There are many explanations on the internet for what a candid comprises of. In my experience,
Sounds creepy right? Especially the part where they don’t know you’re taking their photograph.
I’ll let you into a secret.
If you ask to take someones photograph one of two things will happen:
They say no, they walk away, and you miss an opportunity to capture a moment which tells a story.
They say yes and … you miss an opportunity to capture a moment which tells a story.
Posed v Candid
Its best here to imagine a wedding.
After the wedding ceremony, the wedding photographer will gather groups of people, pose them for the camera, and ensure the lighting, settings and eyes are all in the perfect position for the photograph.
What you lose in this moment, however, is the raw emotion. The single moment where a tear falls down a cheek, the moment where the grandad dances with his grandaughter in the corner. These moments can’t be staged convincingly and so the moment is lost.
This is the same in Street Photography. The moment you pose a subject, or they notice you and subconsciously pose, the moment has gone.
Top tip – Find the moment, pick your shot, raise your camera, take the shot and move on.
Extrovert? Not a problem, you’ll find it comfortable to be surrounded by people. You may even find yourself in situations where you can take photograph of even more intense moment.
Introvert? Perfect! Your skills of avoiding eye contact, detection and your ability to blend in make you the perfect candidate for this stye of photography. Blend in, remain unnoticed, take your shot and move on.
What equipment do you need?
Believe it or not, this is the hard part.
There is soooo much choice out there.
DSRL, Mirrorless or even film?
85mm, 50mm, 20mm, 18mm… 14mm?
f/1.2, f/1.4, f/2.8, f/4, f/16?
Don’t even get me started on where to focus!
For now, I would strongly suggest you use what you have, both gear and experience. The equipment is not necessarily the most important part. Sure, its what you need to capture the image but thats all you can capture with a camera… an image.
To capture a story, a moment of interest, you need to immerse yourself with the situation. Use what you have, find the story, follow the moment and press that shutter button.
That being said, there does come a moment when you have the experience and an eye for finding a moment or a story. In that situation, you could consider a mirrorless camera.
3 Influential Ways Fan Ho Inspires Todays Street Photography Artists.
Born in 1931, Fan Ho began his extradentary career documenting the streets of Shanghai at a very young age. Progressing from a Brownie, he began capturing the bustling urban life, markets, streets and stairways of China using his fathers Rolleiflx Twin-lens reflex camera at the age of 14.
His most iconic work, Approaching Shadow, featured his cousin standing against the wall of Queens College in Causeway Bay.
This piece is particularly inspiring to me. The use of Shape, Shadow, Geometry and grandeur stopped me in my tracks. The scale of the image is equalled only by the scale of shadows that befall upon it.
It was not until researching Fan Ho in greater detail that I realised the geometric shadow was in fact added as part of his developing process – the dark room.
In a world of Instagram, instant gratification and instant images, Fan Ho’s work seems a lifetime away. Very rarely do I find myself truly drawn into in image wondering how he found himself in those situations.
Maybe its me, maybe trying to follow the old way is less progressive. But if photography has taught me anything… its that you, your story is all that matters – not what you hope will be picked up by an algorithm.
Fan Ho used light, and the absence of it, to show what was already present for everyone to see – if only they looked.
Light plays a fundamental role in photography. We often pay consideration to light to determine our camera settings, be that the speed of the shutter, the circumference of the aperture of the sensitivity of the sensor through ISO.
Fan Ho understood the need for light from a technical perspective but also from an artistic one. Take his “Afternoon Chat 1959” as perfect example.
Here we see how light can be utilised as a leading line. The beams of light draw your eye from foreground to the distant horizon.
Dark blacks, truly white highlights and a range of tones in between provide the signature of a genuine black and white piece.
And a timeless piece – if only you omit the dim clock which serves as a reminder that in this moment time has stopped. A piece of time, an insignificant piece of time, added to the history books.
Highlights on the railing, contrasted against the opaque wall upon which it lends its full support to, provides an opportunity for the eye to navigate up and through the image.
Shadowy figures ascending towards a wall of light conjures ethereal notions – made more harrowing by the little boy looking directly at the camera.
I wonder if his eyes had gazed upon a camera before this moment. I wonder where he is now.
Ability to find characters
Finding characters in street photography could be considered an essential element. Finding the correct character to tell the story, however, is a completely different matter entirely.
Private, 1960, personifies this notion with intent.
An otherwise innocuous building, plain and uninviting lends itself to a moment. The absence of humans can leave architecture cold and detached. The couple in the image evoke emotions of passion, secrecy, lust, and temptation.
Fan Ho is known to purposely add human elements to his work. It is unclear if the moment was staged. I’d like to think he walked past, looked up and gazed upon this very real and very personal moment.
Photographing a person or persons in a street setting, without context, without intention even, can be as useless in the story telling world as forgetting to charge your camera batteries.
Finding a moment, however brief, can be the difference between a good image and a great one. And I suspect he knew this.
Of course there will be many great images which never made it past the development stage – equally, im sure, many images that even with the perfect subject just did not quite fit the bill. I know how that feels.
The subtle use of black in this image adds to the story and perhaps leads it down a storyline. The white innocence of the wall contrasted by a black sign which sits below a silhouetted couple provides a balance – yet leaves you waiting around long enough to wonder…
Use of Geometry
Geometry, shapes, lines, and patterns play a large role in Fan Ho’s style.
Like all chaos, order will ensue.
Looking at this image, my eyes struggle to find a place to rest. This intentional style is a great way of leaving your audience pondering – and like I’ve said before, in a world of continuous scrolling, that’s some feat.
I invite you to take a moment to place your hand Infront of the image. Block out the two children and the man holding the buckets.
If the gentleman in the upper left corner was the only person present, this image would have been equally as successful. However, it would lack the story telling element. Sure, it would have been a great example of light, shadow, and context, but would it have revealed a story? I’m not entirely sure.
Fan Ho has an exceptional ability to contrast light and emotions with the same purpose. It would not be a stretch to suggest there are at least three generations in this one image. The light cast on the two generations walking up the stairs has a remarkable way of creating depth between them. The innocent in the light walking up towards the inescapable future, walking in the footsteps of the travelled, informed and survived.
A sense of impendent becomes them.
The shapes that divide the generations also guide you through the image. The highlighted edge of the dark scalene triangle, in the lower left, chaperons you to the curved banister which leads you swiftly from the lower third of the image to the upper, where sharp contrasting lines move you up out and away.
A journey. Much like the younger generation is yet to embark.
My Take Away
Light, Characters and Geometry. Three aspects which when used together, when used correctly, can create a sensational story. A moment to behold.
I often wonder what elements I needs to combine to make the perfect image. I guess the truth is all of them and none of them.
Finding the truth in the image will allow you to unconsciously combine the elements needed.
Having a set of skills that can be called upon when the moment requires is more beneficial than that one lens you think you need, or that camera upgrade because that’s what Instagram influencers recommend.
So should you look to recreate Fan Ho’s work? Yes – because it will add a set of skills to your bag. Should you publicly post that work? I don’t think so.
You should find your own style. And you should share it with the world because it is yours and you are proud and because the world deserves to see it.
The great photographers of this world don’t photograph to become great. They live without expectation. Their work speaks for them.
Sharing stories is something that separates us from all other intelligent species. Since the advent of photography, documenting a situation allowed events to be shown to someone who was not present at the time.
As an emotionally driven species, stories help up to relate, understand or simply acknowledge other peoples perspectives.
It is therefore important to ensure the situation is documented in a way that reflects the nature of the event.
Contrasts Between Images With And Without a Story
To illustrate my point, I have provided an example of two images. One image shows a story. The other does not.
Above we have an image named “No Story”. This image shows a front door, Though it fits the theme of my style of photography, it does not convey a story, You could say it shows a level of symmetry – which is the reason I took the shot – but it does not lead the imagination.
The image named “Story” however appears very compelling. First of all, what is everyone doing? What signs are they holding up? Why does the woman in the centre look so sad? Is the Union Jack flag relevant or symbolic of the event? What are they all looking at?
Before you realise, you’ve been looking at the image for well over a minute.
In a world of social media and endless streams of photographs on applications such as Instagram, a minute is a significant amount of time to stop scrolling for.
The iintrigue of the story is what compels me to continue this Art. It is what inspires me to share my knowledge. And it is what motivates me to teach others – so that you might enjoy the process as much as I do.
Documenting A Story
Take a protest for example. I tend to surround myself with the crowd. I become part of the body of people – to the extent they forget that I am there. This allows me free reign to manoeuvre to in different directions to capture different perspectives.
Whilst everyone is looking forwards, heading in the direction of the protest, I will look back and to the side. I can see the faces, expressions and emotions.
Although the main event is happening right in front of you, it will be the people behind you, their expression, their emotion that will truly tell the story.
For context, the people in the photograph above are all looking at a large screen.
Turn around, capture the story.
If everyone is looking forwards, turn around
Ask yourself, what is happening in this moment
if you can, surround yourself with the event – it makes for an exciting photographing session
If in doubt, capture each moment as it develops.
Unsure if you have a good image? Remember editing can make all the difference.
Your batteries are charged the lenses are clean and you’ve packed your rain coat. Then the little voice in your head starts asking questions:
Am I allows to do this?
What if someone asks what im doing?
What if people think im weird
Should I just use my phone so people won’t notice?
What if I don’t get any good shots?
These are all questions that still, to this day, pop up in my head before a session in the streets. in the section that follows I will attempt to answer these questions (and hopefully put your mind at rest).
Am I Allowed To Take Photographs In Public?
It is not illegal to take photographs or video footage in public places … The taking of photographs of an individual without their consent is a civil matter.
But what does that mean in reality? In the United Kingdom, as long as you are in a public place, it is not illegal to photograph a person without their permission. Now there are a few cases where this may be challenged by authority. For example, if a photograph is taken of an individual classed as a “soft target”, under the terrorism laws, the Police may ask you to delete the image.
In my experience, this will not readily be an issue for most street photographers!
In reality, subjects may (very rarely) ask why you are taking photographs, and more importantly, of them. It is always best to be completely open and honest!
What If Someone Approaches Me?
My reply to “Are you taking a photograph of me?” has been and will remain:
Hi there, I have taken a photo of the surrounding area with you in the shot. If you wish I can show you? If you would rather I delete it, I’d be more than happy too.
You will be far more successful in your street photography journey if you remain polite and respect people’s privacy. And who knows, they may even take your details to see the final product… cheeky little future client?
What Will People Think Of Me?
It took me a while to learn this little secret … “No one actually cares”.
People now days are either taking photos themselves (on their phone) or are too busy with their busy lives to even notice you.
For the introverts out there (myself included) reminding yourself that “No one actually cares” is enough to suppress any anxieties that may crop up. The end result will always be worth putting yourself out there.
The bigger problem to worry about is when they start posing to “make it easier for you”!
Using Your Phone To Save Embracement
In the modern world, mobile phone photography most certainly has its place. It is far more convenient to pull your phone out to grab a quick image. Arguably, significantly easier and more often than not, allows you to get an image you would have otherwise not if you were carrying your DSLR.
However, in the context of suppressing that Little Voice I would strongly advice against it. Think of your phone as a safety net. In a situation where a DSLR would be insensitive or would distract the subject to the point you would miss the shot – use the phone. Having the image is far better than not – in every situation.
Otherwise, remember … “No one actually cares”.
What If I Don’t Get A Good Shot?
This is all in your hands. The photographs you regret are the ones you don’t take.
Editing can completely transform an image. I have written a small piece on the matter here.
It is not illegal, in the UK, to photograph someone in a public place
If someone asks you to delete a phot of them, please do – no image is worth the confrontation
Use your phone only if you absolutely have to – or dedicate a full session to mobile phone photography
Photography is subjective – you may not think it’s a good shot… someone will
If that Little Voice crops up just remember…… “No one actually cares”.
Fortunately, photography remains, and will always be, subjective. The advantage being there is no real requirement to have a trained eye.
Being self taught, as I was, enabled me to find my own way. Now yes, there is of course merit in taking on board other peoples experiences and lesson learnt along the way. But it doesn’t necessarily mean their style is the right one for you.
Your style will develop organically. You may have ideas of becoming the next big Wedding Photographer or indeed the next Street Art Journalist… but theory is always sweeter than reality.
I find it best to hone your skills and find the right environment. Only then will you begin to have an eye for what works best to tell your story.
Social Media became an obsession for me. The likes governed my style as I move from my established environment to one that sought photographic situations which would bare the best fruit – in the form of followers.
The problem becomes that over time, you lose focus of why you started this journey. For me, the business element took away from why i began this journey… to ponder peoples stories in a brief click of a button.
I do what I do to show emotion from subjects that are blissfully unaware I exist.
The image on the left, of the Gentleman on the phone, doesn’t represent what I would describe as storytelling. Although it meets some of the basic fundamentals of photography, it fails to draw the audience in. There appears to be an absence of narrative. It simply looks like a photograph of a stranger.
In contrast, the photograph on the right leaves you asking questions. “What are they all doing there?”, “Do they know each other?”, “Why does she look so sad?”
It is in these questions we ponder our own humanity.
These photographs were taken just moments apart. Before you commit to the image, ask yourself…. What story am I trying to tell?
Shoot And Move
Getting caught up on the composition of an image can be the undoing of a good days catch. In street photography you must remain nimble. Ready to react to a given expression or interaction.
It is in these brief moments people are removed from their inner monolog and peer their heads up to take stock of the world around them. Capturing this brief moment lends its self to some interesting insights to human behaviour.
See the situation developing, frame the image and take the shot… Move on.
There’s Always Tomorrow
Not all ventures into public spaces are eventful. Sometimes its best to know when your days is done.
On more that one occasion I’ve found myself frustrated with the handful of images i gathered – only to be pleasantly surprised with the final results post edit.
Understand your limits and know that There’s Always Tomorrow.
Editing To The Rescue!
Editing can turn a mediocre image into something quite special. With the correct tools – and a little know how – you can turn that frown upside down.
My editing software of choice, is of course, Lightroom.
There will be a full tutorial on editing, along with a follow along style video. But for now, here is a little before and after.
If you are looking to achieve a Black & White image, it must contain black and white. All to often, “Black and White” images are in fact actually different shades of grey. Don’t be afraid to bring the highlights up and the shadows down – it really makes all the difference.
Allow time for your style to develop organically.
Understand in your own mind what you are trying to achieve by photographing this particular subject
Don’t get too hung up on the technicalities of your equipment
If today didn’t quite work out, there is always tomorrow
If in doubt, run it through your editing software to see if the image has a hidden gem.