Street Photography Tips with Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
What draws you to street photography? And what do you enjoy the most about it?
In retrospect, a documentary about Bruce Gilden was the trigger that got me excited for the genre. Gilden is certainly a photographer who separates street photographers, but his style capturing life on the street is real and gritty. What really impressed me is his loss of distance between himself and his subjects. He is not afraid of being recognized photographing unknown persons, and he is not making a secret of taking a picture.
One of his statements especially stands out to me:
The fascinating and challenging aspect of street photography is that a situation or a picture is developing differently than I may had imagined before. I often have a specific image in mind, but while I wait and watch the surroundings, I discover new stories. Quite often it turns out as a so called snapshot, and other times I keep waiting at a spot until the subject walks in.
What I also like about street photography (different than perhaps portrait photography) is that you choose your background first and then wait for people to complete your story. It is a total different approach of getting the one shot. I often don’t realize I have some jewels until seeing them on the computer.
Street Photography certainly also has something to do with luck. It may happen that a snapshot of an unexpected moment is my photo of the day. To put it like Forrest Gump, street photography is like a box of chocolates for me. You never know what you’re going to get.
How have the X100s and X-Pro 1 shaped your street photography?
What I appreciate so much about Fujifilm’s x-series cameras is the analog-like operation, which reminds me of the beginnings of my photography. I enjoy working with my camera, and sometimes it‘s just nice to play around with it.
The aperture ring, time dial, exposure correction dial, and especially the fixed focal lengths, have helped me to approach shots differently. I have learned to see in 23mm (35mm full frame) and I can blindly do my important settings for the exposure. This took me a while, of course, but after intensive use, I now just position myself in the already more or less correct distance to my subject. So I just have to take the camera to my eye, do my composition, and push the trigger.
Many have criticized the X100S/X-Pro1. Yes, they are divas from time to time, but I use this to my advantage. The need to regain the decelerated photography and, at the same time, deal with the more technical part of photography helped me a lot. This is, of course, possible with almost every camera of a certain class, but the X100S and X-Pro 1 demand it.
I always have my x100s with me, and I really do mean always! I also often have my X-Pro 1 with me. This was impossible for me with the Canon 5D MKII, which I have used previously. The size and weight are big advantages, too. Maybe this was the biggest game changer for my street photography. Now I am able to have my camera wherever I go and take photos that I would otherwise not have taken.
Travelling light weight is so liberating and gives me so much inspiration.
Can you offer a couple of tips for those looking to get into street photography?
I remember that I was very anxious in the beginning. I was anxious to be “caught” in the act. This changed after a while as I continued to practice more and more. If I get caught, I smile at the person to give him/her the opportunity to talk to me. If they tell me to delete the image, I do it without hesitation. I never ask before taking a photo. I think this would ruin the mood of the photo.
In my photographs I try to photograph the people in a way that will not harm or embarrass them. I try to put myself into their shoes and as myself what would I feel seeing a photo of mine published to the internet or wherever. Only then do I pull the trigger on publishing it.
A major theme is image rights. You must know that they are regulated differently in different countries. As a street photographer one must be familiar with it, at least roughly.
Street Photography, for me, is always a mood thing. I never wear headphones as I shoot, though. It distracts me too much and keeps me from immersing myself into the scene. I must hear the noise of the city and absorb the atmosphere as a whole.
I think there are no real rules in street photography, but for me, some things work and some don’t. Photographing people from behind for example. There are situations where it is beneficial to the story, but these kind of shots often leave me with a rather questionable impression.
Images taken with long focal lengths, such as a 90mm or longer, also rarely turn out for me. I prefer wide angle lenses. The X100S’s 23mm and the X-Pro 1’s 14mm are my preferred focal lengths. I find that the wide angle lenses help the viewer to dive into the scene — to “smell the street.”
Certain motifs lend themselves well to street photography as they’re easier to shoot incognito. Unfortunately, they are most likely worn out ideas and much too often seen. Street musicians, for example. Children are usually very good to photography because they create a naturalness and spontaneity you can hardly find in adults. And yet, as a father of two children, I’m torn on this. Would I be ok with someone photographing my daughter in whatever situation without permission? No, I would not. Therefore, you will rarely find children in my shots.
Good street photos tell stories to the viewer. It does not matter whether it is a color photograph or the colors were desaturated as a stylistic device. Sometimes a B&W conversion is good for leading the eye, but just as often the colors support the story of the photo.
Don‘t think in stereotypes. Be open minded. And the best tip I can give is to travel with light weight gear, no zooms, one maximal, two different prime lenses (get used to the focal length, learn to see in 14, 23 or whatever preferred lens) open your eyes, and shoot a lot!