In my immediately previous column I used a picture of a broad scene at night, shot with a wide-angle lens at the maximum ISO on offer from the camera in use: a Leica M8, 2500. Here, it’s the same camera but everything else is different: there’s a single subject, framed very tightly, under excellent, diffuse lighting, shot with a long-ish lens at low ISO. It was a Summicron f/2, but I forget whether it was a 75 mm (100mm equivalent on the 18×27 mm sensor) or a 90 mm (120mm equivalent). But it’s all street photography.
To me, the important point is this. Choose a lens, and see what you can shoot with it. Sure, choose whichever lens you own that you think will suit your likely subjects best. If you find that you have totally the wrong lens on the camera, change lenses: here I may have switched to the Summicron from a 35mm Summilux. But do not then keep changing lenses. Or even focal lengths, fiddling with a zoom. It’s just one more thing to worry about, one more delay before taking the picture, one more barrier between you and the photograph. Musicians, especially jazz musicians, talk (or used to talk: the argot changes) about “getting in the groove”. Street photography can be the same. Get in the groove and you find yourself shooting for the sheer pleasure of shooting; and when you’re that high on art, it would be surprising if you couldn’t get better pictures than usual, more often.
Image Credit Roger Hicks
To be sure, it could be sharper. You can’t quite count the eyelashes. This could be down to subject movement, camera shake or slightly poor focus. It’s almost certainly the first two, given that even the sharpest hairs against the darkest background could be sharper. Nowadays I might crank the ISO higher to accommodate subject movement and camera shake, though I’d be mightily disinclined to shoot at a smaller aperture in order to improve the focus: I wouldn’t want the wooden supports for the tent over the stage to be any sharper, given that one is transfixing his hat and two more are piercing his violin.
Also, I’m not convinced that super-sharpness would add much. It might even detract from the picture: very slight blur often adds to “authenticity” or even “excitement” in street photography. I fully accept that I may be rationalizing, though. How would I feel of it were super-sharp, after all? Would I not defend it equally vehemently?
One technical point that is important, though, is the exposure. The very brightest whites are indeed “blown”, but they are comparatively tiny in area and are for the most part well contrasted with darker “whites”: strictly greys, of course. Likewise, the darkest blacks are “blocked”; but there’s still a good amount of detail in the waistcoat and hat-band. This is comparatively easy to achieve via generous exposure with negative film, whether colour or black and white; but with digital or with slide film, “blown” whites are irrecoverable. To modify the Fitzgerald translation of the Rubaiyyat, “the white that once has blown forever dies.” You can forgive a lot in street photography, but usually, the less you have to forgive, the better. Except, perhaps, sometimes, blur.
The magic, for me, is his expression. Those beautiful blue eyes seem to be staring into a distance that only he can see. Is he thinking of a lost love, or looking forward to an evening of passion, or trying to remember how to play a particularly difficult passage, or just dying for a beer?
It doesn’t matter. There are three people in this picture. There’s the violinist. There’s me. And there’s you. Neither you nor I know what he was thinking about. I project my interpretation upon him. And you project your interpretation onto the picture I took.