Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long."

* the picture above & the title is a quote from Walker Evans.

This week a photography course was held at our school. Our visual arts education teacher invited a social documentary photographer, Andrea Mosso, to share his professional experience with us. While showing us his work, which I found really impressing and emotionally involving (in the early nineties he documentated the tragical situation of homeless children and their lifestyle both in Bosnia and Romania, for example), he talked about how to prepare a good reportage and it is the accurate homework and research which makes the difference. And how the choice of different techniques and the composition can affect the results of your work. I was really inspired by it all and it gave me a whole different enthusiasm and energy to approach photography. We decided to start a little project which consists in a representation of the school as a space and the meaning of it (to us). But I'm not that enthusiastic about it. Therefore I shall do also a reportage on my own and I thought about a neighborhood as a space. Garbatella, of which I've previously written (and posted pictures) about here, is full of colours and it's really hard not to get inspired by it. I started today and as soon as I'll finish my reportage I'll share it here. In the meanwhile I thought I'd share some useful tips (which I found from Brian Q. Webb blog) to make some good street photography.

1. Always, always have a camera with you. The reasoning behind this should be a no-brainer and if you’ve followed the prior two tips, should be a non-issue. If all you have is a pro-level dSLR with a huge white (or black with a gold ring) f2.8 telezoom and permanently fixed battery pack, then you might want to invest in something smaller and more portable as a “back up” that you can carry in your messenger bag or coat pocket.

- so true, you cannot afford to miss "the perfect situation". And practice practice practice! That's what makes the difference.

2. Be proud!
Yes, it’s a bit cliché, but confidence is key. You will be treated according to how you behave. If you’re off at a distance, half hiding behind a wall and sniping away with a 400mm cannon, you will be treated with suspicion and possibly confronted (not to mention eliminating the environment component of street photography). If you walk around pretending to be a ninja, imagining that you won’t be seen not only are you self-delusional, but once again your behavior will be met with suspicion and you will probably be confronted. However, if you keep your camera out and photograph confidently (respectful confidence, not obnoxious confidence) chances are that not only will you be left alone but that you will be ignored. The people around you will assume that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. Counter-intuitive perhaps, but true.

- I personally have some issues when it comes to taking pictures of people I don't know. I'm just too shy! But it's also true that a photographer should not be noticed by his models, otherwise they won't act naturally. So be invisible!

3. Use a fixed focal length lens. No, fixed lenses aren’t a quaint novelty. Generally speaking, they are faster and stop-for-stop sharper and cheaper then their zooming brethren. From the perspective of street photography, it lightens your load but more importantly it teaches you to pre-visualize your composition. Being able to know what you’re going to get before raising your camera to your eyes to shoot mitigates the need for you to make compositional adjustments and speeds up execution, an important skill in a pursuit where the moment must be captured, not created. In addition, using a fixed focal length lens allows you to make use of zone focusing (including hyperfocal technique) eliminating even more time from execution.

4. Leave your camera at home. Find a nice city street with loads of foot traffic and a comfortable place to sit. Now, grab a latte, relax, and people-watch. Practice reading people’s motions and interactions. Developing the ability to predict human behavior is key in being able to capture that decisive moment, much more so then something like shutter lag.

- I think this is the most important point. The capability of observing a situation and getting to know it.

For some more from Brian Q. Webb blog read here!

Check out Joel Meyerowitz, the man from the clip above.

Who is your favourite (street) photographer?


Michael Beon said...

This was a great post. As a photographer, Street Photography scares me a bit but i find it challenging...i have to get over that fear somehow and this is my way of doing it.

Café Naïveté said...

I think one should ALWAYS face a situation which intimidates him or her. Challenges are positive, only this way you can improve yourself!:)
Thank you for your comment, Michael.


Julia, the Thanksgiving Girl said...

I think I've read these tips before, and I really agree with the last advice - being able to catch a moment is maybe the most important quality a photograher should have. And to be able to catch a moment, you don't just need luck but you really need to have some special predictive or maybe even intuitive talents!

Lady Sophia's Lover said...


Love is the One who masters all things;
I am mastered totally by Love.
By my passion of love for Love
I have ground sweet as sugar.
O furious Wind, I am only a straw before you;
How could I know where I will be blown next?
Whoever claims to have made a pact with Destiny
Reveals himself a liar and a fool;
What is any of us but a straw in a storm?
How could anyone make a pact with a hurricane?
God is working everywhere his massive Resurrection;
How can we pretend to act on our own?
In the hand of Love I am like a cat in a sack;
Sometimes Love hoists me into the air,
Sometimes Love flings me into the air,
Love swings me round and round His head;
I have no peace, in this world or any other.
The lovers of God have fallen in a furious river;
They have surrendered themselves to Love's commands.
Like mill wheels they turn, day and night, day and night,
Constantly turning and turning, and crying out.


Lisa Petrarca said...

Such great info...thanks for sharing. I too find it hard to photograph strangers, but I'm getting better at it SLOWLY! I think I enjoy action & nature shots more for some reason.

Soooo my son will be in Milan for fashion week. He's never been there & he probably wont have tons of free time because of castings...BUT can you recommend anywhere that he should go or visit while there?

I figured you would know!!


*sunday* said...

wow! very interesting post, will definitely be keeping those in mind

la flore et la faune . com said...

love your people in the espresso cup

Davidikus said...

Quite a few gems in terms of advice here. I have been teaching photography a bit over the years & these are advices I often give my students (not to say that I use them as the basis of exercises: using a prime only can be a technical exercise).

In general, what I try to do with my students is to (a) get them increasingly in control of what they are doing & (b) to forbid them from being lazy.

1. Using fixed prime is a great, great idea. I barely ever zoom even for my professional & personal work.
The first advantage is that the photographer has to move back and forth, left and right, up and down to get the composition they want & that includes all elements that are important. Changing point of view (even by moving the camera a few millimeters) is crucial to our work as photographers. It is the little details that make the difference.
The second advantage is that, once you know a prime well, you'll know what fits in it even before using the camera (it almost scares me at times when what I see in the viewfinder is exactly what I imagined).
Of course, you can use a zoom as a prime, simply by deciding "today, I am going to use only the zoom on the 35mm setting".

2. Using manual focusing puts you in control too. Let's face it, who sees the picture? You? Or the camera? Clearly: you, you, you, the photographer. Who is best placed to judge whether you want the focus on the eyes, to give a direct contact, slightly in front of the eyes, to give a more dreamy look etc. This is more important for portraits & "close" photography than it is for landscapes of course!

3. Deciding on the aperture/speed couple is hugely important too. No need to go all manual for this. Firstly decide what is more important: aperture (in case of low light, and depending on whether you want a blurred or v sharp background & foreground) or speed (if what you are photographing moves quickly, or for special effects). Switch to aperture or speed mode accordingly. If the picture does not look as you want it to look, then understand why (overexposed v. underexposed? too blurry in the background? too sharp overall? etc.) and correct accordingly (in the first case by using the +/- button or equivalent to correct exposure, in the second case through reviewing your settings).

Truth is: at some point, you shall want to come back to the comfort of automated work but postpone this for as long as possible. Really do. Yet, when you come back to all-automated pictures, you'll realise that you understand the settings more and are able to decide whether the camera is making the right decision almost instantly - & correct that decision if needs be or switch back to manual in the area that is a problem!

Davidikus said...

Thanks for your comments on my blog. I am glad this advice has been useful. You are very lucky to live in Rome. I would move there tomorrow if I could (I don't speak any Italian, though).

Zarna said...

these are awesome tips - thank you so much for the post!

Reg said...

i love the tips here especially the last one about ditching the camera and observing people so you'll know when to take a snapshot :) merry christmas,dear!


Runway Rundown said...

I love the quote you have above! Such a beautiful statement. And you suggesstions are spot on.

Check out Runway Rundown!!

Sarah Whitney said...

You're so right, it's all about timing and being prepared when the moment strikes!