For many photographers “street photography” conjures up thoughts of candid imagery of strangers but it isn’t what springs to my mind. For me, making images on the street is more about the interesting juxtaposition of elements in the scene, contrasts between the old and new perhaps or patterns created by light and shade. So much so that I tend not to use the term “street” preferring to label my images as “urban”. It’s not that I don’t use people in my photographs from the streets but they are generally contextual elements rather than the main subject.
Where I am more in tune with “street” is in the use of black and white imagery for the vast majority of my street/urban photography. Typically, but not exclusively, black and white film. The choice of film stock can have a strong impact on the final image and one of my current favourites is Kodak XX although I’ve used many others with Ilford HP5+ my most-used film stock over the last few years. I also like Kodak Tri-X when I can get it at a decent price.
My cameras of choice for my urban wanders are typically smaller and quieter; I’m thinking of the Fuji X100T or X-Pro1 for digital work or the Nikon L35 AF or the half-frame Olympus Pen EE3 for 35mm film photography. That said I regularly use my Horizon S3 Pro which is to discrete as chalk is to cheese! Recently I found myself in Llangollen with a less-than-inconspicuous Bronica SQ-A in my hand and was surprised that it didn’t attract that much attention. I guess that as a tourist destination it was less out of place perhaps.
I rarely have a preconceived plan when I take my urban walks preferring to react to what I see. There are some locations I’m more familiar with of course and I can often tailor my walk to suit the conditions when visiting one of these. As I mentioned above I’m generally looking for contrasts. These can be architectural as in an old church against a modern glass and chrome office building. Whilst the interplay of light and shade is a perennial favourite the use of solitary figures walking into patches of light has become a bit of a cliché, but that’s no reason not to include them in your own portfolio.
I would argue that the most important tool for the street/urban photographer however is an open mind. Keep the gear simple and your mind unfettered of preconceived notions. An experienced photographer sees opportunities in even the most banal of locations and this comes from a combination of experience and keeping an open mind that is receptive to the visual stimuli that are all around us.
One thought on “Streetlife – shapes and shadows”
Fabulous post. I’ve always been little bit the same: more interested in photographing streets and buildings than the people in them. On my WordPress site the heading is ‘Urban’ rather than street, which I think reflects that. However, increasingly I am trying to include people in my urban photography. We’ll see how that goes.
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