It is obvious that the color orange caught my eye for this image. It is another image where I was seeing what I could make with the X100F from within my car as I was driving around. I just set the shutter speed to 1/500 sec and photographed whatever caught my eye. When it warms up, if my knees and back allow it, I hope to walk around with the X100F camera and look more carefully for images, but not for people. In general, it is getting harder to photograph recognizable people anywhere in the developed world’s cities and towns and this will have a growing impact on street photography. I am noticing more backs of people as well as people in shadows, etc. from many of the photographers who put their work online.
These are a few more pictures that I took on the streets of Hanover, PA on the night of the ghostly history walk. I have no problems with the quality of these pictures for use in my blog. Even the WB was good; but I did tweak some of them for WB to standardize the look. As we walked around, the temperature color of some of the lights changed and some of the images had a more yellowish look than others. I thought that the pictures looked like I remembered them, but I decided to take out some of the yellowish cast in a few just to get a more pleasing uniform look to the set.
Hopefully I will make it back outside in the dark and get some more images like these. I have no plans for any photo walks or drives at this moment so don’t be surprised to see some wide gaps in my posts. I am pretty much through with experimenting with my cameras so I might be taking less pictures this winter.
PS … did you notice the WV sticker on the back of the white pickup? It reminds me that I need to get a WV sticker for our Ford Escape.
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.
While pondering what would make an optimal camera and lens combination for traveling light, I started thinking about the differences between travel photography and street photography.
Before I discuss some of the similarities and differences and their effect on equipment choices, I thought that I would share an older photo of mine … the reason for this article after my friend mentioned that he particularly liked it. I was traveling in northern Mexico with a group when it was raining. We were on a small, slow mining train going to an even smaller town. Since it was raining, the canvas side curtains were down. All of a sudden I heard a knocking sound on the side of the car right next to me. I raised the curtain with my left hand and quickly took this picture with a camera that I had in my right hand. Fortunately the camera was turned on with no lens cap and was at the wide-angle setting for this is what I saw only a few feet away.
Is this an example of travel or street photography? In trying to answer this question I found that it is hard to define either travel or street photography. One of the world’s greatest street photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson made the following comment about street photography.
“In (street) photography, creation is a quick business – an instant, a gush, a response – putting the camera up to the eye’s line of fire, snatching with that economical little box whatever it was that surprised you, catching it in midair, without tricks, without letting it get away. You make a painting at the same time that you take a photo.”
Rather than trying to define either street or travel photography, I found that it was more helpful to list the general attributes of each.
The web site, nonphotography.com describes it as: Including any photograph made anywhere in public places … simply and honestly documenting life as you see it … difficult, if not impossible, to pre-plan or stage in any manner.
On luminous-landscape.com, they give a very good description of its’ attributes. The article talks about the need to get very close to people, to become part of the scene which usually means shooting with wide lenses … nothing longer than 50mm. They believe that it is about telling a story in a single frame … not just recording what was there at a particular time and place. Relative to equipment they state you must use a facile, hand-held camera. In the past this meant range-finder cameras with 28, or 35, or 50mm lenses. They also extol the virtues of needing to not be sneaky, to not carry a big tecky-looking camera, and to not skulk at a distance with a long lens.
Another very good article in The Online Photographer talks about needing to have the camera in your hand and to shoot at close range. It states that unless you are in the midst of the action you won’t see what is really happening. It also talks about the need to include people with a graphic distinction; i.e. in an environment.
The primary attributes that I got from the above sites as well as many others, are:
- Small, hand-held camera, at the ready, not in a case, lens cap off,
- Shoot at close range with less than 50mm lens,
- Shoot people within their environment.
The Photographic Society of America has the following definition of a photo travel image.
A Photo Travel image must express the feeling of a time and place, and portray a land, its people, or a culture in its natural state.
In general travel photography is described as pictures of a place, of a culture, of people within their environment, of landscapes, etc. all taken somewhere other than at home. If you search for what makes a good travel camera you will usually find reference to something with a multi-purpose zoom lens.
If you search for travel photography on the web you will find lots of sites that are of marginal value for people who travel with groups on vacation and who wish to go light but still take reasonably good pictures. Most of the information is for and about people who take travel pictures as their occupation … and they take lots of gear. In addition, since travel photography is more about the place than the technique, you will find that the type of camera and lenses is very dependent on the environment where you are traveling. Since it usually involves taking pictures inside museums, on city streets, or of landscapes and people in different cultural environments, different cameras and lenses are required for each location. This lack of web sites that focus on my form of travel photography … that utilized by people traveling with small groups on organized tours … is the reason for many of my other articles in this blog.
Relative to equipment attributes that might apply, there seems to be general agreement that one needs to keep the equipment light if you have to lug it around yourself and you need to use a camera bag that doesn’t scream “expensive camera inside” and if possible, carry your camera equipment onboard aircraft and not check with the luggage. Some even go to the trouble to camouflage their camera with tape to cover up the name, etc. and to make it look older.
I guess I need to summarize this article and “come clean.” To be truthful, I’m trying to define my style of photography. I find that it is a mix of travel and street photography adapted to my conditions and limitations. I haven’t the foggiest idea as to what to call it, but I think it applies to many of my readers and that is another reason for this article as well as most articles in this blog. I like to portray things as I see them. It could be the environment, the natural world and/or the people immersed in it, and/or the cultural adaptations to it. I find that my photography is an ever-changing mixture of street and travel photography with the following attributes:
- Small hand-held camera, always ready to quickly use,
- Indiscreet camera and bag that doesn’t scream “photographer”,
- Range of lenses for different environments,
- Light-weight, small system (camera plus lenses),
- Images express the feeling of a time and place and portray a land, its people, or a culture in its current state,
- And most of all, is an affordable, interesting hobby.
As I indicated earlier in previous articles, I have been thinking about taking different pictures since I probably won’t be traveling as much overseas. Some of my old-time favorite photographers have been referred to as “street photographers”. Photographers like Robert Doisneau and Henri Cartier-Bresson are well-known for capturing the real lives of typical people. Since these types of shots are very similar to many of the street shots that I have most enjoyed while traveling internationally, I have been considering doing street photography (or at least the equivalent for today) around where I live; but, now I’m concerned. In the first 11 days of 2011 we have had 11 homicides in the county where I live … many out and on the streets.
I am not sure that there is much to photograph out and on the streets in the suburbs like where I live. I try to take frequent walks through our neighborhood when the weather is nice and I always take a camera and rarely see anything remarkable to photograph. As an alternative I have been thinking about driving to other areas where there is a lot more life occurring out on the streets and where the houses and buildings are older with more character, but these are the areas where crime and homicides are on the rise … some of them getting quite close to our neighborhood. One of the problems is that you never know how someone is going to react to being photographed. He could have just committed a crime around the corner and doesn’t want a record of his being in the neighborhood, and he might be packing a gun.
Another type of photography that I appreciate is landscape photography … natural landscapes. Since street photography doesn’t look very promising, I started trying to find locations not too far away where I could do landscape photography. But, since I had found that street photography wasn’t too safe, I decided to investigate the safety of landscape photography. I found that it can be equally bad. One of my current favorite photographers (who I won’t name here for obvious reasons) told about one of his experiences of being followed back to his car by two guys with the intent to rob him while he was out taking landscape photographs. He surprised me when he mentioned that he now carries a gun when out taking pictures.
OK, what about in Washington D.C. around the monuments and government buildings? Well, this type of photography has another aspect of concern, and that is restrictions on photographing certain buildings and areas. Ever since the rise in terrorist attacks, many major cities have cracked down on photographers so one has to be careful of what he shoots, even if it is only a building. You can see a summary of this situation if you click here.
The above security concerns are affecting photography equipment. In the current photography blogs and forums, I now find that many photographers have new constraints on their camera bags. It used to be that it only had to be big enough to hold their gear and be padded, water-repellent, etc. for the protection of their gear. Now it needs to not look like a camera bag since they don’t want to draw attention to the fact that they are photographers and that they are carrying $1000s of gear. This concern is also now spilling over to the actual cameras themselves … the smaller it is, the easier it is to conceal.
A bigger concern, other than my security concerns, is the impact that the above changes might be having on the art of photography. I am getting concerned that the nature of photography is being influenced by security concerns. I believe that the nature of what people photograph is changing and that future historians will not have a rich collection of today’s equivalent of street photographs to look at to see what life was like in our neighborhoods. The only thing they will have are the newspaper crime scene photos. While there is a preponderance of cameras and people taking family pictures today with their phones, etc. very few of those photographs will be preserved for posterity. The true photographers are changing their subject matter. We now have large collections of natural landscapes as they occur within our park systems, and we have more and more fashion shots, and we have plenty of wildlife shots. What we don’t have are large collections of photos about the normal lives of people as it occurs within our towns and cities where the majority live. We also still have a large number of photographs being taken in tourist locations around the world, well at least outside the U.S. … but that might be changing, note the last paragraph.
While the above may only be a concern of mine and be difficult to prove, I would like to use just one photographer as an example. I have not communicated with him about this but take a look at his web site, Boxed Light. He is what I consider to be an excellent photographer, who is not a pro. He professes to enjoy shooting everything and says that he cannot be labeled as to type of photography. But, look at his opening page which is a good collection of many of his excellent photographs. What do you notice? Yes, he shoots quite a variety of subjects … but they are all safe subjects. I contend that his web site is an example that photographers are shifting to artsy and safe subjects. Another source for watching the changing nature of photography subjects is to look at the New York Times pictures as shown on Lens over a period of time. While they still continue to show the horrors from around the world, their pictures from within the U.S. are changing … just an opinion of mine.
What about you? Do you shy away from certain subjects? I know that it is a concern of mine and that I’m still searching for safe future photographic venues of interest where I can go and take pictures for the fun of it.
PS, for those of you who recently toured in Tunisia with me, all is not well in Tunisia … there have been riots and demonstrations in various areas with many killed. Click here.