How long have you been shooting street photography and how did you get started?
I’ve been shooting street photography for the past six months. I’ve always enjoyed photography, but previously it was to document family life. I did have a couple of years in my late teens where I shot a lot of architecture but this stopped after my Canon T70 was stolen. I started medical school after that, then our kids arrived as did a succession of busy jobs so there was a 22 year hiatus. My work life changed in spring of this year and now I get a couple of hours most days when I can go wandering with my camera.
How would you describe your street photography style?
That’s a tricky one, my daughter tells me it is ‘sneaky style’. In truth, I’m so new to it that its difficult to describe as I find new approaches every week. I read a lot about people finding their voice which is a great description of where I am at the moment. I’ve been devouring books on great street photographers and see so many styles I like and want to try out. I love finding lines and geometry within a scene, so some of my pictures have a focus on composition with few people.
I’ve been working on getting in closer to people so I’m enjoying finding characters to shoot. Sometimes I will stake out an interesting location for a while and see who wanders in, and other times I like to keep moving trying to find people or situations that catch my eye. The things I want to work on at the moment are using layers to add complexity, and capturing the interactions between people rather than just the people themselves.
You have a knack for capturing shots with perfect, dramatic lighting. How do you get those shots? Do you look for specific lighting conditions or are you just using what’s available?
Thank you! I live in grey wet London so I’m very sensitive to good light, maybe it’s the perpetual vitamin D deficiency that makes me seek it out, or maybe my visual cortex is so starved of light that I tend to notice it. When I’m in the mood to capture some dramatic lighting I look ahead for where the sun is shining between buildings to create islands of light with surrounding shade. I’m building up a mental list of locations and times that offer this, so my walking routes around London take these in. I also try to find artificial light from shopfronts and streetlights that I can use to pick out people. I was really excited when I found a couple of locations where you can backlight people with the sun and use some intense reflected light from shopfronts to pick out their faces.
I found it difficult to get the exposure right in these situations initially and was burning out the highlights in my photos, so I went back to basics and read a book on exposure. This encouraged me to be far more careful with my metering in odd lighting situations, I was a little too relaxed about using program mode before. I keep my thumb on the exposure compensation dial now so that I can compensate quickly if I’m over/under exposing. As far as possible, I try to use the jpegs that come out of the Fuji XPro2 as the film simulations are so great. I’m usually using their classic chrome simulation and increasing the shadow and highlight tones in camera. I shoot in raw as well so that I can rescue details from the raw file if I’ve made a mess of it.
Color or B&W? I know you take both, but what do you prefer and why? (I think you do a great job of incorporating color into your street photography and I’m drawn to those shots more.)
I’m increasingly finding that colour is my thing. I like the challenge of trying to make it work in an unpredictable street scene. I’d shied away from it initially and preferred black and white because I have mild red-green colour blindness. This has led to some interesting clothing choices over the years, and made me wary of posting colour photos in case I’d given all the skin tones a green tinge. But one of the things that stops me in my tracks and makes my shutter finger twitch is strong colour, so I figured I would just go with it and apologise later if I made anyone look like a martian.
What has street photography taught you?
The biggest thing it has taught me is that its important to keep myself happy by doing something I love. I love my job but it doesn’t tap into my creative side, so photography has helped me find a great work-life balance. The other thing that it’s reminded me of is that the world is an amazing and bizarre place, with some incredible people in it. I think it’s too easy for people to forget that as their heads are buried in their smartphones the whole time. Besides being very frustrating for those of us trying to take pictures of them it also means a huge chunk of the population are living their lives through screen and not interacting a great deal with the world around them. I ditched my iPhone shortly after getting into photography and its been great at giving me my freedom back and keeping my attention focused on the world around me.
See more of Sam’s work on his Flickr feed.