Green Park, London. On my way back from the Palace - yes the Palace (and you'll have to look at Assignment 2 to know why) - and I came across the most wonderful assortment of lunchtime activities going on. Honestly, I could have stopped for hours to watch the impromptu show unfolding in front of me. I can’t imagine the picnicking couple on the park bench (above) were too keen on having their lunch hour hijacked by the fitness enthusiast though. Green Park was the perfect opportunity to capture some images for this exercise...
Here's what i learnt from this exercise… - A public place really needs to be very public for me to blend in and go unnoticed. I first tried this exercise in the grounds of St Alban’s Cathedral. It was too quiet and I stood out like a sore thumb. - In a busy enough environment, no one cares if you have a camera - especially if you are in ‘tourist mode’. - There’s plenty of diverse life and activity from chatting on mobile phones to kick-boxing. - Be very, very careful shooting where kids are involved. Best avoided actually… - As with all street photography, time is of the essence. But at least in the park you have the space to watch, consider and predict. Not so easy when you are in among the crowds. - And if one shot or grouping doesn’t work out - there will be another one along any minute!
An organised event
St Alban's street market. I chose this venue for the exercise on an organised event to ensure I and the opportunity of going back a second time if necessary. This would not have been easily possible with a performance or sporting event. As a street market I also had the advantage of getting into the action rather than just watching from the sidelines.
Here's what i learnt from this exercise… - There are many similarities with with a 'Public Space' exercise; a public place really needs to be very public for me to blend in and go unnoticed. In a busy enough environment, no one cares if you have a camera - especially if you are in ‘tourist mode’. It's worthwhile developing a storyline before you start shooting, rather than clicking away and hoping that a story presents itself afterwards. By being clear about the intentions from the outset - and ideally creating a required shot list beforehand, the results will undoubtedly be better. - In a busy place there should be plenty of opportunity finding the shot. i tried changing location several times and tried to be as patient as possible in each place. - Despite this, it's hard to find variety: again, pre-planning is very useful.
Standard focal length
There's a toboggan run stretching between Courchevel 1850 and 1500 and if the snow is right it makes for a fun alternative to skiing. At the end of the afternoon it turned out to be the perfect place from which to watch riders set off - and complete this standard length exercise.
Here's what i learnt from this exercise… - Shooting at a standard length (which on my DX format camera was around 52mm) is harder than both wide and long focal lengths. Whilst it's true that the mid length focal distance provides for some separation, it's hard to compose and shoot in the time needed. - It's also easier for people to spot me. At 200mm, I can comfortably stand away from the action to be unobtrusive. At 17mm I am so close to the action people don't realise I am shooting them (especially when shooting from the hip). But at 52mm I'm somewhere in the middle. It felt more awkward somehow. - Yet a standard length is very nice visually - not distortion common with wide angles and no bokeh common with telephotos. - So it's worth persevering with my technique just to feel comfortable at this focal length.
Close & involved
Courchevel. The Croisette meeting area was the perfect place to get right into the action at the start of the skiing day. As I learnt at Camden Market people were generally far to busy to bother about me taking surreptitious photos. Using only wide-angle for this exercise allowed me to get right into the action and also to improve my ability to shoot from the hip, albeit with mixed results.
Here's what i learnt from this exercise… - People were usually too busy to notice me. - Shooting from the hip at wide angle can yield good results, but it's difficult to maintain a level horizon. - It's possible to raise the camera most of the way to my eye and shoot from there. Anyone who notices me thinks I'm not photographing them. - It's all about the life and action going on around me. With this type of shooting it's very difficult to create perfectly framed compositions.
Courchevel, France. In this exercise standing back allowed me some time and space to look for images. This is in contrast to the earlier exercises where I got 'into the action'. Using a longer length lends allowed me to shoot unseen from a distance and take my time about it. The longer focal length here added the facility of drawing the subject away from the background - especially when using a wide aperture.
Here's what i learnt from this exercise… - A long lens allows me to look further afield for my subject. - It also gives me a little more time to consider framing, light, exposure and so on. This is not easily possible at a wider focal length. - The characteristics of the longer lens can be useful in setting the subject apart from the surroundings. However it's important to decide if that is what is wanted. A blurry background might look nice, but it removes detail and takes the subject away from the context. Depending on the assignment this could be counter-productive.
Capturing the moment
Still in Camden Market and the weather is freezing. I thought the extreme cold would deter the Sunday crowds, but I was wrong. What the cold weather brought instead was plenty of scarves, caps and overcoats, not to mention long lines at the food kiosks. I was just passing the crepe stand (above) and decided to photograph the cool Nutella graphics on the side when a hidden door opened: volia - I’m capturing the moment...
The man in the series above was involved in a very animated conversation on his mobile. I knew there would be an image for the taking and it was just a question of finding the right moment - either during the call or just after. i think all of the images work: I like the mystery of the pose in the 1st and the expression in the 2nd. My favourite however is the 3rd where he just looks out, cigarette between the lips.
This sequence illustrates how a moment matters. The content and framing is the same and the lighting virtually identical. However what sets the 2nd image above the 1st is merely the facial expression. It just tells the story.
These 2 sequences illustrate more of the same. I prefer the couple posing (above) even though my focus is not set on the couple. There is just more ‘story’ here than in the image where they examine the results. The ‘donut’ image is similar - here the second image describes the event far better than the 1st, simply because the donuts are being dropped into the bag. Here I like the idea of the shopkeeper looking out of the frame (3rd image). The other 2 pictures just don’t seem as strong.
This final image shows how it’s a look or glance that can make an image. I’m certain the subject was just scanning the crowds, however the second image has him appearing to look directly at the on-comer. Because of this his expression - which is no different in each of the frames - takes on a meaning.
Here's what I learnt from this exercise: - Timing is everything. Just a split second can make all the difference in a look, a gesture or a movement. - I need to observe what is going on around me so I can predict actions and events. - Sometimes, things just happen. Be ready - It’s not always possible to tell at the time which image is better and why. A good critical review after the fact is essential. - Images can take on a life, personality and meaning of their own. This is not always obvious at the time - again, strong critical review is important.
Developing your confidence
Camden Market, London. It turns out I love street photography. I wasn't expecting to. I thought I'd be right outside my comfort zone and I was for a few minutes until I realised a) people on the streets (in Camden market anyway) are far to busy to worry about me and b) I signed up for People & Place specifically to get outside my comfort zone. So this exercise eased me in to the whole process beautifully.
Rather than comment on each of the images, I thought it best to summarise what I learnt from this exercise:
1. I have to become constantly aware of what's happening around me. Plenty of perfect shots can be missed by just not being ready. 2. I shot a lot of images but only a few worked out. 3. I need to constantly adjust camera settings. Starting on fully auto is OK, but what about narrow or deep depths of field, higher ISOs for dark places, capturing blur of freezing action? At some point auto is just no good so I need to be ready. 4. Shooting from the hip can work really well at times. 5. The busier the location the less time to react! 6. Not all images need to be of people. Location, detail, abstracts are all fine too. 7. You don’t need to advertise your intentions with a camera. Take the image above. The reflection in the mirror is the perfect way to grab a shot using stealth - and in the case above is all the better for it. The reflected image of Jordan has all the context needed to tell the story - and I wasn’t even pointing my camera at him! How cool is that? 8. I want more!