Creative Composition in Street Photography – Part Four

There are many street photographers that only shoot in a candid fashion.  They wish to remain invisible, unseen, photographing the streets without interacting with their subjects.  Some feel that this is the only way street photography should be shot, preferring the more candid approaches we discussed in Part Two and Part Three of this series.  I don’t subscribe to that philosophy, however.  Yes, I love shooting candidly, but street photography offers so many opportunities to interact with and meet new people that I would find it restricting to limit myself to one method.

Interacting with strangers can be intimidating for some people though.  My students often say that approaching a stranger on the street, and asking to make a portrait of them, is the one thing that they are the most nervous about.  In part four of this series, which is a re-written and expanded version of an article I wrote on street portraits a few years ago, we are going to discuss some methods you can use to ease that discomfort and become confident making street portraits.

first things first – WHY YOU SHOULD Be Confident

When you are considering asking someone to pose for a street portrait what you are really doing is paying them a compliment.  You are saying that there is something unique about that person, something so interesting that you are compelled to capture it.   This is a beautiful thing, so there is no reason to be nervous.  As a matter of fact, nervousness shows and will only serve to make the interaction more awkward.  Be proud of your work, be proud of wanting to meet someone new, and be proud of wanting to create art by making a portrait of someone.

Another thing to consider is this:

“What is the worst thing that can happen?”

The worst, ultimately, is that the person says no.  That’s fine, nobody ever died from being told no.   Sure, it can be soul crushing when that amazing person declines your request for a portrait, but life goes on and you continue shooting.  It’s all good.

ease into it if you are nervous – Shoot street entertainers

A great way to start making street portraits is to begin by photographing street entertainers.  These artists are used to being in the limelight and will usually not have a problem with it.  One strong word of advice though:

Pay them!

When I am shooting on the streets I keep small denominations of currency in my bag just for situations like this.  We should always remember that street entertainers are artists, who are out there working for a living.  We are artists too, so we should be respectful of this fact.  You will always get better portraits from street entertainers if you throw a small amount of change in their hat first.

Once you are comfortable approaching and photographing street entertainers, don’t forget to really work the scene:  move around, shoot from different angles, continue adjusting your composition until you are happy with your image.  All too often, people who are nervous fire off one or two quick un-composed frames and then hurriedly move on.  You should take the time to compose a decent shot.  Shoot a lot in the field and then edit later, when you are on the computer and can take the time to select your favourite image from the series.

Here are 3 images, from a series of probably 15 or 20 frames that I shot of this gentleman in Las Vegas:

It is also good to grab a detail shot or two if it is appropriate, which can make for a nice diptych to present later.  Here is a shot I grabbed of this gentleman playing guitar, then a close up of his hands afterwards:

Approaching Strangers

This is where it can get harder for some people:  you see that amazing person, you know that they would look perfect in a portrait, but you are unsure about approaching them.  Here are some things to consider:

Does it look like the person is open and receptive to being stopped for a few minutes?  If the person is talking on their phone, probably not.  If they are walking full speed down the sidewalk, with intention and purpose, they are probably in a rush and also not likely to have time to stop.  When I see somebody I’d like to make a portrait of my first consideration is usually this:

Do I think they have the time?

If I think they do, the next thing I try to find is a “hook”, or a reason to approach them and begin a conversation.  It could be a hat they are wearing, a dog they are walking, a painting they are working on, a tattoo, etc.  I’m looking for an icebreaker that I can use to start a conversation.

For this gentleman it was his bird:

While for this lady it was the art she was drawing:

Once you have initiated the conversation, don’t bring up your camera right away.  You approached this individual because they are a person, so take the time to get to know them a bit.  This is the beauty of making street portraits:  your camera is a passport to meeting new people and making new friends.  Enjoy that aspect of it!

After speaking with them for a minute or two you will get a feel for whether or not they would be amenable to a portrait.  If you do decide to ask them, be sure to let them know that it will only take another minute or two.  Be respectful of their time.

If they agree, it’s time to shoot!  As discussed above, don’t just nervously pull up your camera, snap a frame or two, and then quickly walk away.  Do the job justice:  look around for a clean background.  Don’t be afraid to change your angle or composition.  Compose the image properly and make a portrait of them that they would be proud to have.  Again, shoot a lot, you can pick the winner later.  Here are  a couple of examples:

Finally, always offer to send the person a copy of the photograph via email.  Be generous, as they are doing you a favour.

What about when you can’t talk to them?

There are times when you don’t have the opportunity to have a discussion with somebody.  Perhaps there is something physically separating you, perhaps you are in a noisy environment, perhaps there are other people around the person, etc.

In this case simply making eye contact with a smile, and lifting the camera up to indicate that you’d like to take a photo, is often all you need.  If they smile back and nod their head you are good to go.  If not, that’s ok too…. nothing ventured, nothing gained.  This process worked perfectly fine for the portrait below, shot when I was in Amsterdam with this lady who didn’t speak English (and I don’t speak Dutch):

Practice the important things often

Becoming confident at making street portraits is really about having great people skills, much more than it is about the camera, and you can practice developing these skills anytime:  engage your waiters and waitresses in conversation, have chats with people waiting in line at the bank, or speak to the person walking their dog past your house.  Being able to engage a complete stranger in conversation is like a muscle, it can be strengthened, which will better prepare you for when you are out shooting on the street.

One final thought…

Don’t be afraid of rejection when you are out there.  The reward when somebody says yes, and you get to make the art that you love, is always worth the risk of hearing somebody say no.   This final image, from the top of the post, is one of my favourite street portraits.  If I had never asked, I never would have taken it.  Be brave.

I hope that you found this post helpful.  In part five, the final post in this series, we will look at shooting detail shots on the street.

Until then!

Ian

Click here to view part FIVE of this series

Fuji X-Pro2 Review Part Four: Using the X-Pro2 in a Portrait Session

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Note:  This is part four of a five part review series on the soon to be released Fuji X-Pro2:

Hello again!

Part four of this series will focus on shooting portraits in studio with the Fuji X-Pro2.  The truth is that I don’t shoot in studio very often,  I much prefer environmental portraiture such as this:

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I wanted to test the X-Pro2 under as many different situations as I possibly could though, so I contacted a close friend (and beautiful model) who I shoot with often and we spent a few hours making some portraits.

A few quick notes about shooting in studio with Fuji cameras:

  1. The sync speed on the Fuji X-Pro2 is now 1/250th, up from the X-T1’s 1/180th.  This small increase doesn’t make a huge difference in studio when you are using 100% studio lighting, but it is a helpful addition when balancing flash against ambient light.  The king of the X series in terms of sync speed definitely remains the X100t and its leaf shutter though.  I love that camera.
  2. I commonly see people asking why everything is black in the viewfinder when shooting in studio with Fuji cameras and studio lighting.  This is almost always because the camera has exposure preview turned on, and the low ambient light and typical studio settings make for a very dark scene when the lights aren’t firing.  When shooting in studio it is often necessary to disable this option.

We started our day by shooting a few portraits in natural light, using diffused light coming in from a north facing window.  Here are two shots from that part of our session, taken in the new Acros film simulation:

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I am really falling for the new black and white Acros film simulation.  It has a beautiful look to it, and works very well for portraits in my opinion.

When we were done the natural light shots we started working with studio lighting.  The following setup was used for each of the images below:

  1. The camera was set to ISO 200, the shutter speed was set to the max sync speed of 1/250th, and the aperture ranged between f/8 to f/11 depending on the light to subject distance.
  2. All colour images were shot in Provia / Standard.  The final black and white image was shot in Acros.
  3. The light is coming from camera right, using an Alien Bee 1600 in a 50″ Westcott Apollo softbox.  For some images a reflector was used on camera left for a little fill.
  4. For these images I used the 35mm f/1.4, 56mm f/1.2, and the 90mm f/2 lenses.
  5. We did not use a make up artist, and these images have had very little done to them in post other than the usual RAW conversions.

Here are a few of the images we shot under studio lighting, starting with the one from the top of the post:

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thoughts from the day:

The X-Pro2 was a pleasure to use in studio:  The new max sync speed of 1/250th is a welcome addition, and there were no autofocus issues shooting in a dim studio.  It was nice to have the option of the optical viewfinder, the new sensor renders beautiful images, and of course the new Acros film simulation is ideally suited for black and white portraiture.

I did have to make an adjustment to the way I hold the camera in portrait orientation.  My standard grip, with my left hand on the bottom supporting the lens and body, obscured the viewfinder on a few occasions until I learned to change it up slightly.   Once I did it was not an issue.

This shoot reaffirmed for me how much I enjoy working with small rangefinder style cameras.  Many respected photographers have spoken about the position of the viewfinder in a rangefinder camera, and how your face isn’t completely covered by the camera when you look through it.  There is a truth to this:  The whole time we were shooting,  my model and I were able to see each other as there  was no barrier between us.  It is a small thing, but I think it made for a more personal and relaxing shoot.  It was a good day.

In part five of this series I will sum up my experiences shooting the Fuji X-Pro2 throughout February, and of course there will be a few more photos to share!

Cheers,

Ian

The Best of 2015 – A Year in Review

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Editing a year’s worth of photography down to the 25 images that most represent your work is a difficult task, especially when it has been the most rewarding year of your photographic career.

I traveled a lot this year, visiting Hawaii, Paris, Seattle, Las Vegas, and various locations throughout my home country of Canada.  I had incredible moments with my camera, met brilliant people, saw beautiful places, and got to tell stories about these experiences here on this website.

I continued shooting the occasional commercial job (portraiture, weddings, lifestyle and fitness), and most importantly for me I pursued my love of street photography as often as I could.

Away from the camera I made new relationships with photographers I respect,  I guested on a popular photography podcast, and I began sharing my knowledge through teaching workshops and presentations.

Finally, I had the privilege of continuing my relationship with Fuji Canada and reviewing several products in the X series, including the new Fuji X-T10 camera, the Fuji Instax SP-1 printer, and four new lenses (the 16-55mm f/2.8, the 50-140mm f/2.8, the new 35mm f/2, and the 90mm f/2 review which will soon be published).

What a year!

Let’s look back at some of my favourite photographs from the year.  I have divided them into three sections (travel photography, commercial work, street photography), and at the end of this post I’ll give a brief outline of things already planned for 2016.

All photos in this post were taken with either the Fuji X-T1, the Fuji X-T10, or the Fuji X100t.

Let’s get started…

Travel Photography

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Commercial Work

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Street Photography

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What’s coming up in 2016?

I’m excited to say that 2016 is already shaping up to build on the momentum of 2015, and promises to be another exciting year.

My first speaking engagement in 2016 will be a presentation on street photography on January 26th.  This is something I want to build on throughout 2016, so if you are a member of a camera club or organization, and would like a guest speaker to present on travel photography, street photography, or on working with Fuji’s products, please let me know!

In regard to travel,  I will be in Europe twice in 2016 (Amsterdam and London), and there will also be at least one photography road trip through parts of North America.

I am very excited to announce the launch of a new interview series on the website that will showcase photographers whose work I respect and love.  The first interview will drop early in January.

I will be shooting portraiture and street photography as often as I can.

Finally, I will be continuing my journey of learning how to see the world through the lens of a camera.  David duChemin said “Gear is good, Vision is better”.   My main goal in 2016, as it should be for all visual artists, is to continue to learn how to see better.

I would like to end this post by saying thank you.  Thank you to the people I have collaborated with on projects.  Thank you to those who trusted me enough to hire me for their portraits and weddings.  Thank you to those who offer me advice, guidance, and inspiration.  Thank you to the readers of this site, and to those of you whom I engage with daily on social media.  Thank you to my friends at Fuji Canada for all of your support over the last year.  Finally, thank you to my lovely and patient family who understand my need to spend as much time with photography as I do.

Photography is amazing.  I am so lucky.

Best wishes to all of you over the holiday season!

Cheers,

Ian