This shot is part of a series I made of street pictures taken from ground level. We are so used to seeing street scenes from the normal standing position that anything else immediately looks a bit different. When you lay on your face in the street though, you get views that only drunks and ants experience. In earlier test shots I noticed that shooting with a wide angle, and combining humans in the foreground with buildings in the middle distance, often produces a warped sense of scale. So I went looking for just the right conditions.
The wide streets of Warsaw provide the ideal environment for this technique, and the crossing is a great source of the right kind of subject – the type that keeps still a while.
The totally dedicated will feel the need to lay down on the floor to get perfect framing for this kind of shot, but actually doing that draws attention to what you are doing and people tend to steer clear of you. I prefer to crouch as though doing up my shoe laces, and rest the camera on my toe, for stability and to allow me to keep it straight. If you have an angle finder, or a digital camera with a flip out screen, you will be able to take some control of your composition. If you don’t you’ll just have to guess – like I did here.
You can get the framing right by taking some trial shots to inspecting on the LCD – or just shoot slightly wide so that wonky horizons can be cropped straight later on at the printing stage or in software. A spirit level in the hotshoe can help with this as well as save you time post-capture.
For this particular shot I waited for the light to fade a little so that cars would be using their head lamps and the shops in the buildings would be illuminated. I had noticed that as cars at the junction turned right their lights spilled across the road and onto the path. If only someone would stand in the right place I could get them back-lit with a warm light to contrast with the cool blue of the winter sky. I wanted that person to fill the gap between the buildings where the street runs off into the distance. And as luck would have it, after about ten minutes of waiting, the right person came along, stood in the right place and a car turned right!To get the buildings straight I used a wide angle lens and held the camera straight rather than angling it up. This meant there was far more foreground in the picture than I wanted, but I just cropped the image after to remove it. I set the cropping tool to 5×4 proportions to create a classic format look.
Shot with a Pentax K10D, with Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6
The secret to this shot is not the lens or the exposure detail, but the previsualisation of the final picture. in situations like this you must be able to see what sort of picture could come out of the elements that are present – and what added element is needed to complete the shot. You must then be prepared to wait for all the elements to come together, and sometimes that can take quite a while. It is easier for most people to understand that if they were a wildlife photographer they might have to wait for a bird to turn up than it is for them to wait for a person to stand in the right place or a car to turn a corner. You must think of these as being all the same thing – worth waiting for.
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