Tutorial: Street photography

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerToday I’m going to take you through some of the advice given to me by UK wedding photographer Kevin Mullins. Kevin’s approach to candid wedding photography translates precisely into his street photography style. 

What makes a good “street” shot?

The three key factors that make a good street image are;

  • good light
  • good composition
  • interesting subject

Get all three and you have a great shot. Two of them can result in a good shot. If you can only have one, make sure it’s the interesting subject

Assignment 1 – Shoot with a theme

Start by simply shooting how you want, but with a theme. Try the theme “angles”. When I took this shot below, it was a nice sunny-but-cool day in Cambridge so there were plenty of things to choose from. Look for good light, some sort of interesting subject, and carefully consider the complete composition.

The bright sun meant that to me, the ‘angles’ would need to come from shadows. This guy caught my eye because he was using his phone before getting on his bike. I wondered who he was contacting, or whether he was just checking a map. About 20 mins later we saw a cyclist nearly get taken out by a car so I wonder now if he was sending a ritual “goodbye, just in case” message. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 35; 1/640 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200
The bright sun meant that to me, the ‘angles’ would need to come from shadows. This guy caught my eye because he was using his phone one last time before getting on his bike. I wondered who he was contacting, or whether he was just checking a map. About 20 mins later we saw a cyclist nearly get taken out by a car so I wonder now if he was sending a ritual “goodbye, just in case” message. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 35; 1/640 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200

Assignment 2 – Frame your subject

Try to use people to frame shots of other people. Pair up with another photographer and go hunting interesting shots together. Use your partner to help provide a frame for the shot. The theme of “angles” was dropped but otherwise everything applied; light, composition, something of interest that tells a story.

Although personally I find the arm in the foreground a bit distracting, it does give a bit more depth to the image and the bright blue of this guy’s jacket and the sign pull your attention away from the frame  . X-T1; XF18-55 @ 35; 1/200 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200
Although personally I find the arm in the foreground a bit distracting, it does give a bit more depth to the image and the bright blue of this guy’s jacket and the sign pull your attention away from the frame . X-T1; XF18-55 @ 35; 1/200 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200
I like this one because the conversation is framed by the arm on the left, and also the stranger on the right. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 55; 1/200 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200
I like this one because the conversation is framed by the arm on the left, and also the stranger on the right. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 55; 1/200 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200
This last one failed the assignment in that it wasn’t framed by a person in the foreground. However, I like it because of the way the light fell on the faces of the people having the conversation. Nice light and begins to tell a story about a meeting in public. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 35; 1/200 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200
This last one failed the assignment in that it wasn’t framed by a person in the foreground. However, I like it because of the way the light fell on the faces of the people having the conversation. Nice light and begins to tell a story about a meeting in public. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 35; 1/200 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200

Assignment 3 – Spot Metering

The next thing to try is pre-focusing and spot metering. Put your cameras into spot metering and manual focus mode and stand facing a place where people would “break the light”. In other words, pedestrians and cyclists would travel from the bright sunshine, into the shade, or vice-versa. Use the “AF-L” button to pre-focus on the ground where we wanted them to be when we shot and then simply time them right to shoot them just as they cross from the light into the shadow. The camera will adjust for the exposure according to light on the subject, rather than the total light in the scene.

On the X100T, X-T1, X-T10 and X-Pro2 there is a setting that allows you to link the spot metering with the AF box. Activating this allows you to choose the point in your composition to expose for. On cameras without this function the spot metering will only occur in the middle of the frame so you may be slightly limited in your composition.

This shot was actually taken by Kevin himself using his X100T; 1/320 sec; f/16; ISO 640
This shot was actually taken by Kevin himself using his X100T; 1/320 sec; f/16; ISO 640

Assignment 4 – Zone focusing

Get close to your ‘subjects’. Getting close obviously means more chance of affecting the resulting image so it’s key to try to appear like you are not taking photographs. The main reason people need to really see what they are shooting is to make sure you are focusing on the right thing.

Guy working on a market stall. Bikes were everywhere in Cambridge. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 55; 1/90 sec; f/11; ISO 400
Guy working on a market stall. Bikes were everywhere in Cambridge. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 55; 1/90 sec; f/11; ISO 400

Keep your camera in Manual Focus mode, select a nice small (big number) aperture value and then used the focus distance indicator on the screen of the camera to understand where the range of acceptable focus would be.

Focus on the ground a few metres in front of you. Your next challenge is to get in close to people and inconspicuously shoot them getting on with their life. Continuous shooting is also very handy here as it allows you to shoot a few frames, especially good if your subject is moving through your zone focus area.

Assignment 5 – Turn invisible

There is now no need to hold the camera up to your eye so all of your shooting can be at waist level, looking down onto the tilting LCD screen (if your camera has one) to check the overall composition. After a while you will be able to simply look around and be confident that you’re going to capture the interesting subject without them knowing, therefore not influencing or changing the subject, but merely documenting what is going on around you.

Not many people "at work" seemed to really be working.  Zone focussed and shot from the hip with X-T1; XF18-55mm @ 35mm; 1/64 sec;   f/13;   ISO 1000
Not many people “at work” seemed to really be working. Zone focused and shot from the hip with X-T1; XF18-55mm @ 35mm; 1/64 sec; f/13; ISO 1000
One of my last images as we were about to lose the sun completely. This is the only guy who looked like he was working, although I question his choice of office. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 55; 1/125 sec; f/16; ISO 1250
One of my last images as we were about to lose the sun completely. This is one of the few guys who looked like they were actually working, although I question his choice of office. X-T1; XF18-55 @ 55; 1/125 sec; f/16; ISO 1250

Summary

  • The three keys to a good street image are; good light, good composition, interesting subject. All three of these results in a great shot. Two of them can result in a good shot. If you can only have one, it has to be the interesting subject
  • Shoot with a theme. This will make you consider your shot more carefully and not just fill your card.
  • Try to frame your subjects with parts of the background, or even make your own frame by using other photographers
  • Setting your camera on full auto with Spot metering allows you to ignore the exposure settings and let you worry about looking for a good shot
  • Zone focusing allows you to not worry about accurate focus, but rather understand that if a subject is within a certain “zone” in front of your lens, it’ll be sharp and in focus
  • Tiltable LCD screens allow you to shoot at waist level and still see the frame. The camera remote app takes this one step further and you look like you are just using your phone while actually shooting people with the camera hanging around your neck.

Keep practicing, hope for something interesting to unfold in front of your eyes and be ready with your camera when it does. Hopefully these techniques will help you get a great shot without anyone even knowing you were there!

In praise of the XF60mm

It’s that time of the year; huge spiders in the bath, a distinct chill in the air, a phone call to the central heating engineer when you realise your boiler doesn’t work and more macro subjects than you can shake a stick at. That’s right, it’s autumn and say what you like about the photo opportunities that come with this time of year, I spend most of it shooting close-ups. This year that means giving the XF 60mm F2.4 Macro lens a real workout. It’s been glued to my X-T1 since mid-September and I don’t see it being removed this side of Halloween.

Woodland. 1/900sec at f/2.4, ISO 400
Woodland. 1/900sec at f/2.4, ISO 400

As one of the original trio of XF lenses, the 60mm will always hold a special place in the line-up. It was there at the start, along with the 18mm F2 and 35mm F1.4, but before I’d even handled one I had the feeling it was the black sheep of the triumvirate. I’d read that it wasn’t a ‘true’ macro lens by virtue of its 1:2 magnification ratio and that the autofocusing was sluggish. Like all XF lenses, it did have optical quality on its side, but some reviewers didn’t seem to think this was enough.

The first time I attached the lens to an X-T1 it instantly evoked memories of using a 50mm standard lens on a film SLR. Sure, the 60mm is physically a little longer, but the third-stop aperture ring and deep manual focus ring make for great handling. It’s also got a lens hood that’s almost as deep as the lens itself, which simply can’t be argued with. Straight out of the box, the lens did need a firmware upgrade, which is meat and drink to X-series shooters like you; completed with a click of a mouse here and the insertion of a memory card there. From that point on I was ready to go, stepping into the autumn sunshine – and the obligatory spider’s web that had been pitched across my front door overnight.

I started off with a few looseners, shooting more general scenes before the inevitability of shooting close-ups loomed large. For general picture taking, the 91mm equivalent is a really pleasant focal length to work with. You’ll have to stand back further than you might think to get larger subjects in the frame, but shooting in my preferred aperture-priority mode and working with that sublime aperture ring is a simple aesthetic pleasure. The focusing was good too; crisp, accurate, no hint of the sluggishness suggested by previous reviewers.

But I’d come for the close-ups and as I inched closer to my first decaying leaf, the focus did seem to falter. Sure enough, the sure-footed focusing performance switched to a less convincing AF show. Being half-dead, my arboreal subject sat patiently, but had I been photographing an insect or the like, I could imagine frustration would have been setting in.

Garden furniture. 1/500sec at f/2.4, ISO 200
Garden furniture. 1/500sec at f/2.4, ISO 200

It was at this point I remembered the X-T1 had a macro mode, which turned out be the 60mm’s saviour. With macro mode on, the lens was revitalised and while it’s not the fastest focusing XF lens I’ve tried, it certainly didn’t stop me taking any of the close-ups I was after. The ‘lack’ of magnification didn’t bother me either. I got as close as I wanted to and, let’s be honest, could easily crop further in during post production, such is the quality of the X-Trans generated files.

And what about those files? Well, naturally, they’re great. Right across the aperture range, they’re sharp from corner to corner. Is there really anything else you could ask for from a macro lens? No, probably not. Although image stabilisation and weather resistance would be handy on the MkII version as and when that comes along…

 

HOW TO: Photograph Fog

As winter starts to set in, photographers are looking for ways to capture this cold season. For me, winter is best covered in the morning. This is a personal preference but in the mornings you have frost, a reasonable hour for sunrise and (if you’re lucky) fog or mist.

There are three types of fog,  so you need to decide what you are looking for and this will depend on your location:

  • Ground fog – In mountainous/hilly areas and cold patches you can get ground fog collecting in valleys. After a rainy night or over wet ground you can get shallow precipitation fog.
  • Sea fog – Also called advection fog, this is where warm air passes over cold sea water.
  • Sea/River smoke – Where the air is colder than the water, creating a generally shallow level of fog, this is generally restricted to water areas, hence river smoke.

When trying to photograph fog you need to use the weather forecast to understand what the evening will be like in your desired location. I was fortunate enough to visit Curbar Edge in the Peak District the afternoon before my first morning I was there to scout the location. It was just before sunset and the fog was forming in the valley below and at that point I decided to try it out the following morning to see how it would look.

The weather for my first morning at Curbar was drizzling and there was a thick layer of cloud, which meant it was pretty unlikely I’d witness much golden light, I thought I’d set out and give it a go. I am so happy I did! This was my first real experience of photographing mist and it is incredible how quickly the spectacle evolves in front of your eyes. I one point I was photographing down one end of the valley, taking some long exposures, only to look over my shoulder and see that it had dramatically changed down the other end of the valley!

I used the X-T1 and the XF18-135mm lens for my main set up. As it was a wet morning the weather-sealed kit meant that I could stop worrying about the system and focus on the spectacle. As well as offering weather sealing, the XF18-135mm meant that I had great versatility, meaning that I didn’t have to worry about changing lenses the entire time. However, I also ended up using a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor to further extend the shutter speed. This was great but because I was using a filter set instead of screw in filters it meant that the front element was exposed to the conditions. Long exposures and rain drops do not mix! Thankfully a little umbrella tucked away in my bag helped to shelter the filter.

Generally I was not bothered about using a fast/moderate shutter speed so I set up the system on a tripod and used ISO 200 (the lowest RAW compatible ISO) and generally around F8. The addition of the ND filter, which was a 10-stop filter, meant that the shutter speed required was dramatically decreased. This results in the mist smoothing out, giving quite an interesting effect. See the comparisons below (note that despite the fact the ND filter is meant to be neutral it has put a distinct colour cast on the images).

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The ND filter extended the shutter speed so much that I had to use the bulb setting, as the required shutter speed was longer than 30 seconds. For this I used the remote trigger that allowed me to hold down the trigger (lockable) to keep the shutter open for as long as required. The X-T1 shows the length of the shutter speed on the back screen, this is very helpful. There is something to consider thought when using long exposures: the processing time. As soon as you go beyond 30 seconds, the processing time dramatically increases from seconds into minutes, this isn’t a problem but is something to be aware of when trying to photograph a scene that is evolving constantly.

To make sure I didn’t miss any moments while the X-T1 was processing and to get some different shots, I used the X100s with ISO 1600 to produce a fast enough shutter speed to allow me to use the camera one handed. Picture the scene: a wonderful valley filled with fog unfolding in front of me, one camera on a tripod; my left hand sheltering it with an umbrella; photographing the scene with the X100s in my right hand at the same time! Who says photographers can’t look cool…

Mist-15 Mist-16Mist-14

The three above photos were taken with the X100s using the monochrome + red filter jpeg preset.

The reason I chose Curbar Edge is because it provides a high vantage point. This is really important to optimise your chances for good mist photography. It generally means that you should be hit by the early morning light and so should warm up faster! This is a valid point to consider on crisp winter mornings, not that it happened this time around. A high vantage point allows you to see for a greater distance, hopefully providing you with a greater number of layers to your picture. At the top of a valley, Curbar Edge allowed me to see for miles along the valley, which offered both valley fog and river smoke. The ability to then use a telephoto lens to zoom in on particular areas can result in some quite striking shots.

Mist-5

But also having the ability to instantly zoom wide was a great asset to try and obtain a variety of photographs.

Mist-3

The colour photos were all taken with the X-T1 and I used the Classic Chrome camera calibration in Lightroom which produced wonderful colours in my opinion. I have only just started using this camera calibration and I love it.

Mist-17

Though on this occasion the sun didn’t break through the thick cloud cover, the spectacle was nevertheless remarkable and I can only imagine what it would have looked like if sun rays had broken through.

The second morning

Despite being very happy with the previous morning I decided to give it another go as the forecast suggested there was a better chance of a proper sunrise. This time round I decided to not focus too much on lengthy shutter speeds, but instead the details in the fog. What I didn’t expect was the amount of fog!

Mist-2

Mist
Mist-10

The range of the 18-135mm meant that I could capture the grand scale of the fog at 18mm, with the car in the first of these pictures giving a sense of scale. Then using the longer end of the lens I pulled out particular parts of the landscape, such as the little cottage that looks like it should be in Harry Potter and the hilltops surrounded by a sea of fog, turning them into islands. As well as the incredible amount of fog, the sun did make a bit of an appearance too. Despite this it was a very cold morning, producing a wonderful frost. I was very happy to have packed a hat and pair of gloves.

Mist-4

Mist-13

I positioned myself so part of the hilltop was between me and the rising sun, creating a backlighting effect on Curbar Edge, which brings the fog alive.

Mist-8

Because of the brighter sky this time round I needed to use a ND gradual filter, where unlike the filter I used during the first morning, this one changes from one end to the other, as the name suggests. At one end it is darker (you can buy filters at different stops, depending on how dark you want to make part of the image), while at the other it has no effect on the light. I use these when I am photographing something with a sky that is much brighter than the ground below. With the above image I used a filter which didn’t stop down the light enough to correctly expose the sky but I like it nevertheless because of the frost (it get particularly difficult to expose correctly when the sun is in the image). While the picture below is a slightly better example of a ND gradual filter in use.

Mist-7

I hope this has proved helpful and now it is your turn to get out there and photograph the wintery conditions. Let us know how you get on.

Interview with professional landscape photographer Paul Sanders

We recently held a small internal training course for the Fujifilm UK team and we asked professional photographer Paul Sanders to join us and help teach us more about landscape photography. After spending some time with Paul and listening to him talking about his work and his thought process in regards to photography, it became apparent that Paul had a very interesting story that I’d love to share.

Below is Paul’s story from being a trainee photographer in 1991, up to his current passion, hobby and luckily for him, profession – Fine Art Landscape Photography. If you have any thoughts or questions for Paul, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this blog.

Fine Art Landscape Photographer Paul Sanders

Paul Sanders avatar“I’ve been involved in news photography since 1991 when I started as a trainee photographer at The Daventry Express in Northamptonshire. I’m incredibly driven and knew straightaway that I wouldn’t settle for life on a weekly newspaper, I wanted the big time, the only place I could see myself working was for a national newspaper and one in particular; The Times. I think essentially it was because The Times is in my opinion the best newspaper in the world for it’s reporting and accuracy. I got my head down, worked hard sacrificed everything, relationships, family, friends and social life all in the single minded pursuit of my dream job.

X-T1 with XF10-24 @10 - F8 - 120 Seconds - ISO200
X-T1 with XF10-24 @10 – F8 – 120 Seconds – ISO200

“By 1998 I was working for the international wire agency Reuters in London and in 2002 I got the call from The Times to join their team. When The Times changed from broadsheet to the more modern compact format I was given the job of revitalising the way pictures were used in the new format. Finally on 1 April 2004 I was made Picture Editor, I had total responsibility of the entire visual content and a team of the finest researchers and photographers working with me. To say I was in my element was an understatement. However success at that level comes with a high price. Daily I would view between 17 and 20 thousand images, direct photographers, manage budgets, layout pages and train young hopefuls. By 2010 I had reached breaking point, I suffered with chronic insomnia and depression, my marriage started to break down and the wheels came off my train. I hid this all from the world until December 2011 when I announced that I was leaving the job I had pursued for years.

XT-1 with XF10-24 @ 14mm - F14 - 180 Seconds - ISO200
XT-1 with XF10-24 @ 14mm – F14 – 180 Seconds – ISO200

“When you have a breakdown your body and mind are telling you to change a few things, I needed to slow down, take stock and recover. My recovery began with shooting large format landscapes. I’d wander the country 5×4 camera and tripod over my shoulder trying to be Ansel Adams or Joe Cornish and failing miserably. The process of shooting film again slowed me down, enabling me to organise my mind a little and start to get in touch with the joy of photography. In many respects my early foray into landscape work was such a failure because I wasn’t being true to myself – I wasn’t connecting with my subject at all.

X-Pro1 with XF14mm - F16 - 140 Seconds - ISO200
X-Pro1 with XF14mm – F16 – 140 Seconds – ISO200

“During 2013 I had an epiphany in seeing, I realised that actually it was ok to shoot the images I wanted, not the classic views, but using my emotional and spiritual connections with the landscape to create images that resonated with my soul. I had switched from 5×4 to DSLR during 2012, to save weight and money. Still I was finding it hard to work, I would always think can I be bothered, many times I would lug my equipment to a location and not bother getting it out of the bag; it was too much hassle. I wasn’t enjoying my work at all.

“However what I had realised was that to truly see what I wanted, the sitting, watching and listening had really opened my eyes and my heart to the images I wanted to create. What I needed was a camera that didn’t get in that way of my connection or creativity.

X-Pro1 with XF14mm - F22 - 1/2 sec - ISO 200
X-Pro1 with XF14mm – F22 – 1/2 sec – ISO 200

“In early 2014 I handled the Fuji X-T1 for the first time and instantly fell in love, I actually had goose bumps on my skin, such was my connection with this camera. It was a bit like the moment Harry Potter picked up his wand for the first time!

“As soon as they came to market I bought two, a variety of lenses, and swapped out much of my DSLR equipment totally committed to these tiny miracle workers.

XT-1 with XF55-200 @ 100mm - F4.5 - 1 second - ISO320
XT-1 with XF55-200 @ 100mm – F4.5 – 1 second – ISO320

“My energy and creativity were revitalised, the camera wasn’t in the way, it was literally a plug in to my imagination allowing me to record what I wanted in the way I wanted without the weight or cumbersome nature of my previous equipment. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and shot the images I had been feeling. I stopped trying to be accepted by the majority and concentrated on being true to myself. If no one likes my work really it doesn’t matter to me at all. If people do and I sell a few pictures then that’s a bonus.

X-T1 with XF10-24 @10mm - F16 - 800 Seconds - ISO200
X-T1 with XF10-24 @10mm – F16 – 800 Seconds – ISO200

“I still sit for hours watching and feeling the landscape in front of me, but now I feel that I am truly connected with my work through the little Fuji. The X-T1 isn’t a barrier like my Canon, it’s a conduit. They are virtually invisible to me, instinctively my hands fall in all the right places, there’s a wonderful simplicity to them which helps me as I’m quite simple in many ways too. The less complex the process of making pictures the less I have to be concerned with. I have no desire to pixel peep or get bogged down in the technical arguments about shadow detail or sharpness, I just want to create images that please me.

X-T1 with XF55-200 - F16 - 180 Seconds - ISO200
X-T1 with XF55-200 – F16 – 180 Seconds – ISO200

“The work I shoot now totally reflects how I feel about the world and myself, I can pour my soul into those little black bodies and know that they are keeping it safe for me.”

 

XT-1 with XF10-24 @ 16mm - F22 - 70 Seconds - ISO200
XT-1 with XF10-24 @ 16mm – F22 – 70 Seconds – ISO200
X-Pro1 with XF14mm - F16 - 200 Seconds - ISO200
X-Pro1 with XF14mm – F16 – 200 Seconds – ISO200
X-Pro1 with XF14mm - F11 - 280 seconds - ISO200
X-Pro1 with XF14mm – F11 – 280 seconds – ISO200
XT-1 with XF18-55 @ 22mm - F20 - 8 Seconds - ISO200
XT-1 with XF18-55 @ 22mm – F20 – 8 Seconds – ISO200

More info

All of the images featured in this blog post are available to purchase as Fine Art Prints on Paul Sanders’ official website
You can also follow Paul on Twitter or Facebook.