Street photography and London go hand in hand, they fit together like strawberrys and cream, why? The sheer volume of people going about their business, all shapes and sizes the crazy and normal; all you have to do is keep your eyes open, right? Well no not really, like everything it’s not that simple, but if you can see and are prepared, there is a shot on every street corner. Let me explain and share with you what I find works for me.
Before I go out to shoot street photography I always do the same thing. First I make a decision as to what I’m going to concentrate on, whether it’s shooting street portraits or telling a story. For example, if I decide to shoot street portraits I will only put a 50mm lens on my camera, I won’t take another lens with me as it will only distract and break my concentration if I’m fiddling about changing lenses. I also will not be distracted by what’s going on further down the road or what could be going on around the next corner. It’s all about what's going on in front of me and what could develop.
My next step is preparation. I take a reading from my hand held light meter on the bright side of the street and another one on the dark side, being careful to meter for the shadows because I am using film. I hear you say ‘why use a hand held light meter?’, well, because it’s much more accurate than any camera meter. Using a hand held meter records the light falling onto your subject thus giving you an accurate reading. Using this method you will get a full dynamic range of tones recording accurate highlights and shadow detail. Using your camera meter gives you a reflective reading of what the camera sees in the frame, moving the camera around you will see a whole host of differing readings, this method of shooting does two things, it will give you a wrong exposure reading and take your mind off your subject matter. I then make my choice of film from an ISO or ASA point of view and of course my subject matter. I then set my shutter speed and aperture, I am now ready and prepared.
The next step is observation, you can only truly observe when your mind is clean and clear of clutter. No thinking about equipment and exposure values. In my opinion learning how to observe without thinking about your camera and settings is a must, it’s so important to engage with your subject matter not your equipment. Observing your surroundings, feeling the energy, watching the light, being totally engrossed with what’s going on. It’s funny because when you become ‘tuned in' or ‘in the zone’ you can see what’s going to happen before it does, it’s a wonderful place to be.
Then it’s all about reacting in a slow methodical way not lurching into action as this can often look aggressive. If it’s street portraits you are shooting then you have to connect with that person making them feel relaxed and safe, engaging in conversation and watching their body language, which will always give you a hint of how to work with them, all of these ingredients are key. Messing about with your camera settings whilst you are going to shoot their portrait will only generate a fear smile and an awkward pose rather than a street portrait that reflects their personality.
So this is the way I work... I’m not saying it’s the only way it just works for me and when I teach it, it works for others too improving their confidence, technical ability and of course their street photography.