Jean-François Cléroux | Flâneur & Lens Creative
Different Lens, Different Story!

Category: Class

Learning to be a better shooter

We all look at newer and better cameras, and we as photographers spend a ton of money on them. Why? We want to take better photos. By buying a new camera what we are doing in essence is blaming our existing gear. Is it a gear problem?

Clearly not. Most of us turn to the masters, whether they be Street Photographers or Landscape Photographers, we all aspire and strive to be like them. Often, people will study these masters haphazardly, will learn what gear they used, and will most of the time not learn ‘how’ these photographers worked. Often, it is the ‘how’ that is most important.

“Searching For The Right Word” – Gerry Hiebert 2016

Most of today’s cameras far surpass in quality the cameras of yesteryears master. Yet, most photographers still think they need better cameras. Case in point, are those that look to Ansel Adams as their ‘master’. They love the images, they aspire to do the same, yet they are too lazy to hike their gear to the majestic scenes and too lazy to even use a tripod as Ansel Adams did. So, what do they do when their images are still not the same as the masters and a little blurry? The look for another lens or new camera.

Your camera can do it. As long as you purchased the right camera for the right job, i.e. Not an old 8×10 View Camera for candid street photography, you are probably good. Most Phone, Pocket, Rangefinders,  and DSLR digital or film cameras will do the job. All of these technologies can create amazing images. I have created award-winning images that have been published from a camera I purchased many years ago, a Canon 40D with only 10.1 megapixels.

New gear is NOT the answer. Venders and salespeople will tell you it is. Oh, shiny new objects they will put into your hands. Don’t do it. Don’t get caught in the trap.

So, if it’s not the new gear, what should you do to become a better photographer? Well, you can turn to podcasts, magazines, books, classes, workshops (DIY or Expensive varieties) but the most useful way of learning is by going out and shooting. I know photographers that purchased studio lights, read several books on lighting, took three workshops on lighting, upgraded their lights to newer shinny ones, and would not go out and work with a model because; their words, “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Get out, shoot, make mistakes, learn from them. There is NO BETTER WAY to learn, than by doing. Doing, shooting, is the absolute best way to learn and get better.

”Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

Books, classes, and workshops can help give you better insights and can show you different ways of doing things, and can help with some tips and tricks. Remember however those different ways are not always the best for you. These other ways may not suit your style or your personality. Or, they may. Without trying different ways, how can you know which way is best? You need to invest in these different ways. By invest I mean, time. Don’t try a new skill or technique for an hour or a day and decide it’s not for you. Some techniques, like Zone Focus shooting from the hip, need many outings to master. The rewards however are great. Many skills and techniques are like that. Spend the time, shoot lots, you will be rewarded.

I have had students that have been stuck because they were taught one way to do something and were very reluctant to try different methods or techniques. Many would rather buy new gear (yet again) than change what or how they do things.

Seriously, Podcasts, Books, Classes, and Workshops are for the most part ALL better ways of learning to create better images than getting a new camera and capturing crappy images with more pixels. Get out and shoot.

In the next few posts, I will talk about ways of Self Learning based on a class I teach and will discuss workshops. How to choose workshops, how to prepare, and how to get the most out of them.

See you on the streets.  

Exploring the Question: What is Street Photography? Part 01 – History of Street Photography

The issue with Street Photography is that it is many things to many people. It has varying degrees of uncertainty in its definitions based on the over abundance of bad definitions you can garner off the web. Part of this confusion comes from the ‘history’ of Street Photography. When was the genre started? Is any image that includes a street, ‘Street Photography?’ Or, does it need to have people? Or, is there more to it than that?

Making matters worse is that many people look at Street Photography, not as a ‘genre’, but rather as a ‘way’, a ‘mindset’ as it were. When you approach Street Photography as a mindset, things change drastically. A part of this mindset group is pushing away from Street Photography as a ‘genre.’ This causes further confusion. So, where do we start?

It would seem logical to start with the history of Street Photography except for the fact that historically, no one knows when Street Photography started? As some would suggest it started with the very first photo ever taken, “View from Window at LeGras” (1827) by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765 – 1833); others would suggest it started with the very first capture of a person on the Streets with the famous “Boulevard du Temple” (1839) by Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre (1787 – 1851).

Both, depending on your definition, are incorrect examples. Interestingly, many of those that attribute Street Photography as a ‘mindset’ also attribute either (or both) of these images as the first Street Photography images ever taken. And, again, this is plainly wrong.

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce - View from the Window at Le Gras,

In looking at either of these images we need to look at ‘intent’. The intent of both of these images, and expected results, were not Street Photography, and neither were they photographed with the mindset of Street Photography. In Niépce’s image he had never accomplished getting a successful image. He was not a photographer doing photography, he was a scientist experimenting with capturing anything. He succeeded and created the now oldest image ever made “View from Window at LeGras.” His intent, was to capture something, anything, in the emulsion on his pewter plate. As his large camera was in his research lab, or studio as it was called, he aimed it out the window where the sun was bright. He knew he needed a lot of light. He knew and understood that the image would require an extremely long exposure. No notes have been found on the exact length of time, but it is proposed to be around eight hours. Note also that as a ‘subject’, he photographed rooftops which could be considered Urban Landscapes, but if you consider Street Photography to be a mindset, Niepce’s mindset was not set on Urban Landscape or Street Photography but rather on the Scientific Research and capturing something, ANYTHING.

If it is the Street Photographers purpose to capture ANYTHING, then yes, I suppose we are ALL Street Photographers.

Boulevard du Temple by Daguerre

In Daguerre’s example, he also, was experimenting with his new image capturing process, the Daguerrotype. He also knew that he required long exposures and he assumed he would not capture any people, horses, or carts. And, much like Niepce’s image, it was convenient for him to just point it out the window. He did manage to capture ‘the Street’ but again, his intention was to capture something well. He knew he was going to capture something as he had already done experimental images and he was refining his process. With the second image he took on this particular day he lucked out. A pedestrian gentleman had stopped to get a shoe shine from a street vendor. Because his legs and shoes were stationary for an extended period, his legs were captured, and because of lack of movement they were reasonably sharp and the rest of his body was blurred as the gentleman had moved his upper torso around for the exposure. Again, all for scientific purposes. He had not yet set his mind to ‘art’ or even to Street Photography at this time. Not with exposures of 20 to 30 minutes that it took to properly expose Daguerreotypes in those days.

Anyone that argues that this is Street Photography, including all those that propose it is a mindset, are reducing Street Photography to the simple notion that Street Photography must include a person, on the street. That is all that was accomplished here. Its an ultra long exposure of many people on a street but again the intent, was to capture a scene, so that it could be analyzed afterwards to see how successful the final image was in the way of chemicals used, tonal range, exposure, sharpness and so on. A success no doubt, but NOT street photography by any definition.

So, if these are NOT street photography? Then what images are? What are the first ever ‘intended’ street photographs ever taken? There are several thoughts on this. In Part 02, we’ll examine the works of Charles Nègre and a few others before we move on to other definitions.

See you on the defining streets!

Class Notes for Part-01 – Required Reading 4

Nick Turpin’s statement

“Now I understand that ‘Street Photography’ is just ‘Photography’ in its simplest form…..”

Is probably the least accurate statement I have ever heard when it comes to describing ANY form of photography, let alone, Street Photography. There is nothing about ‘Street Photography’ that is simple or simplistic, or basic in its values, processes, composition, nuances or artistic elements.

His notion that a child spontaneously pushing a button on a camera, perhaps photographing their sibling, or their favorite toy, or unknowingly, whatever is just in front of the camera, is “Street Photography”, is way off mark to the point of being silly.

That would be like suggesting that any beginner using a paintbrush for the very first time is the purest form of painting, even if it’s a purple shade of Benjamin Moore for a small bathroom. Or, that any mindless pen or pencil doodle on a napkin is the purest form of unhindered carnal art.

The base of “Street Photography” is Photography. The camera, is the medium, the tool, much like a painter uses Paint and Brush. To suggest that a child’s first view through a viewfinder is at its base Street Photography is much like suggesting that a child’s first painted “stick person” is the base of “Fine Art Abstract Nudes”. There is NO correlation, one does not lead to the other.

Keep in mind that Street Photography is an art. As such, when looking through the viewfinder the street photographer composes. Even when blindly shooting from the hip, the street photographer looks at backgrounds and makes decisions. This is after looking at the main subject and making decisions on when to shoot the decisive moment. These are NOT mindless, thoughtless snapshots. And, at all times, the Street Photographer thinks about art, creating amazing images. Never an easy task in such a fluid environment.

Another problem with the statement is that the same can be said of almost any art or any photographic genre. The principles of Sports Photography are as pure as are the skills required. Timing is everything. Sports photographers capture “decisive moments” even more so than most street photographers. When working with models in Fashion Photography, or Portraiture, or Wildlife, it’s the same “raw reaction” and “primitive urge to react” to the scene in front of the photographer that is at the heart of what they are doing. So, ALL forms of Photography are Fashion Photography, or is that, Wildlife Photography??

I understand the need, or the want, to think of your art form as being the purest art form, but one should toss any of those thoughts aside. Nick’s example of the very first photo ever taken, “View from Window at Le Gras”

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce - View from the Window at Le Gras,

Nicéphore Niépce (1826 ou 1827). Vue de la fenêtre du domaine du Gras, à Saint-Loup-de-Varennes (Saône-et-Loire, Bourgogne, France)

Is another example that he has not thought through. He gets it wrong right from the get go. The image maker, Nicephore Niepce, was a scientist. His simplest purest thoughts were to achieve making an image, ANY image, and, as his equipment was in his Laboratory, and large, he pointed it out the window. He did this NOT because the view of rooftops was better, but because there was more sunlight out the window than there was in his Laboratory or Workshop. As a scientist he knew and understood that the extra light was required for what he new, or guessed, would be a rather long exposure. His exposure was in the neighborhood of eight hours. You can’t capture life with 8 hour exposures, but you could capture a picture of a street.

One of his readers rightly states that by defining Street Photography as he does merely simplifies Street Photography down to “nothing”. If Street Photography ‘is’ Photography, every form of, genre of, artistic abstract of photography, then any image taken by a monkey, or chicken, is Street Photography. I think not. Street Photography is so much more than merely pointing a camera with no purpose and pushing a button.

He further tries to correct his statement by defending himself when he accuses a reader of “misreading him.” The readers have not misread him, they have read him very well. It is Nick that has not described his intents very well.

In reading this, and other similarly bad examples given by different Street Photographers, I have pondered why they make these statements? What drives them. I think there are several things to look at that may lead to answers. Another reader of Nicks suggested the “elitism” is partly to blame. This is very true of Street Photography. How can an average Street Photographer, or even a top notch Street Photographer, distinguish themselves from the rest of the world doing Street Photography? In this day and age, it is no easy task.

So, they start off by laying claim to their art as being the purest form of Photography, even to the point of saying;

“Street Photography is the Prime Mover, the evolutionary inheritance of all Photography.”

This partly comes from other things artists do when trying to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack, they push boundaries. I think that many photographers have lost sight of the boundaries. Pushing boundaries means amongst other things;

“To take undue risks, esp. through overconfidence, thus risking failure.”

It is the pushing of artistic boundaries within the context, NOT changing the context, to suit your artistic needs. It’s the “Fake News” of photography. Deciding that photos of dogs posed on a chair in a studio is Street Photography, does not make it ‘avant-garde’ Street Photography, no matter how many times you say it, who you can convince to say it for you, or how famous you are. Now, its possible that your very naïve clients may agree with you and buy your dog images as Street Photography, but its still not Street Photography.

Many Street Photographers have tried pushing the boundaries of the definition of what Street Photography is versus pushing themselves to push the boundaries of their own Street Photography Art. In the way of pushing the definition, they have failed miserably. Many that have taken this route have NOT pushed the boundaries of their art at all but rather have lazily attempted to change definitions to suit themselves. Pushing a boundary in a BLUE school is NOT going RED. Those are the Boundaries Broken, much like shooting Fine Art Nudes on a couch in a Studio is NOT Street Photography, it is a change in context. If you believe that Street Photography can be posed, not candid, doing nude fine art on the streets could perhaps be considered Street Photography.

Alexey Titarenko

Untitled (Crowd 2), Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station, St. Petersburg, Russia, Alexey Titarenko, Photograph, 1993

If you believe, like I do, that Street Photography should be ‘candid’ and should capture and be about life on the ‘streets’, then pushing boundaries should stay within this context. A great example of a photographer pushing boundaries is Alexey Titarenko. His long exposures the blur the life component of Street Photography still capture the sense of ‘life’. It could easily be argued that his images ‘enhance’ life as the amalgamated blurs of lives in his images show the bland everyday mundane repetitive nature of everyday life.

If, on the other hand you are ok with ‘directing’ or ‘interacting’ with subjects, you could argue that bumping into them to capture their expressions and interactions with the rude person that just bumped into them, is pushing the boundaries. Is it everyday life? Did you capture a real moment? If you captured their reaction ‘before’ they realised they were being photographed, it would still be ‘candid’, perhaps ‘rude’, and if done on purpose could potentially be considered assault, but it would be ‘candid’ Street Photography. This would also be pushing the boundaries.

The point is that it becomes very important to define “What Street Photography is to you?.” What’s your definition? When you start pushing your own boundaries, are your images still in keeping with your definition? If you believe that ‘posed’ images of people on the streets is Street Photography as it captures ‘a person’ on the streets, does photographing them in a pool still count as Street Photography? What about photographing them in a studio? Where do you draw the line?

The important point is that ‘you’ should define Street Photography for yourself. But don’t be that lazy photographer. Put some thought into it, research it, think about it again, then decide. Oh, and if along the way you need to tweak your definition, make sure it’s a refinement and not just an easy way to get a photo of your dog on the couch, shown as Street Photography.

See you on the confused streets!

v1.01

Finding Your Voice: The Photographers Journey from Composition to Personal Style

Saturday February 17th & Sunday 18th, 2017.

A comprehensive two-day workshop that will look at Composition and how its understanding leads to Personal Style.

This workshop will examine much more than the ten basic rules of composition including:

1. The Science and Psychology of Imagery
2. The Importance of Subject Matter
3. Elements of Composition
4. Medium Specific (In-Camera Controls)
5. Placement/Point of Focus
6. Division of Space including Negative Space
7. Display
8. Balance (including how to recognize balance)
9. Notions and Devices
10. Breaking the Rules

And will further define and explore Style:

11. What is Style
12. Artistic & Photographic Style
13. Defining your Style
14. How to refine your Style

Although this is a Photography workshop, it is perfect for most artists including Painters and Illustrators. Based on class composition, Jean-Francois will discuss some other Mediums when appropriate.

This two-day workshop is $179.00 per person. Breakfast (Muffins, Donuts, Fruit) is included both days and Tea and Coffee will be provided throughout the day. Students to provide their own lunches. We will break for 1 Hour for lunch each day. There are several local food vendors nearby in Ladner where classes are being held.

Classes will run from 9:30am to 4:30pm on Saturday and Sunday in Ladner, BC. Lunch will be from (approx.) 12:00 to 1:00 each day. There will be Q&A time throughout the class and from 4:30 to 5:00 each day.

Please contact francois@northernexposures.com

Class Notes for Part-01 – Required Reading 3

• Part-1.3 – Nick Turpin: Street Photography Pie

You can tell by his writing and well thought out points that Nick Turpin believes in his definition of what Street Photography is. His point and arguments are concise as are his replies to comments on his page.

He starts off correctly with his statement of

“redefined the phrase Street Photography to what we recognize today…a documentary form that celebrated the candid public moment. And now whether you like the phrase or not there is unarguably a large and growing international community of photographers for whom it is very important that their approach to making pictures is purely observed, whose intention is to record public life as it is found.”

With the points of “candid public moments” and “to making pictures is purely observed” and “is to record public life as it is found” being key points in explaining what Street Photography is all about. This definition is the root, of what Street Photography is, what its about, and leads us to the Truth and the importance of Truth in Street Photography.

This definition excludes posed portraits, subjects directed by shouted comments or directed by photographic confrontation techniques.

The statement also brings up another very good point; “international community of photographers for whom it is very important that their approach to making pictures is purely observed.” If the root of Street Photography is about Truth and real life, its important that Street Photography hangs on to that. No matter what other genres are trying to claim or what Artists that are trying to push boundaries state, Street Photography is about ‘real life’.

(C) Jeff Wall - Mimic 1982

(C) Jeff Wall – Mimic 1982

His example of Jeff Walls Mimic 1982 is a great example. If the consumers of the image believe that street photography is real, it should be real. If they think and posed images or directed emotions are acceptable, then Street Photography will become nothing more than ‘fake news.’

 

Again, his comments are backed up with this comment

“The reason I get up again and again to defend candid Street Photography is because I believe IT REALLY MATTERS HOW PHOTOGRAPHS ARE MADE, it matters because it changes their meaning and historical value.”

If ‘all’ your images are faked or posed, what value to they have? Then you need to think about the integrity of your work, if some of your images are directed, how can viewers NOT question the truth or validity of the remaining images? A reader to his post commented on whether Street Photographers should take an oath like Journalists do and the reader suggests that we shouldn’t need to. I honestly believe that most good Street Photographers have taken an oath to themselves. And, this is why Nick’s statement below is so important and so valid

“it’s why we need the Street Photographers candid approach to be understood and respected.”

If Street Photography turns into nothing more than “Fake Images”, the art of Street Photography will be forever lost.

On this site I post some posed images that are “obviously” posed in that I like to share moments and some of the people I encounter on the streets. But, none of my other images are directed or posed. I do show a few images where I have been caught in the act of taking an image. This is so that I can; further setup the article that I am writing about what Street Photography is and; share with those learning Street Photography that these moments do happen; use then as examples of what maybe or may not be Street Photography (as in the bird down below).

Nick Turpin’s Street Photography Pie is a little over simplistic and doesn’t guide the reader that well. The three questions would fit into a flow chart much better. His explanation however is better

“It’s Photography yes, it’s Documentary Photography yes and it’s Candid Photography…yes.”

It’s Photography? Well we use cameras, so it is obviously photography.

Its Documentary? For this let’s take a closer look at what “documentary” means. Definitions for Documentary mostly go along this line; “Presenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter.”

We then need to further break this down and look at “objectively” meaning; “Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices,” and “editorializing” to mean; “to insert one’s personal opinions into an otherwise objective account.”

So, shouting out ‘Hey, look angry’ would lead to a photo that is NOT OBJECTIVE and one that IS EDITORIALIZED.

And lastly, we need to look up “candid”; meaning several things including “Characterized by openness and sincerity of expression” and meaning “Not posed or rehearsed.”

I think this says it all. This is what I believe street photography to be and I have taken that personal oath to making “candid” image. It’s what I aim for every time I am out shooting.

(C) Boogie - No Head Pigeon

(C) Boogie – No Head Pigeon

One last comment about what Street Photography is or isn’t based on Nick Turpin’s article. In the comments below his article he responds to someone and leaves good links to photographer’s sites (and a book) that are clearly NOT Street Photography (or at the very least not great Street Photography).

One reader comments on ‘Boogie’s work’ As being “fairly vacuous and fabricated.” It’s clear going to this link  http://boogiephoto.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/nyc that he is correct. He is also correct in pointing out that Boogie’s previous work that put him in the Street Photography Spotlight, is rather good. “Belgrade Belongs to Me” is great work. Some images are obviously staged while others are clearly candid. But take a close look, you’ll find some in between images where we do not know?? Are the images all “truthful?” I think not. And, just because a known Street Photographer takes a photo of a dead bird, it doesn’t mean its Street Photography.

What’s your belief? Should Street Photography be Candid? Is it important? Is it important to you? And, more importantly, is it important to the survival of Street Photography? More to follow in my Street Photography Definition article.

See you on the truthful streets!

 

Intro to Street Photography Walk – December 3, 2017

Student

Student

Hello everyone. So after last weeks successful rainy day walk that had 8 people show up, I have setup and organized a 2nd intro to Street Photography walk for this Sunday December 3rd. It is Street Photography specific. For those of you that want to learn Street Photography, I have setup a Free On-Line Street Photography class at Learn Street Photography. It is a multi-part class that you can do on your own time. If you are wanting to do it, now is the time. Head over to the Class Material and read the information for Part-01.

If you are new to street and want some quick guidance to get you started, I have posted a 4 Part quick start guide called “First Time Shooting? Part 1-4”. Part 1 can be found at First Time Shooting? This first intro walk is meant to just have you browsing the streets and to get you introduced to Street Photography. We will be doing more walks that will bring you to busier areas, harsher areas, diverging ethnic areas and even some night photography. We will pick locations that are suitable for the different sections to the Free On-line Class.

There is a handout with some homework if you like for after the walk. It is rain or shine! I will post a blog on Wet Weather Shooting before the walk including on how to keep your camera dry!

Our next walk will be in early January. See you on the streets!

You can book at Meetup.com [here].

Eifel Tower from Trocadero Square

Eifel Tower from Trocadero Square

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