Yes, I know it’s been a long, long while since my last post in this series – it’s turned out to be more of a bi-annually updated thing than a weekly one – but anyway, here we go. What Makes a Photograph #7. If you’re not sure what this series is about, well – I usually pick a random good shot from somewhere and attempt to dissect it and figure out what makes it look good and why it works…basically what makes it a photograph, if you get what I mean. Look back to the older posts of the series if you want to know what I’ve been doing in the past – and anyway, here we are today with #7, and with it, we’re back to one of my own shots
I’m not really the type to praise my own work, of course, but I really like this shot. It’s one of my (very few) recent favorites from my own library, and here it is:
A night street shot, taken in a night market in Dalat, Vietnam, this shot has something interesting about it. Almost haunting. The smoke rising through the center of the frame. The woman in the corner looking right at me. The color of the stuff in her stall. The color of the light. It just works for me, somehow. Ok, let’s get into the inner workings (?!) then
First of all, I think the “night street” part is something that’s adds to this shot. I probably mentioned this when I talked of street photography some time back, but as you probably have seen, most photographers shoot the streets during the day. I do too. It’s just easier. When street shooting, carrying a tripod is absolutely out of the question, so working around those slow shutter speeds in low lighting conditions is always a hassle. However, if you remember my advice earlier on, prime lenses are fantastic to use, and are very much suited to street photography. They also have the benefit of being fast i.e. they have a very wide maximum aperture; so if you’re using a prime lens for street work, you have this benefit when shooting at night. ISO is also not really a problem, as many cameras can go up to ISO 1600 or so without too much noise, and even if the image is a tad grainy, on street shots (especially in black and white) it can appear nice and gritty, and actually end up adding to the image. Also, remember that streets are not as dark as you’d think. Some streets are pretty well light, and little markets and street shops like this one are even brighter. I had a f1.8 prime lens attached when I took this shot, but I was comfortably able to stop down to f3.2, with an ISO of 800 – which any new camera can very safely handle – and still get an easily useable 1/60 sec shutter speed. This is one of the biggest pointers I’m trying to…point at…with this post – shoot streets at night too! It’s not as hard as you might think
Next, the timing. Street photography is ALWAYS about timing. In my post on street photography tips, I talk a lot about your mental attitude and how you approach street photography with the right frame of mind. Well, 80% of all those tips and stuff is to help you get your timing right, if you really look at it – so that’s one of the biggest factors of street shooting. Luck definitely plays a part too. In this shot, see how that nice cloud of smoke was wafting through the air, just as the woman looked right at me and my camera, all coming together to make this exact frame. I doubt she looked for long. The stall wasn’t as smoky as it seems here. It just happened, and clicking at that exact moment was what made this shot. A moment later and it would’ve been a different kind of shot. These things just happen – the trick is to be ready for it so that you get it when it happens. If you’re lucky
What else do you notice? I think shooting street photographs in color is something else that’s rather underused, don’t you? Most street shots I see are in black and white. And that’s not a bad thing. I love black and white, and street life in monochrome can often look stunning. Most of my own street work is in black and white. However, it’s never a bad thing to shoot color on the streets too. In fact, if you remember my tip in my street photo post, always shoot color, and convert later. This way you have both options when post processing. Or shoot RAW. Or both! But yeah – this shot wouldn’t have much contrast if converted to black and white, with a lot of dark tones which would not have had much definition in monochrome. On the other hand, what it does have are some very nice colors, right? From the colorful produce the stall is selling, to the brightly colored roof of the stall itself, it’s full of color. Why waste all that?
Then there’s the light. A lovely warm light, giving a really nice effect to the shot. It just looks cozy and comfortable, somehow. That’s what warm, yellow light at night can do to your shot. The light pouring in from a side, instead of front-on, adds a nice effect too. See my post on Light (coming soon), and how it affects your shot
Lastly, note the composition. See the low perspective, and how it adds a lot of interest to the shot; and while you might think that this is a shot of an entire scene, with no real subject, there always is a subject: in this case, it’s the woman. No real Rule of Thirds followed when looking at her position in the frame, as she’s right on the edge, but I think she’s balanced out by the other elements in the frame, don’t you? I do!
Yeah, that’s what I think makes this photograph click. The unusual look of a night street shot, combined with the also-unusual look of a color street shot, along with the vital aspect of street photography (timing), and a rather decent composition. What do you think of this shot? Please leave a comment and let me know. Kind or unkind, I don’t mind! And that rhymed. Time to go. Until next time
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By Heshan Jayakody All content in this post is my own
- An Odd Number of Tips on Street Photography (pixelogist.me)
- 7 Steps to Get Over Your Fear of Street Photography (digital-photography-school.com)
- What Makes A Great Street Photograph and How Do We Create Them (digital-photography-school.com)