Hints & Tips

Street Photography Tips

Tom Bol, February 26, 2016

In just about a month we are returning to one of my favorite locations, Patagonia.  My first experience in Patagonia was leading a two-month sea kayaking expedition with my wife, Cree.  For 60 timeless days we paddled remote, unexplored fjords and bays, many of which Darwin noted during his travels in the area.  Highlights included practicing kayak rolls with penguins bobbing in the water beside me, and Cree finding at nine-inch primitive spear point in an ancestral fishing camp.  Ever since that trip I’ve been hooked.

While the stunning landscapes of Patagonia never disappoint, I am equally excited about photographing vibrant Buenos Aires and the quaint towns in Patagonia.  The people of this area are very warm and friendly, and great street photography abounds. 

One thing I’ve noticed is some photographers struggle in the urban environment.  Things look different than photographing glaciers, landscapes and wildlife.  But just refer to your class notes on composition.  The subject matter may be different, but compositional guidelines are similar.  What’s different is you are photographing people, cars and ‘urban mountains’ (i.e. buildings).  I’ve shot many travel assignments for publications, and the best advice I ever got from an editor is this; the viewer has to feel, touch, smell, taste and hear a location through your images.  Think about creating an essay of images that really bring the experience home to your friends and family who look at your images.  Don’t take snapshots; photograph the soul of the city and its personality. 

Here is more magazine editor advice for travel images.  I once had an editor tell me there were two kinds of travel photographers, participatory and non-participatory.  Here is an example; when you photograph a person on the street, will you approach them and engage them while taking their image? Or will you shoot from the street corner so they don’t know you are there? Both methods work.  If possible I like to engage my subject when taking a portrait.  I feel the connection between photographer and subject is critical; this relationship is evident in strong travel portraits.  Not to say I don’t shoot interesting people without them knowing, sometimes this is more practical.  But keep these ideas in your mind when taking street portraits.

Below I’ve outlined 15 points for street photography.  Some are obvious, others maybe less so.  Just remember the next time you are in a city en route to a beautiful landscape, street photography can be just as rewarding and beautiful, you just have to go out and shoot!

  1. Patience.  Look for interesting backgrounds, and wait for the right subject to move through it for an interesting composition.
  2. Juxtaposition: Two things being seen together with contrasting effect.  Think about patterns, colors, shapes, subjects; be aware of possible pairings.
  3. Light.  Subject is important, but so is light.  Without light, you don’t have a photograph.  Try approaching scenes looking for the most interesting light, not just the subject.  Then wait for subject to move into good light.
  4. Shadow.  “Light illuminates the subject, shadow gives it dimension.” Look for interesting shadows, and anticipate where they might occur.
  5. Perspective.  Be very aware of what angle you are photographing your subject.  Change angle to increase graphic elements.  Shoot high and low.
  6. Intuition.  Street smarts.  Be aware of situations around you that might make good photographs. Conversely, avoid situations that are unsafe.
  7. Reflections.  Rainy days are great!  Umbrellas and reflections!  Car mirrors, canals, lakes…
  8. Layers/frames.  Shoot through objects such as windows, screens, arches to add layers and more depth to shot.  Transform 2D into 3D.
  9. Motion.  Experiment with motion in people, cars, markets.  Try pan and blurs, ‘shakies’ and ‘zoomies’. Freeze the action; blur the action.
  10. Courteous.  Photographing people is personal, whether your subject knows it or not.  Be courteous, and respect people’s wishes.  If with a group (like a workshop or tour), remember you’re a representative of that group. If you’re in a foreign country, remember you’re representing your country too.
  11. Twilight.  Great time for street and city lights with details still in the sky.
  12. Close.  Try photographing your subject with a 50mm lens.  Get close, meet someone, share the moment.  Create the ‘honest shot’.
  13. Events.  Festivals and events are good for photography, lots of subjects. Research these before you go 
  14. Graphics.  Use line, shape, form, texture, pattern and color to create strong images.  Speak to the viewer graphically…not literally.
  15. Experience.  In the end, you want people to ‘experience’ your travel and street photography.  They should be able to see it, hear it , smell it and touch it.

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Time-Lapse Photography

From a Digital Photo magazine article by Tom Bol, January 28, 2015

If you’ve recently gone to the movies, watched TV or surfed YouTube videos, chances are good you’ve seen some time-lapse photography.  Time-lapse photography is all the rage right now.  Feature films and documentaries have long used time-lapse photography to wow viewers.  Remember watching the flower grow from seedling to mature plant in mere seconds, or watching the stars rotate in the night sky over a jagged Himalayan peak?  Time-lapse photography was once a complex process reserved for high-end productions, but not anymore.  Today this dazzling technique is available for any photographer, and it’s never been easier.  Some DSLRs even create the movie in camera.  Time to get out and shoot some time-lapse!

How it works.  Time-lapse photography involves shooting a large number of frames over a long period of time, and then merging them into a movie.  Two hours of shooting time and hundreds of frames can be merged into a 10 second movie clip, in essence speeding up time from hours to seconds.  On the extreme end, some time-lapse photography involves shooting over the course of weeks and months, and then merging the sequence into a few brief minutes of footage.

The possibilities are very exciting.  Imagine watching your next two-hour photo shoot from start to finish in a 20 or 30 second movie or seeing the transformation of light from a rosy sunset to a starry night in 30 seconds of video.  See some interesting clouds passing overhead?  Some of the best time-lapse sequences record passing storms and interesting clouds streaking through the sky. You can also combine several time-lapse sequences into a longer video.

To shoot time-lapse, we need an intervalometer. This device simply counts intervals. For photography, there are two popular options for intervalometers - either in-camera or an intervalometer cable release.  Camera manufacturers took note of the popularity of time-lapse photography, and a number of cameras have intervalometers built right into the camera. All one need do is set up the sequence and hit the shutter button.  Some cameras take this a step further, and offer a time-lapse movie option where the camera actually creates the final movie once the sequence is complete.

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Infrared Photography

George Theodore, March 3, 2014

With the ability to convert digital cameras for infrared photography, this art form is enjoying an upsurge in popularity. As photographers upgrade their DSLR’s, many are having their older cameras converted rather than “giving them away” at eBay or Craig’s List especially if that older camera is more than two or three generations old. The conversion replaces the sensor’s low pass filter with one that essentially blocks visible light and passes infrared.

The advantage of conversion over the use of infrared filters is that filters require much longer exposure times. With a converted camera, one shoots at whatever aperture, shutter speed and ISO is required to capture the image.

A few years back, I had Life Pixel convert a Nikon D200. I usually carry two DSLR’s in the field and the D200 made it three. For many trips, that’s a bit much so I had a Canon G11 converted. Finally, I had a Fuji X-E1 converted and that's now my go-to IR camera. With a mirrorless camera you don't have to be concerned about lens focus adjustments (a subject I won't discuss here). Life Pixel came highly recommended and my experience with them has been excellent. In both conversions I opted for their Super Color IR filter. I like false color IR’s (though I do some black & white too) and this filter looked like it was my best choice.

The problem most have is how to post-process the image and the biggest issue lies in proper white balance. To start, set your white balance in-camera according to the filter type; some filters do better with green (just use grass or some other foliage), others with a gray or white card. Fill your frame with the appropriate color making sure it’s in the same light you’ll be shooting, take the picture and use that frame to set your custom white balance. Your camera’s owner’s manual will tell you how to do that. Now go shoot.

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Macro Flash

Tom Bol, January 2, 2014

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I recently have been shooting some macro flash, and I was asked what worked the best. Here is the good news. Lighting principles work the same, whether you are photographing a model on the beach or a butterfly in the garden.  All light has direction, quality and color, the three characteristics you work with using light.  With macro photography, your set is very small, maybe only a few inches across and a foot deep.  But macro adds some unique challenges.

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The biggest challenge with macro is you might only be 5 inches from your subject. That doesn’t give you much room to work with in terms of angle of light and how soft it is.  One big variable is the lens you are using.  If I am shooting my 60mm macro, I am about 2 inches away from my subject when I have 1 to 1 life-size reproduction (true macro=subject is life size on your sensor).  I really can’t do much with my flash, maybe hold it off to the side, but this is very close and will scare live subjects away.

 

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