For years, I used to get angry with people who said, “It really doesn’t matter what camera you use.” I thought, “Well, it’s all very well for you, because you’ve got much better kit than I have, so of course you don’t think it matters.” But as so often, both this statement and its exact opposite are fully defensible.
The basic premise is that (almost) any camera is better than no camera. I say “almost” because there are some cameras I find so awful that I probably wouldn’t use them for any kind of photography, let alone street photography. Holgas are a good example, though I could probably just about get along with a Lubitel.
Another premise is that some cameras are more agreeable to use than others, and that “agreeable” is a very personal choice. After all, some people actually like Holgas.
In any case, by the time someone’s pictures are good enough to publish, they’ve often moved on from rock bottom basic kit to something better: often, the best they can afford. It’s probably not the better camera that’s giving them better pictures, but the fact that they have become a better photographer.
Because I’ve been doing this sort of thing for a very long time, I have some very good cameras and lenses. I took this with a Leica M9 and (as far as I recall) a 50/1.5 Zeiss C-Sonnar; though it might have been a 35/1.4 Leica Summilux. This is serious kit. But I can use the picture to make at least six worthwhile points about street photography.
The first is that prime lenses offer better quality in a smaller package; are faster (though this matters less and less with modern ultra-high ISO speeds); and (at least for me) are much quicker to use. Once you are used to the field of view of your favourite lenses, you can position yourself in the right place to shoot; you won’t be tempted to waste time tweaking the focal length, because you can’t. If you can’t stand in the right place, crop rather than zoom: it’s quicker, and in street photography you usually have to work quickly. That way you don’t lose the moment, and you don’t draw attention to yourself.
If you can’t get everything in, because the lens isn’t wide enough, well, you miss the shot. Big deal. We all miss some shots, sometimes, for all kinds of reasons. I’d rather miss them because I don’t have the right focal length on the camera than because I was faffing about changing lenses or zooming in and out.
The second point is that almost by definition in street photography, you can’t influence your subject. Shoot first: ask questions afterwards.
Third, you can’t buy luck. There are two pieces of ill luck here. One is the light: his right ankle is “blown” (too bright), to the extent that judicious burning-in merely turns it grey. But I couldn’t have given much less exposure, or I’d have lost too much detail. As it was, I had to fiddle the curves a bit to lighten the shadows. The other problem is the position of his hand, though fortunately, lightening the shadows revealed that he was holding his hat rather than guarding his crotch. Technically, it wouldn’t have mattered much whether I used the M9 or the old Fuji Finepix S2 Pro that is sitting on the floor beside me as I write this: several thousand pounds’ worth of camera and lens, or a couple of hundred pounds’ worth. The only reason to use the M9 is because I like it better.
Fourth, you have to divorce your memories from the picture. When I look at this, I can feel the warmth of the sun on my skin, remember the smile we shared afterwards. You can’t see any of that. I have to put as much as I can into this picture, to bring it as close as possible to what I saw and wanted to photograph. But I can’t get it all in, partly because I’m not good enough and partly because a photograph is a single moment frozen in time. Try to look at your pictures as if you were a stranger: imagine someone else had taken them. What would you see then?
Fifth, it can be interesting to play with a shot in Photoshop and see if some of the “flaws” are in fact flaws, or an essential part of the picture. I cloned out both the graffiti and the half-eaten pretzel on the step, just below the dog. The result was dull and sterile. What might be flaws in another genre are often an essential part of the story in street photography.
Sixth, you can’t buy talent, in street photography or any other kind of photography. Is this a great shot? No. Is it a competent and moderately amusing shot? Yes. For me, the good points of this picture, especially the “thought waves” from the dog (just) outweigh the bad points. I’m learning…
You can see more from Roger on his website – Roger Hicks