The Life of a Street Photo

When I photo hike on the street I will generally take over a hundred photos. As soon as possible after the shoot, I will sit in front of my computer and select the images that have promise. I move those into a separate folder and import them into Lightroom. In this part of the process I consistently reduce the set of images to about 12% of the original set. It doesn’t seem to matter whether I shoot 150 photos or 500.

In Lightroom I use my personal preset to convert the images to black and white and to make a few adjustments. Occasionally I will retain the color if it is important to the subject. In any case, I only do a minimal amount of processing. Once that is done, I will select the final three to five percent that I will post. From a set of 250 photos, I process about 30 and get about seven that I consider good enough to post.

I have started the practice of deleting everything that I don’t post. In the past I have gone back to review all of the shots that I passed over. I have rarely found the gem that is worth resurrecting and posting. There is always an exception. There are sets of photos that I have had for several years and didn’t give them much thought until I became interested in street photography. In some the composition was good, but the color was awful. Now that I’m doing almost everything in black and white, some of those old photos have gained new life.

When I choose photos for posting I look for something that distinguishes the subject and makes it unique. If I capture the image of someone walking or doing some other common act, I need some other element in the composition to speak to me. Sometimes that element can be in the surroundings, the appearance of a person, or the presence of other people. If the act is itself less common, I look for dynamics and action that make the composition come alive. Sometimes that comes in the form of the subject interacting directly with me as the photographer.

I don’t think that my process is much different than that of other street photographers. The thing that differentiates my work from other street photographers is my approach for capturing images of people, the types of human activities that I enjoy capturing, and consistency in processing so that all of my images have a similar look and feel after I have screened the ones that I like. When I see my small cache depleted, it’s time to go out to the street.

Avoid being a Creep

My wife gave me an article from the December 2016 Discovery Magazine that was adapted from “On the Nature of Creepiness” published in the December 2016 issue of New Ideas in Psychology. A graphic portrays a creepiness scale from one through five, five being the creepiest. The scale is used to rate behaviors that people find creepy. The list of behaviors includes six that can apply to street photographers:

  • Watches you before interacting (4.55)
  • Asks to take your picture (4.11)
  • Opposite sex (4.01)
  • Significantly older than you (3.72)
  • Tall (3.08)
  • Has facial hair (2.89).

It is also significant that the study included 1,341 people and over 75% of them were women, that the age range was 18 to 77, and that the average age was 28.97.

Coincidentally, these are all my behaviors as a street photographer, at least some of the time. Before I take a photo, I sometimes study a person or a setting, basically watching people. Although I haven’t been in the mode of asking to take pictures, I have done it and I’m sure that for some street portraits I will do it again in the future. At least half of the time I will be of the opposite sex, I am retired (old), I’m 6’-4” (193 cm) tall, and I have a short-cropped beard.

I have given this some thought since I don’t want to be unintentionally creepy when I shoot street photos. You certainly don’t want to be walking around someone trying to figure out how you want to frame a photograph or following them to get the shot. That’s creepy in a big way. I have at times felt like a stalker, even when my watching isn’t so obvious. There are ways to watch and to set up a shot without being obvious. Standing in one place or sitting are ways to be less active and, hence, much less threatening. When the moment happens, you need to be prepared to raise the camera and shoot with a confident and deliberate motion, take the shot or multiple shots, and be done with it.

Asking to take a picture is a personal act where you make contact with a total stranger. For those cases I decided to hand people my business card with the URL to my Flickr photostream. I invite them to download their photo for free should I decide to post it. I will not ask them to send me an email or to provide any personal information although my card gives them some of my personal information. I may mention that I do not take unflattering photos of people and theirs will not be posted if it turns out poorly.

There isn’t much I can do about the other items on my personal list of creepy behaviors. Being opposite sex, being old, being tall, and having facial hair are things that I can’t or will not change. I can mitigate the effects of those by using other factors of my appearance. I can dress well and dress appropriately. I avoid denim pants and t-shirts or mysterious looking hoodies. On a recent shoot I wore a flannel shirt, insulated vest, and tan cargo pants. I try to look like grandpa with a camera rather than a voyeur. That said, there are probably few things that a female street photographer can do to be creepy. I will concede that some of the problem comes with being male.

There are times when being intrusive doesn’t matter and you do not risk being creepy. That often happens in a crowd where people probably feel anonymous. There are times when people do not care that you are shooting pictures that include them. Sometimes when you aim the camera at a person or at a group, magical things happen that give you the gift of a great shot. For me it is an intuitive thing that I can’t describe except to say that you need to put yourself out there and get some experience before you can feel those moments.

Everybody has their own style and their own way of rationalizing their street behavior. Just be aware of the things that may make street photographers creepy. You will be more comfortable with the process of street photography, your subjects will react better, and you will get better results.

Used Lens Bargains

Recently I purchase two used prime lenses for my Nikon D750 on eBay. One is an AF Nikkor 50 mm f1.4 D lens that I am using for street photography and the other an AF Micro Nikkor 105 mm f2.8 D. Before purchasing I did my research and found both lenses to be excellent choices. They perform competitively with the newer Nikon models. I have been happy with the results.

This approach would probably work with other brands of cameras and other types of cameras, such as micro four thirds. For example, I was looking to buy a Lumix DMC-GF1 camera body. There were a number of great used Olympus lenses available for the camera at a great price that would have met my needs. To make this approach work, you need to research older lens series for your particular camera. There are many lens reviews available on the Internet.

When buying from eBay I did not go for the lowest price. I carefully studied the photos of the lenses for wear or indications of misuse or abuse. In both cases I used the “Buy It Now” option because I didn’t want to end up in a bidding battle and I found the prices comparable to the final auction prices anyway. I steered away from lenses where the photos of the lenses were poor or where there were not enough different views to be able to see all sides. The descriptions sometimes turned me away from some sellers because they used language that made it appear that they did not know what they were selling.

Depending on the seller, I was also happy to read that there was no apparent dust, fungus, or oil inside the lens and that there were no scratches or other imperfections on the glass. The condition of the optics is something that you cannot determine from photos. That kind of detail was less important when I was looking at lenses from a dealer that specialized in lenses.

In addition to the precautions above, you should be certain that the used lens is compatible with your camera body. In some cases you may lose the use of some camera features, but the lens will still function. At the extreme, I know that many older Nikon lenses will fit my camera, but will not auto-focus. Some of the third party lenses will support focus verification in the viewfinder although they are manual focus lenses. There are all kinds of variations and you may find that you can justify the limitations for a specific lens. In the case of the prime lenses that I bought, all camera features are supported.

I paid about half the price that I would have paid for a new lens of the latest build and I received lenses that perform as well. No matter what you use for a camera body, I am convinced that you can do well with used lenses.  Shop around and be critical to get the best value.