Looking at My Photos for More Sustained Interest in the Frame

agentlossing

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https://georgepowell.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/studium-and-punctum/

" Punctum is an object or image that jumps out at the viewer within a photograph- ‘that accident which pricks, bruises me.’ Punctum can exist alongside studium, but disturbs it, creating an ‘element which rises from the scene’ and unitentially fills the whole image. Punctum is the rare detail that attracts you to an image, Barthes says ‘its mere presense changes my reading, that I am looking at a new photograph, marked in my eyes with a higher value.’ "
Hmm. I really like the topic of studium versus punctum, but I feel the blog post misses the mark, in that the two aren't mutually exclusive, in fact I'd go so far as to say that the most successful photographs have both. Photos which only have a punctum, i.e. a single sensational detail which draws the attention quickly, are kind of lesser photographs. They can be like "tricks" or gimmicks. Photos which are wholly on the studium end are often boring (but how much art of the past several centuries lies firmly in the studium camp? Should I need to take multiple undergraduate classes just to "get" a piece of art? C'mon.) but may have greater staying power if there is some punctum also involved.

One comparison that I've seen made before, and it's pretty enlightening (partly because the photos are all so excellent) is between Walker Evans' American Photographs and Robert Frank's The Americans. There are even a few photos where Frank included the same subjects as Evans. Evans' photos rely much more on studium, but they're so artfully made that they do reward a longer look. Frank's photos often have a hook, or a punctum. But I would say both collections have photos with both, in varying degrees, and that's where the bulk of their interest lies. I need to buy Evans' book, as I haven't looked at it in a while.
 

PakkyT

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I have of course tried to take photos of people on the streets but I don't by any means go out to do "street photography". I think it is a type of photography that is not at all easy to do. I also think there are a lot of people doing what they think is "street photography" simply because they are photographing people on the street. A lot of what they shoot is rather boring and often times seemed forced.

I also think it is the type of photography (like shooting sports) where you simply have to realize, you are going to have to shoot a LOT of frames just to get one you really like. You are going to get a lot of duds plain and simple and it doesn't necessarily mean you are not good at it. It is the kind of thing were sometimes you don't know what you will get until you see it later. That interaction that you thought would photograph great turns out in your shot being kind of uninteresting because either you missed the moment or maybe the interaction was more interesting becuase of the way the people moved or talked rather than looked statically. While another shot you didn't think much of at the time, when you look at it again later you end up really liking, often for something in the frame you didn't notice at the time you were shooting it.

It is not by any means an easy subject matter.
 

doady

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I think an important aspect of street photography is the photographer is part of the scene. What we see is through their eyes, or the photograph gives the viewer the chance to be in the scene in a way. It is a connection between photographer or the viewer and the people on the street. The connection could be between two people, or it should be between multiple people, I don't think it matters. As long as there is some connection, because that is really what street photography is all about.

So the lens chosen should be close to human vision: not too much wide angle and not too much telephoto, something close to 50mm EFL. Maybe minimum 28mm EFL and maximum 80mm EFL, something like that. Beyond these limits, the people in the photo will just feel too distant, so no connection. Wide angle exaggerates the distance between people, and telephoto compression also makes viewer realize the long distance of the photographer from the people being photographed. Of course, being close to human vision also means the camera should be at eye level, not "shot from the hip", not tilted to one side or anything that.

Connecting with people has never been one of my strengths so I gave up on street photography long ago and opted for SLR-style E-M1 II in the past year. It does freak people in the street out a lot more compared to my old rangefinder-style C-7070, no surprise. Shutter noise is important, my new E-M1 II have loud mechanical shutter and my old C-7070 having silent mechanical shutter.

I don't know exactly what is "50s composition", or why complexity would be inherently better than simplicity or vice versa. I'm not into complexity just for the sake of complexity, I'm not into simplicity just for the sake of simplicity either. We don't need to pick one side or the other.

I like the last photo most of the ones chosen in the OP. The guy staring at camera contrasting with the guy staring at the girls. There is full context, everything fits together. A busy scene, with many distractions, but this guy is not distracted, he clearly focused only on the girl. So I don't agree with the idea of cropping 90% of it, and I don't understand the obsession with cropping in general. Like, the guy drinking beer in the third photo is on the right side of the photo, he is looking to the left, directing the viewer's eyes from right to left, but so to crop the photo to put him exactly in the centre of the frame and unbalance the photo doesn't make sense to me.
 

agentlossing

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It's been a little while, and I've let the kind of thinking from my initial post marinate a while. Here is how I feel right now, however: I'm not against the idea of trying to get multiple points of interest in my frame, and I think having a lot working towards drawing the viewer in is often a good strategy. However, I've also come to the realization that I feel the following way as well:

I've recently come into possession of a book by a forum member on another website. He took a ton of photos from a Rollei 35 camera with the same B&W film and developer over a ten-year period, resulting in a book which was offered on that forum, and I ordered a copy from him. It's got 500 photos in it, and they are really bound together by the things they have in common: deep blacks, contrast, same equipment, same film and development. What else are they? Lots of little, insignificant moments and scenes where light and shadow play a factor. They become so much more in a collection than any of them are individually. You can see his work on his Flickr: Zeno Felkl | Flickr

It reinforced something which I've long thought, but which stands a bit in opposition to the thoughts I aired earlier here. I'm a real fan of series, photos which work together better than they work alone. And I think they might be the antithesis of the kind of photos I was talking about where there's a lot working in the frame at the same time. This summer I hung some prints in my hallway, from a one-a-day photo challenge I did in April. Incidentally, these all had the same equipment and treatment, a GX9 in L Monochrome D with the Sigma 30mm f1.4 as wide open as I could go, for a layered depth-of-field look in most cases. I really like this set of photos I took then, even though I didn't have a lot of strong subjects... for me they're working with one another, as a series. Here are the ones I put on the wall:

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P1000200 by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr

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P1000342 by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr

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P1000514 (2) by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr

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P1000464 by Andrew Lossing, on Flickr

None of them are that special, save that I was quite happy with the look I was able to get 100% in-camera. but as a collection, the little-over 30 images I have make me happy, because they mean more to me in the collection than they do separately.

I think the point is that maybe complex photos stand alone, with lots of different things that might draw the viewer in, and make them study them, but those maybe don't work as well in a series. Whereas, simple photos which have something to pie them together have sustained interest in the series itself. I'm going to keep exploring this idea. I really like series.
 

John King

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Andrew, I have striven towards photographing what I see, rather than what I'm looking at.

I did this, and don't crop, in order to try to improve my composition - always the weakest part of my photography.

So, "Lost" ...

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Some keys I found on the ground, and put on a post for the owner to possibly notice.

The photo was taken in 2009.
 

Bushboy

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Man, that is deep...
I can’t go that deep.
Im not pleased, or displeased by the simple fact, that I can’t go, that deep.... It is, what, it is.
 

PhotoCal

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All of the b/w look too dark, so dark that it's hard to see what's going on.
I'm not seeing a story in any of those that I can see. They all look like snapshots.
 

mfturner

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This has been a nice thread where once again I'm late to discover. The idea of a series vs individual photos is interesting, it may explain to me why I sometimes have trouble editing down to one or a couple of best photos from an outing. I've recently been playing with montages of photos to tie multiple photos together, although it's still new to me so I don't have great examples. And street photography is a weakness for me anyway...
 

agentlossing

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This has been a nice thread where once again I'm late to discover. The idea of a series vs individual photos is interesting, it may explain to me why I sometimes have trouble editing down to one or a couple of best photos from an outing. I've recently been playing with montages of photos to tie multiple photos together, although it's still new to me so I don't have great examples. And street photography is a weakness for me anyway...
Yeah, I think I've come to the conclusion that photos which stand alone and photos which work together as a series are two different genres of photography. And still more, I think the perfect standalone photograph is a bit of a myth. The vast majority of photographs don't "wow" on their own, yet I think we're all doing ourselves a disservice if we're not creating work that's meant to go with other work, and be a body of work.

I'm trying to think of why the single killer photo is a concept we chase after, and I guess there are different influences working into it. One is that, commercially, single photos are often called for. Headshots, advertisement, etc. Another thing is the myth of the perfect photo from 20-century photojournalists in all the dramatic locations and events of the last century. Plus photography is taught, when it is taught, as an art subject mostly by a few individual photos. It makes sense for art criticism to focus on single images that are part of, say, a book of the photographer's work, but we've ended up elevating individual photos beyond what the photographer originally thought about them.

I've spent some time soaking in photobooks like Frank's The Americans, and Walker Evans' American Photographs, and I'm really convinced that the earlier concept of putting together photos into a book with a flow and a sense that things belong together is really the strong suit of photography. HCB's The Decisive Moment would be another good example. I really like many of his individual pictures but they mean so much more as the whole series of photos in the book.
 

agentlossing

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Another thing: in the age of film photography, photos came out as something like a series anyway, because you couldn't isolate a single photo until you developed a roll, in which every photo was amongst its siblings. Then a contact sheet brought them all together - even if you then winnowed them out and cut it down to one or two, you started with a series. Digital photography has perhaps made it a lot easier to isolate single images and not think of them in context.
 

Pavel M

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Forgive me if I'm misinterpreting what you're saying but...IMO it doesn't matter whether your shot has a single subject or many, it's hard to get a good, interesting photo. Street photography is difficult because when a scene presents itself, you don't usually have the time to work it. You have to rely on your past failures and successes to immediately recognize an upcoming opportunity and have a framing idea before your camera has even turned on.


IMO the number of people in a shot is not a metric that determines the success of a photo, street or otherwise. Neither is the size of the person relative to the frame. There are various elements that can produce a good photo and sometimes one element can take precedence. Sometimes an expression, gesture, or interaction is enough to carry a photo even though the composition and light might be mediocre. Other times, boring poses might not be enough to ruin an interesting arrangement or pattern of people. Also, having more things happening in a photo doesn't necessarily make it more interesting. As a photographer, I've always felt that my job is to reduce the elements in a scene so that the viewer can easily see what I want to show.

With regard to shooting from waist- or chest-level and using the rear screen for framing, it doesn't have to limit you to a specific style. That mode of shooting doesn't funnel you into close up photos of individuals. Vivian Maier shot near and far with her TLR cameras.

When I shoot street I typically have two modes: 1) Walking: I'm constantly looking up ahead for interesting photo ops of either people doing interesting things, or looking interesting. Because of the sudden nature of these opportunities, I carry my camera in my right hand at all times and use zone focusing and a high frame rate (and a min shutter speed of around 1/400); 2) Trapping: During my walk, if I encounter interesting light / architecture / background, I'll give myself time to explore the scene and work out a good composition and then wait/hope for someone to walk into the scene (but I'll also shoot the scene even no one arrives, because it might work just fine that way and because it'll be a reminder for me to return to that location in the future).

BTW I'm also very shy so using the tilting screen helps me a lot. People have noticed my camera although I don't know if they're necessarily aware that I was photographing them. No one has confronted me or said anything, but in case they do, I keep a softcover photobook in my bag that shows some of my street photos (none of which appear to embarrass the people in the photos). I'm hoping it'll help to allay people's fears of my intentions.

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A truly excellent description of what street photography means to me. I think that the key to good street photography is to have a story. In my view, street photography works best in series with some common story tying them together (I am thinking of Robert Frank's famous "The Americans" or Vivian Maier you already mentioned.
 

Juggernaut

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Sure, if that's what you want to show your viewers then by all means pursue it.


No insult taken at all. I actually posted them as humorous examples of me possibly being caught photographing people. Being the introvert that I am, I actually feel a frisson of fear whenever I look at these photos, no joke.


I totally get it. When I started my Instagram account at the start of the year, I found myself sifting through my Lightroom catalog to feed the Instagram beast. I was surprised that some of my earliest street stuff still engaged me but a lot of it didn't, as well.


Ah, I can definitely get behind that sentiment which I think is a much better way of thinking of it than my earlier (shallow) interpretation of wanting to have more people in the frame.


One of of the street shooting Youtubers I follow is Samuel L Streetlife and he and his friends have talked about how they prefer wider focal lengths because it makes it easier for them to layer elements in their photos. I suspect this is similar to what you're seeking, or at least a component of it.

Your post has made me go back and look at my photos from the start of this year. I have discovered that I have only a few street photos with multiple things going on. Most of my photos were inspired by one or two people who are usually interacting in some way, or by an interesting background or setting.

eg:
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These three have multiple elements that provide interest but those elements aren't really tied together.
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These two have multiple elements which are related (they're related in that they both have silhouettes who are echoes of the people in the foreground):
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And then there's this one which I think is more interesting because at first glance it's a humorous photo of a mildly eccentrically-dressed guy but then when you see the expression of the guys in the shadows looking at him, it changes to a representation of judgment. Maybe this is a weak example of a punctum?

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https://georgepowell.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/studium-and-punctum/

" Punctum is an object or image that jumps out at the viewer within a photograph- ‘that accident which pricks, bruises me.’ Punctum can exist alongside studium, but disturbs it, creating an ‘element which rises from the scene’ and unitentially fills the whole image. Punctum is the rare detail that attracts you to an image, Barthes says ‘its mere presense changes my reading, that I am looking at a new photograph, marked in my eyes with a higher value.’ "

I think in your last photo in your OP, the people who really like it are viewing the guy looking at the girls as a kind of punctum? It's a pretty daunting thing to shoot for in a fleeting street photo, though.

I'll end with this final comment: there's a enormous photo, “Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971,” by Stan Douglas (printed on several gorgeously back-lit glass panes) in a building downtown that I always stop and stare at. It's a depiction of a specific riot in Vancouver from the '60's. Stan went through the effort to construct a movie set to make the photo:
View attachment 846071

Now THAT'S a photo with lots of things going on! As it was shot as multiple large format exposures (small portions of the total scene were shot individually) and then stitched together, there's plenty of resolution to really savor each little bite of drama in that photo. Sometimes I'm reminded of it when I photograph people standing, like actors, in beautiful light:
View attachment 846068
amazing shots, like the 3rd, 4th and the last one!
 

theswanlogo

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Yeah, I think I've come to the conclusion that photos which stand alone and photos which work together as a series are two different genres of photography. And still more, I think the perfect standalone photograph is a bit of a myth. The vast majority of photographs don't "wow" on their own, yet I think we're all doing ourselves a disservice if we're not creating work that's meant to go with other work, and be a body of work.


From the few books I read on photography I got the main idea of "working on projects" (e.g. "series", as you call them here) on a given (or chosen) theme. Then, out of that series, one might get a very good "stand alone" photo, meaning it can be showed/displayed out of its context/series and still remain a "valid" one.
 

agentlossing

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From the few books I read on photography I got the main idea of "working on projects" (e.g. "series", as you call them here) on a given (or chosen) theme. Then, out of that series, one might get a very good "stand alone" photo, meaning it can be showed/displayed out of its context/series and still remain a "valid" one.
Do you think that maybe it requires the series, or the project, to go through to a kind of maturity before you really know which one is the "quintessence" (nod to the excellent movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) of what you are trying to say with the series? Maybe it takes exhausting the mental concept of what the series is supposed to be. Like once it's out in the world instead of in your head, you know what the features are and you can recognize when they coalesce into a single frame.
 

theswanlogo

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Yes, I think that, by doing a series/project on a theme, one gets to distill the concept until (eventually - if the photographer succeeds) the theme/idea can be expressed by a single photograph. It's, maybe, like "working the idea/concept" similarly with "working a scene" - the latter one is what we got to see on contact sheets, for instance, where you get the whole process (photos taken) of the photographer when encountered a scene/subject he felt worth exploring.

Nevertheless, this idea might not apply to street photography "per se" since the street photography is a genre of photography and not an idea/concept one can explore. The closest thing I can think of now regarding the above idea applied to street photography would be if, for example, the photographer finds an "interesting" background ("stage") then waits there for "things to happen". That's the "chasing method", I guess.
Probably a most suitable photographic genre for this "working the scene" approach is in photo-journalism, where the photographer would capture a whole series of pictures from an event, then he/she might get an outstanding one.
 

doady

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Or maybe go even further, not just photograph what you are seeing, but also what you are feeling.

Similar with singles versus albums in music, I think a series of photographs can be much more powerful than a single photograph, the whole greater than the sum its parts kind of thing. This forum emphasizes single images, but I always preferred looking at photographs and taking photographs as part of a series, as in photography book for example. Of course, each photograph should still be able to stand on its own, but I hope this forum will be able to appreciate series of photographs one day.
 

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