Category: Articles
How to Capture Movement on the Street

Long exposure photography has become very popular over the past decade, particularly among landscape and astro photographers looking to to add a more surreal mood to their pictures. However, this is doesn’t mean that long exposures are limited to those specific areas of photography. With street photography, people often people think of the ‘typical’ black and white, static and candid captures that freeze the action. This may be popular, but it’s also great to break the mould and apply some creative uses of slower shutter speeds. After all, street photography is about anticipating and capturing a moment before it’s gone, which often requires the photographer to react within a split second of a moment unfolding in order to grab the moment. Adding a slower shutter speed shutter can help add drama to street photographs, in fact there are many different times when a longer exposure may be beneficial in bringing out the essence of a street moment.

Here are my seven tips to inspire and hopefully give aspiring photographers some insight into how they can add a sense of motion to provoke their street shots.

PRE-VISUALISE 

Just like all types of photography it’s important to have some kind of image pre-visualised in your mind in order to best understand what it is you are trying to communicate. This could be as simple as deciding on a location, time of day, subject matter or even how you want your viewer to feel when they view your image. By pre-visualising your shots you’ll be able to work out what length of shutter speed is required to more accurately capture the image you have in your mind. For example, if you want to capture a sense of motion as someone passes by your camera, you will probably need to be side-on so that when the subject passes through your frame you can track or pan with them to grab your shot. You’ll also be able to determine what length exposure will work best depending on the available light.

EXPERIMENT

Experimentation is the key to learning new things in photography, and it should be something you do from time-to-time. Not only will it help you stay passionate, the more you experiment, the more opportunities you will discover. Long-exposure street photography is a great example of this kind of experimentation.
Go out shooting during the early hours of the morning or late afternoon on dusk when the light is low. Adjust your camera settings to increase or decrease the amount of light on your sensor. Take a mental note of what settings are favourable for the ambient light. Your shutter speed might be too long for the image you want to capture; as a result you may need to increase the sensitivity of the sensor by boosting the ISO, wait for a time when there is more light, or add light to the scene artificially.

LIGHT AND MOVEMENT

Choosing the right conditions is paramount when shooting longer exposures. Just as you need to pick a scene that includes some movement if you want to introduce movement blur to a long-exposure landscape, the same applies on the street. For example, long-exposure landscapes typically have elements that a slower shutter can blur, such as dappled clouds blowing in the wind or water flowing down a stream. Static subjects don’t work. The same goes for street scenes – if you don’t have the right amount of movement on the street, a slow shutter will not give you the effect you’re after. Busy crowds and streets are always interesting with slower shutter speeds. By slowing your exposure you are able to add a sense of motion and isolate certain elements in the scene, which can be extremely useful in focusing attention on certain parts of a frame. Shooting on an overcast day, early morning or afternoon is often the best time because the light is not intense – that means you can drop your shutter speed down significantly. You may also want to invest in some neutral density filters (ND filters) to aid in increasing your exposure time for the desired effect when the light is brighter or more direct. Again, the key is to experiment with settings and different situations to find out what works best.

ANTICIPATE THE EXPOSURE

This is a basic technique that street photographers use regardless of whether they’re shooting long shutter speeds. The only difference, and one thing to remember when you start using slower exposures, is that you have less time in-between shots due to the shutter speed remaining open for longer. This is why it’s a good practice to be alert and time the shot to capture the most interesting moment. It’s a fairly basic practice but it’s worth perfecting to heighten your photography opportunities on the street.

PRACTISE PANNING

In short, panning is a technique applied by moving your camera to track a moving subject. Done right, you’ll end up with a nice sharp subject and a blurred background. Sometimes, getting the best results is down to sheer luck, but like anything you can improve your ‘hit rate’ the more you practise. Either way it’s fun to do and a fantastic way of giving a shot a feeling of movement and speed. It can be particularly useful when trying to photograph fast moving subjects like cars, cyclists and other moving objects.

Try different shutter speeds to see what gives the best results. There are a number of factors that can make or break a good panning shot including the speed of the subject, your position relative to the subject, the lighting and, of course, the shutter speed. First, you need to activate your camera’s auto-focus function and half-press the shutter button to lock it onto your subject. Once locked, aim your camera and pan with the moving subject. The key is to allow the pan to continue after you’ve fully pressed the shutter. It’s often hit and miss, so don’t get too frustrated if you don’t nail it straight away. Keep practising and you’ll soon work out a formula that works for you. It’s also important to note that it’s much easier to pan and track a moving subject if the subject is on a relatively straight path. If a car is moving in a straight line then it’s likely it will continue in the same direction, where as if your subject is moving side to side you may find it difficult to predict the movements. I’ve found the best place to practice panning is on busy intersections where there is high traffic that will give you more chances to grab that perfect shot. Keep practising until you work out a rhythm.

ZOOM AS YOU SHOOT

Another great effect for creating a sense of motion is to add a slight zoom blur, also known as “zoom burst”. It’s fairly easy to do and can give some incredibly dynamic results. Zoom can be added either by adjusting the zoom on your lens or, if you are using a prime lens, by travelling on a moving vehicle while shooting with a slow shutter speed. I’ve found anywhere between 1/15s and a couple of seconds is usually long enough to achieve a nice clean zoom effect. The result gives subjects increasing radial blur around the edges of the frame, while the centre appears sharp or less blurred. It’s a great way of drawing attention to a specific element within an image to make the viewer feel as if they are moving through time.

SHAKE IT UP

Camera shake is often frowned upon, but it can be desirable in some cases. Intentional camera-shake can induce an artistic and unique feel to an image, especially on the street when there’s a lot of clutter around. An exposure between 1/30s and one second is usually enough time to give a nice blurred effect while handholding the camera. This effect will allow you to have complete creative freedom to move around and paint motion with your camera during the exposure. Just as with panning, it will require a few attempts to master but when perfected your images will stand out from the crowd.

This article was originally written for and published in the March issue of Australian Photography magazine.

Travelling with a Light Footprint

 

“Take only photos, Leave nothing but footprints”

We’ve probably all heard the saying, but what does it mean? Basically ‘take only photos, leave nothing but footprints’ means to make as little impact on an enviornment as possible. As a travel photographer I’m always doing my best to work with humility, respect and a light footprint. It’s not rocket science, but there’s a lot of photographers who either don’t understand it or simply don’t care. This is the wrong attitude, and can spoil it for others who do the right thing. Here are my six tips to inform aspiring travel photographers about how they can move lightly and enjoy their travel photography experience at the same time.

Understand Culture

Culture isn’t just a race or ethnicity; in fact it goes far beyond that. We are all members of numerous cultural groups with cultural identities based on influences. This is an ongoing process and development. When we travel we are exposed to different sets of beliefs and values that may not be part of our culture or upbringing. This is what makes travel culturally rich, vigorous and complex. However, it’s important not to become too consumed with our own beliefs or habits.

Culture is a system of shared beliefs that are used by a society or group in order to socialise with the world as well as each other. Accepting other people’s ways of life can sometimes be challenging, even for seasoned travellers. The key to accepting this is to be open-minded and positive. By respecting different cultures you will learn a lot about yourself and the people you meet, which will allow you to go deeper into a culture to capture stronger images. Acknowledge these new experiences and embrace every encounter. It’s a rewarding experience that can shape your journey as a photographer.

Practice self-awareness and remember everyone is equal regardless of ethnic background, religion, demographic or income. Never try portraying someone else in false light. Be honest with the message you wish to convey, respecting different cultures whilst enabling, not disabling people through your work. Photography is a powerful medium, so use it effectively and wisely.

 

Respect People

The further you travel into unfamiliar lands and cultures, the more varied the people you’ll encounter. This is probably the most exciting part of travel. At times it can feel somewhat alienating, but remember, it works both ways. The key to interacting with people as a travel photographer/storyteller is to treat them with respect. Whenever I travel I live by the golden rule: do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. It’s good practice to acknowledge a person’s intrinsic value as a human being. It’s almost impossible to learn anything or capture the true essence of a place without meeting the local people. Be polite and ask before you take someone’s photo if you feel the situation calls for it. No one appreciates having a camera shoved in his or her face, so try avoiding it despite how much you want ‘that’ shot.

You can learn a lot about a destination or a person by making an effort to have a conversation. Respect goes a long way, more so in unfamiliar territory, when in actuality, you are the stranger. Never demand anything from your subjects, bribe or violate their human rights. Be friendly, move gently and always work with a light footprint – it makes the world a difference. 

Respect Property

This is just as important as respecting people, if not more significant. A prime example of disrespect for property was in Cambodia’s Angkor archaeological park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which consists of ancient temples including Angkor Wat. Five foreign visitors were arrested and deported after they were caught taking nude self-portraits at the sacred sites. These sites hold enormous spiritual and historical significance. It’s completely disrespectful to climb these structures, let alone strip off and strike up a pose. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with nude photography when done tastefully and respectfully, however there’s a time and place for everything. 

As travel photographers it’s our duty to document these incredible places. A lot of it comes down to common sense, which unfortunately seems very uncommon for a lot of people who travel abroad. Just because you’ve left home doesn’t mean you should leave your manners and morals behind. Travel is fulfilling so be respectful, don’t take it for granted by being another idiot abroad.

Avoid Paying For Photos

This is a difficult one, and it will vary depending on what photography means to you and why you do what you do. As a travel photographer interested in having culturally rich experiences, I very rarely pay anyone to take their photo. There’s obviously a difference between travel and commercial photography, but where do you draw the line?

Here’s an example from a recent trip to Asia, where I spent 8 months travelling and photographing both commercially for a client and for my own enjoyment. My assignment brief was to capture the essence of the destination and it’s people for a book. My client provided me a specific brief for the type of images they needed. Some of the images required me to setup moments with models, which of course came at a cost. This is the commercial side of travel photography. I was able to capture and deliver exactly what my client asked, however, it wasn’t exactly fulfilling and it felt as if I was spoiling part of the culture. There’s nothing wrong with shooting commercially and paying to get the shots, except this does set expectations among the people who may assume everyone who travels will pay for photos. I found it difficult on many occasions where people on the street would ask me for money even if it were a candid moment. It became frustrating because I ended up missing photo opportunities due to other peoples expectations.  Some people would get aggressive, which at those times I would kindly respect them and move on. The main concern for me was that the culture seemed blanketed by this expectation; this made it challenging in places to find authentic cultural experiences.


Instead of paying people with money, try giving something back; food, water, clothing or a kind gesture is a great way to thank someone for their time. I remember photographing a group of sadhus (holy men) in Varanasi, India. These men would ask me for money every time I walked past. The day I stopped I knew I wanted to take their portraits, and no doubt they knew they would receive something from me. Rather than paying money, I bought the men a meal each. Instantly their moods changed to being thankful for the food. By offering something people need will allow you to interact without spoiling the culture. There’s nothing worse than watching a bus load of tourists handing out countless amounts of cash to people on the street, it’s setting a bad example and high expectations for other travellers.

Keep in mind the importance of understanding the purpose behind your travel photography. Once you understand this you’ll be able to move, tread lightly and enjoy your travels. A real traveller knows that it’s not about the destination; its about the journey. Seek and you will find.

Foster Tolerance 

This comes back to respecting people and culture, and is a very important concept to assist in accepting cultural differences. It is not a passive concept and does not equate to indifference or indulgence. It’s all about acceptance of differences of other people and is the recognition of the significance of those dissimilarities without any judgement. How does this apply to photography? Well, if you judge someone or something on appearance or behaviour without fostering tolerance than it’s likely you’ll miss parts of the story, therefore resulting in missed photo opportunities. By acknowledging these differences new opportunities will arise, opening up new doors that may have never opened without the open-mindedness. 

Be tolerant and listen before acting. Great images don’t create themselves; you need to go deeper than just clicking the shutter if you want to take your travel photography to the next level.

 Assess then Act

When we travel into new and unfamiliar territories outside of our comfort zone we are exposed to a different lifestyle. The best way to deal with this is by assessing each situation and knowing that the same approach cannot be necessarily applied to every occasion. As an Australian, I’ve spent the majority of my life in the western world. I understand the system and find a level of comfort working where I live. For example, if you’ve never travelled to Asia than it’s likely that you will feel anxious at times resulting in your nerves taking over. Language barriers can be difficult when trying to move freely as a photographer in a foreign land. In order to handle these challenges it’s good to make photography secondary to your travels. Slow down while taking in the moment and then assess if it would make a great photo opportunity. Once you’ve travelled enough the urgency to photograph in a manic way wears off and this is when you’ll evolve as a photographer.

Every time I find myself in a new enviornment or situation, I always pause and observe what’s going on around me. Analyse the mood, the light, the interaction and behaviours of the people to get a sense of understanding. By doing this you’ll be able to find exactly what you want or need to document. It also puts other people at ease with your presence, you will no longer be ‘the foreigner’ with the camera, you’ll be immersed in the culture, which will help you shoot more inconspicuously.

 Tell the Truth

As photographers, we have the power to change the world, but in order to make a positive impact we must work with integrity. This means being honest and precise, especially when working as a documentary photographer or photojournalist. If you are commissioned to document a story, it’s crucial to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Your images should be relevant to the event and society for it to be effective. If you photos are inaccurate or misleading of the message it will have a negative impact. It pays to do a lot of research in order to work lightly and openly.

 Lastly, Pack Light

This is probably the most literal way to work with a light footprint when travelling. It’s also one of the best ways to move around generously without the burden of being weighed down by your gear. As a travel photographer specialising in street and landscapes I always try to minimise weight as much as humanly possible. There’s really nothing worse than lugging around gear that you don’t need. Take only the necessities you know you will use. This takes time and a few trips before you work it out, but once you get it sorted you’ll be able to take full advantage of being nomadic. During my first trip to Asia, I took way too much camera equipment, which mostly ended up staying in my bag or back in the hotel room. On the second trip I knew what I needed and what was going to slow me. So remember, take only the essentials and forget the dead weight. You’ll be glad you did. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post. It was originally written for Australian Photography magazine, and published in their November 2016 issue. 

 

8 Compelling Reasons Why I love Mirrorless Cameras

As photographers we’re always searching for that perfect camera, but is there really such a thing? In the past decade I’ve been shooting with Canon DSLRs. They have served me well in that time, especially with landscape photography and commercial work. However, technology has advanced and small cameras are now becoming popular among professional photographers. I’ve always been a firm believer that it’s not the camera that matters; it’s the end result that counts. It’s still my view on photography, yet everyday I’m trying to push the limits of my gear to get the best possible results – I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

I want to share some of the benefits of using smaller cameras, and mirrorless cameras in particular, and how they can change the way you shoot – potentially opening up a new world of opportunities. All the images in this article were shot with the Fujifilm X100S mirrorless rangefinder camera. It’s what I’ve predominantly used over the past eight months while travelling in Southeast Asia. It’s worth mentioning that I’m in no way affiliated with Fujifilm. I’m purely writing this based on my personal experiences using the Fujifilm system.

This article was originally written and published in Australian Photography magazine. You can read the article on their website.

Size and Weight

DSLRs and most traditional cameras are often bulkier and heavier than the more portable compact cameras on the market, making the camera act as a barrier between the photographer and their subject. Because of this it’s often a common occurrence to miss certain shots when the camera viewfinder is pressed to your eye. The bulkiness and size sometimes obscures your vision, which can be frustrating when shooting in busy and chaotic environments. It can mean missing other photo opportunities.

On the other hand, mirrorless cameras or smaller more portable cameras don’t really have this issue. The smaller build size enables you to move freely and quickly with the freedom to see what’s happening around you. The smaller body size in most cases makes these cameras lightweight, creating an easier and more enjoyable experience to carry a camera with you at all times, increasing the chance of capturing moments that may have been impossible with a DSLR.

Being Discreet

Ever wondered how to be invisible as a photographer to capture more candid and natural photos without disrupting the scene? Although it’s not humanly possible to be invisible, there are certain methods to be discreet when shooting in public. Some photographers use telephoto lenses from a long distance to grab candid shots, however, formidable DSLR cameras are not preferred in a lot of situations due to the attention they draw.

There are times when holding the cameras viewfinder to your eye is abundantly obvious that you are shooting. When trying to capture candid and natural moments you don’t want your subjects aware that you are taking images. Smaller cameras have the benefit of being less invasive due to their compact size; therefore increasing the chances of grabbing more natural shots. People react differently to small cameras than what they do to big cameras, especially for street photography.

Silent Shutter

With film cameras, there was only one kind of shutter: the mechanical type. These days, digital cameras you have two types of shutters; hybrid and electronic shutters, effectively replacing the old mechanical shutters.

The advantages of electronic in comparison to mechanical shutters are simple. They are more robust and reliable because there are no moving parts – this makes the shutter completely silent. It also helps eliminate the risk of blurry images at slower shutter speeds.

As a result, the electronic shutter allows faster shutter speeds. Most mechanical shutters quickest speed is 1/800th. Auto focus speed and tracking is also improved due to the autofocus sensors being placed directly in the main image sensors that are constantly exposed to light.

Many of the mirrorless cameras available today offer a silent shutter. This is a huge plus when trying to capture photos of people without being obvious you are shooting. People tend to react differently when they hear the camera clicking. The Fujifilm X100S is unique in that it has a leaf shutter and an electronic shutter. Leaf shutters are extremely quiet; basically dead silent. Often you won’t hear it even fire a shot. Leaf shutters also allow extremely fast shutter speeds with flash.

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

Relatively new in digital camera technology, the electronic viewfinder (EVF) has become popular among professional photographers. Traditional DSLR cameras bounce the image up into the viewfinder by a mirror and prism. This is an optical view of what the lens is capturing and requires no electronics, just the same as looking through binoculars.

Mirrorless cameras with an EVF use the light from the lens straight into the sensor that records the data and displays a preview in the viewfinder of what the sensor captures. Think of this as live view mode through the cameras eyepiece. There are various advantages of EVFs: the ability to display the histogram in real time, which is extremely beneficial when shooting in tricky lightening situations when properly exposing. Another advantage is live display rendering. You are able see the dynamic range of highlight/shadow detail before pressing the shutter. When shooting in low light environments EVFs are much brighter, therefore the benefit of ISO can be clearly visible. Focus peeking is useful, as is the focus assist zoom. But probably my favourite feature of EVF is the option to review your images without removing your eye from the viewfinder, great when outdoors in bright environments.

Dedicated Dials and Controls

Modern cameras, in principle, tend to be complicated, jam-packed with features that most people don’t need, not even professionals. Introducing new features, dials and controls isn’t always a good thing. In my opinion, this evolution is complicating matters making it an overwhelming experience for beginners starting out in photography. People may say it’s just a matter of learning to operate whatever camera you have available, however, it’s easier to adapt to a design that’s intuitive.

Mirrorless technology seems a step ahead with intuitive cameras with only the right ingredients. Most of these cameras are far more instinctual, making it easier to adapt with their dedicated dials and controls. I like Fuji’s simple ergonomic design, which, from my experience, are some of the simplest cameras to operate straight out of the box. There’s nothing worse than buying a new camera and being overwhelmed by it’s design and features. Usability improvements such as dedicated dials for aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are important. It becomes a mess when you have to fiddle through a menu in order to adjust settings; this is the big advantage of dedicated dials in the right places.

Misleading Value

A huge advantage of travelling with a smaller more portable camera is that it tends to look less expensive than a bigger traditional DSLR.

The general person on the street tends to assume the smaller the camera, the lower its value. I’m not saying it’s a complete deterrent, as people who steal will commit crime regardless of the camera, but smaller cameras do tend to be smaller targets.

Another advantage is people don’t really associate compact-style cameras as ‘professional’ cameras. It’s a great way to be inconspicuous while still retaining optimum image quality.

Accurate Autofocus

Traditionally, DSLR cameras have offered faster and more accurate autofocus than mirrorless cameras but the gap is closing. For some DSLR users, the hassle of framing with the little centre square point and then re-framing to get the desired composition can lead to missed shots.

It’s safe to say DSLR autofocus right now is much faster than mirrorless, however, vast improvements have been made in recent mirrorless cameras that allow them to utilise both contrast-detect and phase-detect autofocus systems. The latest mirrorless cameras use phase-detection autofocus in live view. Phase detection autofocus systems are used to get your subjects pin sharp. Learning how to effectively use this method you can efficiently lock focus in even the most challenging lighting situations. Mirrorless may not be the quickest focusing system yet, but it is accurate when the camera locks focus, making for an enjoyable and effortless shooting experience. Plus, you never need to fine-tune autofocus on mirrorless cameras. To me, this is a huge advantage.

Superb Image Quality

Both DSLR and mirrorless cameras produce high quality pictures at similar resolutions, with agreeable amounts of digital noise (grain) at higher ISOs. Earlier mirrorless camera models meant lower quality files, as they did struggle in low-light situations, but technology has advanced tenfold. Camera manufacturers have developed more sensitive chips which suppress digital noise. It is important to keep in mind, mirrorless is continuously evolving and there is still debate about image quality, but in such a short period of time mirrorless is most definitely changing the world of digital photography.

 

Beating Photographers Block (Part Two)

Take On A Project

Photography projects are a good way to get you to commit to shooting, and direct your energy to something worthwhile. It’s like committing to a fitness plan and setting aside time to exercise. Choose a subject that interests you, and work out what you need to do to achieve the end result. The only rule is that you must have a deadline – don’t make the mistake of letting the project drag on indefinitely. Working to deadlines is good practice and a good way to really push your creativity.

As well as setting out what you want to shoot, it’s important to know how the images will be used. Maybe your goal is to print a photo book, exhibit your work in a gallery or café or have your images published as a photo essay in a local magazine, newspaper or website. The project can be as little or as big as you want, but make sure it’s achievable. Start out small and get it done! Once you’ve completed your first project, you should feel empowered to take on bigger and more ambitious projects.

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

If you are like me, you probably find yourself frequently falling into the alluring, yet emotionally frustrating, trap of comparing yourself to other photographers. Most of us are guilty of this, but at what cost? While the online world can be a valuable source of inspiration, trawling some of the amazing images out there, can also put you into a spiral of self-doubt. Social media puts thousands of amazing images in front of us each day – rather than letting it put you off, harness the inspiration. If I have learned one thing as a photographer, there’s not much to be gained by measuring your own sense of worth against other people’s images. 

It’s fine to analyse your own work, but be wary of being critical to the point of paralysis! Photography, like any creative art form, is a process. You are not going to be the world’s best photographer when you’re starting out – the main thing is to keep learning.

Find Your Own Vision

There’s an important difference between being inspired by a photographer and copying their work. We all need inspiration to create, however if we’re only looking to replicate someone else’s work it doesn’t leave much room for us to grow. While most of us start out mimicking the work of other photographers we admire, at some point we need to pursue our own path. In a world where millions of images are made every day, being original can be challenging, but it’s a goal you should always aim for if you want to really develop as a photographer. 

Find your own voice and vision and run with it. Trust your instincts and shoot from the heart – you’ll be happy you did.

Beating Photographers Block (Part One)

Are your images falling short of your expectations? Has your photography become formulaic and forced, rather than free and instinctual? Maybe you’re suffering from photographers’ block. If so, here are three essential tips to help you get your mojo back.

Photographers’ block is frustrating and can happen to anyone anytime. We have all suffered the frustration of a creative rut, but thankfully it’s usually only temporary. While we all want to create, there are times when finding inspiration can be difficult. This is completely normal, and it’s important to understand that all photographers experience downtimes. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to beat the negativity and use the experience to actually grow as a photographer. First, it’s important that you do not wallow in self-doubt. Instead, you need to recognise that you’re in a slump and take the appropriate steps to get your creativity flowing again. 

A creative block is not a sign of weakness. It takes strength and determination to push forward. And when you do you’ll gain a better understanding of how you can achieve your goals. If it was easy to be a creative powerhouse, everyone would be one, right? So, stop wallowing and start following these simple recommendations to help you break out of your funk and get your mojo back. The best part is it’s not inherently difficult. It just takes some patience, a willingness to try different things and an understanding of what’s going on.

Break The Mould

As photographers we typically specialise in one or two genres of photography. Usually, this is because we’ve mastered a particular type of shooting and are comfortable with the work we’re producing. It’s great being comfortable doing what you do, but sometimes you need to break away from what you know best and experiment with something that is completely new. Challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone. If you primarily shoot portraits, find some landscapes. If you’re always shooting landscapes, go out and do some portraits or try your hand at macro photography. Alternatively, stay put in your usual genre, but try experimenting with different lighting techniques. If you use flash for the majority of your images then try limiting yourself to natural light. By trying new things and forcing yourself out of your comfort zone you will discover new approaches and, hopefully, fresh inspiration.

Shoot With Other Photographers

Fortunately, we don’t all go through photographers’ block at the same time. I always learn something new and am pushed in surprising ways when I shoot with other photographers. Spending time with creative people can rekindle your passion for your craft and propel you out of your creative downturn. 

It’s easy to connect with photographers online, organise a shoot and go exploring. When I was going through down times in my career I spent time talking to other photographers about their work. This helped push me out of my comfort zone and inspired me to experiment with new genres and techniques.

Attend Workshops

This is another great way to meet like-minded individuals and share your love of photography. You may not even need the tuition but it’s always nice to be surrounded by a group of people with the same passion. You could even join or start your own photo walk. A photo walk is basically a group of photographers who get together at a predetermined spot with their cameras. You meet and discuss photography and then walk in a group taking photos of whatever visually grabs you. Most of these photo meetings finish somewhere where everyone in the group can exchange ideas and share images from the day. This is a great way to make new friends and learn new approaches.

How To Shoot A Photo Series

Stories are integral to human culture and storytelling is timeless. In photographic practice, visual storytelling is often called a ‘photo essay’ or ‘photo story’. It’s a way for a photographer to narrate a story with a series of photographs. What few people realise is there’s a difference between photography, and visual storytelling through photography.

If we consider storytelling as an art then, as Leo Tolstoy said, it should be utterly infectious, where it infects the viewer with the feelings he or she has lived through, so that other people are infected in turn by these experiences. The phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ itself justifies the art of visual storytelling, however this doesn’t mean all photographs narrate a story. 

In visual storytelling, images are ordered in a specific way, either chronologically or as a series, with the aim of ‘infecting’ the viewer’s vision and mind, just like Tolstoy said.

Captions are also an integral part of a photo story that should help the viewer understand each image. That said, it is important to remember that while captions may expand your understanding of an image, it’s the image itself that should tell the story – never the other way round.

Here are my top tips for starting your own photo story.

Note: This article was originally written and published in the June issue of Australian Photography Magazine.

Plan Ahead

Planning is an essential part of the process for visual storytelling. A good friend of mine, the documentary photographer Kaushik Ghosh, once said: “What your mind does not know, your eyes can’t see.” This is probably most apt when planning your photo essay. You must plan well ahead to visualise the story. Taking these steps beforehand will give the structure you need for your narrative.

Your plan should include selecting the topic, research on the topic, clarifying your topic, and finally planning your shots. Think about the type of images you want to capture to convey your message. Just like a film, your visual narrative should have a lead or opening shot, establishing shot, interactive and sequential shots, and a conclusion or closing shot. 

Often during a shoot you may not be able to capture the photos in the order mentioned above. However, keeping this order in mind will help you edit the story in less time. Editing a photo essay essentially means selecting the shots, not the post processing in imaging software – that comes later.

Your images won’t be completed without understanding the light, composition and choice of photo gear for your chosen subject. Another important aspect should be the decision to represent the narrative in colour or monochrome. When post-processing a series of images it’s good practice to keep your editing treatment consistent – this will help make the images flow.

Single shot or a series?

Often it’s a point of discussion on photography forums whether one narrates better stories with a single image versus a series of images. In this regard it’s important to remember that a single image is only a “half truth”, because it never tells you the fundamental of a story, which is, “Why?”.

What does this mean? When talking about photographs, an image might be partly true but it is only part of the whole truth and a snapshot of the bigger picture. This leaves part of our brain to interpret the image on it’s own, therefore making it difficult to always understand the photographer’s message. Not all single images tell a story. One must remember a photo essay is nothing but the compilation of multiple single images – these are the units of the visual narrative. Each single picture is a chapter in the story, and each chapter will unfold towards the climax.

On the other hand, a series of photographs allows the brain to process each image as a whole. A series of images emphasises several ideas, whereas a single image usually emphasises just one idea. Keep in mind that the first and last images in a series are the most important. These are called ‘goal images’ – the type of images that open and close the series to grab a viewer’s attention. It’s no different from judging a book by its cover – a strong opening shot will stop people and hold them in the story from start to finish.

Take stronger images

You may have some brilliant pictures that are technically perfect; however, there are two particular elements that make a strong image even stronger for a photo essay. 

Firstly, the images should be emotive to have some kind of emotional impact on your viewer. Not all images must contain a human element to be emotionally moving; rather it could be anything from a landscape to a still life. The images should evoke strong emotional feeling in the viewer’s psyche. 

Secondly, the images should be thoughtfully layered with meaning. This is how you engage your viewer’s attention for a longer period of time. This is usually the most difficult process of telling a story with photographs. 

You may not be able to consciously shoot images with several layers of meaning, but always keep an eye out for these layered pictures while shooting, selecting and arranging the images for the story.

Trust your instinct

Picture yourself walking through a bustling city with your camera around your neck for your storytelling project on “Finding calmness in the chaos”. There’s a constant sound of horns as you try to dodge your way through the traffic. Your mind is racing, as is your heart: it’s a total sensory overload. 

You spot an interesting looking character across the street, sitting quietly reading the newspaper amidst the chaos. You’ve been trying to find your peace in the chaos and think to yourself ‘this is the shot’, so you approach slowly, raise the camera to your eye and click the shutter. 

Next minute you hear the sound of a bus screeching to a halt, which makes you turn your head frantically to jump out of the way, but as you spin around you notice the bus is just coming to a standstill and people are about to get off. There’s a man in the window sitting calmly smoking his cigarette. Within seconds you raise the camera to your eye and take another shot, framing the passengers leaping out of the doors and the man sitting in the window, all in one frame. These are two examples of times I’ve trusted my instincts. Trusting your instincts to take a picture is important. In this case, finding peace amongst the chaos and to capture it despite the urge to move through the crowd without taking a single photo. 

Photography has the ability to capture and freeze moments in time that we may never have thought about until picking up the camera. These are the moments that inspire us as photographers, and can help us create our own unique vision. If you notice something in particular and think it may be a good photo opportunity, try not to assess the situation too much, rather trust your instincts and see how it unfolds. But, be safe in the process – common sense and respect should still be on your mind.

Be Original

Originality in photography seems to be becoming secondary for some photographers. It’s not always easy to create something unique with the huge number of images that are created these days. However it’s good practice to strive for originality. Why? Well, there’s really no satisfaction in copying someone else’s work. We’ve all copied someone else’s idea, or been inspired by an image we’ve found online or in a magazine – it’s a human trait, although to stand out from the crowd one should keep this in mind when shooting – especially if you want your photo series to stand out.

Don’t be afraid of failure

Fear of failure is linked to fear of rejection and criticism from others, as well as procrastination. Stop thinking like this and free yourself from those negative thoughts. It’s perfectly normal and healthy to fail. All successful people have failed; it’s part of improving and the gateway to success. The same principle applies with photography. Failing will help you understand the formula that works best for you and will eventually pay off in your work with some persistence and dedication to succeed. Go, shoot, fail and grow! 

Capture Better Environmental Portraits

Environmental portraits typically portray a person in their natural environment. Different from traditional portraits shot in a studio, locational portraits capture the character of the subject and give insight into their daily life making for a more personal image, generally telling some kind of story about who the subject is. This can be achieved anywhere from their work place, home, or anywhere where they like to spend their time. However, you can also setup an environmental shoot to illustrate their character in certain scenario or situation. The benefit of photographing people in a natural environment is people feel more relaxed and comfortable being photographed resulting in better and stronger images.

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 Planning Ahead

The first thing I do before every photo trip is decide what I want to see and the type of photos I intend on capturing. On a recent trip to Myanmar, I was inspired by the culture, so I wanted to capture pictures of local people and the culture, both staged naturally and candidly. I spent countless hours researching online to make sure it would be a successful trip.

Determine the style of the shoot, the purpose and the mood you plan on conveying. Do you need an assistant or fixer to help translate if working in a foreign country? Are you shooting indoors or outdoors? Do you need location permits or a model release if you plan on selling the images commercially? These are just a few questions to think about before picking up your camera.

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 Location is Everything

Finding the perfect location can be challenging, but is the key to capturing environmental portraits. It’s a good idea to scout the area in search for the right place to depict your subject. Persevere until you find the right location and it definitely result in stronger images.

Meet with your subject beforehand and get to know them. Perhaps they have a place where they feel relaxed. As an example, people often feel comfortable at their homes, which strengthen the chances of capturing natural facial expressions and body language. Although, some people may not feel comfortable inviting a stranger into their safe place so be respectful if you are invited into their home. Allowing your talent to choose the location can be extremely beneficial when working in a new or unfamiliar territory and can safe a lot of time looking for location yourself.

Background detail is imperative in adding a sense of place and defining the character of your subject. However, be mindful when composing your shots so that the background doesn’t detract the presence of your subject. The focus should be on your subject.

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Communication

An essential part of photographing people is communication and interpreting what you wish to achieve. If working in a foreign country you may not speak the language, this makes things trickier. The best way around this is to use a location fixer or someone local who speaks the native language who can translate. Fixers can also sort out shooting permits for special locations while liaising with local authorities to make things run smoothly during the shoot.

In some countries people enjoy being photographed. Myanmar is a great example of this. It is much easier to approach people if they are open to having their picture taken and an excellent opportunity to meet new people. By talking with people you’ll find the confidence to approach strangers and take their photos whether staged or impromptu. If there is a language barrier, simply point to your camera and smile. Most people already know what you want once they see the camera. However, if they refuse to have their picture taken, respect their wishes and move on. Always remember to smile and always say thank you.Be polite and project positivity when you work, people tend to take on your energy so be that radiating photographer everyone wants to know.

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 Posing Your Subject

Posing your subject and capturing natural body language takes some work, but with good perception and practice this can be an enjoyable experience for both yourself and your model. It’s vital that they feel relaxed, as any strain will be evident in your pictures. Again, communication is an essential part of this process. Ask them how they feel and never push them to pose a certain way they aren’t confident or capable, this will result in tension resulting in unnatural body language.

Most people feel at ease when sitting or having something to lean against (wall, doorframe for example), this is a good starting point. Have your subject sit in their environment, not necessarily looking at the camera. Ask for them to look off into the distance, or get them to focus on something. As an example, if you’re shooting someone in their workplace, they could continue with their daily routine while you shoot. Remember you are capturing their personality, so step back and observe how their actions before directing. If you are shooting candidly there is no need to pose. Anticipation is key, wait for the right moment (the decisive moment) to take your shot.

When shooting closer more intimate portraits it’s best to approach with humility, respect and a light footprint. This means working respectfully with your subject and their environment. Never physically handle your subject, especially if you’re a male photographing a female. Politely explain/demonstrate the pose and then have your model reposition. It’s about gaining each other’s trust, which takes time but if approached appropriately it will dramatically improve your results.

 Add Drama to your Pictures

Working under natural light is a great way to add drama to your pictures for moody portraits full of character. It’s also a fantastic way to better understand the importance of light and how to effectively use it. If you are new to photography, you don’t want to complicate matters by adding multiple speedlites. Instead go out with your camera and observe your environment, study the light and take notice of how different lighting changes the mood of the environment you are in.

Photographing elderly people in low light is a fantastic way to exaggerate facial expressions, lines and wrinkles to make a dramatic portrait. One of my favourite approaches to low-light portraits is finding a dark space with areas of light highlighting parts of the scene. An example could be an open doorway into a dark room. Position your model in the light against the dark area. Notice how the light highlights your subject and the background is dark and free of distractions? Keep an eye on the light and try shooting from different angles, or reposition your model to stand half in the shadow and half in the light to create deep contrasts. This is the easiest way to manipulate natural light for a more dramatic feel. Experiment with natural light, you’ll be surprised how effective it is.

Another way to add/enhance the atmosphere of your portraits is by adding smoke. Your model could be smoking a cigarette and exhaling smoke into the air, or burn incense. Darker backgrounds work best for smoke, as smoke is typically light so a brighter background won’t have the same impact. Use a shallow depth of field to draw the focus on the smoke to create a subtle illusion of depth. Candlelight is another natural light source to create ambience, but be careful of fire and hot wax.

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 Keep Post-Processing in Mind

Cameras have their limitations where they cannot capture the entire tonal range of some more challenging lighting situations. Shooting during the middle of the day when the light is harsh can cause an unflattering loss of shadow detail. If your subject is backlit, half in shade or wearing a hat you’ll notice this problem. Asking your subject to move, or waiting for the light to become favourable isn’t always an option, so it’s good practice to shoot with post-processing in mind.

By underexposing or overexposing elements in a scene allows the freedom of recovering lost details in your editing software by adjusting the shadow/fill depending on the situation. Exposing for someone’s face when the light is harsh may result in an extremely over-exposed sky. In this case it’s likely the highlights would be unrecoverable, so expose for the highlights and tweak the shadows in post. If this increases digital noise (grain) you can reduce this with some noise reduction in post.

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 Don’t be afraid to up ISO

A common photographic fear that I’ve noticed is photographers afraid to increase the ISO setting on their cameras. Most photographers advise to use the lowest ISO possible. There is good reason to shoot lower ISOs, as image quality is at its maximum compared to shooting with a higher ISO. However, camera technology has improved a lot since the first DSLR was released and most modern DSRL’s are capable of shooting higher ISOs (1600 – 3200  or greater.)

Increasing the ISO enables you to shoot at faster shutter speeds and smaller apertures, which can be extremely useful when shooting portraits in low light conditions without the need for a tripod or flash. High ISO combined with a fast prime lens opens up a whole new world of experimentation and this is often when the best light happens. If noise is evident than you may need to adjust your settings, but you can also remove digital noise in post-processing, so go explore and see what you find.

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 Use Model Releases

Basically, a model release is a contract. It is a written and signed agreement between the photographer and the model. The purpose of obtaining a release is to protect the photographer from future liability if something were to happen and become a lawsuit, which can and does arise if someone files a legal claim against you, such as an invasion of privacy or defamation of character. Every photo you sell that features a recognisable person must feature a release unless it is being used for certain reportage/documentary purposes. The document imposes the terms and conditions that one party may use images taken of another party. In short it’s an essential part of being a portrait photographer when using images commercially.

There are a number of phone apps that allow you to electronically draft legally binding model releases in seconds. All you need is a smart phone or iPad and a good app. I have been using the app by 500px called ‘Releases’, which lets me save model and location information. Once you’ve filled in the blank fields all you need is your models signature, which he or she can sign with the ease of the touch screen using their finger and you can save it as a PDF to print, file or export elsewhere. Saves a lot of time doing paperwork!