ideas for street photography

ilkley- big step

The Ilkley Flickr group met on Sunday morning. One of the things we have been talking about has been street photography and was also dealt with in a photo-camp event in Bradford.
Photographing people in the wild, in their natural habitat, is a great sport but one which is fraught with danger. The attraction for me is that it is about people and stories.

Looking thought he street photography groups on flickr there are some wonderful images but many seem to lack a vital ingredient. While many are beautifully lit and composed there is often a lack of story.
A story for me is when you engage with the characters and ask questions – what are they doing? What has just happened? What is about to happen? Often a photo will capture a particular action – Henri Cartier-Bresson called it "the decisive moment".

The raising of questions and the possibility that there are actions beyond the photograph – either in time or space – creates a lively reading; it makes you want to stay and look into the photograph. A photo can be beautiful as a composition and that of course is a lovely thing, but for me I hanker for stories and action. I love it when there is an interplay between the characters and the environment. A street photo is, in this respect, not a portrait but a piece of photo-journalism. We not only need to relate to the characters in the story but to see something of their setting and and what's going on around them.

The mechanics of taking street photos is rich with possibilities for success or failure. Do you use a long lens to avoid being noticed? Do you use a wide lens and get up close? What about asking for permission – before or after you have taken the photo. I don't have an answer to these questions but I would say that the photos that have come out best are when I have been quite open about taking them. The subjects have noticed me taking the shots but have not had time to pose; they look at the camera but otherwise have not reacted to it. I have usually smiled and waved in a self conscious way as if to say thanks.

Another question for me has been monochrome or colour. I like black and white but I struggle to believe that it is flexible enough for street photography. Back in the days of Cartier-Bresson you imagine much of the world to be in black and white. Today colour is an essential part of out identity. I don't feel black and white can cover the richness of how people dress. In the photo I have published the red and green of the women's clothes would not register and yet they are essential to their personality.

An aspect of colour is processing. In my line of work I have sat in on many film colour grading sessions. In TV or cinema colour grading is an art and good colourists are highly valued. One of the aims of colour grading is to arrange for a limited colour palate which enhances skin tone. A blue/green shade makes most skin tones jump out of the screen and many feature films adopt this colouring to enhance the presence of people's faces. You'll see blue/green teal colour in the blacks and shadows. I'm no expert in this but the point I'm making is that no-one on TV or cinema would present images straight out of the camera without some expert grading.
With the above in mind I have been experimenting with a cinema/tv style grading for my street photos designed to bring out the skin tones.

I'd be interested to know what you think.  see some more photos

Published by Mark

Mark Waddington is a former BBC broadcaster and producer. He now works for the Diocese of Leeds as Urban Mission Officer. If you would like to get in touch email