Lessons From Other Genres: Street Photography

Here's a secret; There's always compositional decisions to be made no matter how far you go to eliminate them and in many cases they are one of the most important and powerful things a photographer can control. I think I've mentioned I always wanted to be a photojournalist when I grew up but somehow every photographic opportunity I've stumbled into was farther and farther away from what traditionally falls into that category. I've probably also said I consider most if not all of my personal projects more like street photography, just not on the street (most of the time). I'll explain with a couple of shots I made with Dianna.

Above is the very first frame I made. In a lot of ways I approached this as with most of the material I've made for the chastity project exactly as many approach street photography. I chose the backdrop, I chose my point of view, and waited for something to appear. If one is pursuing something more traditional in terms of street photography the same exact thought process would happen. Choose a spot that has interesting compositional properties and where the light would fall on whatever and whoever happened to show up in a reasonable way. What other factors are wrapped up in those decisions from a street photographer's point of view? Well it all depends on what and why you'd predict it to be a good spot for "interesting" things to happen.

Of course this is exactly the same thing street photographer's do, or at least a significant portion of them at one time or another. Take Cartier-Bresson's (not my favorite but will do for illustration) guy on the bike… He'll tell you himself he noticed a guy riding around the block and then found a position that he thought had interesting compositional possibility and just waited for him to show up again at the right spot. I don't remember if he had much to say about the guy jumping over the puddle but you can bet that's why he was there. Either through past experience or direct observation of others coming across that particular puddle he knew what people would do.

I knew exactly what would happen here in the first few frames and I knew exactly where it would happen just like a puddle. I know what happens with mirrors and 99% of females and I know what happens with that prop. The compositional decisions were 80% already decided prior to Dianna entering the scene. I also knew about how far away she would stand based on practicality and what direction she'd face solely based on where it wasn't dark so she could actually see herself in the mirror.

Yes, this was shot with a strobe but critically it's coming from the same direction as the sole window casting ambient into that scene. The compositional decisions I had to make on the fly as it were amounted to my specific point of view and what intersections that created with geometric shapes against Dianna. Oh, the other critical compositional point was where to focus. In this case I chose to focus on the reflection in the mirror. That seems obvious but I was torn between the larger foreground and much smaller background image of D.

In a post a few months ago immediately after I made these photos I lamented that there were far fewer candid opportunities due to my use of strobes. There were but I'm not so sure that's as important as I made it out to be at the time. These first few frames definitely fall on the candid side of the line. I think I was focused far too much on the more difficult portions where opportunities for those in-between candid shots felt far more like a commercial session where I have to work really hard to get them as opposed to a lot of this project I've shot in ambient conditions.

The frame above and the very next one below are two I completely missed during my first pass through. These happened immediately after Dianna was attempting to see what she looked like from the back. She couldn't really hold the dress up in a good position, look behind, and also keep herself in the small very directional pool of ambient light to get a good look.

Sometimes I get blinded as to what worked because I am too hung-up on shots that didn't work. All of these above as well as others I've not included all "work" and they all work for the same reason they usually do for this project. Even though I setup this particular group of shots specifically for the reasons outlined above I somehow mentally discounted them because they were not my primary focus in terms of setups when I made them. They were kind of "what the hell, why not" setups that I spent only a little time with. Some of the shots I was far more focused on making after these worked as well but in retrospect they worked quite literally the same exact way these did and even though made in the same spot were also something did on the fly with only a few frames made. The majority of the frames for the intended setups just didn't work for the project.

A grand total of two shots in three different setups worked out. One of those is above the other below. Sure all the rest of them are fine, probably even "better" in technical terms but they just don't work. They're too pose-y and do not reflect the sort of natural gesture and body language that the project is about. I chalked these two up to "in-between" moments that do occur and when working in a lot of studio or commercial environments are exactly what you're after. Sure, that's partially the case but with a bit of distance it's easy to see that a far bigger contributor is exactly why the first ones worked so well.

Yet again chalk this up to "things I already know". Quite simply Dianna had a bit of apprehension that shows up here entirely due to not being able to check out what she looked like from the back. That prompted the other "why not" setup, taking that small mirror off the wall which led to the other small group of unplanned pictures that also worked.

Again I only made a few frames as I was attempting to balance standing awkwardly on a sofa. I wasn't sure there was enough light at the bottom of the frame or on the main prop so I alternated focus between Dianna's face and the image in the mirror.

Above is the only frame that worked out when D. momentarily looked up where I chose to focus on her face. The rest really seem to work better focused on the image in the mirror.

What's all this have to do with street photography and other genres? The answer lies in a subtle distinction between approach. In ambient lighting conditions using smaller cameras like the Fuji X-Pro2 approaching this project somewhat like a longer term documentary project where you spend a lot of time with a subject and look for pictures across many given backdrops and circumstances . In situations where strobes are required and the backdrop is contained it works a lot like picking an interesting spot on the street and waiting for things to happen there as described above.

That distinction may not be clear but on reflection one crucial parameter seem to be dependent on setting something up where there's a high likelihood for my collaborators to interact with the backdrop and props without prompting on my part. The other crucial parameter is that most of the best frames are going to happen very fast towards when said collaborator enters that scene.

End Notes

All photos made with the Canon 5Ds R and 24-105 f/4 L between 35mm and 50mm. Light via one Profoto B2 and umbrella deep silver (large) with diffusion. Processing in Capture One Pro 11.