A Reflection on Street Photography

 JUNE. 21, 2019

Cambridge - Partying at the Trinity Ball.

So, what is street photography? To the novice photographer trying out this genre it may seem just being in the street and taking photos. The more you get into this fascinating area of photography though, the more you realise how difficult it can be to take photos that elevate your work above just a street view.

Street Photography doesn’t even need to be in the street but can be in other locations such as industrial sites and things such as a ferry as shown in the photo below taken on the car deck of a ferry.

Ferry Car deck 3.

People in the street

One of the first questions one has is, should there be people in the shot? There are differing opinions on this but I think just taking the street is more of a ‘street scene’ rather than ‘Street Photography’ and to be street photography requires a person, or people to be in the shot. This adds another element to the shot and often requires you to arrive at a suitable location but then have to wait for a suitable person to walk into the shot.

One of the difficult aspects of Street Photography with people is getting over photographing people candidly which can often get some negative response from the subject. You can, of course, ask permission but I feel you’ve lost the spontaneity of the moment as soon as someone knows they are being photographed and then start to pose.

It's good to place people within the environment even when doing a close-up.

Gesture.

But is photographing people just walking along the street enough? I think not if you want to take your photography to another level. You can improve by looking for people doing something special or out of the ordinary. By catching a gesture, whether it’s a hand gesture, a turn of the head, or maybe just a look out of the frame that makes you wonder, what is going on?. It can also mean the position of the legs which indicate movement or that people are running at full stride to indicate some urgency in their journey.

Gesture can also be just a glance.
A gesture can be more pronounced and obvious.

Figure to Ground

In art classes they teach something called ‘Figure to Ground’. Its how to make your main subject or figure stand out by putting a light subject against a dark background, or vice versa. In photography it’s more difficult to achieve as we don’t have the option of creating our own backgrounds. We have to go out and find a suitable background to work with.

The best way of achieving this impact of contrast is to find a suitable spot where the sunlight is shining across a building with a shadow in the background. The shaft of sunlight illuminates the subject which is in contrast against the dark shadow background.

Exposure.

To get good results though means having to fool the camera’s light meter into seeing only that part of the photo that is important to you, being the area of the highlight. The camera’s light meter will try to just expose the whole view as varying shades of grey and the image will lack punch. You can achieve a good exposure by setting the camera to spot metering or using the exposure compensation adjustment on your camera. It can, in some cases, mean underexposing for up to 3 stops. You should then end up with a well exposed highlight area with dense dramatic shadow areas.

Colour.

Areas of contrasting colour can also be used to emphasise the main subject. Sometimes just pushing up the saturation and clarity of the photo can make a photo pop.

Taking photos through restaurant windows can be quite effective too. The colour saturation and vibrancy can be raised to give a better effect.

Selective focus.

How much should we blur the background using a larger aperture? I think it’s important to set the subject in the environment. If you completely blur the background then there is no indication of where it is.

The most important thing though is to get out there and practice. Be patient, learn from your mistakes and don’t expect to come home with lots of perfect shots.

Chasing shadows in Saffron Walden.

DECEMBER. 03, 2019

Monday 2nd Dec 2019 – A cold start to today with temperatures just above freezing. A nice clear blue sky though which bode well for some high contrast photography. I decided to take a drive up to Saffron Walden in Essex, a nice town just north of where I live.

I thought I’d try capturing some street photography with people walking through shafts of light which should be achievable with the low sun at this time of year.

Just to make it a bit different I also thought I’d use one of my old film camera lenses on my Lumix GX8 so I would be using manual focus. The lens I used was a 35mm which gives an equivalent on 35mm of 70mm, f2.8 Olympus OM series.

A suitable shaft of light.

One of my Olympus film cameras was still loaded with Ilford HP5 rated to 800 ASA so I thought I’d take that with me too.

After taking a few shots on the digital around the Cross keys pub where I found some suitable lighting I ventured on up to the Old Sun Inn and St Marys church.

Some great light inside the church.

After taking a few shots my battery gave out on the GX8 and annoyingly, the battery that should have been charged wasn’t.

I thought that was a good opportunity to use the film camera so started shooting with that. After some shots the normal click – clunk of the mirror and shutter just went click. That meant that the mirror was stuck up, normally caused by not enough battery power. So, I thought ‘time for a coffee break’ whilst I changed the batteries in the OM40.

The Old Sun Inn.

With me and the camera refreshed I then went over to the older streets of Saffron Walden to finish off the film before returning home.

35mm Ilford HP5 rated at 800 ASA.

35 mm Ilford HP5 rated at 800 ASA.

Stortford by Night – After Brassai!

I had to go into our local town last night to drop off my wife at a function. Normally I wouldn’t go into town on a Saturday night as it’s absolutely heaving with revellers and all the pubs are jam packed, so no chance of a quiet drink.

I had been meaning for some time to try out my little Sony RX100 camera doing some night time shots as I find it’s Rich Monotone setting very good during the day time.

One of my favourite classic film photographers is the Hungarian-French photographer Brassai. In the 1930s he travelled through Paris at night taking some eerie night time shots of the city. His book ‘Paris by Night’ is one of my favourites.

So I thought I’d try to emulate Brassai in Bishops Stortford.

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I set the ISO to 2000 to start with and the aperture at f5.6.

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I set the exposure for minus 1 stop as I wanted to capture the dark blacks of Brassai’s film shots.

The Rich Monotone setting on the Sony captures very good tonal ranges but it does ghost people walking at these relatively slow shutter speeds.

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Royal Victoria Docks , London

Friday 13th December 2019

My target photography subject was the Millennium Mills situated on the south side of the Royal Victoria Docks in London.

I had seen this vaste, derelict building before when on a photography club outing to photograph Canary Wharf and wondered if there would be any possibility to get any closer. This was constructed as a flour mill in 1905 in Silvertown in East London.

Millennium Mills on the south side of Royal Victoria Docks. Photo taken from the high level walkway over the Royal Victoria Docks.

Starting off on the 10:13 train to Stratford we change at Harlow Town for the fast train into London Liverpool Street. Liz exits the train at Tottenham Hale to go for lunch with some friends whilst I continue on to Liverpool street.

Liverpool Street tube station.

Not sure where I’m going to end up for the whole day but but have it in mind to go on the DLR to Royal Victoria Docks for some photography then proceed along the Southbank.

Exiting Royal Victoria DLR station.

The plan is to walk over the elevated walkway to the south side. I want to attempt to get some photos of the dilapidated Millennium Mills building.

The architecture around Royal Victoria Docks.
Walking along the northern edge of Royal Victoria Docks looking East.
Looking in a westerly directio toward Canary Wharf. In the foreground is the elevated walkway over the docks. It can be accessed by a lift at each end. It’s a great spot to take photos of Canary Wharf from an elevated position.
Looking up to the elevated walkway with the access lift in the foreground.

Moving across the elvated walkway I took some photos of the Millennium Mills and then continued across to see if I could access the area any closer.

This was as close as I could get. There is a very substantial security fence so it was a case of just poking the camera lens through the fence.

The mill converted imported grain into flour for the domestic market. The mills were named after their most famous product; Millennium Flour which won the Miller Challenge Cup in 1899 at the International Bakers Exhibition.

In 1917 a nearby munitions factory exploded and devastated the factory. 73 people died.

In 1920 the company, Spillers took over the factory to produce dog biscuits. In 1933 they had the building rebuilt in the current art deco style. The building suffered during the blitz and has since had various projects proposed but remains empty.

It would make a great dereliction subject but as always, it’s virtually impossible to get close enough. I have seen various photographs of the inside on some Urbex sites but they were taken a few years ago. I’m guessing that they have since upgraded the fencing around the site as the only thing I managed to do was to poke the camera through the fence to get some photos.

The building makes a very striking visual statement as a backdrop to the flats on the south side of the docks.

Giving up trying to get any closer to the old mill building I carried on round the southern side of the dock planning to return to the tube at Canning Town. I then had the bright idea of crossing the dock on the Emirates Airline cable car.

Crossing the dock on the cable car.

What I didn’t consider was that the wind was blowing very hard and gusting quite wildly. It turned out to be more like a fairground ride!

Some of the architecture around the Greenwich peninsular.

From Greenwich I caught the tube to Southwark where I found a nice little pub called The Ring, with a boxing theme, for some lunch.

The Ring public house right opposite Southwark tube station.
A rather attractive front entrance to a building across the road from Southwark station.
Capturing a bit of Street Photography outside Southwark Station.

At this point Liz rang my mobile to say she had finished her luncheon with her friends so we agreed to meet up at Green Park tube station.

Some beautiful architecture. Especially at this time of day. Just along the road from Green Park tube.

We finished off the day by a walk round to Carnaby Street for some Christmas lights.