Street Photography: an old genre’


ImageAll Photographs are from my Nikon FE with a Nikon 24mm f/2.8 AiS and Fuji Neopan 400 developed in Rodinal 1:50 at 20c

Many of us have seen photographers whip out their camera and snag a candid photo of someone walking by, or doing something that somehow records a slice of life. It could be an expression, a hand gestures, or a combination of things that got their attention. The thing about street photography is that it requires a bit of boldness, and a constant eye for what is going on around you. Your camera [must] be ready instantly to take a photograph, and the settings you use are your choice. Many Street Photographers use “Aperture Priority” mode to control “Depth of Focus” (DOF here after), and a higher ISO to allow a fast shutter speed under most conditions. You will encounter sunlight, open shade, deeper and shaded areas where people are milling around. ISO 400 is favorite among many film photographers, and ISO 400 can be very useful as long as your camera has shutter speeds to at least 1/2000s. In a bright area, shooting at f/11 with a wide angle lens mounted, and a shutter speed between 1/500s – 1/1500s in not uncommon at ISO 400… But, many readings will be around 1/125 -1/500s. And in the shade, open up to f/8, this will still give an action stopping shutter speed of 1/125 – 1/250. If you go below 1/125, you risk a little motion blur. Which could work also.

The history of Street Photography goes back to Henri Cartier  Bresson (Many call the Father of Street Photography), from around 1940’s or so. A French man, who, as a child had an interest in Photography and also sketching. He dabbled with  4×3 camera .  When he was 19 in 1927, he entered a private art school to learn Classical French Painting. Although he learned the art of painting, he was moved by the Photographic Realism movement of his time. The Photography Revolution began, “Crush tradition.. Photograph things as they are”. By 1930’s, after a few life’s experiences, Henri, returned to the Photographic Surrealism movement, he became inspired by a photograph taken by Martin Munkacsi, of 3 naked African Children caught in a near silhouette.   Henri said after this photo, “The only thing which completely was an amazement to me and brought me to photography was the work of Munkacsi. When I saw the photograph of Munkacsi of the black kids running in a wave I couldn’t believe such a thing could be caught with the camera. I said damn it, I took my camera and went out into the street”. (Quote from Wikipedia)

From that day on, he took photography seriously. He finely understood that Photography could fix eternity in an instant. Picking a Leica with a 50mm lens, he took the next several years working along side Martin. As time passed, he was a reporter for WWII, and had many excellent photos that where published all the world. HCB also worked with other media companies, and his work was becoming recognized. By 1952, HCB had achieved international recognition, and published a book. Images à la sauvette”, the English Title was “The Divisive Moment” which came from a 17th Century Cardinal de Retz…”Il n’y a rien dans ce monde qui n’ait un moment decisif” (“There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment”). Cartier-Bresson applied this to his photographic style. He said: “Photographier: c’est dans un même instant et en une fraction de seconde reconnaître un fait et l’organisation rigoureuse de formes perçues visuellement qui expriment et signifient ce fait” (“Photography is simultaneously and instantaneously the recognition of a fact and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that express and signify that fact”) (Quote from Wikipedia).

A quote from HCB about the difference between Painting and Photography...”Photography is not like painting,” Cartier-Bresson told the Washington Post in 1957. “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever”. (Quote from Wikipedia). I think this quote sums it nicely, you have an instant to react and capture the moment, if you miss, it’s gone forever.

I have to be candid with you about this “Decisive Moment”. By the time you react to a situation, it is gone!  You have to “read the scene ahead of time”, and try to predict what may happen in the next few seconds. I’d say that most of our best photos, are a surprise to use when we see what we [really] captured. My 1st photo in this article was a surprise to me, because when I was ready to take it (just a millisecond in response time), the man on the right was looking at me!, Not to the right. But, the less than 1 second response time was not fast enough. (and I was using a Nikon FE in Aperture mode, Focus was preset for 5′-INF). So, the moral of this  story is that you keep taking photographs. You are bound by the odds that by the more you try to get that “Divisive Moment”, the more keepers you will have. Even, if, the moment is a tad late.

The E-M5 can can make a great Street Camera. The AF is super fast, and the  added aid of the touch scene to use as a shutter release along with the focus point [you] want in focus is a big plus for candid street photography. And, add, that the E-M5 can follow focus with Face Detection on… is a double plus. I guess I should mention the 9fps is available to you can get you more keepers… I recommend short bursts though.

Different laws are in effect in different countries, so, make sure you know the laws in area for photographing people in public places. I do not recommend, and it is illegal in all countries, taking candid photos ON PRIVATE property.. (That is, without permission from the owner) that is, you are physically standing on private property while taking candid photos of others on private property. That is trespassing.  (An Outside Mall is Private Property, In the USA, this is Strip Malls and Malls that build their own little shopping quadrants with 2 or 3 private roadways that cut through it) Public Property is property that is owned by the Town or City or State or Government. Malls, (indoor and outdoor), Parking Lots, are Private Property with public access, just as other Privately owned bushiness’s are.

Keep Downtown, and on city streets and you should remain hassle free, photographically speaking on your day out.. mostly… they’re always a few over aggressive officers looking for trouble, where non exists. Always Nod to an officer when you see them, and don’t try to be stealthy. Wear casual cloths, that don’t scream “Hoodlum or “Drug Addict”.

Have fun, and remember to be friendly and meet a few new people while you are at it.

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