What are the fundamental elements of the perfect street photography camera?
Well, firstly it must be discreet which usually means it must be small. Secondly, it must be quiet, ideally silent. Thirdly, it must be manually controllable. And finally it must focus quickly.
Yep, the Nokia Lumia 1020 pretty much ticks all those boxes…
It must be a safe bet to say that the most common thing in peoples’ pockets these days is a mobile phone. The evolution of the mobile into a multiple purpose device including a camera capable of stunning results means that it has gradually been evolving into the perfect street photography tool. It is now so ubiquitous it is almost invisible.
Street photography depends on the presence of your camera not altering what’s unfolding before you. Although we often compromise picture quality with a smaller camera, the pay off is getting closer to the subject and being able to photograph without them changing their actions.
So the combination of a phone that no one notices with a camera of astonishing capabilities is pretty close to a street photographers dream come true!
By its very definition, street photography is made on the fly. It’s mostly in non-perfect conditions with varying light and moving subjects. This is one of the reasons manual control is so important for working on the streets.
Very often you will need to over expose the photographs in order to get any detail in the subjects faces. Or, if you’re making shadow or silhouette images you’ll need to manually under expose.
The automatic settings would not have got any detail in the above shot. There is enough light in the back ground for the sensor to think there’s enough light in the picture. This would result in the two figures being dark silhouettes. Only by telling the camera to expose at a specific shutter speed and a specific ISO can this type of shot be captured. This is why the shutter speed control on the Lumia 1020 is such a revelation!
Street photographers often use different focusing methods. Some set their cameras to a higher f. stop and depend on a large depth of field. Other pre-focus a set distance and wait for subjects to move into the target zone.
The Lumia 1020 has a number of focusing features, from auto to infinity and even – amazingly – manual focus. Like all modern cameras it also features the half press shutter release to freeze the focus point. All of these features can be utilised for street pictures.
Personally, I favour the pre-focusing method. I use the half press to focus in the target area and then wait for the subject to enter.
The photo above is a great example of the Lumia’s capabilities. It is taken from a moving car. This is a photograph automatic settings simply can not take since it depends on manual exposure and pre-focusing in a target zone.
Be prepared: Pre thinking your shoots
Think about where you are walking and what the light is doing ahead of you. Being a ‘live’ picture taking method, you can’t control the figures in the landscape, but you can move yourself into positions so the light is in your favour or the person is passing you on your ‘camera hand’ side. You can also pre-prepare your exposures so that when the fitting subject hones into view, you’re all ready to shoot.
Shooting from the hip
Some people think that shooting from the hip is amateurish and not acceptable. Citing the fact that the greats of street photography, like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand never did it, they argue, why should anyone else? To me, this is fuzzy thinking… such a thought process would lead to a culture without any innovation, change or risk.
Sometimes shooting without looking at the screen is totally acceptable. It is a method of working that teaches you about serendipity and about altering your normal or formulaic way of making pictures. It’s also a method that improves the more you practice. You come to know what the focal length is and when and where someone will be in shot. Sure, you miss a few but that’s the pleasure of digital – it costs you nothing. And when you do nail a shot, it’ll be one that someone looking through a viewfinder would never have got….