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[Street] Embracing the grain

Discussion in 'Street, Documentary, and Portrait' started by adic88, May 28, 2012.

  1. adic88

    adic88 Mu-43 Regular

    47
    May 25, 2012
    I'm not a pro, just an enthusiast. YMMV. Originally published on my blog, reprinting here to share with the M43 community.

    Streeting has been a journey for me. It's one thing to compose a street photograph correctly, and to be decisive in the shutter capture. It's another to draw out the right impact of the photograph with adequate processing and editorial of the contact sheet. Some days, i go through a whole memory card that looks good in the camera's LCD only to be disappointed upon processing. A number of issues can arise -- the photo lacks critical focus on the subject, the dynamic range is unusable and cannot be recovered, etc. There is one other that i've been struggling with: despite the fact that the street elements are there, i'm unable to get the "feel" of the purpose. Technically adequate without being excellent, but emotionally empty, soul-less. That's a huge problem i've had in a great majority of the photos.

    Sometimes, it feels like i'm getting closer. Most days it feels like i'm getting further away. One step forward, two steps back type of progress. Being positive, it doesn't mean that i'm getting worse, it just means that i'm discovering more and more what doesn't work.

    Today, as i went about for my daily dose of street therapy (why does that sound so wrong? haha), i shot with something in mind, something i've been experimenting with lately -- let's see how many things i can get wrong by design and pick the "best" out of all the wrong. If nothing else, such an approach might defeat the trend of trying hard but getting nowhere; now i was trying to do badly and see where that would lead. Flipping the coin, so to speak, to see what was on the other side.

    Let's get the metering wrong. Let's blow out the dynamic range by shooting into the setting sun. Let's zone focus beyond the subject. Let's completely toast the processing. Then, let's see what happens, let's embrace the grain. This is what i got.

    Comments are very welcome.

    Click through the images for the larger versions. All shots with the Olympus OM-D EM-5, Panasonic 14mm f2.5. The streets of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at rush hour.

    1. 7287065932_fedfa3dd11.jpg
    Bagman by aizuddindanian, on Flickr

    2. 7287065522_cc6d058404.jpg
    Living dangerously by aizuddindanian, on Flickr

    3. 7287064986_17a993186d.jpg
    Impatient by aizuddindanian, on Flickr
     
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  2. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus

    Dec 15, 2009
    Phila, Pa USA
    It seems to me that what your dealing with is internal and not about cameras, processing or even trying to do things wrong. Mistakes as a means to an end!
    If in fact that's what you want to do, well you've done it.
    You are not doing yourself justice. You are taking the easy way because it's easier to accept failure.

    Something tells me that we don't need to discuss mistakes anymore.
    I have a few things that will help. Post on this thread if your interested.
    Let me know.....Don
     
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  3. adic88

    adic88 Mu-43 Regular

    47
    May 25, 2012
    Thanks for the analysis, i'm grateful for any ideas/thoughts that you might have to share.

    "You are taking the easy way because it's easier to accept failure." -- i'm not, "failure" is a state of mind imho, and while as photographers failed photographs are a part of our process, i think very few of us every fall into the trap of accepting failure. :)

    In case my tone was negative in my post, let me assure you i'm completely positive. A person who has failed would just give up, and i certainly haven't.
     
  4. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus

    Dec 15, 2009
    Phila, Pa USA
    One must accept failures as well as success. Maybe the failed images won't get processed but they still exist. They still provide a visual map of what is going on in our thinking. If we analyze those images, we learn what we did wrong or responded to in a wrong way.

    If one doesn't except one's failures, one will never find the path to success.
     
  5. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    #1 has some elements working for it, to be critical #2 and #3 aren't working for me. There is a famous photojournalist named Robert Capa who stated "... If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough.

    I suggest you start with Robert Capa.

    Street photography is not easy. Hell, good photography isn't easy, but Street is very demanding. Remember that the greater the image impact the less image quality one needs for that image to be successful.

    Now we're probably skipping some steps here and this is sorta like teaching one to swim by tossing them into the deep end ... but you've been in the water and I sense your frustrations ... so sink or swim time.

    Go back into the streets and fill the frame. Use a telephoto and fill the frame (which means the camera is up at your face much of the time, or use a wide angle and get tight on your subjects (which means you're a foot or two away). No shooting from the hip. By total emersion into the genre you will sink or swim ... you will be tested ... no more half-hearted attempts ... you'll be jumping in with both feet.

    Gary

    PS- So where are all the peoples in your photos? Go to the busy parts of the city, go to the marketplace, the cafe district, go to the people, watch them, emerse yourself into their world ... then record them.
    G

    PPS- Not shooting a single image is not failure, shooting sub-standard images is not failure ... not going into the city, not attempting to shoot that which is calling to you ... that is failure.
    G
     
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  6. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    I agree with about 99% of what Gary says. I like the first photo, but not because of any connection with the subject - just because the composition works. I also agree that getting closer is absolutely critical if you want any emotional connection between the subject and viewer. For me, it helps a lot to be in a crowd - YMMV. What I disagree with him on (and very strongly) is the no shooting from the hip part. HOW you get the image is secondary to the image itself - you have to try different methods to see what works for you. I've shot from the face, from the hip, from down near the sidewalk, from all over. And many, probably most, of my best images are from the belly or waist area, some with a TLR type screen I'm looking down into to frame, and some framing basically on instinct.

    But other than that, what he said! And mostly, just do a lot of it. If you love the process and stay at it, you'll intuitively figure out what's working for you and what's not, and results will come.

    -Ray
     
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  7. adic88

    adic88 Mu-43 Regular

    47
    May 25, 2012
    Thanks mate for the suggestion.

    I think the interesting thing about streeting is that its a large combination of skills required to get it right. I list down a few below:

    1. timing
    2. PR (public relations)
    3. technical adequacy (knowing your camera and how to take photographs at a technical level)
    4. courage
    5. confidence

    Getting closer to the subject is probably the one item that most people have trouble with, just like most people fear public speaking more than death & taxes!

    I've been able to get close to subjects by talking to them mostly, asking their permission either through verbal or non-verbal means to take their photograph, trying to get a connection with them. See some of the following as examples:

    6834929485_fc238faeee.jpg
    IMG_5136-Edit-Edit by aizuddindanian, on Flickr

    6833272636_8676d2fea8.jpg
    The Lottery Man by aizuddindanian, on Flickr

    And yet, i question myself still, wondering how that breakthrough will happen.

    For me, i have no delusions of grandeur -- i'm not looking to make a living out of this, or to be famous or whatever -- i just want to be satisfied with my own photos. I've been able to achieve satisfaction with most the other genres i've shot e.g. family portraits, landscapes, urbanscapes, architecture but streeting is the one that eludes me yet.
     
  8. While I agree that techincal perfection is not always a critical element in a good photo (particularly a street photo), I find there are few occasions where a more technically correct image wouldn't have been just that bit better. Sometimes a mistake might result in an unexpected gem, but that is usually the result of good luck, not good management.

    Image quality and quality of image are both important elements and one will influence the other. A quality image still needs image quality more often than not. I have numerous images where I like the content but am disappointed at my execution.

    Mistakes are good to learn from, and so are successes. Each good image that fails on image quality lets me know that I wasn't on my game. Each success gives me a higher ceiling to reach for the next time. I do note though that not every mistake is solely down to the user; camera equipment is not perfect or infallible either.

    Ultimately, I find that concentrating on improving my image quality keeps me more motivated to seek out quality images.
     
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  9. adic88

    adic88 Mu-43 Regular

    47
    May 25, 2012
    Thanks mate for the kind words and advice.

    One of the things i like about the OM-D (and other swivel screen cams) is that it allows for shooting at the hip while still maintaining compositional control as we can look down into the LCD; ala a Hassleblad. It's already such a small camera, and stealthy in all black all taped up, this feature certainly helps get closer.

    On the matter of getting closer, while i agree it's important, i'm wondering whether it's essential. I've always belonged to the school of thought that you see what you want to capture before you think about how you're going to capture it; always trying to get closer for a shot, seems counter-intuitive to this philosophy and defeats the freewheeling style i've associated to streeting (whether this is right or wrong, i make no judgements).

    Would love to have a discussion on that last point.
     
  10. adic88

    adic88 Mu-43 Regular

    47
    May 25, 2012
    We belong to the same school of thought. :)

    Which might be the reason why i've been able to find personal satisfaction with my shooting of other genres, and why streeting has been such a long process of discovery.

    There is some chaos inherent in streeting, if for no other reason that you (the photog) don't have too much control over the conditions when an opportunity presents itself. Yes, you can look for one, at some streeters engineer them through smart positioning, subject engagement and angling, but if the raw materials are not there to begin with (e.g. subject, light, etc.) then there is little much the photographer can do imo.
     
  11. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    If you're primarily after a composition, proximity may not be necessary. If you're trying to really let the viewer into the subject's world and feel a connection, I think proximity is almost always critical. Whether its physical or focal proximity is another question - I prefer getting physically close and using a wide angle, but longer lenses can sometimes work too.

    -Ray
     
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  12. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    I'm looking for total emersion here Ray. I think with the brain working on overtime with the camera at the face, one will connect with the subject better and faster than shooting from the hip. Shooting from the face heighten all the senses dealing with flee-or-fight, getting the shot all swirls together into sink or swim .... shooting from the hip dilutes all that and slows up the emersion process.

    I'm not against shooting from the hip ... but in this case I strongly suggest against such methodology as it leaves you still removed from the subject. Ray, had adic88 posted the last two shots ... the hip thing would never had come up ... but looking at the initial three ... adic is so far away that he/she might as well be in the library.

    The last two are very nice by-the-way, especially the first image.

    Gary
     
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  13. retnull

    retnull Mu-43 Regular

    68
    Feb 12, 2010
    Have you looked at the work of Daido Moriyama? Talk about "wrong"! His early work, especially, is completely "incorrect" in terms of exposure, focus, composition...and yet it's brilliant.

    The new closer images look great. You're correct: courage is essential to street shooting. And an attitude of determination--which your posts reveal you already have.
     
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  14. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    I believe in "Previsualization" (see Ansel Adams) ... One mentally previsualized the image then work the camera (angle/placement), lens focal length, ISO, aperture and shutter speed to capture the image you perceived mentally.

    One can argue that street is a knee jerk reaction to what is presented/unfolds before your eyes ... but I say nay to that. Armed with a zoom, the mere fact that one adjusts the zoom is a form of previsualization.

    Gary
     
  15. What you're describing, and what you're first set of images show, is a more environmental form of street photography. By that I mean you are capturing people in the context of their environment and using the built environment as a frame, as opposed to a more intimate style that isolates the subject. Both to my mind are legimate yet very different styles of street photography.
     
  16. CUB

    CUB Mu-43 Veteran

    275
    Apr 19, 2012

    +1 for Robert Capa (via Gary Ayala's comment).

    I think your shots are great but the subject is getting lost among other things. I think you could solve the problem very quickly by changing to a longer lens such as 45mm. The 14mm has too much of an angle of view.

    I used to do a lot of street photography and quickly learnt that a wide angle lens made it difficult. To fill the frame you need to get very close to your subject - intrusively close. A standard (50mm on film) or short telephoto (90mm) allows you to fill the frame without being in your subject's face. This translates to 25mm and 45mm on m4/3.

    45mm would seem ideal. If you have the superlative Olympus 45mm f/1.8, use that. The long end of a kit lens (42mm or 45mm) would be almost as good. Or a 50mm legacy lens with an adapter.

    But whatever you use, fill the frame. If the viewer has to search for your subject the impact of the shot is lost.

    Technically, the images you posted are great apart from not filling the frame with the subject, though #3 is better in that respect. Good luck, don't give up!
     
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  17. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    I hear you Gary, but I still disagree. I do agree the discussion probably wouldn't have come up if we'd seen the last two photos sooner, but I think everyone has to figure out how they can best interact with their subjects. For some that's with a camera between their eye's and the subject's. For others, its decidedly NOT. For some, having a camera at their eye distracts both them and the subject, for others its the only way to work. I certainly think its a good idea to try nearly every technique that seems like a good idea during the process to figure out what works for you, including with a camera at your eye - I surely put in my time with it up there. But for some, the camera at the eye is a hiding place rather than something that helps with total immersion.

    We can agree to disagree on this point.

    -Ray
     
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  18. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    This is where its important for everyone to try different techniques (and equipment) to find what works for THEM. I personally hate shooting on the street with anything longer than about a 35mm angle of view (17mm in m43 terms). The 14mm is my sweet spot (and was Garry Winogrand's, so its not like its just for idiot amateurs like me! :wink:) and I also spend a lot of time shooting at 12mm. Although I'll occasionally pull out the 45mm for a change of pace, I pretty much hate shooting people that way, except in my own living room or at a gathering of friends, where its more about informal portraiture than "street" photography.

    I'm not disagreeing with you that longer lenses are ONE possibility, but they're sure as hell not a rule for someone to think they have to follow. The wider lens DOES mean you have to get closer and I'd say its at LEAST a very good exercise to force you to do so. And then, once you do, it pulls in a lot of elements of the environment beyond the subject. Here is just one 12mm shot by way of example (from the hip/belly too, btw)... Its not a telling much of story and isn't social commentary, but you feel you almost know the subjects and you see plenty of their environment to put them in context. This is what I'm usually going for and the wider lenses are the best way I can pull it off.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/20889767@N05/7126450907/" title="NYC 4/27/12 by ramboorider1, on Flickr">"800" height="800" alt="NYC 4/27/12"></a>

    -Ray
     
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  19. jim_khoo

    jim_khoo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 9, 2010
    Kuala Lumpur
    hi ray, i have genuine question... is the image cropped or set to square format?
     
  20. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    Its cropped to square. I generally shoot 3:2, sometimes 4:3. I rarely crop vertically but I'll often crop horizontally down to a square. These two women were in the left half of the frame and I cropped out another, unrelated person to the right walking the opposite direction, who's arm and handbag you can see. Street photography is enough of a fast-reaction exercise that sometimes the framing and composition isn't all that precise, so I'm more than happy to crop as long as I don't downsize the photo much and start losing a lot of resolution...

    -Ray
     
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