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Street Photography Q&A


Q: I noticed that you have a lot of great street photography of people on the street and such. I was wondering how do you go about approaching people on the street? Do you ask if you can snap a photo or do you just take it when you feel you should? I really would like to take some nice street photos, but am a little confused on the angle in which I should go about doing so.

A: I almost never ask for permission as it would destroy the moment and the candidness of the photograph. Usually I try to blend in the scene as if I belong there (which in fact I do - I'm an active member of the scenery). I personally like to use a wide lens (24mm, 28mm, 35mm on full frame 35mm) to be pretty close to my subject and get that intimate look of my photos. It took me a while to get closer, so I'd suggest to start with maybe a 75mm or 50mm lens to keep some distance and get closer from there.


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Q: great site you have. I am a medium format shooter, moving to nyc this summer and looking at an m6 for street shots. if you have any time to tell me your thoughts on buying a m6 classic vs. the ttl i would be very appreciative.

A: in reality M6 classic vs. TTL only matters if you plan on shooting with multiple cameras. The shutter dial on the TTL and all newer models (M7/M8) turn the opposite way (for old school M shooters they are the "wrong dial" M's). If you shoot say a TTL and a classic at the same time it can get confusing in the heat of the moment... I also use a (meterless) M4 and love the oldschool script logo on the top plate and its uncluttered viewfinder.

There is one thing I love about the TTL's shutter dial - it is much larger than the classics and easier to turn with one finger. The meter readout in the viewfinder has 3 LEDs in the TTL instead of 2 in the classic. The TTL electronics/mechanism in a Leica sort of defeat the purpose for a low light camera. 1/50th flash sync doesn't help either...

the most important hing to consider with either camera is the viewfinder magnification. I personally shoot mostly a 35mm and a 28mm, so the .72 vf is ideal for me, since it shows 28mm lines. the 50mm framelines become pretty squinty and a 75mm/90mm are useless in my book (I don't use either anyways). the .58 goes as wide as 24/21mm and the .85 is good for frame lines up to 35mm.


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Q: I am wondering how you get such high contrast exposures while maintaining clarity in features and edges, as well as not getting that "whitewashed" look which can be seem when images are adjusted digitally in photoshop. How do you typically expose? Is some of that filters? I've always wondered. And is this a film only look, or can I recreate this type of exposure with my EOS?

A: with my digital EOS I typically shoot RAW and expose by -1/3rd stop to prevent blown highlights. I don't use filters.


I would then do some RAW adjustments in Adobe Camera RAW to get best possible tonality. Now my image would look like any other EOS shot out there. In order to make an image really shine I would adjust contrast via curves and either dodge and burn or make local adjustments with curves and layer masks.


so far, I have written this for b/w only, but will do so for color eventually. The process is pretty much the same.


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Q: I recently purchased a manual nikon lens with an adapter for my 350D. I am wondering how I can increase the sharpness of my subjects in lower lighting and night situations. I am shooting at iso1600 f8 during the afternoon, typically pre-focused at 7feet, and iso 1600 f2.8 at night. Many of my subjects are just out of focus or not quite sharp enough. Any suggestions? I can provide examples if needed.

A: I don't know what focal length you're using, plus I assume you're zone-focussing... so I'm fishing a bit here... samples and lens info would help *a lot*. the basic rule is to keep the shutter speed at 1/focal length for hand held exposures to avoid camera shake. Let's say you use a 35mm lens, any shutter speed above 1/30th of a sec should be safe. *your mileage may vary*

motion blur is another thing... I'd say at least a 1/125th shutter speed is needed to stop "every day" motion.

pre-focusing relies on depth-of-field, find a useful online calculator here

let's assume you're using a 35mm lens at f8 and your focus is set to 7ft.: DOF is 3.91 ft, which is relatively easy to deal with...

a 35mm at f2.8 narrows the DOF to 1.3ft, which is nearly impossible to hit without using the viewfinder and proper focusing. oh, the longer the focal length, the shallower the DOF...


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Q: I would hope you could answer this simple question about posting street photos of people onto a blog. Are model released required?

A: model releases are not required for personal/artistic work. However, they're necessary for any type of commercial work.


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When you go out ready to shoot, do you look for anything in particular to photograph?

no - I go out without any motif in my head, many of my photographs are taken by chance, of course they'll need to fit the grand scheme.


What sort of things catch your eye when your shooting?

looking through my photographs it's probably the odd moment in the urban jungle, let it be a juxtaposition, an interesting looking character or just a surreal looking scene.


What would you say an average day would be like for you?

I carry a camera pretty much anywhere I go and take street photographs whenever I can - usually on my spare time... on my way to work, during lunch and after work. photographically speaking, the average day isn't very fruitful - I'd come home with a bunch of average or non-working shots, but that's exactly what keeps me going.


What is the inspiration behind your photography?

simply put - the next great photograph, but in real life it's a little more complicated: the next great shot takes another 1,000 failures.


I noticed that your bio said that you frame your camera from you hip, is that true??

at the time the bio was written, I used to shoot much more from the hip - but by now I prefer to use the viewfinder to quickly compose my photographs. shooting from the hip further increases chance...


Why did you choose to be a street photographer?

when I first moved to NYC the energy and pace of the city got right at me and I started photographing strangers in public, not knowing that the genre "street photography" existed. Eventually street photography became my passion and I take photographs every single day.


Is being a street photographer an ideal living? or is it your ideal living? (meaning is this what you want to do with your life and does it have sufficient profits)

In order to make a living I work as a photo retoucher in an advertising agency... street photography is my passion, but I wouldn't mind doing editorial or advertising work.


Do you have a favorite shot?


B.I. 7th Avenue is my most recent favorite, since it represents the energy of this city so well.


I also had another couple side questions, which photo do you like the best and why out of: Liberato, Wheels, Thoughtful, Scorching, Covering face, Crack, and Legs and Crutches. I think I like either Crack or Thoughtful the best, I don't know its hard to decide.


well, they all stand on their own, but let's see what I think...


- Liberato... is very surreal with lots of detail and great to look at


- Wheels... has a great deal of emotion and social commentary - I like the content, but the shot is lacking otherwise.


- Thoughtful... this photo is a great reflection of the NYC subway with the acid graffiti in the window, but the innocent kid and the silhouette juxtapose and illustrate it perfectly


- Scorching... also has a very surreal quality to it – basically picturing to be locked in the city during the summer, yet showing the fun it might be being a kid (see "Kids and Fire Hydrant" possibly my most popular shot).


- Covering face... emotion. pure emotion.


- Crack... simply cracks me up - "like mother, like son"


- Legs and Crutches... another ironic shot - obvious, but beyond description and that's why it might be my favorite of the bunch...


Also, when you developed Liberato, how did you do that? It seems to me like you overlapped 2 negatives and printed it, but thats coming from someone who's and obvious beginner and has no idea what she's doing.


Liberato is a photoshopped composite of three negatives... well seen for a "beginner" ;D


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Q: Hi markus, quick question, I want to revamp my site (s). What did you use to build yours? I want to merge mine into something new and add newer content. I really loved the simplicity of your site and the navigation.

A: my site is done with Adobe Golive, the blog part is based on Movable Type with modified templates.


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Are you a practicing professional photographer?


no, street shooting is a hobby for me - although I'd like to photograph for a living (I work as a photo retoucher in an advertising agency)


Where are you based?


New York City


Do you use film, digital or both?

both 70% digital / 30% film (I'd shoot more film if I had more time to develop & scan) I prefer digital for its convenience and film for its "look" (even though I can emulate a look easily w/ digital editing - looking at my photographs you probably can't tell the difference)


If you use film, do you shoot 35mm or 120mm? Or Both?


both, but prefer 35mm (medium format is oftentimes too slow for my type of work)


What would you say your favourite film is and why?

Tri-X for its tonality and versatility


What developer do you use?


mostly Diafine (I use mainly Tri-X with this devloper)


Why do you still shoot, process and print black and white photographs in this new digital era?

black and white points the viewer to the content of a photograph and is aesthetically more pleasing... I'm using a hybrid process - I scan my negatives and process in Photoshop and print on an inkjet printer. I would go in the darkroom 2x a year for fun.


If you could name one photographer who has inspired you, who would it be?


Garry Winogrand


Do you believe that film will make a comeback to overhaul digital?

overhaul? no - still be available? yes, but limited


Do you have any advice for training photographers, on how to be successful?


shoot a lot, study other photographers work and edit your own work vigorously (don't get emotionally attached to a photograph, a flawed photo is just that - flawed)


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How did you become a street photographer?

When I moved to New York City in 2003, I instantly became inspired by the beat of the urban jungle and naturally started photographing strangers, not knowing that the genre “street photography” existed.


Did it start as a hobby?

Street photography started as a hobby and still is a hobby to me, it’s rather hard, if not impossible to make a living as an artist, especially in fine art photography. I’ve been working in the graphics industry since 1987 and currently make a living as a photo retoucher for a worldwide advertising agency.


Your work is very dynamic and decisive. Is there a photographer, past or present, who has inspired your style of photography?

The works of Robert Frank, William Klein and Cartier-Bresson are great to look at, but I try to come up with my own “style”, if there is such a thing. Garry Winogrand is probably my favorite of the genre.


Have you ever had any formal photography training i.e. college, university degrees etc, or are you completely self taught?

I started taking photography seriously (or serious photographs) when I was a teenager and pretty much learned everything from books and practice. A few years ago I attended a “mailorder” program at the New York Institute of Photography, but got bored quickly.


Is street photography your full time work, or do you still own the graphic design shop?

I owned the shop until the end of 2001 in Germany, when I moved to the US, I started freelancing, but eventually took on a full-time job to benefit my photography.


When you first started street photography, were you nervous?

I delved right into the crowd and knew right away when to take a shot, or when to stay away.


If yes, how did you overcome it?

It became more complicated using wider lenses, since I had to move in closer, but I try to fit right into the scene. People oftentimes don’t notice me taking their photograph (The lady in “Ash Wednesday” didn’t notice, but was joking with her companion).


What tips can you give an amateur just starting out in street photography about blending in and being un-noticed?

Just be yourself and act naturally, don’t be sneaky or overly “in your face” and everything will work itself out with practice. Let the camera be an extension, a part of yourself as opposed to the intrusive instrument it can be.


Did you use a zoom lens to start with, and would you recommend it?

I started with a zoom lens, merely taking street portraits without considering the context much. It became boring real fast and I started using a 35mm prime lens to include the surroundings. I think it’s a good idea to start with a zoom lens to practice different framing with ease and to learn about the different look of different focal lengths. The downside of zoom lenses are their size and their lack of wide apertures/speed.


On the other hand it’s a good idea to work with a prime lens for a certain amount of time to learn to frame instantaneously, quickness is an absolute must in street photography. Learn to use your gear without thinking and learn to guess your exposure.


Can you plan your day, or do you just go out and see what happens?

I never plan my day, or set a theme, but may go out to a specific location and see what happens, I usually drift from avenue to avenue, from street to street.


Is there a particular time of day that you prefer to take your images?

Night time is particularly interesting, places seem to change and the light or absence thereof can be very dynamic. I love to shoot in the rain, colors become very saturated and the rain adds interesting textures and moments.


Is where you live a contributable inspiration to your photography?

There is no doubt that the dense, energetic atmosphere of NYC contributes to my photography, even though I can see myself working in many other places.


On your website, all the images appear to be New York, do you ever take street photography images in other towns or cities?

Right now I’m contributing to my wife’s college education and didn’t get to travel within the US - yet. My dream is to travel cross country and picture “The Americans” of this decade.


Is there a particular image you have taken that has stayed in your mind and makes you happy, sad e.g. and why? Is it on your website?

There are many memorable shots on my site and I’m attached to every shown photo in one way or the other, but “Kids and Fire Hydrant” is probably the most popular shot I have taken so far. “Crack” makes me chuckle every single time I look at it and “Legs and crutches” is the only street shot I’ve asked permission for, ever, still the guy didn’t realize he’s going to be in the picture.


Apart from the above, is there one image that you are particular proud of?


“B.I. 7th Avenue” has a very heroic, dynamic feel and is probably my favorite of 2007.


Have you ever held an exhibition of your work?

No, I have not held an exhibition yet, but plan to do so in the future.


If yes, where and when, and do you have an electronic brochure?

Right now, my website is my electronic portfolio.


How did it feel to win the Photobloggies 2006 award for best street photographer?

The 2006 Photobloggies were a great achievement at a pretty early point in my “career” as a street photographer, it feels good to get acknowledged by such a large community, it also shows that street photography is gaining momentum again.


Was it for a selection of images or for your work as a whole?


The community voted for my photoblog as a whole.


What work did you have published in ‘Stern View’ magazine? Are the images available anywhere?


“Kids and Fire Hydrant” was printed in “Stern View” in January 2006.


Have you had any other work published?


I had a few pieces in newspapers, magazines and have done some commissioned work, I also sell a few prints here and there, but never put an emphasis on the “business” side of my photography.


I particularly love your subway images, how do you ensure you have the correct exposure? If the lowest setting on a lens was f/4.5 and a 400 speed film, would you push it to 800 to enable a faster shutter? Would a 1600 film be more suitable for underground shots?

800 is too slow, unless you’d have a faster lens, at 800 you’d need to shoot at least at f2.8 to get a fast enough shutter speed. I’d shoot at 1600 f/4 (f4.5 in your case), with a 35mm or 28mm lens, depth-of-field is suitable for zone-focusing. Tri-X at 1600 developed in Diafine gives excellent low-grain results.


Do you ever use a digital camera to take street shots?

Sure, I use a Ricoh GR-D and a Canon EOS 5D, looking at my site you probably can’t tell what is shot with film or digital.


Do you ever use a flash?

Every once in while I use a flash for fill-in or for the look, a while ago I shot with a Holga and flash for a few weeks.


Would you recommend a beginner to use digital as well as film?

Digital is an excellent learning tool for its immediate feedback, where film obviously requires more discipline to record settings for any given result.


Can you give a ‘dummies’ guide to zone-focussing?

yes, read here on zone-focussing


I am worried about getting the correct exposure especially when on the underground. What tips can you give to ensure exposure as well as focus?

Use fast film to get a fairly fast shutter speed, and set your aperture at around f4, with a 28mm or 35mm lens DOF covers plenty space for focussing error. I prefer manual focus over autofocus and simply guess the distance. The NYC subway is about 2.5m seat-to-seat across and the shutter is usually 1/30th/sec at f4 at IS0 1600. Visit Fred Parker's exposure computer for some excellent advice.


Do you every print your black and white images using the traditional method i.e. darkroom, or do you always load your negatives into Photoshop?

I’ve given up on the traditional darkroom a while ago, I’m simply more flexible and proficient in Photoshop and the results are more constant. I’d still have a darkroom, if I’d have the space, but apartments in Manhattan are rather tiny.


Did you ever, at the start, use family or friends positioned just out of shot to help get the image?


For flexibility reasons, I’d usually go out by myself, but if I’m accompanied by friends or family they try not to intervene with my photographs.


Did you use a studio for some of your portrait images?

I used to have a makeshift studio in my bedroom, but by now I mostly use portable, battery-operated strobes

Comments (6)

do you daily follow a same route in your city for your work or do you move to new places always?

Nick (Russia):

When taking photos in rain how do you usually prevent your camera from water or maybe something about "method" how you take pictures?

I'd either have the camera under my coat and take it out when needed, or in a clear plastic bag with a hole for the lens

Helen:

Hi Markus, I love your photographs...they are really amazing. I have a D60 NIkon that I have been using for the past year with a Sigma fixed lens and wish to upgrade the camera. I have been doing street photography which I am addicted to now plus I like doing some portraits. I want to upgrade my camera and wanted to get your recommendation between the D90, D300, D700 and D3x. There's quite a diffference in the prices!! I really don't want to (but could) buy at the pricier end but is it really worth it? Can you advise whenever you have a moment. Appreciate your time and thanks in advance. Helen

jorgef2002:

Hello again Mr Hartel, no need to answer my previous question I found the answer in Street Photography Q&A,thank you, you have been a great influence in my photography,regards.


jorge from Phily

Becky:

Hi
I am currently studying photography at College, I am currently doing an project about Points of View, I have been searching the net for an ideal street photographer, I came across you and your photography has inspired me and I would like to use you as one of my contemporary photographers.However I couldn't find a lot of biography details about you and what were your aims and intentions.Would be muchly appreciated if you could help me out.

Becky.

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