The E-M5 and Street Photography revisited

As much as I like photography, I have recently discovered “Classic” Street Photography. Why do I say “Classic”, because I happen to like the masters of old…. Yes, Henry Cartier Brennson, for one. He did more than take haphazard people pictures on the streets. He made sure the surrounding geometry was right, the lighting was right (you know, where the shadows fall, how the light builds up the textures), the direction of the person you are about to photograph is facing, how close you need to be to make it all work together (or far away). HCB looked at the whole frame, and made sure it all worked together in one photograph. Remember, HCB was trained in Classical French Painting. So he had the concept of building and image from nothing.  Henri Cartier-Bresson from Wikipedi.  In the 1920’s on, HCB hung out with a group of “Surrealist” photography movement that believed in a more pure approach to photography than the current cultural traditions. This was one of the movements in the ART world that was moving the ART world to a modern era at that time.

From Wikipedia: HCB  became inspired by a 1930 photograph by Hungarian photojournalist Martin Munkacsi showing three naked young African boys, caught in near-silhouette, running into the surf of Lake Tanganyika. Titled Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika, this captured the freedom, grace and spontaneity of their movement and their joy at being alive. Cartier-Bresson said: 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.

HCB also said after seeing this photograph (from Wikipedia) This photograph inspired Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of modern photojournalism, who said about it, “I suddenly understood that photography can fix eternity in a moment.


Now, the reason I gave a short history of HCB, is to help explain what the Masters of Old considered Street Photography. It was capturing life on the street at the precise moment of enthusiasm, or interest. Which means you will need observe what is going on around you, and decide just when to take a picture to capture the height of interest in the picture. Now, we have many Street Photographers with their own twist on capturing the height of interest. But, the basics are still valid for their work.  They are capturing a height of interest in the people they are photographing. We also have many photographers who think they are Street Photographers, but, their work are more “Snap-Shots” without capturing a moment of interest. They need to find the right moment to take the picture… and “LOOK AHEAD” for potential opportunities. That is the hardest part… “Thinking Ahead” and being ready at the right moment with the camera. even it is just 10s ahead, it may be enough time to think, frame, and snap to capture it…This doesn’t always workout… even HCD said in a few You Tube Video’s that “capturing” the moment is a lot of luck. He saw the “Right Moment”. but, his exact timing may be off .5 second…. and miss it.. So, no worry… there is safety in numbers! Henry CB took an average of 700 photographs a day… how many do you think where “Keepers”  5%, 10%, 15%, 20%.. For me, on a 36x roll, I may get 15 like as far framing, geometry and expression, 7 I really like, but still lack a little in total essence,  1-2 keepers. (IE: perfect timing).. What is %’g of “Perfect” captures?  I’d bet HCB had at most a 5-10% rate of perfect captures…So, a days work of 700 pictures may produce 35-70 “Perfect” captures… Just a guess…. That seems like a doable %’g with understanding all the elements of a well defined photo, and experience as your trigger. He might have had upwards of 250 that are “OK” for the rest of us also.

 I am aware that many newer Street Photographers are less concerned about the whole image, and more concerned about just snapping off as many as they can, and hope they get a good on in the mix.. Good Luck, you’ll need it…If HCB, or any other Classic Street Photography famous Photographers, understood the need to take everything into consideration, Geometry, Light direction, Light Quality, Shadow Play, Subject placement, Subjects expression, Cameras Perspective (high, low. aimed up or down) to make a great Photograph, that also had a quality of artwork when you look it. Then, if you are serious about being a good, or great Street Photographer, you must also understand more on how to make all the elements work in harmony to produce a good photograph that has a art feel to it.

Street Photography takes work, and practice, hard work to achieve great results. It also takes a keen eye for total composition in the whole frame. This is like JAZZ in my eyes… all the elements are in harmony, and are necessary to make it work. The more we prepare ahead of time to capture the right moment as we walk and observe on the streets.

We need to look at the buildings and reflections, and decide at what vantage point we need to be at for a successful photograph  that has the elements where we want them.

  The Olympus E-M5 with it’s tilting LCD make a great waist level camera with the LCD laying flat so you see it when you look down. I use my Panasonic G 14mm f/2.5 ASPH lens on Manual Focus, and “Aperture” exposure mode. I set it at f/5.6 and pre-focus at 10′ or 3m in AF mode and turn it off, then 4′ to INF is in focus.  At f/5.6, you can use ISO 200 and have fast shutter speeds to help stop any walking and other movement you may encounter. All I do is frame at waist level, and push the shutter when the scene is right.  (make sure to turn off the “Auto EVF/LCD” switch under Gears/J)

The biggest thing I am learning is how to “Look Ahead” at potential opportunities that may be a 10-20 second walk away… that is enough time to move so you can frame the photo so it all works together… or at least the best you can at that time.

Another thing I am learning is to “watch for potential expressions” when 2 or more people are together. They could be talking, or doing something together. You never know when you will get a great expression or look…

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Have a great day!

2 thoughts on “The E-M5 and Street Photography revisited”

  1. Thanks for this artice.
    Just a question please: how do you deal with the waking time ? The EM5 takes about 1.5 seconds to reactivate from sleep mode and it’s very frustating when the occasion you wanted to capture just fade because the camera is not ready yet…
    The sleeping mode can be deactivate in the OM1 but as it can’t be in the OM5 what is your solution ?
    Thanks for any advice.

  2. OK… you need to disable SLEEP mode

    Page 88, E-M5 PDF Manual

    Menu > Gears > D > Sleep

    and check “Auto Power Off” in the same D options… make sure that is also disabled

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