The summer months are notoriously difficult for landscape photographers. The sunrise and sunset times are both at anti-social hours, and once the Sun has risen it generally creates light too harsh for pleasing images. For these reasons May, June and July tend to be barren months for me. I tend to get grumpy and frustrated and the camera gathers dust. This year I decided to try something different...
I have only ever taken photographs of landscapes (aside from the odd dog portrait), shying away from people, plants, cars, architecture, abstracts and definitely weddings. When I bought the Fuji cameras I joined a couple of Fuji groups on social media pages which were not genre specific and I started to get interested in Street Photography.
What is Street Photography?
"Street photography, also sometimes called candid photography, is photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places. Although there is a difference between street and candid photography it is usually subtle with most street photography being candid in nature but not all candid photography being classifiable as street photography. Street photography does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. Though people usually feature directly, street photography might be absent of people and can be of an object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic" On the 21st May I decided I would try this type of photography for one month, try to amass a dozen usable images and write a blog of my experiences. I set myself some ground rules. 1) I wouldn't take any images featuring people I knew. 2) I would not take photographs of homeless people (a staple subject for some) 3) I would stick to a fixed focal length, in this case 35mm, and 4) I wouldn't just shoot in black and white.
At A Safe Distance
The thought of taking photographs of people has always filled me with dread (I don't know anyone who is happy with how they look in a picture), so the idea of taking them of strangers was just off the scale. To start with most of the images I took were from a distance, where the subject of the image most likely didn't even know I was there. At this point I didn't know how people would feel about some guy snapping away at them and had a little fear of any confrontation this may create. At least from my vantage point I knew I had a head start (This fear turned out to be totally unnecessary).
Although these images could generally be considered safe, I enjoyed the processing and the final image, and fairly quickly I started to look around for more quirky compositions. The majority of my business week takes place in Birmingham, a city with bags of potential for this style of image, so I found myself taking my camera with me and looking for opportunities on my way to meetings or at lunchtime.
Black and White, or Colour?
When I started to investigate the genre it was instantly obvious that most street photography was black and white. I can understand this to a certain extent, but I don't buy into it completely. I decided to set my camera to shoot mono Jpeg images, but also capture a RAW file so that I had the option to process in colour if I thought it would suit better. Shooting in mono helped me to identify scenes with good tonal range quickly. Unlike shooting landscapes, you don't have time to wait for the light, you generally have to use the light your given and make the most of it.
In my mind the image above was perfect for mono. The preview on the LCD on the back of the camera was in black and white and I thought it looked perfect. Once I had processed the file I realised it worked in both Colour and Black and White. The scene wasn't set or staged, although I don't think I could have directed it any better if I'd tried. I only managed the one frame before the guy in the blue shirt vanished.
Capturing movement in a static image is something I don't get to do that often with Landscapes. If anything I remove the element from my images, especially at the coast when I used a ND Filter to slow the shutter speed and smooth out the water in the ocean. I didn't use a Tripod for this project (Tripods are impractical in this situation and attract attention) so finding the best shutter speed to capture the motion YET shooting fast enough to keep some of the image sharp took several attempts (more than several actually) to get right.
Modern architecture provides multiple options for a photographer, when were prepared to open our eyes. On a visit to a clients offices towards the start of the project I noticed this balcony view, extending 6 stories up. It's a building I have worked in and on for over ten years yet never looked at it in this way. I ended up shooting it from all levels. It lead to an interesting conversation with the buildings estate manager, who it turned out was a photographer himself. The scene worked in both colour, mono and split toned. Not a comfortable shot for a vertigo sufferer, but eye-catching images nonetheless.
Buildings as Art?
I have always had a casual interest in architecture, I even considered doing a degree in it when I left school. Eventually I ended up working in an industry associated with construction, and have done so for over 20 years. I have witnessed a transformation of Birmingham during this time. I don't necessarily like all of the new buildings, but on the whole it looks a lot better now to what it used to (some of the regeneration planned for the next 10 years looks even better). The same applies to many other cities around the UK. Completely new shiny buildings rising up in place of ugly, concrete boxes from the 60's, or the renovation of older buildings, from a time when even a warehouse was designed to look beautiful.
Some buildings simply provide the canvas for an artist. Certain parts of many UK cities actively encourage graffiti in their cultural and creative quarters. The street artist Banksy has helped to popularise the talent of the Graffiti artist and whilst theres very little creativity involved in taking a photograph of a painting by another person, it does help to document an area/time. I couldn't resist photographing this Huge Fish that adorns a wall of a fairly nondescript car park in the city centre. The artist is Louis Masai who takes all the credit for this. If this is your kind of thing, I strongly suggest you search him out on google....you're in for a treat.
With all the shiny materials used in a modern city there are reflections everywhere. During my research into street photography I saw so many images using glass, chrome, puddles, canals, brass, you name it to provide a reflection, and for good reason. In the 31days of the project it rained once when I was out, so puddles weren't going to feature, but Birmingham does have more canals than Venice (pub trivia answer) and millions of windows, so I knew it wouldn't be a struggle to get at least a couple of examples to show.
By this point I think you should be able to tell I was loving the new challenge. It was pretty much all new to me but I found myself seeing photo opportunities all around. I was still shooting more duffers than keepers, but thats also how it is with my landscape work. I did however find myself taking more photographs in these 31 days than I have ever done before.
It felt like I was given an open remit to process however I wanted. With the landscapes I take every effort to make the final image as realistic as possible. The processing of each image is very similar, whereas in this project I was let loose to try new things.
I found my confidence increase by week three, even approaching strangers with just a simple "would you mind if I took your picture?" and to my surprise I didn't get a single refusal. I ended up having several really interesting conversations with folk, learning more about Birmingham than I would have ever done if I didn't try this.
I'm hoping that some of the things that I learned during this period will be transferable to my landscape work, which if I'm honest I have felt is a bit too conventional at times.
I don't think that this is the end for me and the streets, I have loved it. The images I have shared so far haven't been as universally popular as my landscape photographs, but then I am followed mostly by people who have little or no interest in this genre, I get that, that was me 12 months ago. If One Direction bring out a CD of Opera Covers I doubt that would go down well (actually it probably would, there's no helping some folk). That being said, some of the comments received have been encouraging and generally positive, and I have never had a landscape shot referred to as 'cool' before, so thats good.
I have received some success in a weekly only competition that I have tried my luck with over the last 3 years, coming third twice during the month. Something I never achieved with a landscape, so maybe theres something in this after all.
As I said at the start, I don't know who any of the people that feature in this blog are. Where faces are shown I did try to get their permission first, but this wasn't always possible. For those that I didn't speak to I hope you don't mind. I have tried to portray you in a good light and think you all look pretty cool. In fact I think Birmingham looks pretty cool, something I had missed up until recently.
Theres something to be said for pushing yourself. I think most of the photographers I know are a little like me, insecure and craving the approval of others for their work, but sometimes its good to step out of the comfort zone and see what happens. I'm certainly not adverse to trying something new again, almost anything, but not weddings!
All of the images above were taken using a Fuji X-Pro2 with a Fujinon 35mm f/2 WR, between the dates of 22nd May and 22nd June 2017. With the exception of one image, they were all taken in the city of Birmingham, UK.