Thursday, 29 March 2012

Street photography - Passing by

Two strangers, caught in what may seem as a confrontational pose, pass each other outside Lunds Konsthall, an art museum in Lund, Sweden. The apparent tension in the picture never existed. The picture can be viewed on a black background here.

This is by far my most viewed photograph, with nearly 14,000 views on Flickr. It is not a posed photograph, but instead an example of street photography with both subjects unaware that the photo was taken. This is a controversial area of photography as both opinion and law differs widely between different countries and cultures. Stories of photographers being hassled,  threatened or even arrested are commonplace today.

In the UK, there is a Home Office consultation right now where part of the aim to clarify the law and issue guidance to police on interaction with photographers. There is a great deal of confusion about the rights to ones likeness, model releases and what is socially acceptable. Street photography can also be very challenging as the opportunity to take a shot is fleeting and light conditions are often far from ideal.

My personal experience of doing street photography in Japan, England, Poland, Sweden, Scotland, Portugal and Denmark has been positive so far. Generally the rules I live by are simple:

  • Do not be creepy.
  • Do not trespass.
  • Smile a lot.
  • Move along if somebody indicates they don't want to be in the shot.
I use a both zoom lens and a 50mm lens for street photography. The former lends itself to shots where the subjects are unaware of the photo while the latter requires a degree of proximity that usually entails interaction with the subject, resulting in posed shots. I don't see either method as being more pure or better than the other, but rather think that both have their rightful place in street photography.

Looking at the technical aspects of the particular shot in this post, it was taken with a zoom lens (135mm) with a 1/500 of a second exposure at aperture of f/5.6 and with ISO set to 100. In retrospect taking the picture at f/8 or f/11 would have provided a better depth of field for keeping the man fully in focus without sacrificing too much speed. A high shutter speed was required as both subjects were moving and a longer exposure would have introduced motion blur or prevented me from capturing the moment.

One of the most upvoted comments on Reddit regarding this picture was a request to develop this into a series. With spring finally here I hope to make this happen in the next few months.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A year of photography

I have long had some interest in photography, but did not have the time or money to really get into it as a hobby. Owning only a film camera which did not provide timely feedback (in fact it may take weeks between shooting and seeing the finished product) and which had a high cost per shot made independent learning slow and frustrating.

Eventually I picked up a compact digital camera but found it quite frustrating as it had many limitations and was really only suitable for tourist snapshots. If I was a brilliant photographer I could perhaps have gotten more out of it, but having poor to average skills and a cheap camera was a barrier to learning. On the bright side it gave me a lot of practise in framing shots, provided instant feedback and had almost zero cost per shot.

A little over a year ago I finally took the decision to make time for it and picked up my first DSLR, a Canon 60D. This was done just ahead of a trip to Japan for which I strongly wanted to have the possibility of taking higher quality pictures of memorable places and people. I opted for an upgraded kit lens (18-135mm) which gave me some extra zoom compared to the standard 18-55mm kit lens and quickly started learning the camera basics.

When I came back from Japan it was with 10,000 pictures, more shots than I had taken in my entire life before that trip. This was a complete game changer as feedback was instant (through 'chimping' on the small LCD display on the camera) and the camera capabilities were fantastic. The kit lens turned out to be more limited than I expected but other than that it was a great experience.

Since then I feel I have made huge progress as a photographer, developing both skills and confidence. There was some external validation of this as last year there was more than 50,000 views on my Flickr account, one picture was used by and I got a couple of pictures into the top 100 on Reddit's ITAP community. A couple of pictures were also picked to illustrate Wikipedia articles or picked up by other websites.

I've been sharing my experiences with friends and as a result a few of them have also gotten into photography over the last six months. If you have been thinking about getting started or making the move from film or compact to a DSLR then I would definitely recommend going for it. It is a great time to be a starting photographer.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A new blog

Welcome! This blog is primarily intended as a place to reflect on writing and photography. I am not a professional photographer or a published writer, but rather just a minor contributor to the rapidly growing Creative Commons. Posts are likely to reflect whatever I happen to be doing at the moment rather than follow any grand plan.

If I am procrastinating (which is likely) then I will probably post about interesting books, websites and such that I've come across in my random wanderings.