Street Photography vs. Environmental Photography

By elvishefer / May, 7, 2012 / Comments

It’s a very busy time of year. We’re looking for a new place to live, and that’s always a very unsettling process (before it becomes a settling process), that eats spare time and drains energy. Throughout the process I’ve managed to squeeze some photography in, and some learning as well. I’ve been reading about street photography lately, and really trying to distill what ‘high level’ street photographs are. Like with all kinds of shooting, there’s a distinction between making photographs and taking snapshots. Anyone can take a snapshot, but what is involved making a great street photo?

It is often said that a great photo tells a story. Take the above image shot along the Toronto water front of Lake Ontario. I had only a few seconds to realize it was happening, lift my camera, compose and shoot. The second photo of the same scene I took was better technically (I changed aperture to attempt to control depth of field), but the dog’s head was overlapping the dock and the photo wasn’t a clean. Overall, I don’t think this photo is ‘great street’ but it has some positive elements.

An interesting subject – the dog alert; the man bored. In the background, more people lazing on park benches. A contradiction of the sleepy hound and his master. Add more interest – it’s a dog, on a boat! And then give the image depth in the form of multiple horizon lines formed by the docks and the real horizon. Used some dodging and burning to further isolate the subject. What remains is a passable image.

In the pursuit of perfection there’s many things I’d change in the composition if I had the time. I would have eliminated the boat in the top right corner. It’s distracting. I would make sure the lamp post shadow did not bisect the dog’s head. I would have used a longer focal length to further isolate the subject. I would have changed my elevation to ensure the horizontal lines were more vertically compact. I would have moved in front of the barrier chain that, instead of adding needed foreground interest, looked curved, inconsistent and messy.

And that’s great street photography – the achievement of all those other things in the pursuit of capturing a moment.

Moments are manufactured, and great photos do not happen regularly or as expected. Instead, as I walk, I have to make do with practicing other things. Like seeing, for example. Here, the normally flat greens were back lit to give the scene a more tranquil atmosphere. A boring photo, but the lighting is technically valid.

Blossoms in Toronto’s High Park in Spring. I used a 70mm focal length, f/2.8 aperture and a circular polarizer to try to isolate a subject to improve the image. The soft side lighting helped give definition to the blossoms.

Here, I used the same settings but a harsher back light. Less definition, more contrast.

Not all street photography is people. This could have been a macro shot of the butterfly, its colors and perfect lines. Instead, by using a wider focal length, we see the environment around it. And the story. A sketch of a peacock, another of nature’s beauties, balances the butterfly. A sign with a strong down arrow points to the word High Park, in the same direction the butterfly is looking. This photo could have been composed better, the butterfly could be positioned more strongly, looking at the peacock. But there is still enough interest in the image to draw the viewer’s eye in and start their mind working.

Another example of a story almost told. The tree stump is a giant triangle. The bird on it oblivious to its geometric values, and is interested in the lunch it holds. The scene is back lit, making for an airy, green environment and an atmosphere of calm. The bird is lit brighter than expected – it is on the shadow side of the stump. I cheated, and used fill flash. If I hadn’t, the scene would take on a more sinister aspect, and the interesting subjects would have been lost in shadow.

This is a photo of a Full Moon, taken on the shore of Lake Ontario. It is not the best shot of the moon I’ve taken – there was too much atmospheric interference – Toronto smog ruined its potential. I was also using a soft lens and TC combination unsuited for detail work. Yet, I think this is the best post production of a moon shot I’ve done. The shadows are shadowy, the highlights are bright. And there’s a tint of color that makes it slightly more interesting than a black and white image would be.

Much writing this time. I have a photo trip planned for the end of the month, and hope to have some portfolio worthy seascapes and landscape shots from it.

Enjoy!