Sunday, January 31, 2010

Street Photography: Robin's Take


I have been growing slowly and passionately on Street Photography lately. I am not sure how or why, but probably sitting in the office being depressed over the ever-expanding workload 5 days a week somehow prompted me to move my legs, and walk. Since street photography basically require me to move my ass and walk a lot, it sure is the perfect antidote, making up for the unlimited hours of unhealthy sitting. Also, you have no idea how many interesting subjects there are out there in the streets.

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Afternoon Slumber. I was one meter away from this dude, and I only had one shot before running away.

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Fallen, and abandoned kiddie bike.

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Scenes of KL Backstreets

This entry shall serve as my record of a few tips I have gathered while doing my research reading online, and a few note I added on my own based on my limited experience. This should not be taken as a guide, or a "how-to" list, but rather more like my sharing of what works for me, and that does not mean they will work for you precisely. The only way to discover what suits your shooting style, would be going out there and make beautiful photographs happen. This entry exclusively reflects my own style, and how I take on street photography.

1) Be positive, and There will be Subjects

One of the main problems I have heard from many shooters, especially amongst my peers would be this: "there is nothing to shoot", "KL streets lack interesting subjects for street photography", and "street shooting is unpredictable, depends too much on luck, and boring". If you have already mounted those pessimistic mentalities on your mind even before you put your lens on your DSLR and go out shooting, I am afraid you already have cut down your shooting opportunities by at least more than half !! Do not be afraid, do not worry too much. Photography should be about fun, and you will never know what you will find until you are actually out there on the streets. That is one magical thing about street photography, you see what your heart wants you to see, and that will only happen when you open your heart to your surroundings. Stay positive, keep an optimistic mindset, and you will suddenly find subjects popping out from even the most ordinary looking subjects. Now it is up to you to capture it, and present it in your own creative style.

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More views on KL back lanes and alleys.

2) Shoot what is there to shoot, not what you want to shoot

In street photography, you do not always have the opportunity to control anything at all. Your task is to capture the scene as is, and it may not come out perfect, but there are a lot other factors that contribute to a strong street photograph. Spontaneity, expressions, actions, emotions, are just a few things that can be included as elements to amplify interests in street photography. A lot of people would start up a photography session with so many expectations and planning in their mind, myself included, and often when on field, none of the subjects or circumstances would appear to be what we have anticipated. Randomness and unpredictability are the key to really fulfilling street photography sessions. Go with the flow. Sometimes, the best of photographic opportunities happen without us knowing in advance, and it is up to us to be there and shoot it.

3) Go close, and go wide

If you have been an avid reader of photography rules and tips, be it on books, or online tutorials, you must have come across this famous saying "if your photograph is not good enough, it is most probably because it is not close enough". On the streets, I have dared to move myself closer to my subjects. For the inanimate things, and non-people subjects, this did not pose a problem. For human portraits, or anything to do with people, I make quick judgment on the spot. If the people I chose to photograph did not pose any threat in whatever sense, then I took a bold move to step in closer, and make the shot happen close up. Being as near as possible to the subject can fill in the frame more dramatically, and it engages your viewers more. I used the 11-22mm wide angle lens to fit more elements into one single frame, and also employed perspective distortion to my advantage by exaggerating the size of subjects being places nearer to the corners.

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Most street photographs were turned into black and white, or monotones. I do think the treatment may open up a different feel and outlook. Nonetheless, I still prefer to keep many of them as they were with the original colours.


Nonetheless, if you see a drunk with a broken bottle in one hand, you might just want to stay your distance, and employ other means of taking the photograph, if you do decide to still snap a photo of the drunk. Safety first, remember !!

4) Shoot Discretely

There are some subjects that are best approached from a far distance, without them knowing you pointing your lens at them. This can create a few advantages. You can capture the scene as is, without imposing any impression of your presence, your subjects wont be self aware of their own actions, and can pose more naturally. A long zoom lens is required for this task, and I was utilizing the tele zoom lens, making use the most out of the full zoom capability all the time to get in close to my subjects while maintaining a far distance. To avoid being spotted, being on the move all the time is essential. Do not stop at one spot for too long, stop only to make that few shots happen, then move your legs. People will be less aware of your presence shooting them if you only appear for a very short while.

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Here is an example of getting as close as I can, and creating a more dramatic composition.

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Shooting location revealed !!!


5) Be Courteous

Following up point 3) where getting close to your subjects is encouraged, it is prudent to strike a friendly smile, and make short conversations. This can ease up the people you get in close contact with, and making it less awkward to photograph them.

A simple thank you, a hand shake or a nod can go a long way after a shoot.

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6) Trust Your Camera

In most photography situations, the photographer would try to control the camera as much as possible. However, in street photography, sometimes a technically correct photography may not be the best one. It all comes down to how prepared you are, and how quick you can respond to an opportunity. I set my camera to Programme Exposure ("P" Mode), meaning the camera will determine almost everything, shutter speed, aperture and ISO setting. I worry primarily on focusing on my subject, framing it and making the shot happen as the chance arises. Being responsive is all street photography about, and capturing the moments is not easy task if you ask me. If you still take your time fiddling with the F-number and Shutter speed (some people die die also want to shoot in Manual, sheessshh !!!! then use a film camera lah !!!) by the time you are done with your settings, your subjects might not be there for you to photograph anymore.

DSLRs, even the compact cameras these days have been designed to fit into high demands, and their programmed auto settings have become quite reliable. Yes, those programmed exposures may not be perfect, and setting it manually gives you control, but at least by engaging the programme mode, you can get "almost" correct exposures, minus the little few misses, you can still make some corrections later in Post Processing. What is more important, getting the shot, or getting your settings perfectly right?

Just trust your camera, and get that shutter button clicking before its too late.

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Toys that fly.

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Cobbler, cobbler, mend my shoes !! Anyone remember that poem from the English Text Book?

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7) Travel Light and Safe

Since plenty of walking is needed, it is wise to travel as light as possible. I fitted a small sized sling camera bag, with only two lenses, a wide and a tele-zoom. I ventured the streets alone, which was not exactly a bright idea considering the high crime rate in KL streets. Nonetheless, you may also want to keep your group small, and using minimal gears. Too many people walking may attract unwanted attention, and using those huge-ass guns such as 70-200mm F2.8 IS at places where people beg for survival, you are just asking for trouble. Yes, using more basic camera setup may impose some compromise in your final photography output, but the importance must be emphasized: be safe, go lightweight and minimal.

8) Apply Sunscreen

Oh, KL sun can be so evil. I got sunburned all over, walking under afternoon sun. FML.


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A trishaw in a city.

I sure had plenty of fun going around streets of KL, breathing in the polluted city air, and exposing my skin to harmful cancerous UV radiation. Nonetheless, the experience is quite worthwhile. I am still seeking ways to improve my street photography, and I must reiterate that I am quite new to this. I am in no rush of course. I sure hope my sharing will benefit some of you, and if you have any other interesting or useful note, please kindly add in via the comment section. Also, if you have any ideas, or thoughts, do not hesitate to voice up.

Street shooting anyone?

15 comments:

  1. Like usual, great takes Robin! ( ^_^)d
    Should learn and take street photos with you... :P
    - Christian

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  2. hey christian,
    thanks man !!! We should learn from each other ahahah

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  3. 9) carry a knife with u so u can stab the person who tries to steal your camera

    -Marcus

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  4. hey marcus,
    Good point !! or better, a tazor gun, more fun than a knife.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Damn.... Racun Sudu Kangkang (Wide angle poison). =.=/// Hahahaha...I think now u may start to prepare a book by compiling all the photographic information u share here dy... :)

    It's a good way to get some side income also... Hehehehe....

    Frederick

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  6. wuuui! i use Manual wor.. LOL!
    but depends on situation lar :P LOL!
    Switch around between Av and M.


    Wide is so nice............. pfft.. my purchase window is currently closed. NO to new acquisition till next window is opened. :P

    ReplyDelete
  7. hey frederick,
    LOL now no credibility yet, slowly building and earning it first, before I have the right to dispense those words as advice !!

    Hey allen,
    ahahah, I mentioned, only that certain times, when quick response is required, then switch to P mode. LOL for all other times I use A, or M, depending on situations.
    Ahahhaa.. BUY BUY BUY

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  9. Trust your instinct as much as your camera. Take without looking into the view finder.

    By the way, talking about taking pictures of drunkard. Just have a look at this guy's portfolio

    http://www.pbase.com/maciekda/cardiff_st_mary_street_zone

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  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  15. Ooh, bunch of random stuff I've learnt:

    Prefocusing. You've got an interesting shot in your head, and there's somebody coming your way who's probably going to make the shot. So what you do is you prefocus on the spot where you want to shoot, and wait for them to enter that area before you shoot.

    Look at the sky. If whoever it is looks at you right after you've taken their photograph, look up at the sky, as if you were really shooting something up there.

    Jump. Want to shoot this guy who's looking at the other direction? Prefocus, and then do a little jump. This should get his attention, and so you immediately shoot as you land (and before he registers what you're doing). Works everytime.

    Get a smaller camera. Telephotos do not work for street photography. They just don't. So an alternative is to get a smaller camera. I recently switched over to a rangefinder system, and my God it's been awesome. =)

    Hope that helped! Street photography's largely a dance to me, and that's why I find it so fun. =)

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