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Street Photography: Stratford, East London

Since completing the Blogging from A-Z Challenge in April with the alphabetical theme of improving my photography skills I’ve not actually done that much creative photography. But after a month’s break from the intensity of learning so much (and I truly did learn a lot) in only a few short weeks, I’m now feeling the need to set myself another ongoing photographic challenge.

Street photography has always fascinated me, yet it is something I’ve consciously shied away from in the past, feeling uncomfortable in being seen to be photographing everyday life in such public spaces. But now I feel a bit more confident in myself and my photographic abilities, perhaps this is the perfect time to push myself to seriously give it a try, in the hope that practice makes perfect…

I find I often see things that catch my attention when I’m out and about in daily life, but generally just walk on by, often later regretting not seizing the moment (and of course my camera). So I’m going to make a more proactive effort not only to always have my camera (not just my cameraphone) with me, but also to actively capture the everyday world as it unfolds, however mundane, until the recording of it becomes second nature.

So while shopping in Stratford this afternoon I took my trusty little Panasonic Lumix GF3 plus 14mm (28mm equivalent) wide-angle prime with me to see what I could see from a photographer’s perspective. I took the original images in colour, but I found it created a far more pleasing result to blend in any distracting blobs of bright clothing on everyone in shot by changing the final images to monochrome 🙂

bobbies-on-the-beatBobbies on the beat

stratford-shopping-centreStratford, East London

stratford-stationStratford train station

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W is for Wide-Angle…

Up until 5 years ago, my only practical experience of photography was as seen through a wide-angled lens. I know they have their shortcomings, but nevertheless I quite like seeing my usual three-dimensional world-view flattened out two-dimensionally before me, smaller but wider, slightly curved and perhaps a little warped along the outermost edges. And because even relatively close subjects appear so much smaller through a wide-angle lens than with the naked eye, there is something unavoidably in-your-face about having to be so up-close-and-personal to whatever it is you want to be photographing, having to be so obviously present on the very threshold of the shot, almost being part of the scene you want to capture. For me it creates a different perspective to your photography, in every sense of the word.

For landscapes urban or natural you can see the entire vista immediately before you with a wide-angle lens, without having to step further back in order to fit it all in and risk obstructing your view – which is great, especially in the city. But I find you can also take great people-shots too, with plenty of context to show them as an integral part of the overall framed subject rather than having them individually posed as in a portrait with a deliberately bland background. And of course whatever you take in the original frame, large-file digital images can always be cropped slightly afterwards to help emphasise the main point of interest as necessary. I like to go by the maxim that you can always crop something out later, but you can never add more to the final image.

I’m not always comfortable having people in shot, but I definitely want to improve my street photography skills so will be working on using my Panasonic Lumix GF3 with 14mm (28mm equivalent) pancake lens more effectively to this end in the future…

Hollow Ponds Boating Lake, East London; Borough Market, South London; and an outdoor stairway along London’s South Bank…

boating lake

borough-market2south-bank-yellow

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U is for urban Landscape…

I really love the idea of candid street photography – capturing those snapshot moments of everyday urban life completely un-staged – but I’m still really uncomfortable having real people in shot without asking them first, which of course defeats the purpose. So for now this type of photography definitely remains a work in progress for me. Taking pictures in a touristy place helps a lot, as people are used to seeing other people with cameras so it’s much easier to blend in unnoticed, but even so I don’t find it easy…

Skateboarders hanging out along London’s South Bank…

skateboarders-south-bank

But in the meantime, I also like to photograph the built-up, ever-growing city itself, not only the well-trodden tourist paths but those busy, bustling places where everyday Londoners live and work. A walk around the Canary Wharf area of London’s Docklands – for years left derelict and now the city’s new financial district – epitomises the energising urban regeneration that is still underway today. The entire East End has changed out of all recognition over the last thirty years, so I think it’s good to keep recording that ongoing development as it happens…

Original derricks still in place on West India Dock juxtaposed with new high-rise banking businesses… docklands-derricks

Colourful new cranes still at work along the water’s edge… urban-regeneration

Underground sign and red post-box… underground-sign

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T is for Tripod…

One good thing about me doing this A-Z challenge (and there have been many along the way) is that I’ve finally forced myself to try using a tripod. OK, so I may initially have borrowed one of the smallest tripods I’ve ever seen in order to get started – a truly mini table-top version (actually made for a compact camera) that fits reasonably comfortably (at a push) on my diminutive Panasonic GF3 – but it did the job in helping me at least attempt the relatively slow shutter speeds I was looking for.

I took these colourful motion-blur carousel pics along London’s South Bank in the early evening with the above cobbled-together ensemble balanced carefully on the surrounding metal barrier – they’re not perfect, but are not bad for a first attempt, and I’m really surprised at just how little time you need to get a decent blur on moving subjects… carousel1 carousel2

I’m also surprised to find I really like the mini-tripod idea – the short splayed legs work well for what I want, because living in a city there’s (almost) always something somewhere to balance a tripod on, but it was clear I need something with a far more substantial head to provide proper stable support for both my CSC and DSLR…

My solution has been to buy myself a Manfrotto Pixi Mini Tripod – it’s small yet both my cameras can sit securely on it, and its simple compact design (it looks a bit like a squid with the legs closed) and practical ball-head make it perfect for my needs, so this way I can get the best of both worlds with stable slow shutter speeds and compact portability – perfect! I took these atmospheric slow shutter-speed daytime shots at Canary Wharf, London Docklands, with my new little tripod on its first ever field trip and a variable ND filter on my Nikon D3000 – another first for me. I wanted to try to make a very busy public space seem relatively empty, with the people effectively ghosted out, and again I’m reasonably happy with the results for a first attempt… canary-wharf-clocks canary-wharf-stationI think it’s safe to say that now I have my little tripod I’m going to be doing a lot more experimenting with slow shutter speeds in the future, it was fun 🙂

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Q is for Quality, and Quantity…

Hmmm… I feel a bit ambivalent about all the technological advancements in photography these days – it no longer holds true that the camera never lies as digital darkroom image manipulation helps us concoct the most creative chimera, developing each of us into a virtual Doctor Frankenstein. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to be able to correct faults and flaws to improve the quality of an otherwise disappointing shot, but sometimes for me that ‘correction’ seems to be taken too far, with the resulting image becoming almost monstrous in its attempt to appear real.

Although not a photographic purist, personally I’m not really one for utilising too much digital manipulation – I’ll crop an image if and when it needs it, or change it to greyscale, but that’s about it – with my images it tends to be what you see is what you get, warts and all. At heart I want to be a photographer, not a computer software wizard. Hyper-reality can be used to great deliberate effect though – I do love these over-saturated images I took of Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden, London, taken using a ‘pop-art’ filter on my old Olympus E-450, my very first DSLR… OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And another thing, with digital cameras being built in to our ubiquitous mobile phones, I find that photography favours an almost throwaway feel nowadays in that some people (usually of the younger generation – God I’m getting old!) no longer put any thought into the sheer quantity of shots they fire off, or care about how bad the resulting images are, because they can all be so easily discarded and replaced with something new along the way. I mean, I too take loads of pictures all the time, but always with my eye on achieving that elusive image that takes my breath away, that I can maybe even print out and frame on my wall – alas I’ve still a long way to go yet before finding it.

I’ve taken some perfectly presentable shots with my ever-present smartphone (more of that when I get to ‘S’), so I know that modern phone cameras are quite capable of achieving surprisingly decent pics and it’s great always to have that option available. But flying in the face of built-in image-obsolescence, for me the aim of trying to produce at least one good quality photograph to keep for posterity wins hands down over littering copious quantities of badly-composed, thoughtlessly-snapped, blurry images all over Facebook… sigh!

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Traffic Light Tree…

There’s something fun about this green-painted traffic light tree placed in the middle of a roundabout in London’s Docklands – the lights change at random, and are purely decorative, so are not in any way intended to be in the least bit functional when it comes to directing traffic.

I can’t decide if it would make a good ‘Which Way Challenge‘, or is more of an ‘Odd-Ball Challenge‘, but either way I had to share it 🙂

Traffic-light-treeTraffic-light-tree4 Traffic-light-tree2 Traffic-light-tree5

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N is for Night Photography…

Apart from the occasional sunset in Scotland I’m really not much of a night photographer – to be honest I’m not really a night-time person at all. I’ve always been more of a lark than a night-owl so I’m not always at ease being out and about after dark, never mind with a camera. I’m not the world’s biggest tripod fan, either, which doesn’t help… But for me there’s something enchanting about a city that is lit up at night, so living in London seems to offer an opportunity not to be missed any longer…

My first proper attempt at night photography (with my relatively unobtrusive Panasonic Lumix GF3 and 14mm wide angle pancake lens, together with a borrowed mini tripod) hasn’t exactly been a total success, but at least I do have a couple of reasonable images to show for it! These shots were taken from either side (east and west) of the Millennium Footbridge, crossing the Thames from north to south between St Paul’s and the Tate Modern…london-at-night2

blackfriars-bridgeUnfortunately, even though I used the self-timer for the shutter to avoid as much manual movement as possible, as a suspension bridge it bounces slightly underfoot whenever people (especially joggers, of which there were many!) pass by so even with the mini tripod securely placed along the wide railings I found it difficult to avoid camera shake entirely with the shutter open for any length of time. I wanted a long enough exposure to achieve smooth water, but short enough to avoid the chance of a blurred image… Hmmm… well, I live and learn, and I’ll know to keep clear of the bouncy bridge next time – onwards and upwards! 🙂