Street Photography – A Brief Guide

As a filmmaker I’m always out looking for ways to improve and change the way I use cameras to tell stories and create visual content. Unless you’re very lucky, you probably won’t be shooting films every single day to perfect your craft. The best way to fill the void I have found is to try my hand in some Street Photography. By doing so I can always carry my camera with me and try and capture the characters and stories unfolding in front of me, as well as practicing exposing and framing shots quickly.

Because I find it so effective, I’ve decided to write a few words on why it could help you too. So here’s my quick run down on the art of Street Photography.

Keep it Casual

The idea of Street Photography is to be discrete when you’re working. We’re not talking Peeping Tom levels of hiding, but rather you need to blend into the surroundings and capture what’s in front of you.

The best way to do so is to dress very low key and not use large back-packs or camera vests as you’ll most definitely stick out like a sore thumb. You also don’t want to be out in water proofs and walking boots as if you’re about to trek the Brecon Beacons.

The same can be said for camera straps, I personally only use very plain design fabric or leather straps depending on my camera as it keeps it low key and doesn’t scream out to near by people I’m using a Canon etc.

Use Minimal Kit

When I go out, I like to keep it really minimalist. I use a really basic camera with basic lenses, this means that there’s less settings on the camera to worry about and less things to carry with me.
If you start walking through a busy town with a 5dmk4 and mammoth 70-200 f/2.8, you’ll start turning some heads. If you have a small mirror less camera with a simple prime lens, no one will notice and most people who do will most likely thing it’s just a little point and shoot camera any way.

The same goes for bags, I prefer to use a small casual bag (it’s been called a man bag many times here in the office) as it doesn’t look like I’m carrying a tone of camera equipment and also looks a lot more casual in your surroundings. The last thing you want to have with you is a huge 50l black rucksack knocking into people in a crowd. A lot of the time now, I don’t take a case or bag with me and just leave the house with one camera and one lens, which is often small enough to fit into a coat pocket.

Travel to Busy Places

For Street Photography to be successful you (generally) need people to take pictures of. The best place for this is in busy places where people are concentrated. Markets, city centers, festivals and events are all great places for it. My personal favorite place to take pictures is London as there’s always something going on somewhere, along with the huge diversity in people and places around the city, it makes for a fantastic day of just taking pictures.

I can get a return bus journey from Cardiff for less than £10 so there’s really no excuse for not being able to go down for the day and get some snaps. But closer to home there’s loads of busy places locally such as Cardiff market, Grange town and Cathays where there is loads and loads of character. The key is to look at where you live and pick out the lively and atmospheric places which will let you pick out individual stories and events going on in front of you.

Don’t just use Black and White to be Cool

One thing I see all the time is people editing their pictures only in black and white when they take street images. This is one thing that really bugs me as color can say so much more about an image than having no color at all can. Take the pictures below for example. The center image (I feel) is more engaging with the individual in the picture where as the black and white edit is a much more general and un-engaging feel.

When you use color, you need to remember that color engages people with character and black and white tends to emphasis the textures in an image and creates a much flatter picture for the audience, depth is always key to a good image. Each can be use perfectly in the correct situation, but when black and white is used just because it looks “cool” in an image, it really feels like the photographer has cheated when building that image. But that being said, I do out put some images in black and white and do feel that it can really be used successfully when done correctly.

Bonus Tip: One thing I should also add is that if you intend to output in black and white, I would advise against shooting in black and white. Always take your images in color and change them later. Just in case you don’t like the look of the images when it is black and white you still have the option to keep it in color.

Use Prime Lenses

I’m a big fan of using prime lenses for most situations (read our blog about lenses) for a number of reasons. In Street Photography, they have two major advantages.

Firstly they are incredibly small and portable against their zoom lens equivalents, this makes them much more economic to carry and more subtle whilst shooting.

Secondly I find that they really test you as a photographer. Not having the flexibility of a zoom lens makes you think much more about the framing of your shots in accordance to the lens you’re shooting with and therefore will improve the speed and quality of the framing of your shots.

Accept it just doesn’t always work

One of the things you must remember when taking pictures is that it doesn’t always workout exactly how you want. Every time you take the camera out of your bag, you probably won’t take the next cover photo for a National Geographic magazine (then again you might well do). But this is good as you will begin to start learning from your mistakes and slowly eradicate them from your shots. I’ve taken many pictures which I’ve spent hours editing just for them never to work. There’s nothing wrong with it and it will happen a lot.

Normally, from a memory card full of pictures, I’ll be happy with one maybe two images that I’ll feel good about publishing. So I guess the moral is keep trying and eventually something will come out exactly how you imagine it.

Confidence

Confidence is key when taking pictures on the street. The best way to get images is to be in the action and up close to what is happening in front of you. If you stand back you’ll look like you’re spying on people and often miss everything happening in front of you. Take the below images for example, the longest lens I used here was 40mm, allowing me to take a step into the scene an immerse anyone viewing the images.

So that’s my brief guide to street photography, I hope it helps in some way! But remember, the best way to learn is to go out and shoot!

In the last six months or so, I’ve found my self taking more and more stills instead of videos, which if you read my Street Photography blog is the best way to improve behind the video camera (or boost your ego on Instagram). And through this I found my self taking thousands of images that end up clogging my hard drives and my Adobe cloud and it just isn’t ideal on an old PC.

So I thought, “how can I really improve taking pictures, like REALLY improve” and I thought that maybe going back to the very basics and the essence of photography and shooting on film I would be able to really learn something new about taking pictures. Especially in a world where everyone online thinks you can only take a decent image is by owning a 75 Megapixel camera that can take 100 frames per second and have 28 stops of dynamic range. I thought that using the relentless format that is 120 film would be a great learning curve. (especially that every picture costs ~£3 to take I knew I was going to learn pretty fast).

After much thought I set out on an eBay mission to find my self a good camera that would actually function. I eventually ended up snipper bidding on a really good nick Zenza Bronica ETRS (the cheap mans Hasselblad), which to the credit of the seller was in perfect condition and he even kindly printed and binded me the full manual.
Now armed with a camera and some film I was ready and conveniently snowmagedon happened the night the camera arrived so I had plenty to go and take pictures of. It was either that or suffer from cabin fever scrolling through Netflix for 4 days so…

These are the main reasons I found using film instead of digital really started to help me with my images:

The Workflow and Challenge

Using a film camera is very different kettle of fish to using digital in many ways, actually scratch that, just this camera is very different. Many of the film cameras I’ve come across are much more advanced than this camera.

The first I found was the pace at which you shoot. With my digital camera I can literally set it and document anything and everything and maybe eventually get a nice usable image. With the Bronica, everything is manual, there is no light meter so you have to second guess your exposure or use a light meter for every.single.shot (or your phone if you’re too cheap like me). This dramatically slows down the time it takes to snap an image, so I found that I miss a lot of quick moments happening in front of me, but on the flip side I found I would spend a lot longer framing and perfecting the shot compared to digital. This coupled with the fact you can’t really crop film too well makes you think on your feet a bit more when producing the image.
The focusing was also a lot harder than usual. Now I’m not complaining about manually focusing because that’s something I’ve done for a long time shooing video, but rather two other reasons. The first is that the focus throw on the lens (the distance from the closest to the furthest focus point on the lens barrel) is absolutely massive, and it takes an eternity to go from the closest point to infinity. This also means the focus is so so precise that often I struggle to find the focus quickly. On top of that the image you see through the viewfinder is mirrored so it’s all backwards anyway.
The other reason gaining focus is difficult is the increase in “sensor size” or film size in this case. I’m not going to explain it but you can find more about it here. As medium format is so big, the crop factor is essentially negative meaning the f/2.8 lens I have is actually an f/1.4 lens for depth of field meaning it is basically impossible to find your focus quickly with just a little tiny slither in focus.

I know it sounds like I’m complaining about the functionality of the camera, but all things looked over it really does give you a real joy to use with all the short comings to modern cameras. I find there’s something about using the top down view finder and almost escaping from your surroundings for a moment to set up the shot and then pressing down on the shutter to release the heavy mirror really does give a real bit of satisfaction (in the least weird way possible).

The Wait

I think the worst part about taking pictures on film is the wait time for the results. With digital you can just look down and make changes to what you’ve shot immediately, but with film there’s no hope of this, you have to wait a week or so while someone processes it for you to finally look at them and see they’re under exposed…🙃

But having said that, there’s nothing quite like holding a physical strip of negatives as a pose to plugging in a plastic card into the side of your PC to see the results.

The Results

Now as you can see from the shots below they’re hardly award winning and I think there’s only really about 4 keepers there…maybe…. at best. I even left one on multiple exposure mode accidentally to get a funky overlay on the last shot. But I guess it makes me look at the images and learn a lot about shooting with a new format and what to do next time. I’m currently shooting a black and white roll so maybe I’ll post the results and see if there’s any difference…

But over all I’m glad I’ve finally divulged into the world of film after all this time. It’s made me learn a lot about controlling my camera taking my time over the images and long run I can see it improving me as a photographer and a videographer. If you’re contemplating it, I’d recommend!

(I fully understand this has been a wordy and rambling blog but hey, it’s nice to be back at it!)

This week officially marks GreenNova Productions seventh month of trading as a startup business. It has been one hell of a journey of self discovery and a huge learning curve for all of us but we wouldn’t trade it for the world. Working with the visual medium has always been our dream so every project brings us one step closer to our passion project; to produce our own feature film. But where did it all begin?

The GreenNova name was the brainchild of our Managing Director Chris with the brand name being traced back to when he was in college, being used in one of his first short films he ever created back in 2013. Once the team got together one of the first things we did was to rebrand the logo and build a website so that clients would be able to find us. Below you can see our first ever logo and some concepts we created before settling on our current brand logo to date.

During the rebranding process we also knew for us to appeal to new clients we had to build up a portfolio to showcase our video talents. A major breakthrough for us came from filming a music video for a talented local band called ‘Himalayas’ for their track ‘Thank God I’m Not You’. Production took place in May involving a nine person crew consisting of a 22 hour straight shoot all taking place in an abandoned church in Abercarn. It was hard work but the visuals and feedback we got for the final product were amazing. The music video was a great success and has achieved over 50,000 views and over a 1000 likes on YouTube since its release. You can watch the video here:- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_TL02vGQaM

Our official incorporation as a trading company started during our final year at university, after working together on a series of projects over the years we decided to join forces in this new endeavour. Just before our graduation (June) we took the plunge and became a trading company landing our first client.

During this time we received a lot of support from Business Wales, which essentially gave us a free crash courses on running a company. This played a fundamental part in helping us transition from creative students to a business mindset. They suggested we apply for office space, which looking back, is probably the companies second biggest milestone as a startup. Managing to secure funding from the government through a business scheme at Welsh Ice; this landed us a base of operations in Caerphilly, giving us a much needed professional front to the company with access to a landline, office printing and amazing community of other businesses.

Through our office, word of mouth, networking events and a strong email campaign we have managed to land ourselves more promotional and music video work. Travelling all over South Wales, we have had the privilege to work with Charities, Educational Institutions, Community Projects and Small Local Businesses, producing high quality cinematic videos. With each video we grow our filmmaking abilities, always excited for the next project waiting on the horizon. With each project, we have invested extensively back into the business by investing in new filmmaking kit from cinematic cameras like the Panasonic GH5, LED lighting and professional sound equipment; with each investment opening up more options, allowing us to produce bigger and higher quality productions for our clientele.

One of biggest projects we’ve had the opportunity to work on to date is a comedy pilot going on Amazon Prime this year, providing the production team to make the episode a reality for a local writer/producer. This comedy series known as ‘Spirit Breaker’ is our first step towards working on fictional films and it was one of the hardest projects we have worked on so far. The production of the pilot itself involved a six day shoot involving a crew of twenty, both student and industry professionals to pull it off. Still in post production stage we can’t wait to release this and share it with you all in the coming months. Below you can find a trailer to the show…

So folks, thats our exciting journey so far. At the turn of the new year, we are starting to get more promotional and music videos in the pipeline and fingers crossed we get to produce the rest of the comedy series ‘Spirit Breaker’ if the pilot does well. We are also looking at an exciting new chapter in our business by starting pre-production on producing our very own fictional films, both short films and feature length. So make sure to follow our social media pages for more updates and if you have any questions on how we started a business, feel free to leave us a comment.

Many thanks for reading,
Chris