Anatomy of a street shot

September 16, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I'm not much of a street photographer - for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, I don't live in a big city, or somewhere where one has access to large numbers of interesting people on a regular basis.  More importantly however, street photography is hard.  For my money, its the hardest form of photography.  Making something beautiful or interesting out of the randomness of the streets is really, really difficult, and requires a special kind of patience, seeing and dedication, which to be frank, I don't really have.  Of course, street photography done well can be exquisite - you only have to see the photos of Cartier-Bresson,  Garry Winogrand or Vivian Maier to see this.

Now and again, I do try my hand at street shots, when the opportunity presents itself.  One recent opportunity was during the Sacramento Gold Rush Days festival.  I left my family relaxing in the hotel room while I headed out for a stroll as the day wound down.  

One thing which becomes quickly apparent when trying to capture an interesting scene on the street is how critical timing is. 

 

Frame #1

I spotted "Barrel Man" just as he was having a photo taken with two with two security officers.  Of course, he looks like an interesting character, so I anticipated there might be a shot here somewhere.  My first press of the shutter was jus ta little bit too late. The symmetry of the pose between the man and woman is interesting, as is the focus of the man's expression, but Ice Cream Girl in the background is just too distracting to make this shot work.

 

Frame #2 & #3

Now the woman is out of frame, but  Little Girl is approaching (bigger sister Ice Cream Girl is now to right of frame).   There's no interaction between subjects in the frame #2 above, but at frame #3, things start to get interesting as Barrel Man notices little girl approaching.

 

Frame #4 & #5

Frame 4 is a complete washout.  We cant see Barrel Man's face at all and he's looking directly away from Little Girl.  Boo.  Frame 5 looks a little more interesting as Barrel Man turns to face towards the camera is is now interacting with Little Girl's family (though his attention is focused on Ice Cream girl, who remains largely out of shot.

 

Frame #6 

At last!  We have interaction between our two subjects.  Frame #6 is almost good enough.  There's a nice sense of trepidation in Little Girl's stance as she regards Barrel Man, and he's entirely focused on her.  But notice that she's still slightly too far to the right of frame.  Also, as a viewer, we are still slightly removed from things - both subjects are sideways to the camera.

 

Frame #7

And the moment is almost gone again!   Barrel Man's greeting to Little Girl looks a bit awkward and thanks to my not-fast-enough reflexes, she's now unceremoniously sliced in half by the frame.  Ugh.

 

Frame #8: The Money Shot!

But wait... the final shot, and we finally have something which (I think) works.   For a split second Barrel Man turns so that he is largely facing the camera, while still being very focused on Little Girl - and his expression is the most animated we've seen. Little Girl, for her part, is clearly observing Barrel Man with something approaching trepidation, and she is well inside frame.  The rather comical juxtaposition between the very earthy Barrel Man and the sweetly innocent Little Girl makes for a rather humorous capture.   What you can't see, is that, to the right of shot, Ice Cream girl and parents and just about to step into frame.  This moment literally lasted a split second and then it was gone.  The whole sequence from Frame 1 above to this frame took about 8 to 10 seconds.

Its all about timing.


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