Photographing on the Streets of Hanover, PA

The first year I lived in Hanover I would often walk the streets in the older sections and take pictures; but I haven’t been doing it lately.  Since I am tired of photographing the same things in the area I live, I thought that I might return to the older sections.  I did, and now I remember my previous concerns.

When I first photographed around Hanover I photographed a lot of the houses and buildings.  They are static and I soon photographed most of interest to me at that time.

Another reason that I haven’t been doing as much photography on the streets is because a camera hanging around the neck draws attention and questions.  I would like to find a camera and appropriate lens that I can easily carry and use with the least amount of attention prior to getting the shot.  The biggest problem is photographing people in this area.  They don’t like it.  Are there enough other things to photograph?  I would like to avoid photographing people.

As I returned to the streets I started wondering if I wasn’t missing something or if maybe my techniques were not the best.  What have I been missing?  At this point I have decided to go back to the masters of street photography and see how they did it.

William Eggleston was one of the early photographers out on the streets.  In fact his normal territory was very similar to my Hanover area so I have decided to look at his work and techniques.  One of the easiest ways to learn about him is to watch the BBC documentary on him.  You can see it by clicking here.  Or, if you want to see Eric Kim’s summary of it you can click here.  Eric is a current well know street photographer.

Another photographer who has taken pictures that I like is Saul Leiter.  I have a book of his as well as a DVD about him on order.  I’ll bring you up to date on my feelings about Saul’s work after I get the book and DVD.

The following is another picture that I took walking a street in Hanover.  It certainly isn’t a pretty picture but it sure is unusual … and it is life today, here and now.  I really don’t care for the following picture but maybe I can learn from others and find some new subjects/scenes to photograph on the streets.  My best guess at the moment is that if I follow Eggleston’s approaches, I’ll never run out of things to photograph and that is one of my current goals … learn to find and see additional things.

One of my major concerns is how to deal with those questioning looks or outright being stopped and asked why I’m taking pictures.  From their tone of voice it is usually obvious that they are concerned.  There seem to be two approaches I could go relative to this issue.  Either try to hide my camera or be open about it and deal with their concerns.  Many current street photographers recommend being as invisible as possible, but the old masters like William Eggleston and Saul Leiter were very open about it.  What should I do?

I am currently using an Olympus E-PL5 camera.  I love it for my projects here around Homewood and for use with longer focal length lenses since the micro 4/3 lenses are so small.  But I am not sure about using it on the street.  It works OK, but is there a better camera?  It isn’t too large but is obvious hanging on a neck strap.  In addition when I have tried to use it fast or discreetly I have often accidently hit the movie record button or another setting button.

If I choose to hide the camera as much as possible and always have it with me I might prefer a pocket camera.  I have been thinking about the Sony RX100 II.  But, cameras like it also have disadvantages:  small buttons that are easy to hit when I don’t wish to, they take time to turn on and extend the lens and then zoom it, hard to hold due to their size and lack of a hand grip, and people still see you when you point it at them.  Their advantage is that many people don’t take you as a serious photographer, certainly not as a photographer who might be getting pictures for a lawyer, or developer, etc.

Another approach is to get a camera larger than the E-PL5.  This could be micro 4/3 or one of the APS-C sensor size cameras.  The reason for going larger is to get a camera with a good hand grip that is fast to focus and shoot without accidentally hitting buttons.  I have also found that sometimes such a camera isn’t as visible if I carry it in my hand down at my side and use a wrist strap.  I can do that if the camera isn’t too heavy and has a grip that fits my hand.

I haven’t decided on my approach relative to street photography and camera.  One thing I did when I took the above pictures was to use an equivalent 50 mm focal length lens.  I haven’t decided whether a 35 mm or 50 mm works best on our streets.  That is an important issue relative to which camera since APS-C size sensor cameras don’t have a good range of equivalent 35 mm pancake lenses available.  If I decide to go with an equivalent 50 mm lens I could get an inexpensive, bottom of the line Canon or Nikon DSLR camera.  If I decide to go with 35 mm, I could get something with a fixed lens like the Fujifilm X100s or the Leica X2 but I would need to add a hand grip.