Street Photography

Introduction

For this assignment, six images must be chosen that resemble street photography. The pictures can be either monochrome or colour but should portray a story. The main focus is capturing people in towns, cities or other places of popularity, whilst gaining confidence as a photographer and working in an uncontrollable environment

Artist Research

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier was born in New York in 1926 and traveled to her home state and Europe, where some of her family originated from. She became a nanny but during the day was known to take the children to the streets with her as she became interested in documentary photography, using Rolleiflex cameras. She did not manage to develop all of her film, but after her death, the boxes of film were found and are still being developed today. Her fame only came after death when her photography was discovered. She was a private individual who was independent and kept to herself.

October 31, 1954. New York, NY

I find Mair to be an inspiration because she captures the raw energy of the people and their current situation. For example in the image above she has photographed people standing next to one another. However, from this image, it appears as though they are waiting for public transport and by the spacing between each one it seems as though they have no relationship one another. The lines in the walls bring the viewer’s eye from side to the other, creating depth. I find this interesting because it presents all women in smart clothes and some with briefcase resembling bags. For the time era, this is an unusual and powerful representation of women. From my interpretation, the women are independent with their own experiences in the world.

I think she has a natural eye for capturing strong images that tell a story. She does not have any education with photography and for a woman, it was not a common sector to be a part of. However, she still found time along with her day job as a nanny to document the streets.

She took a variety of images that portrayed different atmospheres and scenarios. The image above on the left presents two children in a street. These were possibly under her care at the time but she was able to capture them naturally playing in the street. Her images are sharp and bold, featuring striking contrasts between the highlights and shadows. The image on the right has a completely different energy than the previous. It only shows one girl as center focus. She has her arms folded with a serious facial expression which makes the image feel dramatic and impactful, filled with stronger emotions. I find the watch that the girl is wearing to be a pint of interest as she would have bought this item. This indicates that it could have been a gift, most likely from a close family member that has already begun to create a narrative within a simple image.

Her images have been some of my favourite street photographs that I will use as inspiration for my work. I will attempt to capture the strong emotions in my images and present a story to the audience.

My Work

Figure 1

 Description

For my first attempt at street photography, I went to Chester City. I thought this would be a suitable location as it offers a variety of activity, from markets, street performers and attracts tourists. I was not alone, instead accompanied by another member of the class. This made us both feel more comfortable. We both walked around, finding interesting photo opportunities but did not stray too far from one another.

It was during a weekday, therefore it was not too busy and the weather was cold with rain. I used my Canon 70-200mm f4 L IS USM lens because I thought this would be a suitable focal range for this type of photography and it also offers high image quality. I used a shallow depth of field of f4 to isolate people which I found to be effective. Due to the constant movement, I did not use a shutter speed slower than 1/80.

Emotional Response

It was comforting to go with someone else for the first try at taking images of people on the street. I have had experiences in the past with unwanted people disturbing my work and making me feel uncomfortable. Therefore, it was reassuring to have someone around in case of any issues. I do not intend to always have a partner when taking images but for this experience, we both felt more at ease.

At first, I took pictures further away from people but I then went out onto the main street and felt comfortable enough to take the images around the people. With this type of photography, the more practice and experience will improve my comfortability and technique. I am pleased with how I handled the overall situation because even though I felt uncertain how people may react, I still became more confident.

I found that the more confident I acted the fewer people would disturb or notice me. If I tried to hide the fact that I was taking pictures it would cause more attraction and make people feel uncomfortable. I would not directly make it obvious that I am taking a picture of someone as this would also make them feel uncomfortable but I would not try to hide out of site. I also found that people were less likely to approach me and ask what I was doing or give me advice on how to take a picture. Instead, people were more likely to view me more professional and I wore a lanyard with mine and my photography partners business name to create the image of professionalism.

Whilst taking pictures my favourite performer began to play, Ed Alleyne-Johnson. He is an electric violin player from Liverpool, who studied Art at Oxford University. This made the experience a lot more enjoyable and peaceful when photographing to the music. I felt relaxed and noticed that it also made the public appear calmer and improved their mood on a cold day. I also used this to my advantage by watching for people who stayed and listened to him play. I found that they would be the most expressive and stand in silence whilst they listened. Many were not looking at him play but staring at the floor, showing deep thought that I felt made interesting monochrome images.

Evaluation

A positive from the images captures was the choice of aperture. I found that isolating the subject with a shallow depth of field worked more successfully than if the background was in focus as well. I think the background would have been distracting and attention would not have been brought to the person’s face or their body language.

I think using monochrome creates a more impacting image for street photography. For most images the simplicity of black and white forces the attention to smaller details, such as facial expressions and atmosphere. I created both colour and monochrome versions to compare the differences that I have included in the gallery above.

A negative from the experience is the lack of story in the images. I feel that I could have put more thought into the composition and what I was photographing to show a story. In most images there is not much interest, instead, I need to look for interesting compositions and situations and take more time in the process, instead of taking many images without much thought. I think I need to slow down and search the environment and plan the composition before taking various images that could have no meaning or impact.

Another negative is the images that do not include people. I took a variety of images of signs and architecture that does not create a story or impacting street images. I need to focus on people more, however, I this was an experiment, therefore I do not regret taking different types of mages. I now know for future street photographs that I need to focus on the stories that involve people.

Analysis

I thought that the bad weather would be a hinder because it would discourage people to come to Chester and the lighting would be dull. However, I began to appreciate the weather because it created interesting situations. People would bring vibrant umbrellas and coats that created effective images when against the dull background. The body language was different because everyone was in a rush with more expression facial expressions. If the rain became heavy I would simply go undercover in the Rose so that my equipment would not get wet, however, I was still able to view the streets and my telephoto lens meant that I could still get up close to people without physically being near them. I now do not see weather as an advantage or disadvantage for street photography, but instead, view it as different atmospheres. Sun will bring out younger people with more joyful moods, whereas rain will bring more serious emotions that still create effective pictures.

The time hindered the occasion as we could not stay out as long as desired. Therefore, I took many images without taking the time to plan what I wanted from them. I could have captured better composed or more interesting subjects if I had spent more time on this project. I will revisit this city with enough time in the day to take the process slower and focus on what story I want to tell the viewers.

Figure 2

Description

Part of an exhibit trip I went to the Photography Show in Birmingham. Although I went to this event to learn and experience the new technology I also took the opportunity to document the experience. I used the Canon 50mm f1.8 for the first time, which I found to be a great benefit. I have found previously that I have trouble photographing indoor venues due to the low lighting conditions. However, this lens improved the image quality, reducing the ISO levels.

Emotional Response

I found the event itself very fascinating and enjoyable to experience, however, it was difficult to concentrate of photographing and filming whilst viewing the equipment and learning. Therefore I did not give my full attention and effort for this project on this occasion.

I found it didn’t create the same energy as a street. The atmosphere was a lot calmer and there was not much happening compared to a city or town. I feel that I prefer the business and liveliness of a town or city, such as Chester because it offers interesting scenarios to capture and creates an interesting atmosphere to work in. This event did not challenge my confidence as it was not unusual to see someone taking pictures.

Evaluation

A negative was that the images did not have any meaning or story behind them. They only presented people viewing equipment or displaying them. This does not compare to a street where many activities are occurring with strong emotion and atmosphere. The images will not interest viewers or attract them to the picture. There are no striking elements in the images, which is mainly due to the event, making actual streets the better location to visit.

I am glad that I still experimented and tried to photograph a different type of location, but understand that this was not as strong as the street images. For my future shoots, I will go back to the street to focus on the capturing the story in people’s lives at that moment.

Analysis

I found that the event itself hindered this project. I did not contemplate the type of images that would be valuable to capture, not realising that there would not be much interest compared to the street. This has become too similar to event photography, just documenting the event instead of capturing a moment in someone’s life that tells a story about them. I feel that my previous shoot in Chester is stronger as it offers more depth to images and activity, rather than people viewing cameras. I understand why this experience did not work for this project and will go back to the street for my next attempts.

Figure 3

Description

For this shoot, I went to Chester. This city has offered endless photo opportunities with the change in people every time I visit. Therefore, I did not want to take pictures for this assignment at this location once but multiple times on different days to show the vast change in people and energy.

This day it was sunnier than the first time I took pictures in Chester for this project. This attracted more people and performers. I used an ISO of 100 with an aperture of f4 to create a shallow depth of field and shutter that was not set slower than 1/80 to ensure that it captured motion. I held my camera, instead of using a tripod because I wanted the freedom to move anywhere and anytime without the restriction of a tripod. This also creates a good practice in producing straight images by hand and focusing on the framing.

Emotional Response

I found the first time here for this project enjoyable, shown in figure 1, on this occasion it was much more entertaining. I think I have gained much more experience and was able to wander the streets without worrying about others. This then allowed me to focus on the surrounding so that I could capture interesting subjects.

I have found it to be entertaining to watch what occurs in the streets. Previously I did not pay attention to what others were doing but now I am noticing that much happens in a short amount of time and space. I did not realise the variety of performers and people that Chester attracts. I have found that I enjoy capturing the honesty of the people, I  try to focus on what people are actually feeling, this may not be flattering images but I want to show the truth. The other area that I enjoy to find is scenarios that are unusual. For example, a preacher’s is always found in the center but he had brought a sign on this day. The sign was bold, saying that God will be merciful to all sinners. On the other side of him were traffic cones and signs that made an interesting contrast to the opposite side with his sign, Then finally I noticed that he was on his smart phone. I found this to be the opposite of what would be expected. Often I hear preaches about modern technology and its distractions being a concern and negative upon people. Although in this occasion it is what is distracting him from preaching. Finding these situations is satisfying and very enjoyable to me.

Evaluation

The main focus for this shoot was to capture a story in the image. In feedback on my previous work I was told that there was not meaning to the images, which will not be interesting or impacting to the viewers I agreed with the feedback, making sure that I tried to focus on the situations happening in the city. I think I have made an improvement from the first time in Chester for this project. As explained previously I captured the preacher in a controversial composition that creates a meaning. I also focused on the emotions of people. I tried to show boredom, deep thought and in the image of the singer she has a strong facial expression that showed her nerves.

There were many performers during this occasion that made the finance more enjoyable. I think I have to be careful when photographing the buskers as I get carried away and just capture them performing which may not have much meaning to the image. I think the singer has worked because of her strong expressions but with the female guitarist, there is not much depth to the image. However, there were two performers playing folk music that showed much energy. I wanted to capture this and found that colour and monochrome worked well. For some images of them in black and white it produces more depth but for the portrait picture of one of them, I think it shows the energy of his performance though deep colours.

Analysis

This day was busy with tourists and even though it created more photo opportunities it also made the process difficult. I found that it made it challenging to get images without people moving in the way of the camera or in the background that becomes distracting. I waited for a moment where people would not be in view which worked for some images but for others that had to be captured fast, I could not wait for people to move out of frame.

Figure 4

Description

I visited Chester city center during the school easter break. I thought that this would create a different atmosphere compared to the other occasions I have visited during the weekdays. The half term attracted many younger people and tourists, especially due to the warm and sunny weather.

I found the sun challenging to work with because it created harsh highlights and shadows. I set my Iso to 100, aperture to f4 to create a shallow depth of field and had to continuously change the shutter speed to compensate for the light, however, it was never less than 1/100.

Emotional Response

For the first half of the visit I was alone. I was unsure how I would feel about this, but I soon found that I was busy concentrating on what interesting subjects I could capture that I was no longer worried or uncomfortable.

I did not try to stand out of sight, instead performed more confidently and tried to find the areas that offered the best composition. I found that because it was busy more people noticed my camera, although, this did not concern me and fortunately I did not have any issues with the public.

I found the lively atmosphere made it more interesting and created a variety of photo opportunities. I did not feel uncomfortable, instead walked along the streets among the crowds. I enjoy the variety of street performers at Chester, as this offers many atmospheres and has become beneficial to my work. I have found that the images of the performers are some of my most popular. During this occasion I photographed a younger singer, aged around 19 who called me back. They requested that I contact them to send the images that I had taken. I was pleased that this has begun to lead to networking and I have since sent the images to who I now know as Jason Allan who was a semi final contestant at Teen Star. I am finding street photography very enjoyable and fascinating. Every Time I visit I have new stories to capture that would normally go unnoticed.

Evaluation

A negative was the distracting backgrounds in some of the images and when taking them. Due to the busyness of the streets, there was usually other people or cars in the background. I used a shallow depth of field to blur the background as much as I could but for some images, I did not want anyone behind the subject. For most of these images, such as the two musicians on the side of the street I waited till no one was walking past. This would only be for a few seconds but was ready for that moment when there was a gap between the public walking past. However, in other shots, such as the Viking there are unsightly objects in the background that are distracting. The Viking has a sign behind them that takes the attention away from the person, I should have moved to another position so that the sign was no longer in the frame. In the future, I will inspect the environment more thoroughly to ensure there is nothing that would negatively impact the image.

The sharpness also has a negative impact on many images. Some pictures are not as sharp as others which lose the technical quality of the image. The man holding the newspaper does not have much detail in the face and others are slightly blurred. To improve the sharpness faster shutter speeds should be used to capture any motion. For the images that I already had a fast shutter speed, I need to make sure that I am not rushing. I think that I should take more time with some of the pictures, so that I have not moved too fast when taking the image, making sure that the subject is in focus.

I think that a positive from this experience is that I am beginning to capture more stories. I think that I am becoming more aware of situations happening between people and their body languages. I have tried to capture the emotion of people, such as the young French tourists sitting on the bench. They were waiting for others to arrive and appeared bored, with some trying to entertain others. I also looked for interesting scenarios, such as the guitarist and the older man performing on the street. This image was interesting to me because it had two different generations with modern instruments and old, creating a binary opposition.

Analysis

A negative from this experience that hindered the images was the sun’s intensity when taking the pictures. I found it difficult to expose the images correctly because they were either overexposed or the shadows were too harsh, making areas underexposed. Moving to different locations would increase the chance of finding the correct lighting balance. I tried to move around but I think I could still experiment further with different compositions. I think I also need to become more familiar with the camera settings and the lighting of the environment. I want to be able to have a rough estimation of what settings to put the camera on by the lighting in the environment and what I am taking images of. I guess settings currently but found sometimes they still need adjusting after taking pictures, but with more practice, I would like to be able to have accurate thoughts upon the settings of the camera for my intended picture outcomes.

Overall Conclusion

Overall I have gained much experience and confidence through this project. I have pushed myself outside my comfort zone and attempted something new that I have now come to realise that I enjoy. This experience has enabled me to look at a different way of photography. I am no longer just concerned about the technical qualities but also the story and meaning behind them too.

I feel that I have made positive progression through the project. In the first street photography attempt, I was photographing any subjects but did not think and search for stories that will be interesting for the viewers. I then experimented with a different location but realised that this strayed away from the style of the street photographs. The photography show became too similar to event photography and did not have meaning behind the images. I then went back to the street environment and began to understand what I should be looking for and understood the difference from the Photography show and the streets.

Final Selection

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The image above has been chosen as one of my final selections because it portrays an interesting binary opposition between two people that has created a narrative in the image. The older man on the right was already playing his harmonica with his vintage setup. The younger man on the left then came with his modern equipment and joined the older man in playing blues on his guitar. This was a fascinating situation that I was pleased to have been able to capture.

I think the juxtaposition between old and modern has produced an interesting narrative and a positive social status. I found this image and all the final selections that monochrome emphasized the motion and atmosphere within the image. This is because the colour was no longer a distraction, making the audience focus on the emotion in the image.

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I thought that this image would create more variety within the final images as most are wide angle pictures, whereas this features a close-up, directly focusing on facial expressions. This image is simpler, but I found the performer’s facial expression very strong. Her emotion was captured, signifying that she was nervous and perhaps unfamiliar with street performing. I think the monochrome has created more of an impact, making the emotions appear stronger and produces more seriousness in the image. I think that this image tells a story about the individual and creates more of a personal connection between the subject and the viewers.

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This image was chosen because I think it has an interesting meaning behind the situation. I was focusing more on capturing narratives and found a preacher standing by his sign that portrays a serious message but has been contrasted by his body language that appears as though he is distracted from the quest he has set out to teach others. I find this image ironic as many issues have been raised with modern young people being distracted by technology and are not showing interest in traditional topics, such as religion. However, the preacher himself has taken time out of spreading his message to allow himself to be distracted. This gives his phone importance and creates an enigma to what has caught his attention over what he set out to do. I think this image could be interpreted various ways.

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This picture has been selected as It portrays a chemistry between the older couple. The linking arms and slow stroll through Chester created a personal connected between the people and give the audience an insight into their relationship. Instead of a complicated narrative, this simple connection between both people can be related to by the viewers and monochrome has improved the overall effect of the image, making the emotion in the image more prominent.

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Although this image does not have strong technical qualities, such as sharpness or exposure,  I think the narrative is impacting and has worked successfully to capture the attention of audiences. This image offers much narrative with open interpretation from the audiences, the various elements that make the image unusual creates interest. For example, the upside-down newspaper with the man looking over it creates a bizarre situation and enigma to what he is doing. This situation is not something that is commonly seen, taking the audience’s focus of the narrative.

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Finally, the last picture that I have included in the final six images for the street photography collection is one of the stronger images. It presents interesting compositional details, such as a line across the top of the boy’s heads, starting from left and taking the viewer’s eye down to the right. The binary opposition between the dark hair and one single lighter colour hair who is also wearing a different style jacket, creating a point of interest. He is also sitting further away from the rest, producing separation and isolation. I tried to capture each emotion of the group. During this occasion they were waiting for others, therefore the ones of the left were being entertained by the boy standing and then down the line one appears especially bored and in thought, along with the last one of the right. I have been focusing on creating a narrative through this project but in this image, I also was able to try to create compositional qualities that make the image more effective.

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