Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Thoughts on Street Photography

The moment I saw these guys walking my way, I thought of a friend in Singapore whom Kishan described as wearing a cravat of late.

I barely had time to whip my handphone camera into action before they disappeared behind me. And then I realised a few things about street photography.

It is commonly held that street photography benefits from a wide and fast lens, and fast film or a high ISO. It also benefits from a small and inconspicuous camera, which is why rangefinders—especially when painted black—have been an enduring favourite of street photographers. SLRs, while perfectly black, are in no way subtle, and compact cameras, while subtle, are often not responsive enough to capture split-second moments on the street.

But there is, I believe, an approach to street photography that leaves less to chance, and enables the photographer to get compelling shots even with an SLR. And that is to use a tripod and a wide lens, to disappear into the busyness of the street, to capture the subjects walking by, using a cable release or remote control to trigger the shutter. This way, the photographer becomes a 'passive hunter' of sorts, crouched and all but hidden behind the camera, making passers-by and other people on the street less self-conscious. No doubt, many will try to avoid the camera. But pedestrian pathways are usually narrow enough for a wide lens to prevent any possible escape on the part of potential subjects.

Bring a friend along, put two stools out on the streetside, and have a conversation over drinks in one hand and the cable release is the other, being mindful of what's going on in the corner of your eye. Pre-focus the camera and set it on Manual, and trip the shutter whenever something of interest happens within the camera's field of view.

Because in all of this, street photography, I feel, is not so much about capturing random scenes you pass by, as it is about capturing scenes of people and things that pass you by. And this calls for a certain discipline, patience, and directed focus more typically associated with the 'passive' art of landscape photography.

1 comment:

Belle said...

Some how, people always get conscious when cameras are aimed at them (may not be intentional) Always wanted to try capturing stuff when I'm walking around town or something but fearful of creating discomfort in others.. heh..