The Process of Street Photography - Part IV - Examples and Analysis
How to we do that all thinking and composing in an instant?
You don't, exactly.
Like a fly fisherman, you learn to recognize situations that might provide good shots and you put yourself in those situations in position to get the shot if it happens. In my case, I lean pretty heavily on the 'meaning' part of the 'meaning, mood, mystery' triad and, by taking hundreds of pictures and analyzing why they didn't meet my own criterion, I've gradually picked up the skills to predict a little more accurately where I will need to be to get the shot if the situation allows.
Most of all, a street photographer must be always open to seeing what is going on, concentrating like a chess player, looking for familiar situations that experience has shown will be fruitful.
What I can guarantee is that, even with practice, not everyone will get successful at street photography. Without practice, no one will be good. The reality is that even with practice and skills and talent, the number of great shots is small just because the opportunity to meld talents with the proper situation doesn't always occur.
No one, not Cartier Bresson, not anyone gets a great shot with every shutter click or even with every outing. I go out into whatever situation as often as I can, shooting whenever I can, and count myself lucky to come back with one or two keepers from every outing – and that's shots I'll keep and perhaps show to colleagues. But great shots, not so often. As much as possible I try to work the situation, shooting until the moment dissolves, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.
All of this verbiage is really preparatory, really dancing around the impenetrable subject of what is a good shot, how does one see it and capture it in the instant that it is available. And clearly all the technical and skills preparation leads up to that moment, seeing the moment, capturing it and the finishing the photo so it says what one wants.
Some pictures present themselves whole, the photographer just has to be there and shoot them.
Some you have to foresee coming and grab them and some you have to dig out of the environment,like grabbing a diamond from the gravel, you get a big handful and get rid of what you don't want.
Like sculptors who chip away what they don't want, a photographer is always in the process of removing what he doesn't want to show the view in different ways.
Here are three pictures to demonstrate the thinking, the shooting and the processing and how the process works for me. (I'm not claiming that these are great shots, only that they are typical of how I work.)
Gazing at the Goodies
1) Some pictures are obvious and need no special turn of mind or skills. I was wandering around in a local super market, while my wife was shopping and I saw this man approach the bakery counter. I had the idea even before he got there that his stomach would be an interesting comment on the desires most of us have and suppress, more or less.
Clearly the original needed a good amount of cropping to get rid of all the extras that contributed nothing. The lady at the left was extraneous, she had to go, as did the material at the right, it added nothing. The picture is a natural for color because the bright attracting color is part of the idea.
I specifically cropped his head for two reasons: first, I didn't want him identifiable and, second, I wanted him, or actually his belly. to stand for Everyman who fights that craving.
Cropping down to the top of the counter was a natural for three reasons; the material above the counter added nothing, I generally crop to standard dimensions and, most of all, I wanted to fill the screen with two items, the goodies and his belly.
2) Opposing Side I was at the US Supreme Court to see what looked interesting in the opposing demonstrations between the Pro-Life and the Woman's Choice issues. My intent was not to take any one side, those issues are much too complex to represent in a photo. I hoped, as much as possible, to illustrate in one image how the sides were relating to each other. It was interesting that the two sides didn't engage each other but just went on with their own little demonstrations as if the other wasn't there, even sharing the same space as much as possible - and that occurred to me as an issue that could be shown.
The crowd was thick and the sun was almost directly overhead, making the lighting very difficult.
After a long while of hanging around shoot pretty standard shots, I was getting frustrated.
In my shots I was rarely getting members of the opposing ideologies in the same frame and certainly never in any position that made any symbolic sense.
All of a sudden, there seemed to be a change in the situation, One group was moving to one side and the other group was taking its place. Just for a moment I was able to catch a representative of the the different camps passing each other, facing away, not making contact in any way - just exactly reproducing how the groups in toto were relating.
The initial exposure was, again, too wide, with too much meaningless activity on the right and so I cropped it to simplify the photo and to direct the viewers' eyes, trying to make the point.
Since bright things and bright colors draw the eye, it would seem that leaving this is color might work to pull the viewers' eyes. Unfortunately, the colors off the signs were too bright and cheery and totally off point. Additionally the overhead sun winter sun on the marble and concrete drained most of the vital coloring out of the rest of the scene so it seemed sensible to take the rest. Normally also, I would want the visible faces brighter but clearly here, the signs were the point and I let them stay the centers of the image and let the face stay dark.
3) Stop Spying
I walked out of Union Station in Washington, DC and into a demonstration organized by a set of the prominent privacy groups. Photographers, the ones with the large cameras at least, were getting a great deal of attention, people posing for pictures, hoping to make the news. Any big camera got a pose and a sign pointed at it. I was walking around with a small Olympus OMD and no one gave me a look.
What I lost in attention, I gained back double in opportunity.
The idea of privacy activists attempting to get in pictures seemed a bit ironic and so I was looking for one shot that would synopsyze this situation and noticed this man holding both a poster and a camera so I began following his movements trying to catch a good shot. (The absolute pinnacle of irony is that he was wearing a hat with EFF on it, which stands for the Electronic Frontier Foundation - perhaps the major privacy organization in the Internet world.)
Eventually he crouched down and I got this shot.
Clearly the original didn't have the same impact. The burnt out sky and my inability to get more to the left meant that cropping was a necessity.
I needed to keep all the signs, needed to remove all the distracting shadows and the bright pavement. I did a little editing to make the camera and the surroundings more distinct and then I came to a real decision point.
This was not an image where the color had any real importance; it was a relatively colorless scene, except for the red letters on the sign. Readable text draws one's eye and that text combined with the brilliant red on white sign meant that viewers' eyes would go to that part first.
That's not what I wanted. I wanted the eyes to be drawn to the connection between the camera and the face of the man standing and only then to see all the signs as supplemental information - and ironic.
So I lightened the shadows on his face, lightened the camera and hands pointing to him, actually darkened the white signs so those weren't the brightest spots on a sort of chaotic scene.
Then I converted it to b&w, darkening 3 corners a bit and the final was something with which I was happy.
Committing Sacrilegious Acts
Some photographers have specific rules that they follow about what they will or won't do. Some only shoot B&W film, some never crop, some never edit. I don't think their anyone's position on Earth or the press of a shutter button makes any image sacrosanct.
When I finish a photo, I want you to see what I saw and I will do whatever necessary to make that vision clear and obvious.
I am certain that some people will take the occasion to be aghast that I cropped a lot, that I should have framed better or been in a better position.
To them I say that they have the right to make their statements however they want, I will mine - and its hard enough my way.
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