Most of us can say that we are influenced by the work of a few masters of street photography. Our guest today has learned from some of them directly.
Paul Salmon from London has been a documentary photographer for over 30 years. He studied documentary photography under Magnum photographer David Hurn, and has worked alongside Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka.
For many years Paul worked for the Sunday Times and Time magazine, covering editorial assignments including the Gulf War and Bosnia. However, his heart has always been with capturing the moment, on the street, or wherever he finds himself.
He believes that once you have mastered the craft of image making, it is time to put it to good use, which he did. Paul has a fascination with people and their environment coupled with a skill to capture, which is why he feels very strongly that he has to roam with his camera, and do just that.
Paul says that the world and life of street photography has enriched his life beyond all measure. He recounts that Koudelka once said, he was likened to being a “secretary to the invisible”. “With that in one’s mind, ‘you feel somewhat empowered to wander, and see if indeed you are invisible, and with a small camera, drab clothes, quiet shoes,’ you indeed are.”
After many years shooting for clients Paul is following his passion by pursuing a series of personal projects including a series about graffiti in cities around the world.
To learn more listen to my interview with photographer Paul Salmon.
Paul’s Documentary Process
During the interview Paul shared a process he follows each time he shoots a documentary assignment. He used the example of shooting an assignment about “a man at work” to explain the process, but it can be applied to anything. I found it so helpful I thought I’d outline it for you below using Paul’s “man at work” analogy. He breaks it down into five basic shots necessary for any documentary assignment:
- Establishing Shot This shot either establishes the relationships between the key elements or establishes the concept. If photographing a city it’s often shot from a high place and includes key landmarks. If it’s of an event it can show something that the event is known for.
- Typical Shot A photo of the person at work doing what he normally does on a typical day. For example someone who repairs cars can be photographed using his tools or inspecting the engine.
- Relationship Shot This shot shows the juxtaposition between two things. It can be between two people or between the subject and his or her environment.
- Close-up This can be a very powerful element in the entire story. Use a macro lens if you have it.
- Portrait Paul recommends that you take three different shots from different perspectives. Head on, profile, high or low.
Paul says that once you have these photos in the can you can do some experimenting if you have time. Personally I found this very helpful because it remove a lot of decision making which can distract you from creating the photos. It also helps when working with subjects because they’re more comfortable when you know what you need.