12 Things I Learned While Teaching Street Photography

12 Things I Learned While Teaching Street Photography

For a while now I have been working on establishing myself as a street photography educator by leading lessons and workshops throughout London, focusing on documenting human behavior and emotion rather than more new-wave techniques involving light-architecture and intricate technical compositions.

My most recent workshop, held over the second weekend of February involved a very diverse group of students, which posed some of the most interesting challenges I’ve faced so far. I thought it would be useful to share some of the things I was dealing with while teaching in order to offer some insight into street photography as an educational vocation as well as an artistic and sociological pursuit.

1. Slow down, in every way.

One of my most common instructions to a group will be to slow down, not only in the way that they walk around but also in the way they treat their gear and the people around them. Our course lasts for three days, and we spend the majority of the first and second out shooting. Many students fear they will miss a moment due to being too far, or not being somewhere fast enough.

The way I see it is that every action you make is a judgment between one location or another, one character or another, or one camera action and another. There will always be another shot, and especially when treating street photography as a hobby rather than needing to sell prints as a livelihood, for example, you will almost always be far more rewarded from the results of a slower approach than a fast one.

The exercises and assignments we set in the course will go over a specific approach again and again, and we insist that even after the course is over the students continue to practice different shooting styles.

Photo by Ryan.

2. Street photography means something different to everyone.

I have a very clear idea of what street photography means to me, but whenever we take on a new group of students it is very important to discover exactly what their definition is for what they are trying to achieve.

Some people are simply looking to improve with approaching people for street portraits, whereas others are more interested in inanimate objects, representing what life leaves behind rather than specific actions and activity.

Although the methodology for capturing these will sometimes be similar it is still important to be very specific that different circumstances call for different approaches. As a teacher, it is sometimes difficult to keep in mind which students are looking to achieve which effect and to guide them accordingly to different points of interest in a scene.

Photo by Fei.

3. Everyone brings something different to their style, and that isn’t always a good thing.

Everyone is “tuned” to see things differently based on their past consumption of media, photographs, their politics, education, and so on. This means that some people have a very set idea of what the “Human Condition” actually involves, and as a teacher, it is my job to try and open their eyes to other possible ways of seeing.

In my last class, I had a student who was an incredibly competent still-life photographer. After we reviewed the work from the first assignment it was very clear that this student had simply gone out and interpreted our instructions in a fine-art, still-life mentality. He has come wanting to learn how to shoot people better but had avoided including any in these images.

David and I had to tell him that if he wanted different results he was going to have to take a different approach. He ended up putting his Canon back in his bag and shooting the rest of the course with his iPhone. You can still feel a still-life aesthetic from his images, but I’m very proud of the way he adapted to include more “real-life.”

4. Hurdles are almost always either technical or mental.

Actual technical control over a camera is not difficult to learn. Basic functions of exposure and focus can be mastered in a matter of weeks, and for street photography, I tend to encourage shooting in either aperture priority or fully automatic so that you’re focused on the scene rather than the gear.

The mental hurdles are far harder for some students to break down; the self-imposed fears, limitations, and ethics that may prevent them from shooting a candid image or even taking up someone’s time by asking for a street portrait.

There are a few techniques we go over for candid work, and a few discussions to see what people’s reasons are for avoiding people. It can often feel more like a therapy session than a class, but we can usually break through these barriers by the end of the second day.

The images throughout this article are all by students who started out with preconceptions and misgivings about the way they would be perceived as street photographers, and general fear of approaching people. It was great watching as a teacher and seeing these students open up, open their minds to a friendly approach, and being rewarded by these images.

Photo by Fei.

5. You can only control yourself.

One of the most important lessons I think is that in street photography, the only “moving part” of a scene you truly have control over is yourself. Composition relies on where you choose to place yourself. Part of this means always looking for vantage points or safe places to kneel down for lower angle shots. Constantly working the scene means more than taking many images from one spot, but trying every spot you have access to until the best composition reveals itself. Sometimes only a few millimeters can make all the difference!

Me shooting. Photo by Fei.

6. Three is a crowd.

One of the hardest things to manage is working as a group while maintaining the integrity of a scene. When I shoot my personal work I’ll either be alone or with one other person, which I prefer for a few reasons. When working with a small group I like to manage four people, because that makes for a good ratio of two groups of two, with one tutor, either David or myself, overseeing each.

However, there is a definite difference between operating as two people and operating as three. The dynamic is entirely different, and subjects respond differently to seeing three lenses.

For this reason, I try and keep a few steps distance between myself and my students, although I’ll always run in and offer insight if I feel it’s necessary.

Photo by Jiacai.

7. Photographs are one of the worst examples when teaching photography.

My presentations, discussions, and practice research assignments are based around individual activity and personal development – learning by doing. There are no diagrams or examples of photographs. I do not teach the history of street photography, and I am not interested in showcasing my own work. Techniques are better demonstrated in person so that students can try things out rather than interpreting a diagram.

I find that showing an example of a photograph will lead to students seeking to copy that image, even if I specifically ask them not to. Even after presenting their own work to each other I will see the influence of this work on the other students.

Further, when looking at a photograph you can often not really tell exactly how it was taken unless you specifically look for the photographer’s story. Simply looking at work without, for example, a contact sheet, can leave a student feeling confused and with no real insight on how it was achieved – not at a technical level but at a sociological one.

Photo by Ryan.

8. Try every technique at least once!

Not every technique will fit with everyone’s shooting style. However even if a method doesn’t feel right it is still useful to know as many as possible, so that if the circumstances of a scene called for something specific, you are equipped to deal with it. You may also combine techniques and find that that suits you better. When I teach, I cover shooting from the hip, framing and zone focusing, panning, exposing for different conditions, and using the camera Lomography style.

Not everything clicks for every student but it’s great watching a student get to grips with a style and then apply it without me asking them to, but when they think it suits a scene, is really great!

9. If you aren’t frustrated then you probably aren’t learning.

Street photography can be one of the most frustrating genres, as nothing is ever guaranteed. It can be difficult to see your own progress, and there will always be a feeling of inadequacy when seeing work others are producing, even if yours is just as good if not better. Many students can identify where they would like their work to be, but the steps getting there are not as clear. Training your eye to see things differently does take time, and this process cannot be forced. The framework from the course is an excellent place to start, but a lot of it is in the student’s hands.

Many students express their frustration that they cannot see the things I am pointing out, or that they can’t quite expose the right way, or any number of other things, and I always reply in the same way: if you didn’t feel frustrated then you wouldn’t be learning anything. Frustration occurs when you reach the edge of a personal barrier, and you are trying to break through. After hard work and practice, that frustration will be replaced by frustration towards a different aspect of photography. It will rarely go away entirely but should be used to motivate you onwards rather than be an excuse to quit.

Photo by Mika.

10. The photographs don’t really matter.

The point of studying a short course in street photography is not to achieve a fantastic portfolio of images over a weekend. Although it is nice to have hard work pay off in the form of a photograph you enjoy it is far more important to use the experience to learn and grow as a person, and an artist. Even if you decide afterward that street photography is not for you it should hopefully help the way you relate to strangers, and observe the light and interaction around you.

The feeling of shooting with a group of positive, energetic, like-minded artists can be enough to spark a desire to continue, and importantly continue to improve, and that can lead to a portfolio of work, or just better images overall that document that person’s life. It’s the attitude, not the images.

Photo by Jiacai.

11. Introspection is difficult, but very necessary.

I’m a very introspective person, it’s one of the reasons I write so much! I encourage my students to really study every decision they make while out and about shooting, while editing, and while critiquing their own work and others in order to identify in a non-abstract way what works and what does not as an image.

Self-improvement will come from creating structure from previous experience, so the last day of our course, which involves editing, curating, and criticism, is designed to help nurture that structure. Hearing the thoughts from their peers, the other students, rather than the tutors can help them feel more comfortable about their work, although I’ll always try and be specific with what I feel could be improved, or further things to think about both for the edit as well as addressing future scenes and scenarios.

I also think that true criticism, as a skill is underrated, and that many people could benefit from understanding the merit an image may possess beyond simple personal like/dislike.

This part of the course is always interesting, as students who were previously unsure of themselves will jump to defend and explain their work, or the work of others, and it becomes very easy for me as a teacher to see their progress in sheer comprehension based on these interactions.

Photo by Jiacai.

12. Ego has no place in the classroom.

I wouldn’t define myself as an egotist, but as an artist and an educator, it can be difficult not to sound pretentious when discussing any aspect of photography. This is intensified when a student brings back a particular piece of work that I think really stands out. I’ll want to learn about how they took it and their process in the same way I would want to talk to any photographer about the way they achieve their results.

In order to make sure that no competition exists between any of us, students and teachers alike, I try and be very open about every aspect of everything we are doing, and encourage the students to do the same. It becomes a process where everyone learns from everyone else, rather than pretending that as a teacher I somehow know better, or necessarily more than any of my students.

Photo by Jiacai.
Photo by Fei.
Photo by Mika.
Photo by Fei.

Anyone can learn any aspect photography from YouTube, or articles, or a book — that aspect isn’t special at all. What is special is an environment in which anyone can feel comfortable and safe not only practicing street photography but also sharing and working on improving their own understanding and the understanding of those around them in order to bring their attitude towards the medium to the next level.

I’ve really been enjoying teaching, and am looking forward to taking on my next class in April. I’m also planning on launching a series of shorter, one-two day courses, also through UAL, which will deal with very specific topics – street portraiture, light-architecture, low-light/night street photography, and hopefully street photography on film. I really look forward to seeing how focusing on a specific area of street photography will lead to approaching the way I instruct my students differently!

About the author: Simon King is a London based photographer and photojournalist, currently working on a number of long-term documentary and street photography projects. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can follow his work on Instagram and you can read more of his thoughts on photography day-to-day over on his personal blog. Simon also teaches a short course in Street Photography at UAL, which can be read about here.

Source: PetaPixel

12 Things I Learned While Teaching Street Photography

Ep. 312: New Bodies, New Lenses and Old Kodak – and more

Ep. 312: New Bodies, New Lenses and Old Kodak – and more

Episode 312 of the PetaPixel Photography Podcast.
Download MP3 –  Subscribe via iTunesGoogle Playemail or RSS!

Featured: Nikon Ambassador, Charmi Peña

In This Episode

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Show Opener:
Nikon Ambassador, Charmi Peña, opens the show.  Thanks Charmi!

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Kodak does it yet again. (#)

Canon unveils its EOS RP before going even smaller. (#)

Panasonic enters the full-frame mirrorless arena with its S1 and S1R. (#)

Bowens just won’t die. (#)

Panasonic unveils three new lenses for its new mirrorless system. (#)

Pentax drops a couple of new lenses on us. (#)

This sweet filter will have you seeing red. (#)


Connect With Us

Thank you for listening to the PetaPixel Photography Podcast! Connect with me, Sharky James on TwitterInstagram and Facebook (all @LensShark) as we build this community.

We’d love to answer your question on the show. Leave us an audio question through our voicemail widget, comment below or via social media. But audio questions are awesome!

You can also cut a show opener for us to play on the show! As an example: “Hi, this is Matt Smith with Double Heart Photography in Chicago, Illinois, and you’re listening to the PetaPixel Photography Podcast with Sharky James!”

Source: PetaPixel

Ep. 312: New Bodies, New Lenses and Old Kodak – and more

The Only Rule in Street Photography

The Only Rule in Street Photography

I see a lot of articles across the Internet claiming to know the “rules to follow” or the “things to avoid” in street photography, easily one of the most hotly debated genres. What they tend to misunderstand is just how little the genre cares for photographic rules, and what the defining elements of street photography really are that go beyond any of the purely photographic elements.

If you study the history of the genre and the work of those that came before us, you’ll start to understand that the rules of photography, while important, are generally irrelevant to the real strength behind the most intriguing street photographs. Composition, framing, and light are always important in each genre, but in street photography they don’t take center stage like they might in landscape photography.

The strongest street photography ultimately tells us something about ourselves, about how fleeting and arbitrary our lives can sometimes feel, and can even reveal moments that we may never notice as we speed through our daily lives.

Invoke Questions On The Street

Leica M7, Voigtländer 35mm F1.7, Kodak Tri-X 400 in Tokyo, Japan

Could they be brothers? Or is that a woman on the left? Are they old friends? Why are they holding hands? Is something wrong with the man on the right? Is he ill?

I was trying to think of the best way to describe not necessarily how to achieve great street photographs, but to describe the fundamental nature of what they do to us as viewers; why they intrigue us more than other work. “Invoke questions” seemed to fit the task the best.

I’ve been practicing street photography since around 2014 when I began to get involved with other photographers who loved the style and accessibility of the genre, but it took me until recently to become aware of just what made the best street photography most fascinating.

Like everyone else, I’ve made countless photographs of people walking past me, of a person walking along a wall, of a crowd, or simply seen something with interesting light and taken the photo, but these photographs have served a purpose, to tell me what is interesting and what is not.

Mystery & Narrative

The problem with a lot of street photography is that there is little to no narrative being suggested, such as the commuter walking along a wall mid-step or the person stepping into a shaft of light. In contrast, the most intriguing photographs will have questions flying around them and may even puzzle your viewers as to what is going on. Your viewers may start to build a narrative in their minds, whether truthful or imagined, due to the circumstances of the subject matter and timing.

Take the photograph below for example. In the center of the frame we have a woman wearing a mask with a man who seems to be questioning her, and curiously in the top left corner is someone asking for what seems like a donation while wearing more traditional Japanese garments and a hat that seems out of place in central Tokyo.

What draws me in is the man’s face. What is he doing? Is he harassing her? Does he know her? What is he trying to sell to her?

By arriving at that last question, I’ve started to imbue some kind of potential narrative on the scene, and that is where intriguing street photography begins. I haven’t answered any questions, but I’ve suggested to myself some kind of narrative based on my own personal experience, something I can relate to in a personal way.

Leica M7, Voigtländer 35mm F1.7, Kodak Tri-X 400 in Tokyo, Japan

Not all street photographs are this straight forward. Many have no clear questions to ask but are still fascinating for other reasons. This rule of invoking questions is more of a waypoint to guide you. The problem for someone wanting to improve on their street photography is that there are no hard and fast tips. I’m the first person to understand that you can’t exactly go looking for “questions” as if they are floating above people’s heads.

The best advice I can give, as only a student of those that came before me, is to do just that. Study the greats, from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Joel Meyerowitz, Fred Herzog, William Eggleston, Elliot Erwitt, Vivian Maier, Dorothea Lange, and others. Their names are on the walls for a reason.

Then find contemporary street photographers doing great work and try to see how the two groups meet in a modern environment. One of my favorite contemporary street photographers is Severin Koller, but his work seems timeless due to its fundamental nature of capturing fascinating and sometimes puzzling moments of human life irrespective of light or visual beauty.

Pay attention to people, their actions, and their potential motives and you’ll start to instinctually move toward areas where something “may happen”, or you’ll see things happening in your periphery and if you’re ready, you can capture the moment at the perfect moment.

One suggestion I personally have is to work on your timing of the shutter. Learn to wait until the action is at its halfway point, such as someone speaking or an arm being raised in gesture or a person running down a street is halfway through their stride. This suggests action and action suggests narrative.

When Is It Something Else?

Street photography is a broad genre, one that defies boundaries in a lot of ways because it is so fundamental to human nature, so it’s interesting to figure out just where the genre fades and a photograph starts to become something else.

Take the photographs below. While I can definitely say these are street photographs because they tick the necessary boxes, are they something other or perhaps something more?

When the clear narrative questioning makes way for graphical composition, I think the work has started to transition into fine art composition more than literal street photography.

These photographs are visually composed more deliberately to balance the elements into a piece that could be printed and framed on a wall. The environment and the light has started to take on a larger role, which is where fine art begins and street photography lessons to a degree.

That is not to say these are any less worthy as street photography, but simply that they will play a different role in your work. They may even become the photographs that sell more due to their more deliberate visual appeal.

Leica M7, Voigtländer 35mm F1.7, Kodak Tri-X 400 in Kyoto, Japan
Leica M7, Voigtländer 35mm F1.7, Kodak Tri-X 400 in Brisbane, Australia

The Takeaway

Street photography is hard. It challenges our observational skills, our sense of vulnerability and our ability to react at a moment’s notice, which is why it can be so rewarding to finally capture something that others may have never noticed and to walk away with work that can hopefully stand the test of time and be remembered.

Remember that us humans love to ponder narratives and pose questions on circumstances inside and outside ourselves. From childhood we are curious creatures, asking questions of our parents then of our friends and peers as we grow up.

We wonder about other’s lives and what ours might be, so to find photographic moments that also ask us to question, to ponder and to be intrigued by seems only natural.

About the author: Nick Bedford is an documentary and fine art photographer based in Brisbane, Australia. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Bedford’s work on his website, YouTube, and Instagram. This article was also published here.

Source: PetaPixel

The Only Rule in Street Photography

How to Clean Your Mirrorless Camera Sensor: Tools, Tactics, Tips, and Tricks

How to Clean Your Mirrorless Camera Sensor: Tools, Tactics, Tips, and Tricks

Seeing spots in your photos? Your camera’s sensor might need a cleaning. If you’d like to go a do-it-yourself route and beyond a simple bulb blower, Michael The Maven made this 13-minute video walkthrough on how you can go about cleaning a mirrorless camera sensor.

Michael’s strategy is probably more involved than what most photographers do — he uses a special $18 loupe to see sensor dust more clearly, for example — but his tips and recommended tools may come in handy for some photographers who struggle with dust specks.

To use the sensor loupe, which was designed for DSLRs, on his mirrorless Nikon Z6, Michael created a 3D printed loupe extender that he also sells for $15 on his website.

Source: PetaPixel

How to Clean Your Mirrorless Camera Sensor: Tools, Tactics, Tips, and Tricks

Torture Testing Sony’s TOUGH SD Card to See What It Can Survive

Torture Testing Sony’s TOUGH SD Card to See What It Can Survive

Sony claims its new TOUGH line of SD memory cards are the toughest and fastest SD cards ever made, so the folks over at Cameta Camera decided to put that claim to the test. Here’s a 12-minute video in which the NY-based camera store subjects a card to a variety of torture tests to see how it holds up.

In the video, a 32GB Sony TOUGH card is placed into a washing machine, frozen, dirtied, and smashed.

Sony states that the cards are completely sealed from the outside world and are crushproof, bend-proof, drop-proof to 5 meters (~16.4ft), X-ray proof, magnet proof, anti-static, temperature proof, UV protected, dustproof (IP6X), and waterproof (IPX8)

So how did the tortured card fare in Cameta Camera’s tests?

“This little card was able to survive all of our torture tests until we decided to run it over with a 4,000-pound car,” the store says. The card emerged looking pretty good aside from a nasty crack from the car.

“While the average photographer might never need a card this durable, a lot of professionals who make a living with these things might find it worthwhile for that extra piece of mind,” the store says.

(via Cameta Camera via Sony Addict)

Source: PetaPixel

Torture Testing Sony’s TOUGH SD Card to See What It Can Survive

How to Rate and Flag Photos with Your Voice on a Mac

How to Rate and Flag Photos with Your Voice on a Mac

Want to navigate through a large set of photos and assign star ratings using only your voice instead of your keyboard? It’s extremely easy to set up for any image organization software if you use a Mac. Here’s a 6.5-minute tutorial by photographer Tony Hoffer on how to set this up.

Hoffer’s walkthrough shows how to set things up for culling in Photo Mechanic, but the steps are identical for other apps like Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Bridge.

All you need to do is visit the Keyboard and Accessibility sections of your System Preferences.

In Keyboard, simply make sure Dictation is set to On. This screen also shows you the shortcut for activating dictation.

In Accessibility, click the Dictation Commands button.

Now you can choose the voice commands you’d like to turn on, the app they should apply to (e.g. Photo Mechanic, Lightroom, Bridge, etc), and the keyboard shortcut the voice command should be translated into.

By setting the word “five” to the keyboard key “5”, you can have your app give your photo 5 stars simply by saying “five.” Likewise, if you set the word “back” to the left arrow key, you can navigate back to the previous photo simply by saying “back.”

Watch Hoffer’s video above if you’d like to see the detailed step-by-step process in setting this up as well as a demo of voice culling in action.

Source: PetaPixel

How to Rate and Flag Photos with Your Voice on a Mac

Camera Terms You’re Saying Wrong

Camera Terms You’re Saying Wrong

There are several terms in photography that are commonly mispronounced. Here’s a 5-minute video in which Gerald Undone discusses them and teaches how to correct pronounce them.

Here are the terms covered in the video:

  • Raw: Not written in all caps.
  • JPEG: Yes written in all caps.
  • EOS: Pronounced as one word.
  • ISO: Pronounced as one word.
  • Bokeh: “The trick is to separate the syllables and hit them hard.”

Watch the video to hear Gerald’s pronunciations and explanations for why.

Source: PetaPixel

Camera Terms You’re Saying Wrong

Drones Will Need to Have ID Numbers Displayed: FAA

Drones Will Need to Have ID Numbers Displayed: FAA

The US government is ordering that all drone owners in the US add external markings to their drones, displaying registration numbers to make it easier to trace the drone back to its owner.

The FAA regulation was published today at the Federal Register and will take effect on February 23rd, 2019, so drone owners have the next 10 days to add markings.

When drone registrations were mandated the first time back in 2015, owners were allowed to put their registration numbers inside the battery compartments of their drones. With this latest change, the ID numbers will need to be visible without having to open up any part of the drone.

The FAA says this tweak was made in response to safety concerns “regarding the risk a concealed explosive device poses to first responders who must open a compartment to find the small unmanned aircraft’s registration number.”

Bloomberg reports that the FAA is also working on regulations that would require drones to broadcast a radio beacon identifying both its owner and their location. Calls for such measures intensified after drones caused a shutdown at Gatwick Airport in the UK — the nation’s second busiest — delaying over 100,000 travelers and leading to the military being called in to assist.

Source: PetaPixel

Drones Will Need to Have ID Numbers Displayed: FAA

Pokémon GO Adds an AR Camera for Posing Pokémon in the Real World

Pokémon GO Adds an AR Camera for Posing Pokémon in the Real World

If you’re a fan of both Pokémon GO and photography, you may be happy to know that the game has been updated with an augmented reality camera that lets you shoot portraits of your Pokémon in the real world. The feature is called GO Snapshot.

The new mode lets you shoot photos of any Pokémon you have in your Pokémon Storage. You activate the camera by hitting the feature while looking at a Pokémon or by selecting the camera in your Bag of items.

Once you’ve selected the Pokémon you’d like to shoot, tap anywhere on your screen while it displays the real-world scene to throw its Poké Ball to that location. Your Pokémon will then stay still in that spot while you move around and find your perfect angle.

If your Pokémon is distracted or facing the wrong direction, simply brush your finger across it to make it face you.

All the photos you snap during the shoot are stored on your device automatically, and you can then easily share them with others through social media sharing options.

Niantic says the new feature is arriving soon, so you should find it through an update in the coming days.

(via Pokémon GO via Engadget)

Source: PetaPixel

Pokémon GO Adds an AR Camera for Posing Pokémon in the Real World

This Web App Lets You Build Your Own Stock Photos

This Web App Lets You Build Your Own Stock Photos

Here’s an unusual way to obtain the simple stock photo you need: Photo Creator is a web app that lets you build your own realistic stock photos. The site features thousands of models, objects, and backgrounds that you can combine into your own creations.

Panels on the left and bottom edges of the app show models, objects, backgrounds, and text you can add into the frame. After inserting them, you’re free to move, resize, and reorder (from foreground to background).

“The secret is the uniformed lighting (we shot all photos on own) and 3D-rendered scenes,” Icons8 founder Ivan Braun tells PetaPixel.

Once you’ve created the stock photo you have in mind, you can export and use the image as a JPEG/PNG for free as long as you link back to the web app in some way as credit. You can also unlock the ability to download PSD files for $20 per month, and the subscription gives you all models and objects already masked and layered.

Here are some example stock photos created in the app:

Here’s a short 1-minute video introducing the web app and showing how it works:

Head on over to Photo Creator if you’d like to give the web app a try yourself.

Source: PetaPixel

This Web App Lets You Build Your Own Stock Photos