"All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice." - Elliott Erwitt
This photography quote should always stay in the back of our minds. Even though I am about to discuss some technical aspects, as a photographer, the most important is to see things.
I trained to be a chef in a French school and the same goes for cooking. If you can't identify and put together flavours that work well, being fastest to chop or having the best knives won't make you a good cook.
When I started in photography, having already lived nine years in London, I didn't immediately get into street photography. I would shoot graffiti and street art in Hackney Wick, capture London's urban landscape from across the Thames, architecture in the City and maybe occasionally a few random people here and there in places such as Borough or Camden Market.
It’s perfectly understandable. When you first learn how to use a camera, especially when you discipline yourself to stay away from automatic mode, it’s good to have time to get your settings and your composition right. Therefore shooting anything “still” seems quite logical. I spent time learning how the time of the day and even seasons affect light and create more or less harsh contrasts, how converging lines in urban landscapes and buildings can be more attractive, when to choose colour or black and white, what ISO settings to use, what lens to use, etc… All the things a beginner needs to learn in order to capture what they see, but more importantly, the way they see it.
My technique improved and my interest shifted towards moving subjects and people in general. As my passion was primarily for graffiti and street art, I used those as backdrop still working on my tight compositions and waiting for the right person to walk by capturing their movement with slower shutter speeds.
I still consider this to have had more to do with general urban photography than street photography somehow, maybe because I wasn’t catching a particular situation or telling a story.
The thing is... you can fix or improve most landscapes in Photoshop if they're not quite right to a certain extent. But in the streets, if you are not fast enough in that split second where something fascinating happens or unravels before your eyes, no Photoshop will recreate that or act as a time machine taking you back just before that missed opportunity.
Luckily I’ve never had issues noticing things, I observe a lot and I’m curious. I do feel however that street photography has taught me how to get that shot, get it quick and get it right as it won’t hang around.
How many times have you witnessed a scene you would have liked to capture if only you had your camera with you? Or sometimes you have the camera but you just can't get the shot for X reason.
The more you shoot in the street the more you’ll improve your ability to anticipate, to be ready and to catch that moment.
This will come from practice as well as the frustration resulting from those missed shots. It could be that at this crucial moment you were out of focus, your shutter speed was too low unable to freeze your subject or your ISO wasn’t right, but that’s part of the steep learning curve. It's only by making mistakes that we improve.
And you know what? I still miss many shots. I guess I still have lots to learn and that’s what's exciting.
What is you approach? Leave us a comment!