A trick often touted in street photography is shooting “blind”. Point the camera in roughly the right direction, then press the shutter without looking through the viewfinder.
It’s useful if you’re somewhere you aren’t allowed to take pictures; or where you don’t want people to know that you’re taking their picture; or where you just want to see what you can get. This was no more and no less than a test of a new camera and lens for a magazine: as far as I recall, a 21mm on a Voigtländer Bessa-T, but it could have been anything from about 18mm to about 24mm on pretty much any camera. Preferably a quiet one.
Purely technically, you need manual zone focusing: in this shot, autofocus would have focused on the surface behind the central figure’s head. That is, if it condescended to focus at all: there might not have been enough detail there for it to lock.
A fairly modest aperture is needed in order to get enough depth of field for a meaningful picture: as far as I recall, this was wide open at f/4. Even f/2.8 would be pushing your luck, and f/1.4 would be very hard to use.
The wider the lens, the more likely it is that you will get adequate depth of field at any given shooting distance. You can however go too wide: a 15mm or wider often gives too much emphasis to the foreground, and loses too much of what might be interesting in the background. Of course there are no fixed cut-off points: it wouldn’t matter much if you used a 17mm instead of an 18mm, but a 15mm might be quite a lot trickier and a 12mm would probably be very tricky indeed. Going in the other direction, I have used a 35mm lens inside Las Vegas casinos, where everything is further away than in a cramped, crowded London Underground carriage, and 28mm would be the widest I’d care to use.
Luck plays a very large part too: even larger than in other kinds of street photography. A 25% success rate would be remarkable; 10% would be good; 1% would be no surprise; and 0% would be far from impossible, though the last would not necessarily deter some would-be street photographers from posting on social media. An enormous advantage of this technique is that it encourages you to look really hard at your pictures; to try to decide which ones work, and why; and to understand the distinction between excellent pictures, acceptable pictures, and pictures with fatal flaws. Your definition of “fatal flaw” may change as you gain experience and critical ability.
One of the many things I find fascinating about street photography is how often you want to construct a story around a picture. This one is typical. Look at the expressions on the faces. You can hardly see anything of the face of the young woman on the right, but there seems to be a certain calmness about her. The young woman on the left seems to be expressing something between disapproval and disbelief. Then there’s the young man. Is he thinking about how his day went, or is he deliberately trying not to notice the two young women, even though it would be extremely difficult for the average young man not to notice them? What are the two young women discussing? What else might he be thinking about?
Finally, there’s the morality. How does this differ from an up-skirt picture? Remove a juvenile obsession with panties (or their absence) and the answer is twofold. First, it’s dealing with people, not substantially anonymous body parts. It’s probably not possible to tell very much about most people from photographs illustrating solely their occupied underwear, though I have to admit that I have never tried. Second… I’m not sure. Street photography very often involves taking pictures of people unawares, which is probably to the good. This picture is in that category. I doubt I am alone in not caring if someone takes my picture unobtrusively, but anyone who thinks he’s Bruce Gilden and fires a flash in my face from a foot away is asking for a poke in the snout. This includes Bruce Gilden. There’s a space for unobtrusive and even covert pictures. There’s a space for pictures taken with the subject’s full knowledge and at least tacit permission. But how much space is there for pictures that are, technically, assaults?
You can see more from Roger on his website – Roger Hicks
This post gets to the heart of what street photography is all about. The reviewing of what you have taken (the operative word is taken) and a decision to use it, gives a sense of’ ‘victory’, of something stolen. A one-sided grab which is actually yours for the taking.
The key question for me is who are you stealing these images for? In the rarest of cases (e.g. Joel Meyorowitz) it’s for the world…. instant identification of the subject, often with a dash of love and humour.
In a depressing number of cases, it is a one-second ‘ah’ moment on Instagram.
Selectivity and a profound sense of humility is needed.