Monday, August 9, 2010

11. Standing back

This was my first real adventure in street photography.  As mentioned before I have experience shooting strangers in a managed environment, defined by an event or demonstration.  However, this really was my first occasion to deliberately photograph strangers up close as they go about their daily lives.  Starting with the longer focal length helped me to relax into the work as it provided some distance before moving in close with the shorter focal lengths.  In the following photographs I have used a couple of different camera/lens combinations, with both full frame and crop sensor.  Under the photo's I will provide the effective focal length adjusted for the crop factor.

My first image is a crowd of people enclosed in a lane between two rows of market stalls.  I had a slightly elevated position so was able to get some depth into the image

200mm, 1/750, f/8, ISO 400

The telephoto focal length provides compression in this image and makes the crowd look far more dense than it actually was.  I reduced the aperture to f/8 to get some depth of field, but even then the range of people in focus is quite small.  In this case I have not tried to pick an individual out of the crowd, but expanding to f/2.8 would have enabled me to pick a single person within the multitude and place them in focus.

The next two images are again of crowds although this time much smaller:

200mm, 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 100

173mm, 1/1000, f/2.8, ISO 400

These two images required working space and no intervening people.  The first is slightly elevated, so no major challenge, however, the second required waiting for the right moment to happen.  In both of these images I am able to shoot a group of people more or less undetected, capturing the moment without influencing it.

However, I found that the longer focal length really came into its own when capturing small groups of people, but separating them from the background or shooting candid portraits.

The following cameo was created by a local news channel doing some Vox Pop interviews in the main shopping area:

320mm, 1/500, f/2.8, ISO 100

I had spotted the news team from a distance and had to maneuver around them to find a workable angle.  getting far enough away whilst still being able to frame the shot without intervening pedestrians in a busy traffic area was really challenging.  I also had to take great care with focus as the camera crew are largely outside the auto-focus zones on the camera. This is an unconventional framing with all of the action taking place on the edge of the frame with the center simply adding a multitude of people.The interviewee is well out of shot.  The 320mm focal length was marginal in this case, but with a 200mm prime on a 1.6 crop body, I had no choice but to work the situation not the technology.

Provided there is not too much traffic, the longer focal length worked very well to capture the interaction between couples

200mm, 1/500, f/2.8, ISO 100

200mm, 1/4000, f/2.8, ISO 400

The first photograph would have been improved by a closer crop, I did wait for them to get closer and took a couple more frames, but the interaction and body language were not so interesting.  The second pair just saw me at the point at which I hit the shutter release, so not quite so candid, but a fun picture.

Pairs sitting down were easier to frame and offered me more time to work

200mm, 1/180, f/2.8, ISO 200

200mm, 1/500, f/2.8, ISO 100

Once again the longer focal length has enabled me to shoot unobserved ad capture the interaction between the pairs of people.  Both images could use a little leveling and cropping.

Although crowds and small groups or pairs of people make good subjects, the telephoto focal length really came into its own when I started targeting individual people and creating portraits of the unaware.

200mm, 1/1000, f/2.8, ISO 100

200mm, 1/1500, f/2.8, ISO 400

200mm, 1/2000, f/2.8, ISO 400

200mm, 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 100

200mm, 1/4000, f/2.8, ISO 400

320mm, 1/500, f/4, ISO 200

200mm, 1/180, f/2.8, ISO 125

The ability of a 200mm or longer lens used wide open to take an individual and separate them from the background is remarkable.  It is this quality I find most impressive when using such a lens, the "pop" factor.  Technically not the most difficult photographs, the key challenge lies in ensuring that the persons face and body are properly exposed.  Most of these images were taken on bright days and I had to be very careful to ensure that I exposed for the face and not the background, several images turned out as silhouettes.

Working in a crowd is difficult and there were good potential shots that I lost due to people intervening, however, the anonymity longer lenses confer on the photographer coupled with the visual quality makes this a rewarding style.

The downside is that such images are very stylized, there is a sense of a "made" photograph, rather than a real street scene.  In my reading of street photographers, the most successful use 50mm or wider to engage closer with the subject and to place the people in the frame into the context of the environment they inhabit.  The shallow DoF of the telephoto, separates the subject from the background and all too frequently leaves little clue as to the detail of the background. Although this is street photography of anonymous subjects many of the images end up looking as if they were posed in the studio.

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