John Lewell Photography | Street Photography Thoughts, Tips & Analysis.
Hi, I'm John Lewell and I'm addicted to street photography. There is a loosely knit confederacy of street photographers, many of whom observe a code of behavior befitting a profession, but interaction between us is usually restricted to getting out of the way when we bump into each other on the street. If you're now making a start with street photography You'll find useful tips..
What constitutes a gang? I guess it’s a group of people with a leader and a common purpose. I see them in the streets quite frequently, but it’s not always possible, or wise, to photograph them when they’re heading towards the camera.
Are gangs a good subject for street photography? Absolutely. They’re a great subject if you can solve the problems of taking the shot. Here are the reasons why:
First, as I’ve mentioned, a gang usually has a leader — possibly a charismatic leader whose personality is stronger than anyone else’s within the the group.
Most of us are accustomed to keeping trains at a distance, but in the Far East people have learned to live with them in close proximity. How close? Well, I suppose I’d have to call it “brushing-past close.”
The Mae Klong Train Market in Samut Songkhram Province, Thailand (an hour or two from Bangkok) is one of the best-known examples of intimate trains. It’s become a favourite tourist destination, ever since it appeared on YouTube in some stunning videos.
I’ve visited the market a couple of times and on both occasions have found it incredibly hard to get the perfect street photo.
Is shooting from the hip a good way to take street photos? Such an innocent question! The answer is yes. And no.
In thinking about it very carefully and weighing up the arguments for and against I find myself questioning the very purpose, essence and philosophy of street photography: its ethics, its aesthetics, its whatever.
Let’s look at three arguments in its favour.
1. Shooting from the hip certainly gets you great shots, if only occasionally.
2. It enables you to take shots that would otherwise be impossible. For example, when you know the subject may glance in your direction and ruin the shot if you raise the camera to your eye.
My featured image (above) is the kind of photo you can get in Bangkok merely by lingering in the street until late evening, when most people are having dinner. That why I’m going to claim it as a street photo, along with all the others you see here.
In fact, my objective in forgoing dinner was not to watch the Muay Thai (kickboxing) matches themselves, but to get candid shots of the preparations: the boxers, their helpers, and the gathering crowd. But one thing leads to another and I stayed until the end.
Regular Muay Thai events held outside the MBK mall in the centre of Bangkok are popular, not least because they’re free to watch.
On the day after Twelfth Night the weather was dull, the light fading, and the Christmas lights had just been switched off. People seemed not to have recovered from their New Year’s hangovers. The chances of getting a good street photo in these circumstances were low, to say the least.
I was quite right. People were scurrying home when I walked into town. The High Street was forlorn without much illumination and getting a shot seemed all but impossible. Then I spotted someone loading a large chair into a vehicle, with two girls sipping drinks nearby, staring wistfully into the distance.
If you’ve fallen in love with street photography you may have a nagging feeling that you need to buy a new camera to help you get better shots. What happens next?
The next step is to start gathering information. My favourite strategy is to spend a lot of time examining and comparing sample photos from all the cameras on my short-list. This is therefore No.2 on my list of strategies, after first creating the short-list!
1. Create a Short-List
I’m assuming you know roughly what kind of camera you want in terms of image quality, portability, and price.
There’s a school of thought which says the best compositions are the tried and tested ones, but another which insists on the need to be creative and avoid the obvious. Who’s right? And why?
No art form can advance if all the people who practice it merely adhere to a set of rules, however sensible these rules may appear to be. After all, fashion changes. Nature evolves. Dinosaurs become “so last year.”
I’m conservative by nature and I strongly disapprove when someone builds an ugly extension to a house I once occupied, or when the government imposes new regulations affecting tax or business.
A while back I went to London with the intention of taking some street shots, but rather than go to my usual haunts I decided to travel a little further on the Tube.
The rush hour had just finished and the subway carriage was empty when I got in it. I studied my reflection in the window opposite: clean shirt, safari jacket, cowboy hat for sun protection, camera stowed in a canvas bag.
A couple got on at the first station and sat opposite. I’m not sure what the woman said to her partner after glancing at me, but in response he took out his mobile phone and snapped a shot of an empty seat a little way off to my right.
If you were to ask me about the most significant development in street photography in the last thirty years, my reply would not be about digital cameras or photo editing software. It would be about what people are actually doing in the street.
These days, everyone is on the phone. Thirty years ago no one was on the phone. That’s the difference.
If Henri Cartier-Bresson were alive today and able to photograph a man leaping a puddle behind the Gare St Lazare, the man would definitely be chatting on a mobile phone.
I returned from a day’s shooting in London recently to discover that nearly every photo showed someone — either the main subject or a person in the background — using (what we used to call) a “mobile”.