Timing in street photography

IPad man Decisive moments: timing in street photography

We have all heard of the ‘decisive moment’, and we know it relates to the split second in that which the multitude of disparate elements within our view come together to form a single harmonised image in which all those individual entities suddenly somehow relate to each other.

When many of us think about this concept we visualise the world moving and the photographer passively standing by waiting to catch what happens next. To some extent this is true, but the part of the successful photographer is of the active fortune teller who analyses the lines on the palm of the situation to guess what MIGHT come to pass in the seconds and minutes that follow. When we spend the time to see and to predict we can try to ensure we are in the right place with the right settings on our camera, and prepared to capture that future in a way that communicates the essence of the moment.

I liked this man’s hair and the way the light and dark streaks emphasised his style and shape in the pale overcast evening light, and I hovered around behind him waiting to get a shot. I wanted him taking a picture down the river, with The Shard softly setting the scene in the background, but I needed to wait for those elements to come together in a single cohesive moment.

He decided to create a sweep panorama with his iPad Mini, and I could see he was going to swing from left to right as he captured the view, so I quickly composed my own view so that I would be ready for the moment his iPad was in the right place. As I have a building in the shot we need to activate our mental architecture mode, making it essential to keep the camera upright and straight so the viewer doesn’t have to face the distractions of London falling over. Guessing where the iPad would be I set my AF point for that spot using the Touch AF feature of the camera I was using. This allows the photographer to position the focus anywhere in the scene by touching that place on the rear screen. I set a wide aperture of f/1.2 to create a tiny depth of field that would blur the background behind the iPad and even the man’s hair in front of it.

And as he swung the iPad in to position I was ready and just had to trigger the shutter at precisely that moment.

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 with Leica DG Noctilux 42.5mm f/1.2

 

If you would like to learn how to take pictures like this, and become a confident and creative street photographer, sign up for one of my one-day street photography classes.

9990172-silky-HD-copy.jpg

 

 

Tonal Contrast for Emphasis

Tonal contrast for emphasis. Street photography courses in London. Damien DemolderSmoking at the Bank – Tonal contrast for emphasis

If you asked twenty people in the street ‘What’s the best colour to make a white object stand out?”, they would probably all say ‘black’ (except those who know that black isn’t a colour!). It is obvious, isn’t it? But in the heat and excitement of the moment the street photographer can easily forget the most obvious principles and miss the opportunity to make a scene into an effective piece of communication.

This picture is clearly about the whisps of smoke that appear above the man’s head. We know that because they are probably the first things we notice when we look at the picture. They are the first things we notice because they stand out, and they stand out because the difference between their brightness and the deep dark shades of the doorway represent the strongest tonal contrast in the scene.

Tonal contrast: brain v camera

When I saw the potential of the shot I’m not sure where the smoke was, but it stood out because my eyes and brain were able to separate the smoke from whatever background it was against, but the camera can’t do that on its own. When I came to take the picture I adjusted my position so that the light toned smoke would be against a dark toned background – not against the stone wall or the pillar in the distance. It is this slight shift in my position, and the differences in the tonal values of subject and background that make the shot work. Had the smoke appeared over the wall of the Bank the picture wouldn’t have worked at all.

The reason I moved was because I had thought all that through in the seconds between seeing and taking the shot. I didn’t just get wow’ed by the smoke, I thought about the best way to get the message to you that the smoke rising from the man’s head looked cool with the light shining through it. And it is that few seconds of thinking that make the difference and which are so often missing.

Contrast, depth of field and saturation

The shallow depth of field helps, of course, as does the soft light of the rainy day that allowed the camera’s dynamic range to capture the full scale of the tonal values of the scene. I exposed for the smoke, not for the man’s jacket, because I didn’t want it to appear pure white and featureless.

It was a muted sort of morning, and there are no strong colours in the scene. I’ve desaturated the image it a little more to give it a stronger monochromatic atmosphere. I also cropped square for a classic feel that suits the moderate tones and colours.

Smoking is of course pretty bad for the health of humans, and as prices and prohibition increase fewer and fewer people are doing it. That’s great for the lungs of the nation, but one day scenes like this will be rare. Go out and make the most of smokers while we still have some.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 with Taylor Taylor Hobson 2in f/2 Telekinic lens

 

I run regular street photography classes around London, both during the day and at night, so why not join me and a very small group of other photographers for some instruction and inspiration – and a lot of fun?

I can help to improve your photography whatever your level of experience.

You can also follow me on Facebook or on Twitter:
http://www.facebook.com/demolder
https://twitter.com/damiendemolder

Taking pictures in the rain

SAMSUNG CSCTaking pictures in the rain – let the details tell the story

You would think there was a law against taking pictures on a rainy day, as hardly any photographers ever do. They look out the window, see the drips and drops falling from the heavens, and decide automatically that it is a day for doing something else. But one of the things they are missing out on is a chance of getting unique images – with all the other photographers indoors anything you shoot on a rainy day is going to be an exclusive!

And rain happens – it is part of the experience of life, so we should be photographing it. This shot was taken on a rainy morning in London when the commuters were rushing to work, heads down and brollies up. If you are at all nervous of taking pictures of people in the street a rainy day is great, as no one is going to bother stopping to ask what you are doing.

As I walked along behind this person I enjoyed how the water was forming into big droplets on the umbrella material, and how those droplets were sparkling in the light, and I wanted to make a picture to show that. Obviously the person under the brolly was moving pretty quickly, so I set myself an ISO of 1600 and an aperture of f/2 so I could get a motion-stopping shutter speed – in this case 1/2500sec. Then I set my AF point to the lower third of the screen and followed the brolly trying to walk in time with the person under it. When we walk we naturally bob up and down, so getting in rhythm with the subject is important if we are going to avoid motion blur. I knew I was pretty safe though, with that very fast shutter speed, but the timing was important so I could get the focus point exactly where I wanted it on the moving subject.

I was happy to shoot at f/2 because I knew I didn’t have to get the buildings in the background in focus for people to know what they are. You mightn’t recognise Old Broad Street, but it is enough to see that this is a city scene and you get the sense of the old buildings and the new glass tower block in the distance. Also the narrow depth of field would make the droplets the only part of the picture in focus, so you would know that they are the subjects and what I want you to look at.

It was a pretty grey day in a pretty grey place, so rather than turning the picture black and white I just de-saturated it a bit and then overlaid an orange tone to give it a warmer feel.
It might sound odd to describe to someone else that this is a picture of an umbrella, and it wouldn’t sound very exciting, but it is a picture about the atmosphere of the place at that time. Often it is the small details that can describe an atmosphere more fully than a wider shot of the whole street, as details are filled with clues and you force the viewer to look at them.

I hope you like the shot, and that it has encouraged you to go out with your camera next time it rains. Please do leave me a comment below. I run regular street photography classes around London, both during the day and at night, so why not join me and a very small group of other photographers for some instruction and inspiration – and a lot of fun?

I can help to improve your photography whatever your level of experience. Find out more in the Events and Courses section.

My next street day is on 18 February 

See me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/demolder
Follow me on Twitter at @damiendemolder

 

Taking pictures in the rain - London

Be prepared – lover’s hideout
Lover's hideout, by Damien Demolder

Lover’s hideout, by Damien Demolder

Try something out. Put your camera in its bag, and put the bag over your shoulder. Now, pretending you are Clint Eastwood in a cowboy movie, see how quickly you can ‘draw’ your camera, including switching it on and squeezing a shot off. Providing the settings are about right for the light levels and light types you are practicing in, it probably takes about four to five seconds. If you need to adjust the ISO to achieve a shutter speed at which you can hand-hold the camera and lens, that ‘draw’ time might extend to ten seconds – depending on how user-friendly your camera’s menu system is. It’s a good job you are pretending to be Clint rather than fighting against him, as you’d never get that shot off.

Whether you are a fan of Mr Eastwood’s movies or not you will have noticed that when the man himself is sliding round the side of the General Store in search of the bad guys he keeps his gun in his hand, safety catch off, so it’s ready to fire. And if you are into street photography and catching ‘the moment’ you need to take a leaf out of his book.

Keep reviewing your settings
The day I shot this picture it was heavily overcast and dark. It was also very cold, so I was wearing those fingerless burglar gloves, so that I would be able to hold the camera in my hands all day and still be able to work the controls. As the day got darker and darker I had been adjusting my ISO settings so that I would be able to maintain a shutter speed of at least 1/30sec – the camera had anti-shake built-in. I had a 28mm lens fitted, which gave me a 42mm equivalent focal length on my APS-C sensor, and I’d got it stuck wide open at f/2.8 to let in as much light as I could get.

Rounding the corner of a building I came across these two lovers hiding away from the world to share an few intimate moments together. Before I knew it I had the camera at my eye and was focusing the manual lens. As the shutter fired she just had time to look a little bit sheepish, and he just had time to hide his head behind hers.

Ready to shoot
I took one shot, smiled at them as they laughed at being caught, and then I walked on. It all took about two seconds, and I got the shot because the camera was there in my hand whirring and straining at the leash to take a picture. Had it been curled up snoozing in my camera bag this incident would have just been another one of those occasions when the shot got away. I wouldn’t even have drawn, as I’d have known immediately that as soon as I’d started getting the camera out the dynamics of the picture would have changed and the moment would be passed.

Composition in an instant
With practice I’ve learnt not only to get the subject in the frame in a split second but also to ensure I have a composition. I never know what the next composition is going to be, but I do know that even the sort of picture that is grabbed in a fraction of second needs to respect the viewer and respect the laws of image construction. I managed to keep the camera straight so those blocks wouldn’t create a distraction by sloping off to one side, and I positioned the couple at the bottom of a tall frame to prevent a centre-weighted or top heavy composition. I had to keep her feet in too, and his, and frame the pair of them in their alcove by showing some wall either side so the viewer can understand they were hiding away.

Wide aperture
The wide aperture has combined with the overcast sky to create an almost dreamlike softness that works well in the sooty black and white, blue/green channel conversion. There is romance in the softness that adds a fairy tale quality.

Pentax K10D with Ricoh XR Rikenon 28mm f/2.8 at f/2.8. ISO 400.

See more of Damien Demolder’s recent photographic posts here

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at www.damiendemolder.com

To see more of my pictures
visit my photo galleries site
at www.damiendemolder.com

Lover's hideout, by Damien Demolder

Lover’s hideout, by Damien Demolder

Photographing street scenes – The right moment

Having a fag, by Damien Demolder. Sony Alpha 700 DSLRJust as with wildlife photography it is the shots that show behaviour, rather than the pure record pictures, that work best in street photography. To show that behaviour clearly, so that the viewer can recognise what is going on, you have to pick your moment carefully. You have to show the moment in which the action happens.

Decisive moment?

This moment is often called ‘the decisive moment’, but the phrase is so over burdened with history and expectation that I prefer to just call it ‘the right moment’.

In this scene of a couple of office workers having a smoke break I spotted the potential from a way off, as the pair made an interesting shape that broke the pattern of the straight lines of the pillars and windows. As they had only just lit-up I knew I had a while to get the shot I wanted. I noticed the guy on the left had a particular way of blowing out his smoke in an over dramatic fashion. He turned his head, blowing the smoke away from his friend and in the process propelling it across the dark lines of the concrete. As the smoke got caught in the light of the overcast day it became illuminated, and created just the contrast I needed.

I shot a few frames to get a feel for the composition, and to watch the behaviour before everything lined up and I got the picture I wanted. Going back over those other frames, it’s obvious that it is the small detail of the smoke blowing that makes this moment stand out from the others. The alternative frames have the same pattern and the human shapes that break it, and they have the interest of two humans chatting. But they lack that extra something that separates the ordinary picture from the interesting.

Using a shallow depth of field

To help the subjects stand out from the background I used a really wide aperture to introduce a really shallow depth of field. Using a long lens helped too, as longer focal lengths make it easier to reduce the amount of the scene that is in focus. I was lucky that I had an exceptional lens – a 135mm f/1.4 which I was using on an APS-C sensor camera, so it was acting more like a 200mm. But even if you don’t have a long lens that’s not quite as ‘fast’ as this one you can still get the effect. A 200mm zoom will give a similar effect at f/4.5 on an APS-C camera.

Making the crop

The last thing I did to this picture was crop it to the 16×9 format. I did this for two reasons, firstly there is quite a bit of spare space at the top and bottom of the picture, as you can see from the full frame examples below. The second reason is that I love the movie feel this cropping ratio lends an image, and this picture suits that look. It could be a frame from a film, and the ratio of the format just enhances the sense of the moment.

Sony Alpha 700, 135mm f/1.4 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* lens, 1/2500sec at f/1.8 and ISO 400

Taken in Warsaw, Poland.

See my other recent posts here

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at www.damiendemolder.com

To see more of my pictures
visit my photo galleries site
at www.damiendemolder.com

Follow Damien on Twitter and on Facebook

Book a place on Damien’s street photography classes, full day or evening/night

Having a fag, by Damien Demolder.

Not quite the right moment

Having a fag II, by Damien Demolder.

This one’s nearly there, but it could be more interesting

Having a fag, by Damien Demolder. Sony Alpha 700 DSLR

Ahh, that’s a bit better

Keeping your eyes open – Dubai Hotel

Dubai HotelPatterns, and pictures, are everywhere, and of course we all know we need to keep an eye open for them in the most unexpected places. It seems though that the most unexpected place of all for most photographers is ‘up’. Looking up is something most of us fail to do, as we are just not programmed that way. With few airborne predators I suppose we don’t feel we need to.

Although I do now make an effort to look in the directions others are not, I saw this shot quite by chance. I was waiting for a bus and had the time to stare

At first glance, the face of this hotel looked just like all the other glass mirrored buildings in the district – which by their numbers had already become boring subjects by the second day of the visit. The difference here is that the windows actually opened, and thus they destroy the neat graphic designs of the building. The architect would probably not approve, but in fact the at-odds angles have made an interesting picture where one did not exist before.

The trick, beyond spotting the potential in the first place, is to represent what you are seeing in your photograph, and to get across what it was that made you look. In this case the attention-grabbing element is the break in the pattern. So, to begin with, you have to show the pattern. Here the pattern occupies the largest area of the image, so we can see what is the norm. The windows that are open are only small, but simply by breaking the flow of the pattern they stand out, and draw the eye.

To help emphasise how much the windows stood out I used a wide aperture for a shallow depth of field, as well as a tilt and shift lens which enabled me to alter the plane of focus completely. This meant that it was easy to de-focus the rest of the building, while keeping just the open window area sharp. You could achieve the same in software.

I shot the picture on a Nikon D40, and used the in-camera cyan-toning facility in the post capture menu. I find this a bit strong, even using the mildest setting, so I reduced the colour saturation in software.

Shot with Nikon D40, with Nikkor PC Micro 85mm f/2.8. 1/3200sec @ f/2.8 and ISO 200

Nikon D40 kit in black

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at www.damiendemolder.com

To see more of my pictures
visit my photo galleries site
at www.damiendemolder.com


Dubai Hotel