Saturday, January 14, 2012

street photography - and some high ISO (ASA)

Contrary to what you may think, it's not every time a break out a camera that I am lighting, flashing, strobing, speedlighting or whatever you would like to call it.

It's true, along with getting super crazy with strobe and studio lighting, I sometimes leave the boat loads of gear (DSLRs, triggers, light stands, strobes, wiring, batteries, etc., etc., etc.) home and safely packed away.

Rather, I simply grab one camera body, one lens and my two big feet, hit the pavement and see what interesting photographs I can make.

Without further ado...

More after the jump.

"Beware the fury of a patient man."
-John Dryden (circa sometime in the 1600's)

Last [week], I threw in a quote that really stuck with me, from the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Today, I, for no reason whatsoever, wanted to share this quote that I heard not too long ago. It was coined by the English poet/playwright, John Dryden. Unfortunately, it was not in any books that I discovered the quote. Instead, as would be expected, I heard the quote while watching television. Problem is, I cannot, for the life of me, remember what show I was engaged in at the time the quote was conveyed. I would like to say Boardwalk Empire but I can't be 100%. Another possibility could have been Arrested Development, another fantastic series that met its untimely demise only a couple of seasons into their existence. 

The point of the quote is this: nothing. It has nothing to do with what I am writing today. I just found it fascinating as it so closely resembles the "me" inside. 

Street Photography

If you are new to the photography scene and are not aware, there are many different styles of shooting. Many photographers, at some point, gravitate towards one style, calling it their forte. It is likely obvious to readers that I have found my niche in shooting different styles of portraiture, wether it be headshots or editorial, advertising or animal, portrait work has become what I spend most of my focus on. Now, as portraiture is my strength, bread and butter photography, this is not to say that I don't often explore other styles. Street, for example, is one style that I often enjoy shooting, if not anything, for the sake of creating art. 

Street photography is a way of shooting that documents the pure and candid world as seen from behind the lens. Often times the photographs emit a sense of raw photography at its best. No bells or whistles for these shoots. Simply a camera, a lens and a photographer. Street photography doesn't typically allow time for complex studio setups as the frames taken are typically candid and unexpected. The capturing of a slice of time, no frills attached. Now, don't get me wrong, strobes and off camera light can be used for this style of work but is far less common. You can some street photography using off camera flash [here]

The Street And Me

I mentioned that when I'm shooting street that most of the gear is left behind. I typically don't even haul along the camera bag. Nope, nothing here but pure and raw shooting. In advance, before hitting the road, I usually pick one camera body and one lens. The lens choice is typically random. I think before going out at what angle I'd like to see the world. The choices are pretty narrow. I either grab a wider angled zoom, a longer lens or a prime of some sort, such as a 50 1.4 or an 85 1.8.

Here's the kicker. Lately, I've been enjoying shooting the street work late at night. Well, late for me anyway. Living in downtown Philadelphia, the Rittenhouse Square parts of the hood, I often find interesting people or things to shoot at those dark hours. I did make it clear that I grab only one DSLR body and one lens. Never, did you hear me say that I also snatch up a strobe or two. Why would that be significant? Well, to get some decent exposure on the dark streets of Philly, the camera will have to get high. 

To properly expose for dark environments a photographer will need one of a few things. The first and the one that I have had no intentions of using while shooting street work, is a tripod. A tripod would just slow down my grove. When shooting street, I find it very important to stay mobile on your feet. Moments could be lost while moving a tripod from point A to point B. 

Another element that could aid in the exposure of the night is a long shutter speed. This, for what I'm shooting, is a double edged sword. I cannot shoot such long shutters that will cause unacceptable blur (no tripod). On the other hand, I have to get it slow enough that will allow the image to burn onto the sensor just right. 

The final element that gets me where I need to be, exposure speaking, is my ISO. I've often spoken how archaic my DSLR body is these days. Going above ISO 100 is often photographic suicide. When shooting for clients, I would never enter the realm of a high ISO. On the other hand, while shooting street, for my own artistic endeavors, I accept that the final image will be a bit noisy. To remedy the situation, I often convert the final images into black and white. In my opinion, I feel that a noisy black and white image is much more artistic and acceptable than is a noisy color image. Again, that is just my opinion. 

The Mission

It's late at night and I'm ready to get to work. Often times, I grab the camera and one of my trusty assistants, [Bruno]. Bruno is one of my best buds, my Pit Bull. I usually let him lead the way. As he trots down the city sidewalks, I look for the shots. He can lead me to the most unusual of streets and places. 

Many of nights, I find myself down dark alleys or random streets that I've never explored. Once on these new and unusual places, I tie Bruno's leash to a railing of a nearby brownstone entrance. I try not to take too long as I don't want angry residents bitching at me for having my dog on their property. 

While keeping Bruno in sight, I stroll around the area, shooting whatever it is that interests me. I usually hope to find random drunkards wandering the streets. They typically don't notice when I'm capturing their image. They can be walking straight towards the front of the lens, oblivious to the fact that I'm even holding a camera. 

Let me explain a story that was kind of freaky, in regards to shooting street photography at night. It was a Monday night and in my neighborhood, Monday night is trash night. Trash night is a great night to find and shoot people rummaging through the garbage lining the streets. One specific evening, I had myself positioned in such a manner that the seemingly homeless man could not see that I was taking his photo. I would compose, fire and repeat. This guy was really getting into the garbage. It was amazing. I decided to get in a bit closer. As I approached him, he spotted me. I wasn't nervous. To my absolute confusion, he asked what I was shooting with. Judging by the way he was dressed, I couldn't understand why this guy would ask me such a random question. Why would a homeless man ask what I was shooting with? Hesitantly, I told him I was shooting with a Canon. He then asked if it was a 5d or 7d. Now I was spooked. On that night I was shooting with a 7d. He went on to share that he shoots Nikon, more specifically, a D3X. I was floored. We decided to talk. Turned out that he was trash picking to find props for a documentary that he was shooting in South America. Boy, did I feel stupid. We exchanged information and parted ways. Unfortunately, he asked that I did not disclose who he was or to post his photos online. Hey, I had to respect his wishes. I'm not a total ass. 

The point of that random story is that shooting street photography can be quite captivating. You never know what you are going to get. Especially in the middle of the night. Just be careful. If your gear is robbed, it is not my fault. I repeat, if you are mugged for your super expensive camera equipment while wandering the urban streets in the middle of the night, I will take on no responsibility. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The whole key to shooting street photography is to be prepared. Know your camera, know how to alter exposure on the fly. This goes back to the basics of never shooting in auto, ever. Once you know your camera and how to expose manually, it will become second nature. Hell, I don't even look at the dials or buttons anymore. I know for each click or turn how the camera is going to be set. The info in the viewfinder is helpful too. Point is, if you are stuck fiddling around in the middle of the night, trying to figure out which dial stops down the aperture, well, you may have some problems. If that's the case, I would recommend shooting manually in the daylight until you become familiar with the camera controls. 

The Stars Of The Show

Not my typical approach to getting into the nerdy details but I couldn't figure out another way. Each photo was shot at totally different times and with different gear. This just seemed to make sense.

This was shot on 17th and Pine streets. Random people on a mission.

Exposure was new territory for me. I was at f/1.8 with a shutter of 1/100 of a second and an insanely high ISO of 12,800. Yes, that was correct, 12,800 ISO. Pushing the 7d to its limits. It performed amazingly. 

This was shot wide open with the Canon EF 85 1.8. 

Post processing was pretty simple. I did some RAW adjustments and converted to black and white using Nik's Silver Efex Pro plugin. 

This is Kwan. I'm not sure if that's the spelling of his name but I believe it's pronounced that way. Kwan is a chef at Tangier. A local bar and eatery located at 18th and Lombard. Tangier has been a locals hangout for many years. Kwan has been cooking there for over a decade. Tangier's regulars range from university professors to local skaters, diverse to say the least. The bar is located at the right of the frame. 

Exposure here was back in normal territory. This was shot with my dinosaur DSLR. This was shot using the Canon EF 50 1.4, wide open at f/1.4 with a shutter of 1/50 and an ISO of 1600. Shooting wide open allowed for the girl in background to be blurred very nicely.

As with all of the photos in this post, I ran the file through Nik's Silver Efex Pro plugin. An awesome black and white conversion tool. For this specific image, I added a Holga effect which played well with the amount of noise in the photograph.

I love this shot. This is my neighbor Brook. He's a carpenter who likes to work very late hours of the night. I thought it was strange but that would be the pot calling the kettle black. He gets creative at night as do I. 

On that particular night, well, I'm not sure what the hell he was working on. All I do know is that I peeked over the balcony, saw the sander going to town while he was surrounded by tools. He had a makeshift shop lamp hanging overhead. I knew this had to be shot. 

I shot this using an old kit lens, the Canon EF-S 18-55 3.5-5.6 IS. I shot him at 55mm. Exposure was f/5.6 with a shutter of 1/15 and an ISO of 1600. 

The slow shutter was the key to this photos success. It allowed for the camera to capture the circular motion caused by the sander. 

Post was a black and white conversion. To be honest, I forget how I converted this one. 


Hey, sometimes I just don't have a damn thing to write and today was one of those days. Not a thought in mind but I sat down and let it flow. The article may have been as smooth as the paper on Brook's sander but what can you do? There's a sense of schizophrenia in today's post but I dig it anyway and hope you do to.

Remember, bring your camera and your Glock the next time you want to shoot some dark alleys at night. 

Until next time....