Saturday, July 12, 2008

Street photography

So street photography is one of those things people see all the time, but can have a profound emotional impact (at least I always thought so). It's one of those things that I've never tried, always wanted to, just never really forced myself to do it (I've done a few random candid snap shots of strangers before). To me, street photography is just to sort of sit there (or walk if you prefer) and try to catch candid photos of interesting people mostly strangers, but I guess some people prefer to actually talk to random people, ask for permission and try to build a personal connection - this is all great just... I'm too shy to try it. This is actually way harder than it sounds...
  1. You should probably use a long lens... you don't want to walk up to the person and just start taking pictures (again, unless you are the type that goes and asks for permission...). Since I just got my 1.4x teleconverter, I decided to give it a shot. My equipment ended up being 20D + 70-200 f/2.8 IS + 1.4x TC so effectively I had like 440mm reach... perfect.
  2. Since I didn't ask for permission... that means you probably shouldn't sit there and snap shots of the same person for 5-10 mins... even if you are far away... people tend to notice a giant white lens pointed at you... So I tend to snap 1 or 2 shots before moving on. If I got it, great. If not, oh well. This also meant that you can't sit there and think about composition too much... I usually just shot by instinct and if I think it might be interesting, I take a quick shot and move on.
Since Santa Monica has a farmers market every Wednesdays next to our office, I decided to give it a try there (also to do my photo club assignment). I've walked past it many times and always thought there would be a lot of photo opportunities. There are just a lot of hard working everyday people there, people just trying to make a living, personable people who are more than happy to sell you their fresh produce... the type of people that would greet you warmly as if you are a friend rather than a customer. There is a lot of potential for personal stories at farmers market. Finally, this is Santa Monica... there are always homeless people and they almost always make great photography subjects due to the texture of their face and hair (this really depends on how you feel about photographing them). While I was there, I didn't think I got any usable shots. The colors didn't look right, and the exposure was off by a little bit. Composition was difficult with all the people around you... it just didn't click for me. When I got home and actually looked at the photos, I felt they were too plain. They didn't tell any stories, they didn't evoke any emotions.... they simply recorded reality. About half way through processing the photos, something just... clicked. I was processing a photo of a homeless person with a starbucks cup and decided to deepen the shadows a few notches (which really deepened the background, drown out some details in the shadows) and then bumped up the highlights ever so slightly (this to me seemed to make the subject stand out a little bit more, add more depth to the photo. Because I increased the shadow so much, everything naturally looked a lot more saturated and deeper colors which wasn't natural for a portrait so I decided to drop the saturation a few notches until it looked normal. Then I thought about dropping it even more so the colors look slightly faded out... almost worn and gave the photo a cold grim look to it. This is good since it is the exact type of feeling I wanted to convey for the person. I also noticed he had a very interesting rough beard and hair... his face was also a bit wrinkled and full of texture so I decided to try to bring that out with a layer of sharpen.

The original unaltered image

Deepened the shadow and slight increase in highlight

Desaturated it and washed out the colors

Final crop and sharpen. Also bumped up the brightness slightly

I really liked the resulting effect. It felt dark and gritty. I thought it showed off the toughness of life (and his toughness for surviving, he has that rough look after all) well so I decided to do pretty similar things for a lot of the other photos. The rest of the photos here:

I thought over all I did pretty well... granted most of it was done in post processing (all in Picasa). I am usually not a fan of post processing too much, but in this case I thought it really helped convey the emotion I wanted to capture so I don't mind too much. I just hope it doesn't look like Flickr images :p. In the end, I still don't really like street photography. It just feels weird taking photos of these people I have never met and will never meet again. Maybe next time I'll actually stop someone for a chat, ask for permissions and also just to build a more personal connection.