street photography

Goodbye 2018, Hello 2019

So I decided to write a blog post. I’ve not been doing too well on that recently. A quick look back shows that I kinda abandoned my posts on a trip to Spain after Part I. That’s not the best is it? It begs the question what is the point of having a blog if I don’t ever use it. So, I’m going to use it more. There. Straight off the bat. One New Year’s resolution established and committed to. I will blog more regularly.

This year I have been doing a lot of looking back. With my mother passing away in February, it’s only natural to spend a lot of time reflecting on the past. I don’t want to do that too much here. I’ve spoken about my mother and life and so on elsewhere, but it is important to acknowledge the sheer weight of the loss upon all aspects of my life, and the extent to which it continues to have an impact.

Looking back over the year in terms of my photography and I really feel like I’ve taken some big leaps forwards. Investing in some new gear (like, filters and stuff) has certainly helped to a degree, but the biggest impact has been the various YouTube channels I subscribe to. I’ve learnt so much from Thomas Heaton and Nigel Danson (for starters) that I feel like I have really come on in terms of technique and skills over the course of the year. I’m thinking about my compositions far more than I was in 2017. Now it’s much less a case of pointing and clicking, and far more thought around the composition of images (I still have some way to go obvs).

Samphire How at sunset…with strategically placed sheep. Good work, sheep.

I’ve also pushed myself to try out things that I would never have been comfortable with in the past. Street portraits, for a start, were something I’d never have considered before, either because of the sheer fear of approaching strangers, or because of my concerns around privacy (which is a bit of a thing for me). Ok the results weren’t spectacular, but I was fairly happy with the images I got and I’ve learnt a bit more about taking portraits, something that isn’t something I’m generally that into.

I’ve also been getting my head around using an ultra wide-angle lens and thinking more about how I can put together interesting compositions using it. Alongside investment in some graduated neutral density filters, I feel like my landscape photos are getting better, I’m much happier with the images I’ve produced in 2018. I guess the fact I’ve printed some out, slapped them into framwes and chucked them on a couple of walls in the house says it all. My technique has definitely improved too. Rather than just flicking it onto auto-focus, I’m getting used to manual focus with live view to ensure photos are as sharp as they can be (or sometimes relying on auto-focus but also using live view to get the focus just right).

Reculver Towers at sunrise…one of two slapped in a frame during 2018 and hung in our house.

So, what next…?

I was fortunate to get a 10 stop Cokin filter, which I’m looking forward to chucking in front of my wide-angle lens and capturing some smooth long exposure coastal scenes, as well as a polariser (also for the wide-angle lens) for that glare suppression and blue sky popping.

I’ve also been mulling over more broadly some things I should look into doing in 2019 to take things a step further. Here are a few things floating around my head…

1) Do more video work - I have mixed thoughts about this. I have a (currently dormant) YouTube channel that I’d like to start using more of, but I’m conscious I don’t have the equipment (or confidence!) that many YouTube photographers have at their disposal. So jury is out on whether I will actually do anything on this in 2019. That said, one of the things I was looking forward to once I bagged the new iPhone XR was to play with video. We’ll see…

2) More street photography - I definitely want to do more of this after dipping my toes in the water in 2018. I feel I’ve got a bit more confidence now in tackling this kind of photography, I need to hone my skills quite a bit more, so I guess that means pushing myself out into the streets with a camera in hand…

3) Print more - I have a small Canon Selphy CP1300 at home which I’ve used fairly frequently (mainly for casual family pictures). But I’ve rarely printed and framed. I want to do more printing, chucking stuff in frames, small albums, little scrapbook type things…more physical, not just throwing everything online and being done with it.

4) Blog more - So if the video thing doesn’t happen (SPOILER ALERT: it won’t), the other thing I’ve been intending to do this year is to post more regularly, like…once a week. A weekly blog. On a specific day. A bit like all those great vlogs I watch that are released on a weekly/bi-weekly schedule. I’m going to do the same. I’m going to go out on photo trips at weekends, do a write-up, post it. Job done. I figure it’ll help me learn, bit of reflective writing and all that. And maybe it will be useful to others that are thinking of picking up a camera and start playing around with it. I think I might just do that. BLOGGING. IT’S BACK.

5) Discover new locations - I need to do this. Try out a few new places. Now I have a phone with a GPS thingy that actually works (SAY WHAT NOW?!), I might go out and explore a little more. Go beyond my usual locations. Try something new. Keep it fresh. Because, you know, same locations time after time after time after time after time after time after time after time after time after time…well, you know…

6) Oh yeah, 365 Project type stuff - Ok, normally this kind of thing isn’t really my bag. I’m not hugely into commitments over a long period of time (well, there are exceptions…)…routine gets a bit tiresome for me. But I have been persuaded to the 365 photo project the year. I’m having a crack at it, but don’t hold your breath I’ll last more than a month (tbh a week will be quite something). You can find my half-arsed 365 effort on Instagram at captureyield365 (yeah, imaginative innit).

So yeah, let’s see how this all goes. One thing is for certain, I don’t want to stand still. Well, unless that works for the composition anyway…

Happy 2019!

Street Portraits

A little while ago I had some business cards made up and delivered. The intention was to use these to help with taking street portraits when I went to Spain (nothing like a challenge, eh?!). Needless to say, I didn’t end up taking any street portraits or giving out any cards during my trip. But I was determined to have a go and figured that maybe a trip to London might be the best way to dip my toes in these waters.

As I mentioned in my previous post, part of the process of managing my mental health has been going out alone with the camera and taking some photos. With this in mind I took myself off to the South Bank (my favourite part of London and one of my favourite places to potter around and chill out) to spend some time alone. After a bit of a difficult period trying to avoid people and keep myself to myself, I figured maybe giving myself a target of street portraits might help me to get interacting with people again and grow my confidence (interacting with people is a large part of my job).

Now, aside from my personal issues at present, I’m quite a shy person. I’m not great at approaching and talking to strangers. If I can avoid doing so I will (which is great when you want peace and quiet). So I was pretty nervous about doing this, but I also felt that if I can do it, I might be in a better place to return to work and get back into interacting and working with people.

After a short walk from London Bridge station to Tower Bridge I came across a couple that I figured might be good subjects for a portrait and they seemed like they might be happy to have their photo taken by a stranger. Fortunately they were lovely people and more than happy to oblige. Not only were they happy to have their photo taken, they also made me feel instantly at ease (I guess technically it should have been the other way around but still…). To the extent that I gained a lot of confidence from our brief interaction, and felt emboldened to approach more strangers on the street.

In the end, discounting friends, I managed to photograph five people as I wondered around the South Bank. All happy to have their photo taken. I felt increasingly confident with each portrait and by the fifth portrait I was beginning to really get into it. I kinda knew that London might be a good place to experiment with this kind of photography but nonetheless, capturing some street portraits felt like quite an achievement for me on a number of levels.

There are a few things that I took away from the experience that I thought I’d share in case anyone else out there is thinking of experimenting with taking portraits of strangers on the streets. These aren’t so much a “top tips”, more of a “things I reflected on during and after”.

Who not to approach – I made a decision early on not to approach people eating or wearing headphones. It felt like something of an intrusion on private space and I didn’t think it would be welcome (I did approach one woman drinking a glass of wine, but I spent a long time weighing it up before I did so). As someone who puts a premium on personal space, I had no wish whatsoever to be seen to be invading anyone’s space.

Aperture priority – keep your camera in aperture priority mode. Settle on the depth of field you wish to use in your portraits (obviously the wider the shallower, the smaller and the more your subject will be placed in context) and let the camera do the rest. As someone who has avoided shutter or aperture priority since learning full manual, I found switching to a mode where the camera shares the workload a massive help. You don’t want to be messing around with settings when you are taking photos of people on the street. You need to be relatively quick and unfussy.

Previsualisation – I found with some of my portraits that maybe I could have thought more about the composition before I took the shot. I think I was mainy nervous about taking up their time and generally tried to fire the shots off fairly quickly. As a result, some of the compositions are not quite right so I think I need to consider this a bit more when I next take street portraits.

Natural, posed or looking at the camera? - I also took a mixture of shots of the subject looking at the camera, away from the camera and natural. I didn’t really settle on which kind of look I prefer, but I think I maybe need to be clearer on this before I take the photo.

Business cards helped – When I approached each subject, I asked if I could take their photograph and produced a card with my details on it to make them feel at ease that this isn’t just a random person taking photos for no real reason. I also offered to send them a copy of the photo if they dropped me an email. I don’t think my shots were particularly great, but I figured the offer of sending them a copy might help.

Why are you doing this? – One person queried why I wanted to take their photo, which caught me out a little, but I explained that I was a photographer and it was my first attempt at taking portrait photos. Although that satisfied the subject, I guess I need to think this through a bit more. Why exactly am I taking their photo? What is the purpose?

There’s nothing to fear – as I said, I was really nervous beforehand, but I needn’t have been. London is a great place to try out this type of photography. People are generally pretty relaxed. It’s a city that has long got used to cameras being everywhere (in one way or another…). People generally seem open to such approaches. Some people will say no, but just put that aside and move on (easy for me to say when I was fortunate enough not to have been rejected on this occasion, but seriously, there are plenty of people happy to be the subject of your photo!).

Have you had a go at street portraits? How did you find it? What worked for you/what didn’t work? What would you do differently in future? And if you haven’t, what is it that’s making you nervous about trying it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!