On a recent trip to New Zealand I found myself exploring lots of different locations with lots (and lots!) of different photo opportunities. Having been a professional photographer for over 20 years I would like to think that I have enough knowledge to cope with most situations from a technical standpoint but do I have the knowledge to make the most of situations from a creative and compositional standpoint? Time to test myself!
I often found myself in unfamiliar locations with no real goal or target as to what to photograph. I loved the freedom. I could do whatever I wanted, shoot whatever I wanted and however I wanted. No client goals to reach, no particular style to which I had to adhere. I found there was, however, always something to photograph no matter what the location, no matter what the subject matter I just had to be open to possibilities and recognise an image making scenario when it was presented to me. I realised that I had found a discipline I was drawn to that allowed me creative and technical freedom. Could I get results that I was happy with?
While I was in NZ I decided to try to challenge myself to see what I could achieve out of my normal comfort zone. I did try some landscapes, some wildlife and lots of street photography. I found myself gravitating towards the street work more and more and it’s definitely something I’ll be exploring as part of my business in the future. I loved wandering about just observing life and seeing what I could capture in moments that would never and could never be repeated in terms of lighting, setup, pose and the compositions that combined all these elements.
There’s an art to street photography that really appeals to me. We often hear the phrase ‘right place, right time’ for lots of opportunistic events and street photography is definitely one of these. You have to be out there. You have to look around, observe and place yourself in the ‘right place’ for the composition you desire. Then there’s the ‘right time’ aspect which is just so fleeting, variable and un-plannable that you have no control over it. You just need to be there and hope that, in some way, it all falls in to place.
Then the technical knowledge comes into play. How do I shoot a silhouette here and then blow the highlights to give a totally different feel to the same shot? How do I shoot birds on the wing? What shutter speed do I need? If I set f5.6 what ISO do I need to give me 1/2000s to freeze motion? Can/should I intervene in a situation to make it better for my shot? What camera position do I need to accentuate the interesting foreground while blurring the background? Should I use a wide angle or zoom to do that? How can I achieve the look I want with the lens I have? (Oh I often wish I had different lenses and the time to change them before the scene I’m shooting has changed!)
The questions are endless and need to be answered instantly for any given situation. This is hard. This often goes wrong. However, these are learning situations. With digital we can easily see the camera setting in the data of each image. Learn to recognise what works for what you were trying to achieve and learn to replicate that for any similar situation in the future. Often you can generalise with settings and achieve a usable result but often you cannot. Learn the answers to the ‘what do I do now to shoot what I’ve visualised’ questions by reviewing critically your previous results. Once the settings come naturally concentrate more on the composition or vice versa. Everyone will find one easier than the other.
Photography and image creation is a craft and the only way to get better at a craft is through experience and that mean get out there, shoot a lot of pictures, review what worked and what didn’t and repeat.
Test yourself. Learn from what you’ve done and try to replicate it. If you have questions you can’t answer – ask. On several occasions people came up to me on the street and asked what was I shooting and what did I think about the kit I was using (I had a Canon 5D4, 17-40L and an old 28-135 lens). They all asked me questions, I asked them questions – camera geeking-out at all the techie knowledge we shared. Every one I met was friendly and you never know when you need to know that answer that’ll give you the awesome shot you’ve visualised but haven’t managed to take yet.