Street 29/10/2012

Again, testing the Sigma 19mm/2.8 with the NEX-7. These were shot mostly “blind”, or using the flip up LCD and “TLR style”. I fixed the aperture to f/2.8 and ISO at 400. One issue I did come across is that when waking up from sleep, the AF can be totally off and the frame is completely blurry. I’ll have to anticipate a shot and wake up the camera fully before autofocussing.

Why Street Photography

There are two major strands of my photography, landscape/panoramic and street/candid photography. The wedding/social and portrait photography could be seen as an extension of my interests in street/candid photography in general. I’d like to reflect on what makes street photography attractive to me, and possibly to lots of other photographers. It’s a genre diametrically opposite to studio/fashion photography and I think it’s these differences which are behind its appeal.

Street photography is relatively cheap. Well, it may not be if you decide to get a Lecia M9 and Noctilux, but a minimum kit with which to start off consists of a manual film SLR and cheap 50mm “standard” lens. Even with film costs, it’s something a student could afford to try out. You can try street photography with your camera phone, LOMO, disposable cam, or point&shoot. No need for a fancy DSLR, in fact the smaller the camera the better in many cases. One doesn’t need fancy lenses, huge zooms, or complex kit. A single lens and simple camera is enough.

Street photography is exciting. The process of going out and taking street photos can be exhilarating. It can also be frustrating, tense, anxiety provoking, and sometimes dangerous. Street photography, as a personal endeavour, is as much about the process and struggle one goes through to get the shot than it is about simply the final product. It’s not to say that results don’t matter, but one can derive personal satisfaction from the activity. For me, it can be a form of therapy, a way to focus the mind on the immediate reality of the now and banish other worries. Getting a few good shots is an added bonus.

Street photography is unplanned. You never know what you will come back with when going on a street photo outing. Life is unscripted, people are random, you have to be lucky as well as good. You can improve your chances by choosing your stalking ground, the time of day, observing and noting people, groups, and situations as they develop. But there are no guarantees with street photography.

Street photography is not rigid. The “rules of photography” one may learn as a beginner (“rule of thirds” etc.) can be tossed out of the window when doing street photography. What “works” as a street photo is so open to interpretation. Often, framing can be haphazard but the photo is still interesting. Exposure can be “off” but the effect can work with the subject. Even photos which are not perfectly sharp can show interesting scenes, blur can be used creatively to enhance a mood. It is up to a street shooter to work with circumstances, creatively apply their technique to capturing interesting shots.

Street photography is democratic. Anyone can pick up a camera and start doing street photography. The low barrier to equipment, you don’t have to travel anywhere in particular, there’s no special technical know-how involved (setting you camera on automatic or P-mode works well enough in most cases), and post-processing is comparatively simple (no need for endless touching-up on photoshop, merging HDR brackets, stitching panoramas etc.)

Street photography is a solitary activity. You don’t need models, make-up artists, stylists, or assistants. All you need is yourself, a camera, and the street (loosely defined). When starting out, it can pay to go shooting with a more experienced streetshooter  to get hints about camera settings and handling, spotting scenes, good spots, and general demeanour but that’s not even strictly necessary. One can easily be self-taught in street photography, more so than for more technically and equipment laden genres.

So, if you haven’t already tried street photography, you have no excuse. Remember the words of Robert Capa, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”

All By Myself

I just received a Sigma 19mm/2.8 in E-mount. This is the second time I have ordered one, the first time I was sent the lens in micro 4/3 mount. Luckily this time I got the lens I actually ordered. I can see why other people have been very positive about this lens, it is very sharp, even wide open. The build is reasonable and though not as small as the 16mm/2.8 pancake, it is still not an imposing optic. I took it out for a spin today in Glasgow City Centre to test how well it focused and whether there were any issues with using it as a street lens.

The AF speed is moderate, not very snappy but with some practice quite usable. I feel the 16mm/2.8 actually autofocuses faster but I have not done any direct comparisons under the same lighting conditions. It was getting a bit overcast, grey, and dim this afternoon though so it was a test of the Sigma. I just have to adjust my technique slightly to anticipate when I want to release the shutter and give some extra time beforehand for the lens to focus. The AF speed is also a function of the camera body (NEX-7 in this case), perhaps the NEX-6 may be better (or worse). I wonder if Sony will update the firmware to allow PDAF on that camera with non-Sony lenses such as the Sigma 19mm/2.8.

One thing I have noticed is that they aperture mechanism does make an audible click, really only noticeable when it is quiet. You can hear the aperture opening and closing as you focus in you are not shooting wide open. On the street it’s not an issue, and especially insignificant compared to the shutter sound.

All in all, I am very happy with this lens so far. I shall have to test it for landscape use but I think it should resolved quite a lot of detail across the frame when stopped down. I shall also be looking to see if there are any colour shading problems in the corners.

Shooting from the hip

It was a rare sunny day in Glasgow so I went out for a brief walk around the city centre in order to keep my shutter finger in practise. I used the NEX-7 with the 18-55mm kit lens and the 16mm/2.8 pancake. I played around with the settings, deciding to try something different from my usual practice. Instead of using aperture priority mode, I decided on Shutter priority 1/400th or 1/200th later on when the light grew dimmer, and put the camera on auto ISO.

For street photos, a bit of extra noise isn’t too much of a problem so I wasn’t concerned with using the lowest ISOs. Shooting handheld and in moderate light, I don’t expect razor sharp photos from choosing an optimum aperture. But I wanted to keep the shutter speed high to reduce the possibility of motion blur, either from my quickly grabbed shots or subject movement. I also put the camera into “Black and White” mode, this helped surprisingly well to frame shots without distracting colour.

I also shot most photos from the hip, either “blind” or using the flip up LCD screen. Only occasionally would I be able to raise the camera to the eye without “spooking” my subject. Putting the camera on multi-focus worked out reasonably well in fact, especially with face-detect. A lot of shots were taken in passing, without the opportunity to frame and focus with any great care.

To get even some usable shots is quite fortunate. Using a wide angle lens helps but one really needs to get in close to make the most of the frame. Below are a selection of the least worst shots. All but one are uncropped.

Sunset over the Fairy Lochs

Here is another photo from the Highlands. This was take after I had done some spherical panoramas around and in the Loch. Here, you can see both a propeller and a radial piston engine belonging to the B-24 Liberator bomber which crashed here in 1945. There is a memorial to the crew next to the Loch. For this shot, I used the NEX-7 with the LA-EA1 to mount a 16-50mm/2.8 A-mount lens. I set the exposure to f/8 and ISO to 100. Using LiveView, it was easy to make sure I exposed for the sunset so as to not blow out the highlights. It also made manually focussing the lens very easy. As the sun was setting fast, I had to quickly work my way around the Loch in order get some alternate viewpoints and perspectives. I think this one shows the view of the Loch the best.