Most articles on the street photography workflow focus on street photography editing / post-processing in Lightroom, Photoshop or other software.
This post is about my actual workflow in the street and in particular used for my body of work "The Great Londoners". What are the key elements when I shoot, how do they form a pattern I repeat constantly in order to achieve consistency in my photography?
Back in March I wrote about the Voigtlander Nokton 17.5mm f0.95 (35mm full frame equivalent) which I bought back in January this year. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not obsessed with gear, neither do I suffer from major GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) as some awkwardly call it. I do however believe that you need the right tools and this is one lens I don’t regret buying, it’s just worth every penny.
Why? Well, after shooting with it for 4 months I'm convinced it has helped me channel my creativity into a more focused and consistent approach as well as achieving a more unique aesthetic specific to this lens.
Erm... Street Photography and manual focusing I agree can seem like a bad choice, at least if you're trying to make your life easier.
Or is it?
I was used to the auto-focus which is pretty kick-ass on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 but suddenly my world was turned upside down, I was out of my comfort zone, I had no choice but to embrace manual focusing.
Oddly enough, this is the best thing any photographer can ask for. Comfort and ease lead to boredom, laziness and a decrease in creativity. So my advice is: always shake things up and don’t make it too easy for yourself.
Here’s what I now rigorously adhere to in order produce a more solid and consistent body of work. This is my workflow:
Using only one lens
Forget about heading out with an array of lenses. It'll be heavy, make you look like an idiot and you'll spend more time switching lenses than identifying a good shot. I now only use the Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95 manual focus lens for street photography. This is a 35mm full frame equivalent.
Fixed focal length
The Voigtlander Nokton I use is a prime/fixed focal, 35mm equivalent. This means that I zoom by moving my body forward or backwards, pure genius isn’t it? (cough)
Choosing my subjects
Why waste time shooting everyone? I select very carefully who I am shooting, people who tell a story just by looking at them. So I look further ahead to see them coming.
The right light
I've learnt to walk with the sun behind me, that way the people I come across, who are walking towards me, are facing the light.
Shooting at f0.95
I shoot wide open and very close to people resulting in a shallow depth of field and subjects standing out of the shot. I want the emphasis on them, not the background. It also helps me get sharper shots as I shoot at around 1/8000. I also think this is the most natural looking, the way we naturally see things. Look at anything close to you...see how the background is out of focus?
Avoiding busy backgrounds or crowds
It's just distracting. I want my subjects to be singled out and not only by shallow depth of field.
Shooting in fairly busy locations
"Did this guy just take a photo of us?" I once heard a woman tell her boyfriend as we crossed path in a quiet street. They'd heard the shutter noise but I just kept walking as if all was cool. So now I tend to go for the noisier locations to hide the shutter sound.
Shooting black and white
I’ve always been an advocate of choosing what best suits the subject but for a consistent body of work, you need to decide. I stick to black and white most of the time nowadays.
Shooting from the hip
That works best for me. I have, with practice, mastered a consistent tilt/angle that works best for me, and I now get it right most of the time. It’s also a better way to avoid being noticed if you’re not feeling it. There’s nothing wrong with that technique and don't think getting a shot is down to luck, no... it's down to observation and practice.
I pre-focus at a specific distance, usually 4-5 feet away (due to the use of a manual focus lens) at hip level. That way I shoot when my subject is right there next to me and, with practice, I know they're in focus.
These are not posed street portraits
I like to achieve an almost standing still / posed effect although none of them are aware of what I’m doing and generally they are actually walking and I am too.
Nowadays I hardly touch-up my photos at all. And that's very satisfying for me anyway, so I can spend more time shooting than in front of my laptop.
Read my article about street photography and post-processing.
Editing or choosing the best images
All photographers shoot a lot of photos in order to get a good one. Ones who say they don't are not really very honest. What's important is how selective you are and which make the final cut. That's your chance to only show your best photography as once something is posted on-line, it will define your photography and you as a photographer.
Read more on "How to build a solid (street) photography portfolio"
Voila! Please note this is my workflow but does not mean anyone should replicate that. The intention is to demonstrate the importance of one, so decide what's yours.
What this does is produce a body of work that feels like one. By applying it to all my street shots it disciplines my approach and gives my work consistency.
Similar to telling a story, every image links to the next and the people I shoot are the characters populating it.