Exploring Street Photography, part two

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Part 2: Snatching Order Out of Chaos by Olaf Willoughby

What makes a good street shot?

A recent article in the Huffington Post was entitled, ’Street Photography Has No Clothes’. As the author clearly intended, it sparked a lot of controversy. In it, he decried the lumping together in one category, of the work of time-honoured masters with the ‘hundreds of thousands of dull, hackneyed candid images of random strangers by hopeless photographers’.

Let’s set aside the sensationalist language and put it down to a Bruce Gilden-like attempt to bring out the ugliness in others. There’s an undercurrent in society today that yesterday there was a better quality of life. Today everything is being ‘dumbed down’. Does that apply to Street Photography too or is the author just taking a cheap shot?

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As with the debate over photo manipulation, we’ve been here before. Edward Weston wrote critically about, ‘… hundreds of tired businessmen, tradesmen and idle women who play with photography as a holiday hobby – and then offer their results as art’.

And on the subject of art. Regarding the introduction by Kodak of the hand camera in 1888, John Szarkowski, MoMA noted, ‘It was a common article of faith that art was hard and artists rare; if photography was easy and everyone was a photographer; photography could hardly be taken seriously as an art’.

So the author of the Huffington Post article was following in a tradition of criticising the democratisation of photography? Except for one thing. The situation today is radically different.

First, the so-called ‘hopeless photographers’. Think bandwidth. The ubiquity and convenience of the web and the iPhone have changed our visual culture and in the process, photography forever. Consider the narrow media options available through the first half of the 20th Century. People showed prints in a photo album, sat in a dark room to watch a Kodachrome slide show or joined their local camera club. To get work shown nationally or (almost unimaginably) internationally; meant being featured in a magazine or a gallery show, both of which were hard.

selfie with nelson

Then, in 1992, the world changed. The first photo was uploaded to the internet. Lulu and Blurb print on demand came along in 2002 and 2005 respectively when Flickr also started. In 2015 we’ll take 1 trillion photos and by 2016, 2 billion people will have Smartphones. We can no longer compare like with like. Go and stand in a busy street. Look around. We have become a screen based culture. Image trends like selfies mark the evolution of a new visual shorthand where the globe is our gallery.

Where Weston spoke of ‘hundreds’ we are now talking ‘millions’ and as Facebook had 1 billion users on line on Aug 24th, no doubt that will grow further in the next few years. Of course in this avalanche of images it is  easy to criticise a lack of artistic intent. But the new reality is that taking a photo is a natural part of everyday life. Possibly these people don’t want to be Winogrand, Maier or Erwit? Maybe they just enjoy taking and sharing pictures? And why not?

street graphics02

Let’s turn our attention to the ‘time-honoured masters’. So, when did great Street Photography cease? Yes many of the great names were and still are geniuses but here’s an interesting thought. I believe there are many photographers today who are the modern day equivalents of the great masters.

The problem is they are hard to find because of internet fragmentation and the fact that the biggest gallery, curator, critic and collector communities prefer conceptual or cause related documentary work over contemporary street images. In fact we are in the midst of an explosion in photographic awareness and education and it is my contention that Street Photography is alive, well and flourishing with modern masters. Check these websites for examples:

http://www.theleicameet.com/ – (disclosure, I am one of the founder members of this group)

https://www.lensculture.com/ – a truly authoritative resource for contemporary photography

http://www.in-public.com/ – whose aim is to promote/explore the possibilities of Street Photography

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Let’s return to the opening question.

What makes a good street shot? Let’s assume technical competence and a measure of originality…i.e. more than just a picture of people in the street.

Good Street Photography should contain the same basic qualities that make any photograph or indeed any work of art successful. It possesses an energy, something which attracts and engages the viewer. This can be as momentary as a humorous gesture or as meaningful as posing a question for the viewer to answer. After all, one definition of art is that it leaves space for the viewer to interact with the work.

Henri Cartier-Bresson gives us a clue as to what lies in this space. In the mid 1960’s, HCB went through his life’s work at Magnum intent on destroying most of it. Martinez, Delpire and Gassman persuaded him to let them edit his work instead. Even then he still rejected images he felt were, ‘too perfect – they don’t have enough ambiguity’.

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Good street shooting achieves this ambiguity by recording a split second which symbolises our humanity. A hand movement, a look, an interaction which is instantly recognisable when we reveal it to others. We pass through a thousand of these moments of drama everyday, mostly without noticing them. We screen them out to get on with our lives.

There are dozens of ‘split seconds’ on the street to choose from. In this post I’ve chosen eye contact. It can of course be posed or candid. As I mentioned in part one of this series, I’m comfortable with a loose definition of Street Photography, so either works for me. However the images posted here are all candid.

I used two main techniques; shooting from eye level and from the hip. (If you’re a seasoned street shooter please look at the photos and skip to the end. You’ll know most of this already!)

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Shooting at eye level is straightforward, although I prefer to move slowly or even station myself somewhere and wait for an interesting moment. I feel less intrusive if people come to me, rather than me appearing to be ‘stalking and hunting’ for images. But this is purely personal taste. Your style may vary.

Shooting from the hip, chest, elbow is based on zone focusing. So I set my Leica M240 to ISO 800 and my favourite 24mm Summilux focusing ring at 2m. Then I know that at f4, everything from 1.4m to 3.4m will be acceptably sharp. It’s as good as and arguably better than auto focus where I can’t be sure where the focus point will lock.

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The magic of shooting Street Photography is that we become attuned to noticing and capturing these brief instants.

The wonder of viewing Street Photography is that it snatches a moment of order out of the chaos of the commonplace.

In fact let me edit that. I’ll take a hint from HCB and change that last line to ‘snatching a moment of ambiguity out of the chaos of the commonplace’.

In part 3 of this series I’ll be looking at different approaches to capturing that ambiguity in Street Photography. I hope you are enjoying it so far.

PS: Street can be a divisive and emotional subject. There are no eternal rules of right and wrong. All artists and genres of art shapeshift through time and this article simply represents my opinion at this moment. I appreciate that your views may vary and that’s fine.

Tech note: all images made with Leica M series cameras, except the opening street scene (iPhone).

Olaf Willoughby

Olaf and Eileen McCarney Muldoon are co-teaching a Street Photography workshop, “Destination Brooklyn, Unlocking Mysteries”, Sep 21 – 24th. email me at: olaffwilloughby@gmail.com or more information: https://slate.adobe.com/a/z6nZD

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PART 2: WORKING WITH FILM IS NOT HARD!

by David Matthew Knoble

This is part two of a two part series on black and white film. This part dives into the cost of using film and the workflow of developing film and scanning the negatives for digital processing thereafter. Techniques like this can be dry reading, so bear with me and I’ll do my best to keep things interesting!

Cost?

After someone gets over the fear of working with chemicals and light-sensitive film, they frequently ask me about cost. In so many ways, film work is less expensive than digital work. Even ignoring the typical desire to upgrade a digital body every two years, film can be less costly even in the long run.

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Image 1 – Get over the fear of developing film – Leica M4 with Summicron 50, Ilford Delta 100

A Leica M film camera can cost as little as $800 but I would recommend investing $1,000 to $2,000 for one that is in good shape and does not need a calibration as soon as you buy it. Using a Leica Store or other reputable group that checks out equipment is typically more reliable. However, if you haven’t already guessed, the cost does not stop there.

In the grand development scheme, the next most expensive equipment purchase would be a scanner. Luckily, there are commercial centers to get negatives scanned. You can always look for a local photography club that works in film and get help. If not, you can drop between $600 and several thousand for a film scanner. There are even two Hasselblad film scanners costing more than a Leica M60!

Development is a different matter. A few beakers, a development tank with reels, a timer and thermometer can be purchased for $200 or less depending on the type of timer you use. Otherwise, everything else you need is purchased as you use it.

Film costs typically less than $10 per roll and chemicals (developer, stop, fixer and wash) are less than $100 for everything. Chemicals last for different periods of time and numbers of rolls, so expect to order chemicals every now and then.

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Image 2 – 1000ml beakers labeled for Developer and Fixer, two Honeywell Nikor steel developing tanks, plastic measuring cups, squeegee for removing water and hanging clips.

You can also buy a bulk loading container and re-usable film cartridges for well under $100 and reduce your cost per roll of film by about 1/2. It takes practice, but I bulk load 90% of my film now. In fact, I bought two bulk loaders on eBay for $20 each.

If you don’t mind shelling out a few dollars and really want a nostalgic treat, try using the old Leica brass film cartridges (FILCA and IXMOO). I have a dozen of the IXMOO which work in my Leica IIIC. They work in M bodies up to some early M-6 models. They are a joy to load and use. I also splurged on a Leitz film cutter and negative template to cut the tabs on my film.

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Image 3 – Leica IXMOO, Leitz film cutter on top of Leitz cutting template.

The bottom line is that black and white film cost is easily spread out over time and doesn’t have to cost a mint. You can also gradually add the more expensive equipment and do more yourself. The choice is yours!

Favorite Films

I like smooth tones and sharp images. Unfortunately, with film you typically get one or the other unless you use extremely slow films with very specific developing chemicals that are harder to find and more expensive.   Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s everything I used was Kodak. There was all kinds of Pan-X, Tri-X and other X films and D-76 was the developer of choice. These films had reasonable contrast and smoother tones, but were not the sharpest of films. Along comes the T-Max films with a different grain shape and a new developer. My personal opinion is that the grain was more evident in the film, but the image was sharper.

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Image 4 – Feeding the squirrels – Leica MP with Summicron 35 ASPH, Ilford FP4

Today, my favorite films are the Ilford varieties. I use FP4+ which is rated at ISO 125. I shoot that film at 125 because it matches shutter speeds perfectly, no 1/3 stop or 1/2 stop conversions. (Remember Sunny f/16 says 1/125 second at f/16). This is a classic smooth and contrasty film. I use Ilford DD-X developer and Ilford’s fixer because they are well matched with the Ilford film and provide not only sharp negatives but allow me to change speeds with some films. Other developers are more restrictive. I also use Ilford Delta 400 speed film. This is a slightly more grainy film, but sharp. More importantly, with the DD-X developer, the recommended ISO is 500. Once again, shutter speeds are easy to convert. With the DD-X developer, the Delta 400 can be exposed between 200 and 3200 so it is very versatile.

I will occasionally shoot the Ilford Delta 3200 for fun and I have really taken a liking to the Fuji Neopan 100 Acros film for two reasons. First, it has an impeccable level of detail and smooth tones, and second it is a thinner emulsion (plastic part that becomes the negative) so more light gets through when scanning and blacks are much darker. It is a little more picky when putting on a reel to develop, but creates superb images. Oh, and yes, we cannot forget Kodak Tri-X although it is tougher for me using ISO 400 which doesn’t match a shutter speed.

My Workflow

I won’t lie to you, developing film takes time. In fact, it takes a lot longer than a digital process. This is why we see so many more digital images on the web today. But, taking the time is rewarding as I’ve already said, so let’s dive into my workflow. Others will have different opinions, and that is ok.

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Image 5 – Various containers hold Fixer and Archival Wash beside actual chemicals used in development.

Developing film is a little like being a chef. Each photographer has their own recipe and they will swear by it. If the results are great, then the recipe works! So, don’t worry about exactness, but worry very much about consistency. Developing is about being able to get the same results every time.

For example, I agitate my film the same way, every time, no matter what! Agitation is inverting the tank while developing to put fresh chemicals in contact with the film. I agitate mine 4 times in 10 seconds every 1 minute. I also agitate 4 times as soon as I pour the chemical in the tank. Turning upside down and then right-side up is one agitation. It’s almost like a dance move!

Ilford has great literature available to read about its film, developers and the process. I have all of them on my iPad for easy reference. After shooting the film, it has to be developed, dried, wiped of dust, scanned and imported into Adobe Lightroom. From that point on the images sit right beside and mixed in-between my M240 and Monochrom images.

Development

Developing is really just chemistry. I have acquired some 1000 ml plastic beakers and various dark brown plastic storage bottles to mix and use chemicals.   While I have begun using my iPad for a timer, I still pull out my old trusty, large number, Gralab timer (If you’re over 40, you know that a Gralab timer is akin to a Gossen Luna Pro).

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Image 6 – iPad using Massive Development Chart and trusty GraLab Timer

My laundry room has a large stainless steel sink (which I installed on purpose) and a countertop. The two real keys to developing are the temperature and age of the developer; and the amount of water you use (I believe in conserving resources). Of course, you must also be consistent (Have I said that before?).

So, if you’ve never done it, developing film goes something like this:

  1. mix chemicals and put developer and fixer in refrigerator to cool down
  2. put stainless steel tanks and film inside a black bag to keep out all light
  3. with arms inside, take apart film cartridges one by one and put on reels
  4. remember to close top of tank before opening the black bag!
  5. pull chemicals out of refrigerator and read temperature
  6. look up development time for that temperature, film and ISO
  7. set timer for development
  8. develop, stop, fix, wash, archival wash, final rinse, rinse aid (now you are a chemist!)
  9. hang to dry and squeegee to remove water
  10. scan dried negatives to computer
  11. cut negatives and put into archival sleeves for permanent storage
  12. import into Lightroom and start having fun!

This does seem daunting at first. However, except for a scanner, the materials are extremely inexpensive. Less than $100 can get you started if you use an iPhone timer.

There is an app called ‘Massive Development Chart’ [http://www.digitaltruth.com/devchart.php] for the iPhone and iPad that has a large number of films and development times for even more developers. It has a conversion calculator for not only adjusting times to temperatures, but if you have to mix developer at a ratio of 1:4 (1 part developer to 4 parts water), you can put in the volume (32 ml for example) and it tells you how much of each you need! You can also adjust any of the development times to suit your needs. I find the adjustment is not the same as the Ilford charts, so I customize it to the charts.

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Image 7 – Two bulk loaders from eBay, film cartridges for my Leica MA and Leica MP with scissors, masking tape and a wrench to remove tops from disposable film cartridges.

I have gotten the process down now so that I can develop two rolls of film in one tank in a little over 40 minutes start to finish, meaning the negatives are drying and all the beakers and tanks washed. Some would chuckle, but I literally pour chemicals into the storage tanks and put them away while the next chemical is doing its work. So, by the time I’m washing the negatives, all the chemicals are put away and I only have to wash the beakers.

For the really detail minded, I put developer in the refrigerator until it is about 68 or 70 degrees F. I mix between 500ml and 1000 ml of developer to try developing at least 4 rolls of film each time and frequently 6 or 8 rolls. I’ll develop two rolls, put the developer back in with the unused amounts, and then develop two more rolls at 140% of the development time, adding 20% more for each two rolls thereafter. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the chemicals get used up, so there are some tricks to making the most of the developer. Ilford has great PDF’s on this process, so I cannot take credit for it. Ilford has another great PDF on washing which uses much less water than conventional methods and still gives archival quality rinses.

Scanning Negatives

Scanning is the best part in using film, because you finally get to see what you created! I actually dry my negatives on a hanger in a doorway with a white door as a backdrop so I can peek at the negatives. However, until you get them scanned to a screen, you cannot tell if they are in focus or scratched.

I have been using a Nikon CoolScan 5000 ED [http://www.nikonusa.com/en_INC/IMG/Assets/Film-Scanners/2010/9238-Super-COOLSCAN-5000-ED/PDF/COOLSCAN_Brochure_1007.pdf] for over 10 years. I bought some extras so I have a reel in the back that allows me to scan an entire roll of film, uncut. The scanner feeds the frames one at a time and rolls them up in the back to protect them. When I’m finished, I just cut the negatives and store them. The big advantage is I can go do something else while the scanner works for me!

If you buy a scanner that only uses cut negatives, be sure you know how long a strip it can scan. Nothing feels worse than setting up a new scanner and then learning it will only scan strips of 5 frames while all yours are cut with 6 frames.

Mt. Rogers Backpacking Trip

Image 8 – Wild ponies at Grayson Highlands near the Appalachian Trail, Leica MP with Elmar-M 50 f/2.8 Collapsible.

The Nikon scans to 4,000 DPI and has a maximum density of 4.8 (says Nikon). In practical terms, the density appears more like 3.8 or 4, but that is still great. This scanner also uses LED’s for a light source so the negatives stay cooler which means the focus remains constant. Also, it means you don’t need spare bulbs!

The ED model scanner which I use also has better glass to focus the negative which means less chromatic aberration (sound familiar?). The scanner will allow me to sample each area multiple times and average them together which helps avoid noise in the image file.

This scanner is expensive and cost me over $2,000 years ago. But, it is one of the best mid-level scanners available until you step up to the Hasselblads. It’s not only convenience, but the dynamic range is so good that poorly exposed negatives can frequently be saved.

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Image 9 – Titled, ‘Number 42’, Leica MA with Summilux 35 FLE, Ilford FP4

The Nikon software does not work with a Macintosh anymore, so I had to find alternate scanning software. I settled on VueScan although there are some other great products. VueScan allows me to use all of the functions built into the Nikon scanner and also outputs a DNG file. I save a setup file for each film type I scan and it allows auto numbering of the scanned files making batch scanning simple.

What does all this scanning stuff mean? For an investment that is still less than a new digital Leica M body, I can get digital quality film files. My scanned DNG files are about 40 mb, or what an uncompressed 18mb full frame sensor produces from my Leica M240! Once these DNG files are stored on disk, I back them up and import them into Lightroom just like my SD cards. From there, the workflows are all the same.

Dust

Oh what a bad word! Dust. A film developers nightmare is dust. I use Ilford anti-static cloths to clean negatives before scanning and I scan as soon as freshly developed negatives are dry, but dust still creeps in the system.

So, Lightroom spot adjusting is inevitable! Dust is like the Borg – Resistance is futile. However, a few things can help keep dust to a minimum. Use a water additive in a final rinse so that no water spots form while drying which become dust magnets. Dry negatives away from major walk areas and do not run your clothes dryer while negatives hang helplessly nearby.

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Image 10 – Leica MP with Noctilux 1.0, Ilford FP4.

Scan quickly and use an anti-static cloth. While I cannot yet vouch for a negative dust vacuum, I have purchased one for 35mm negatives and in a few weeks I should be able to run a strip of negatives through a small steel vacuum that uses ions and anti-static brushes to remove almost all dust before scanning. Its another investment, but less dust means less software cleanup and less time.

Adobe finally added the ability in Lightroom to not only remove spots, but to draw a line with a brush which clones another area just like spot removal. This works splendidly on scratched negatives. Get used to spot removal though, because even the best scans have a little dust.

Tips

If you are already working in film, here are a few tips that I’ve learned over the years:

  1. Be sure the film is really loaded. Put the film in the camera properly, close the bottom and wind one frame. Then use the rewind know for a couple of turns to take up the slack. Wind the next few frames to get to frame 1 and watch the rewind crank to be sure it is turning. If not, you may not have loaded the film. There isn’t a worse feeling than developing a blank roll of film.
  2. Be sure you take of the lens cap! Same as number 1.
  3. I use a combination of disposable film cartridges, reloadable cartridges and the old brass Leica cartridges (in M-4 and below, or my case the IIIc). Bulk film is really cheap, much cheaper than buying rolls one at a time.
  4. I love the stainless reels that have no clip to hold the end of the film. Those clips frustrate me to no end! The other reels have an opening and you just put the loose end in. I can put two rolls of film on reels in about 4 minutes.
  5. Cup your hand around the film when you are winding it in the reels. It will allow it to easily expand back out into the sides. This is probably the hardest part of film photography. Personally, I do not like the plastic reels that turn back and forth to load the negatives. I think the jam too much and scratch the negatives. But, use whatever you can consistently load the film well with. Practice with a blank roll of film you can expose to light.
  6. Use your developer in 24 hours and throw it away. Oxygen kills developer and developer is what makes the image show up in the negative. Old developer lowers the contrast and removes detail in the shadows. Fixer lasts longer and stop bath lasts until it turns a dark color (a long time).
  7. Practice by shooting film and developing it. Shoot a roll and develop it. A single reel tank uses about 16ml of chemicals. You can see what you are doing wrong and adjust it. That is what breeds confidence.
  8. Scan your film as soon as it is dry. I use an Ilford anti-static cloth to lightly (very lightly) wipe the negative before scanning to remove dust. Dust takes a long time to remove in PS or LR, try not to scan more dust than you have to.
  9. Store your negatives well. Put them in archival negative sleeves and label them while you still remember what they are. This is your backup. One day when we have 80mb scanners at 10,000 DPI, you can rescan your negatives. There are some images I have in Lightroom that are almost 30 years old, but now are digital.
A 2013 snowfall made for perfect portraits of my bride.

Image 11 – Kelli in the snow, Leica MP with Summilux 50, Ilford FP4

Conclusion

Practice makes perfect, so borrow materials until you get it down and find out what you want to buy. The reward is something you made from scratch and the dynamic range and detail is just as good as digital. It takes awhile, so take a lot of pictures around the house or just for fun and develop them. Keep notes on what works and try to find ways to speed things up so it remains fun. Happy developing!

David Matthew Knoble. August 2015.

WHY SHOOT FILM? – part 1

 

Leica IIIc - 8th Grade RHS Painting Woolworths Facade

Img 1 – High School Students Painting a Construction Wall on Main Street.

By David Matthew Knoble

The young 9th grade boy was one of three onlookers as I showed my camera to his teacher. It was 11am and I stumbled on a high school art class painting a construction wall on Main Street. After taking about three frames I struck up conversations. I had just explained what camera I was using after the teacher remarked, ‘That’s a Leica!’

The young boy casually asked, “can I see the pictures you just took?” Replying with a grin I told him, “No, this is a 1949 film camera, I have to develop the pictures first”. His volley continued, “so is their a display on the back where I can see the pictures?” I turned around my Leica IIIc with a 35mm Summaron attached so he could see the shark skin leather back. He shrugged his shoulders and went back to painting.

It was easy for me to understand where this lad was coming from. Technology has changed considerably since my first box camera and no high school student knows what a rotary dial phone is anymore. What amazes me more is the number of adults that might have the same conversation with me. So why would I shoot film with a dinosaur? I’m not going to pontificate on the resolution of film versus digital or the exposure latitude. The reason is much less complex. But, to test your skills, see if you can tell which of the images here are from film and which are pure digital.

Camp Daniel Boone

Img 2 – Sword Fighting at Summer Camp

The art of shooting film has enhanced my photography skills every year. I spend almost equal time shooting film as I do digital. The pure-bred digital cult is quick to ask me why I would spend so much time bulk loading film cartridges, winding exposed film around reels inside a black bag, checking the temperature of freshly mixed chemicals against tables and charts while piling up beakers like an Iron Chef cook off. My answer starts out simple – it’s because all that work forces me to slow down and think and I get better photographs as a result.

 

Computer Chip = My Brain

My film cameras have no computer chips and no batteries. My brain does the work. Bright sunny day? No trouble! ISO 125 means 1/1000 second at f/5.6. Start shooting! Yellow filter? Take it down to f/4.0.

Phtographing Dads

Img 3 – Dad’s Taking Prom Pictures

Even if using a light meter sometimes or all the time, converting film speed and light to the proper manual exposure exercises your thinking muscles. After a time, it gets really easy. More importantly, it carries over to my M240 and Monochrom.

Too often in today’s technology I believe we rely on a computer to think for us. It would be easy to let the M240 set a shutter speed for me. But it is a reflective meter and that backlit subject just came out too dark. Ok, open up a stop and shoot again. Still too dark? Try one more stop. Peeking at the LCD in between exposures and shielding the sun with my hand it looks like I finally got a good one.   It’s a shame it took so long that I missed the shot I originally wanted. Working with film can help alleviate some of that trial and error when a reflective meter doesn’t work.

 

Film Breeds Confidence

Someone wrote recently about One Shot Harris.   What a great name! Harris was known for only taking one shot because it was all he needed. The Pittsburgh newspaper frequently published several of his images each issue. If you work with film long enough to get the right exposure you have developed confidence – the same confidence needed to use something like the M60 with no LCD.

Without confidence, I might shoot 8 exposures of one scene varying f/stop and shutter speed just to make sure I got one image that comes out properly. Almost sounds like running a digital camera at 3 frames per second for a few seconds to get just the right shot. Checking the LCD let’s me make sure I captured one I like and re-shoot if necessary. Film, on the other hand, makes me wait until development to see if I made the right choice for exposure.

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Img 4 – Water Hats to Cool Off at Summer Camp

See the image below. It’s from Summer Camp and the boys were really hot, so it was time for water filled hats to cool them off. I was using an M-4 with a Summicron 35 attached. I set the exposure, focused and waited. When they put on their hats, I snapped the shutter. It was two weeks later until I found out I got the shot. I only had one chance and I only took one image. That’s confidence.

This same confidence spills over to a camera like a digital M, adjusting when necessary. Yes I chimp some like the best of them.   But I don’t need to and that’s key.

 

Handling the Unexpected

I spent early July in France alternating each day between film and Digital. The day we walked through Montemarte I was using my Leica MP to keep weight down. I would use the built in meter to check the grass or dark blue sky for middle grey. Half way through our walk, my battery died. I kept shooting using the Sunny 16 rule and got about an 80% keep rate on exposure. That gives me confidence. Here’s a shot below from that walk.

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Img 5 – Montemarte

A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought of wasting film by guessing. Today, my guesses are much more educated and while I stop and think, I don’t mind trying. There are some great sunny 16 charts on the web that provide guidance down to candlelight, or a dimly lit room inside a house. The only way to master this type of shooting is to try it and then develop the roll quickly while everything is fresh. Adjust your thinking and shoot another roll.

 

Film Gear

I still carry an incident light meter with me set to ISO 125. I’ll be randomly walking and guess at the light level checking it with my meter. I use a Sekonic Studio Deluxe II which has no need of a battery. It’s the old dial and needle concept, but I find it easier to read and you can read EV directly off the dial. This is an easy practice method with instant feedback and no waste of film. I also love the Sekonic L458dr because of the spot meter built in and the Gossen Starlight which has a zone measuring mode.

Group Study

Img 6 – Coffee Shop Study Group

While I use Sunny 16 for most shooting around town, landscape work is different. The zone method is impeccable for still life. The point is the subject is still so you have time to think. Zone work with rolls of film is challenging. So, I modified my approach for bulk work. Instead I just spend much more time setting an exposure.

I measure the dynamic range of the scene and set middle grey. When I use the Gossen, I meter a tone and set it to a zone on the display. Each other area can then be measured and the zone it will fall under will be displayed. It’s an easier dynamic range exercise. I cannot over emphasize the value of colored filters. I use yellow and green colored filters. These improve contrasts and overall quality of the negative. You can experiment here with digital RAW images and Lightroom. The same concept applies!

St Johns USVI

Img 7 – Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil

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Img 8 – Playing at the Pirate Ship

I have used a variety of manual film cameras over the years and some have stuck with me. I started with an M-4 and then added an M-6 ttl. As digital took hold, I sold some older cameras. I bought an MP which I have taken backpacking and love the mechanical nature with a light meter built in. Then I added an M-2R which I loved but eventually sold because my aging eyes didn’t like the yellowing of the rangefinder. I also started using a IIIC which has two windows, one that is zoomed in, making focusing easier. But I have to say my favorite is a chrome black M-A with the black chrome 35 summicron and 50 summilux. The clarity of the finder and heft of the body is great!

Conclusion

I really enjoy using film, but I also grew up using film. In fact, most people that did start with film still use it occasionally. My hope is that some digital-only folks will give film a try. Even if the film is commercially developed and scanned, you learn the skill and patience.

For those that think film is dead, ask the product development team at Leica. They saw fit to give us two models of strictly mechanical film cameras – one in chrome and one in black. Leica also still offers the MP and M7, so four bodies are available. Film is not even close to being dead.

Slow down. Treat an SD card as a limited resource and the shutter as a one-shot device. Concentrate on getting the right exposure and timing the shutter release just right. That is the skill of a great photographer! Now go shoot a frame or two. In Part II I’ll talk a little about my development and scanning techniques.

David Matthew Knoble

Ok, did you decide which images were from a film camera? All are from a Leica of course and the list of cameras and lenses is below.

Img 1 – 2015, Leica IIIC, Summaron 35, Ilford FP4

Img 2 – 2014, Leica MP, Noctilux f/1.0, Ilford FP4

Img 3 – 2015, Leica M2-R, Summicron 35 ASPH, Ilford FP4

Img 4 – 2007, Leica M-4, Summicron 35 ASPH, Ilford FP4

Img 5 – 2015, Leica MP, Summicron 35 ASPH, Ilford FP4

Img 6 – 2015, Leica MP, Summilux 50 ASPH, Ilford FP4

Img 7 – 2013, Leica MP, Summicron 28 ASPH, Ilford Delta 400

Img 8 – 2007, Leica M4, Summicron 35 ASPH, Ilford FP4

 

Street Photography, it’s about mood and moment not minutiae

What is Street Photography? I believe it’s about capturing life in the street, revealing the drama in the everyday. That’s it. Like any good photograph it needs to exude an energy which resonates with the viewer. It may capture a decisive moment, highlight drama and tension or just pose a question. Daido Moriyama calls this ‘friction’.

selfie with rum

Selfie with bottle of Courvoisier

Many of the acknowledged masters of Street Photography were actually documenting their times and it’s only later their work came to be included within the genre. Atget, considered by many sources the Father of the Street, recorded statues, churches and street scenes he knew would soon pass into history. Walker Evans chronicled the Great Depression for the Farm Security Administration. Lewis Hine concentrated on the Human Document,  photographing immigrant communities in the early 1900’s.

And how Street sits alongside the accepted genres of photography is still an (18%) grey area. One of the classic reference works, ‘The History of Photography’ by Beaumont Newhall doesn’t even have an index entry for Street Photography. My personal point of view is that when the street becomes a road it overlaps with Travel Photography. When it involves a journalistic approach or street portraiture it starts to blend back into Documentary. And that’s fine. I’m happy with blur. Personally I don’t feel the need to box everything into some kind of giant art infographic and get precious about definitions.

man

Man in the machine

However there are some well known and talented photographers who see it very differently. I’ve just finished a book, published in 2014 so presumably reflecting current practice, written by one such traditionalist. He argues that Street Photography must be candid.  This is non negotiable. Anything involving interaction with the subject, changes the dynamics, involves some kind of conscious or unconscious ‘posing’ and therefore isn’t true street shooting. Instead it is Street Portaiture. I understand the sentiment, although images involving eye contact are a grey area and highlight how difficult it can be when we let the urge to control and box everything take charge.

OK the first click was candid. What about the second or third? The subject knew they were being photographed. Did they subtly change their demeanour in some way? So the first is ‘proper’ Street but the second two exposures are Street Portraiture? Yes I’m being picky but if you want to set up ‘rules’ then they have to work.

is it street

This is the second exposure but it’s not a portrait.

Is it Street? Is it Travel? Does it matter? 

How about Margaret Bourke White? She was the first female photo-journalist and the first female photographer to shoot for Life magazine. In 1939, in ‘Changing New York’ she wrote, ‘To make a portrait of a city is a life work and no-one portrait suffices, because the city is always changing, everything is properly part of its story….’ So in her terminology, a whole portfolio of diverse street images came together as a portrait of a city.

I’m sure we could all cope with that ambiguity but unfortunately the rules don’t stop there. The author goes on to state that shooting from the hip is also dubious, too much chance involved. (Walker Evans, please take note, you’ve been doing it all wrong). Cropping the image in post processing is wrong as it should be right first time in the camera. Using a telephoto lens is discouraged as it’s lazy. We shouldn’t even pre-visualise a theme. Instead we should walk in a trance like state responding to our surroundings. For these purists, Street is the almost spiritual hub of all photography.

goodbye

Goodbye

Goodbye. This where I part company. It seems that rigor mortis has set in. Where do these these beliefs come from? Is it Henri Cartier-Bresson?

Certainly he developed an affinity for Zen in his later years after reading ‘Zen and the Art of Archery’ by Eugene Herrigel and spoke of the need to ‘forget you are carrying a camera’. He also famously disliked cropping. Which is fine when reputedly, only one in a hundred negatives make it to the enlarger. Then that one isn’t going to need cropping. As the contact sheets of the great man have never been published, we’ll never know. 

Let’s also remember he didn’t use a light meter, distrusted colour as producing empty effects, never printed his own work and often signed into hotels as ‘Hank Carter’. Should we all do that too?

No, of course not. The fact is that he was one of (if not the) greatest photographic artists of the twentieth century and like many people of genius he had his beliefs and foibles. My feeling is that common practice from the film era, anecdotes and occasional verbatims from the great photographic masters, hearsay and wishful thinking have congealed into a ‘code of conduct’ appropriate to the 1970’s. 

opposite view

Far enough

I take the opposite point of view. There is nothing sacred about Street Photography. Being creative in any genre is hard. Good street imagery is about mood and moment not minutiae.

Get the shot. Use the camera you love, the shooting style which suits you and if you want to, feel free manipulate and share the image with the world. This is not an excuse for sloppy discipline but I am encouraging plenty of creative play in the camera and in the computer.

This may come as heresy to some but photographers have been manipulating images forever. Early landscape photographers joined together separate exposures of the land and sky because the glass plates lacked the dynamic range to imitate painting and hold detail in both. In 1876 Doctor Barnado was sued for fraud because he made up studio sets of life on the street for promotional material. The history books are full of similar examples.

Fast forward to today. Most major camera manufacturers apply lens corrections in their software, it is commonplace to convert colour images to black and white and the widespread use of apps shows that retouching is now part of everyday image making.

Think about it. The whole notion of applying rules to an art form which is frequently about impromptu ‘decisive moments’ is bizarre. 

improvements underway

Improvements under way…

So, hopefully liberated from half a century old ideas, safe in the knowledge that there is no absolutely right way to create a photograph let’s take that first single step out into the street and hope that ‘improvements are under way’……

In part 2 of this series I’ll be looking at what I believe makes a good street shot and beyond that at different shooting styles.

PS: Street can be a divisive and emotional subject. There are no eternal rules of right and wrong. All artists and genres of art shapeshift through time and this article simply represents my opinion at this moment. I appreciate that your views may vary and that’s fine.

Tech note: all images with Leica M series cameras.

Olaf Willoughby

Olaf and Eileen McCarney Muldoon are co-teaching a Street Photography workshop, “Destination Brooklyn, Unlocking Mysteries”, Sep 21 – 24th.

email me at: olaffwilloughby@gmail.com or more information: https://slate.adobe.com/a/z6nZD