Last weekend saw my first workshops since mid-March and it was great to be back in the saddle. London was extraordinarily quiet (as expected), which led to different street shooting opportunities. We had more time, more breathing space, more room in which to operate. This inevitably led to fewer opportunities – but when the opportunities did present themselves they were maybe ‘better quality’ ones. If you’re thinking about hitting the streets of London again post-lockdown and are still concerned (as I was), I must say that I felt quite safe and didn’t experience any examples of antisocial distancing. If you fancy giving it a try, my next two London workshops are below and I have a couple of spaces left on each:
22 August – London South Bank
23 August – East London / Shoreditch
Workshops are currently limited to five participants so that we can observe ‘Covid best practice’ and my guidelines are published here. As always, everyone’s safety comes first.
I also mentioned the new Hull workshop in the last newsletter and it’s now almost fully booked. If you want to give this a try, there’s just one place remaining. It’s on Saturday, 10th October.
What is street photography?
Now there’s a question that polarises opinion, which causes division and gets folk up in arms about the need for ‘labels’. What IS street photography? Do we really need a definition and, if so, what is it? In my latest video I highlight three different approaches to street photography – three definitions – to help you find your way through what can appear to be a confusing genre. You can watch the video here.
My new zine
In our regular ‘zine slot’, I’m going to briefly mention my own zine, ‘Smascherata’ (which translates into ‘Unmasked’). This was shot in Venice during the carnival fortnight and I wanted to produce a small body of work which was street photography but which went beyond lots of people wearing fancy masks. My goal for the project was always to produce a zine and I have just taken delivery of the finished product. I’ve started with a very short-run first edition for private circulation and I’ll be producing a second edition, which will be available to purchase (as a limited edition) shortly.
As most of the images were in landscape orientation (my preferred format), I decided on a landscape layout in A5 size. All of the images are in colour (I don’t like mixing colour and black & white in the same project) with a deep white border on every page. To give you an idea of just how economical zine production can be, the first batch of 50 zines cost me £75, which is £1.50 per copy – and I think that’s pretty amazing. I used thicker than average paper (170gsm) and had a substantial 300gsm cover which was soft-touch laminated – and all for £1.50 each! My current favourite printing company is Mixam, who will give you all the online tools you need to produce your zine – with good personal support if you need it.
The Photography Show 2020
Because of the virus, the show moved from its usual March slot to September . . . then we heard that a physical show of such magnitude would be unsafe in the current climate so it has now gone virtual. The ‘virtual’ show will now take place on 20-21 September and registration is free. There will be lots of talks, tutorials and demos, including a street photography session with me (time TBC). You can register for the show here.
Technique of the week – shadow play
Stylish? Sinister? Seductive? Shadows are loved by street photographers and have an important part to play in our art. Sometimes the shadow can be the main feature, or purpose, of the picture and sometimes it can add an important graphical or compositional element. Occasionally, a shadow can be represented simply in abstract form. And right now, in the middle of summer, we should have plenty of shadows with which to experiment.
We can use the shadows of people, buildings or objects to great effect. When incorporating shadows into your images, you need to satisfy three criteria. The shadow should be:
- Dark and intense
- Well-defined (a strong, interesting shape)
- In its own space without interference from other elements
To develop your ‘shadow skills’, head out in bright weather with the sole intention of perfecting this sort of shot. Look for uncluttered areas (modern ‘business’ districts are great for this) and plan ahead. Pre-visualise the images you want to achieve and think about the intensity and direction of light, the best vantage points and work out your options for exposure. Shoot a wide variety of subjects and practice getting the composition just right. Here are a few key points to help you move in the right direction:
- Try shooting in manual and exposing for the highlights – this will intensify the shadows (whilst helping keep the highlights in check).
- Time of day is critical. Shadows are usually most dramatic and graphical when they are at their longest so aim for early mornings and late afternoons.
- Also think about your perspective; shooting from a high vantage point can produce a very different shadow shape to shooting at ground level.
- Be bold! Be happy to make the shadow a feature of your image and don’t rush, as many photographers do, to ‘lighten the shadows’ in post-production.
- In scenes where there is a dark but distracting background, try darkening the shadow areas to erase some of the clutter.
If you would like to see more techniques like this, in the form of practical exercises, my book ’52 Assignments: Street Photography’ may be just the job. You can buy a signed copy directly from me here.
You’ve done the workshop – what next?
My most popular workshops are the one-day courses here in the UK (this year in London, Liverpool, Blackpool, Manchester and Hull); it’s great to see how many people, following their workshop, are sufficiently inspired and motivated to get out there and work hard to develop their skills. But it can be a lonely road, particularly so without ongoing support and encouragement. So, given that you have a reasonable level of understanding and technical competence, what can you do to help keep yourself on track?
- Practice, practice, practice. There more we do this, the better we get and there really is no substitute for burning the shoe leather, taking vast amounts of images, making mistakes and – most importantly – becoming streetwise. It’s a high mileage game.
- Work on your style. Have a vision – a goal – for your work. Think carefully about how you would like your style to develop; the earlier you do this, the better. Imagine you’re nearing the end of your life and you look back at your photographic legacy – what would you want those images to say? How would they look? Start with that end-point and work back. NOW is the time to make some key decisions.
- Read widely. Study the greats – Leiter, Meyerowitz, Winogrand, Erwitt, Cartier-Bresson, Herzog, Levitt – and many more. Absorb their images and try to understand what makes them great.
- Engage with other street photographers. Camera clubs can help – but equally they can put you off. Some clubs are great for street photography whilst others just don’t get it. Try online groups, form your own local group, go shooting with a like-minded buddy, organise a critique circle. If you’ve already been on one of my workshops you’re probably a member of the StreetSnappers Collective (and if you’re not, you should be!). We can all learn from each other!
- Take a higher level workshop. I run a weekend Masterclass twice a year in London, from Friday evening through to Sunday evening – a mixture of critique, discussion, shooting on the streets, post-product and one-to-one support. If you favour a documentary approach you could consider one of my 12-month documentary project workshops (all currently fully booked but I’ll be listing some more shortly – please let me know if you’re interested). Or, if a more exotic blend of street, travel & documentary photography floats your boat, try one my overseas locations such as Venice or Lisbon.
I hope you found this edition useful and I would be pleased to hear your suggestions – or contributions – for future editions. Thanks for your continuing support and I hope you stay safe and well in these difficult time.
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