fat over with. For a man who didn’t like to talk about his photographs he came out with some of the most succinct statements on the subject and one of my favourite street retorts, “It’s not your photograph it’s mine !”
Is this photograph racist ? No of course it’s not ! Don’t be bloody ridiculous. It’s only racist if you’re racist in the first place ! It’s actually the opposite, for it reminds us of what we descend from.

So there you have it ! My list of ten ‘street’ photographers we really shouldn’t forget. There are many more and maybe soon I’ll do another one.

Keep on doing it my friends.

Short Sunday Lesson in Photography

 

I’d forgotten how attractive my wife was until I took a photo of her yesterday and that’s taught me something.

The wife !

I didn’t realise how handsome, distinguished  and intense my brother could look until I took a photo of him the other day while we were out together and that’s underlined what the image of my wife taught me.

The brother