Portrait

Candid Street Photography

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I am a candid Street photographer, there I said it and have been saying it for two years, but how did that happen? I am not even sure myself to be honest. It’s just how people started referring to my work, it’s not a name I gave to myself its just happened over night I can’t even remember how it started.

I have been shooting Street photography in one way or another for all of my life and started about 8 years old with a camera given to me by my parents. I was born Dyslexic and photography was my welcome release from life, school and my own head as I tried to grow up with learning difficulties.

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I was not great at photography so had to teach myself and made lots of mistakes along the way.  I did all the normal things you do as a kid, shoot long exposures and light trails from cars on roads as well as smoke and water drops, all the photography related things we shoot as we try to learn then people became more interesting.

I started shooting weddings and events at an early age and then glamour. In my spare time my hobby as such was always shooting people, due to the fact I shot people at weddings and people at events and spent my time posing them or talking to them I preferred to shoot my street in a candid way.

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I did not read many  books as reading was such a slow process for me in my early years so I just found out the more time I spent with a camera and the more time I spent in the dark room, the more I found out about photography. I did get a few photography books but they were all about the images and not the text.

I learnt very early on how to critique my own work, I am my worst critic. I shot the odd landscape and had wonky horizons for years until I started to look at my work in a more critical way. The funny thing is finding out for yourself,  can’t even get an horizon straight, now that makes you look more deeply at your work. If you can’t notice something as simple as that what else was I missing.

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I had a house fire many years ago and lost everything in my house from my vinyl collection to all my photos and negatives! Quite a few survived but mostly family images, it stopped me in my tracks for years and I also lost my cameras and the insurance was out of date by a few weeks. Shame we did not have email reminders in those days.

So I have only recently started to show my Street work again but to this day I still shoot film but keep that to myself and don’t post my film images on social media that often.

I have to admit to not knowing anything about Street photography and not looking at any of the masters of Street or even reading up on Street until about eighteen months ago when I met Steve Coleman. Street Frame Steve and I became friends through our love of Photography and Street. I also had not read a book on Street until this year as I just don’t have time to read and very rarely buy books. A friend of mine Elaine was given some books for Christmas 2014 and two were the same. As a coincidence I was given two copies of Martin Parr’s book so we did a swap. Elaine said I would love the book by David Gibson  (The Street Photographer Manual) as it’s exactly the way I teach and shoot street. As soon as she said that I was interested and decided to read it and managed to read it in a week, the speed I read that was fast!

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I was so shocked to read that after all these years I was shooting Street almost exactly the way the manual says it should be done. Not that I am one for too many rules in photography but Street to me is my passion.

I have seen so many YouTube videos of people arguing with people in the street about their rights to shoot on public property after upsetting someone with their camera it was quite refreshing to read a book that was telling it how it is!

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My philosophy on Street is so simple. I want to be able to go out and shoot Street in a candid way so as not interrupt any ones day. I want to keep it real and not ask for a portrait or change the dynamic of the scene. I want  to capture life as it happens and not pose one single element. I have been shooting this way for over 40 years and no one has ever stopped me let alone had an argument with me. The people I have spoken to on the street have all been very nice and it’s amazing what a smile can do.

I always said I would not teach Photography and never Street but now find myself doing it. Part of that was an age thing, I reached 50 and decided to just go for it and teach, do talks and workshops. In all honesty I did not think I was that interesting.

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Some of the main reasons for teaching were that people were asking me to teach them and show them not just Street but black and white editing and all other types of photography.

I was getting asked so many questions that were so hard to answer online; I can’t type that fast and being Dyslexic all my work has to be checked by my girlfriend Jane so writing is a nightmare for me. Workshops were the only answer and I quickly found that I loved the workshops and learnt so much from them myself. So many of the people that have been on my workshops have been Teachers and that has opened my eyes to some of my early failures. I used to say to everyone what is the point in a workshop, you won’t learn much and some of the teachers are not great. I was wrong and I admit it. I wish I had taken a few workshops in my younger years that way I would have not had wonky horizons for 8 years!  I now say workshops are good, go find a workshop with a photographer at the top of his or her game or even someone whose work you admire that way your photography will progress so much more quickly.

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Some of the guys that have been on my Street workshops have come more than once and come to different city’s all over the UK. There work is getting better and better. They ask me more and more questions gaining confidence all the time. Not only that but they can shoot around some of these cities in the safety of a group.  Some single people who are into photography and whose friends are not,  just love to be able to shoot Street with like minded people and its great fun.

One of the questions I have been asked most this year is, when is it Street and when is it a Portrait ? The answer is simple but there is a grey area. If you just shoot someone in the street without them knowing its Candid Street. If you ask for a portrait it’s a Street Portrait. If you look at them and point to your camera and gesture and they nod then because permission has been asked for and granted it is a portrait! So if you are shooting and waiting for eye contact it’s still Street as long as they don’t smile!! If they smile that is the grey area because the smile can be taken as an agreement to have a portrait taken! I try to capture all my Street subjects’ candid but if I push for eye contact I aim to press the shutter before they smile. I would never post a portrait or smile shot in a Street group, unless they allow Street portraits! So if you wonder why your images get removed from Street groups that could be a reason.

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There is also a lot of debate about shooting the homeless or disadvantaged people. This is a taboo subject in most Street groups and I don’t encourage it on my workshops. A good street image is telling a story and should say something to you as well as the viewer if you view it in a group. ‘Homeless person in a doorway’ or ‘on a bench’ is an easy target for people starting out into Street and they always try to justify their images with a verbal reason. If the images can’t talk for themselves they fail, so give it a lot of thought before you fall into that trap. I also understand that if we don’t shoot homeless and disadvantaged people there will be a big gap in future images so a good story needs to be told.

I was on a photo walk when a friend of mine Dave K Piper said to me “ I get it now “ I said “get what” he said “ I create my work in a studio and you go out and find yours.”  He was spot on and one of the lessons I try and teach is that you don’t always find it !

Too many people are going out and shooting Street like I did with Landscapes as a kid and not looking at their work. There are still wonky horizons in Street but so much Street now has no thought put in to it. I am in some great Street groups and even some of the groups are not helping. People have short attention spans on social media and click ‘like’ far too easily and that gives a Street photographer the wrong idea.

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Some of my images have quite a lot of thought put into them and there is a story there or emotion, but its missed by so many. Someone said the other week that window shots have been done to death and they are easy ! Far from it but so many window shots are just window shots !

Martin Parr and Bruce Guilden ( Thanks Steve ) have some great YouTube videos on Critique and they are well worth watching. I have only just started to look into the masters of Street and to be honest I don’t get some Street but fully get the style I find myself shooting.

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One very important thing for me is that everyone needs to treat people on the street as they would like to be treated themselves so that we can carry on shooting Street in the future and not have the general public turn on photographers for being rude and pushy!

I am a member of the f50 collective an international collective of Street photographers and we have some amazing debates on Street over a coffee in Liverpool but the one thing that is always apparent is our passion for Street.

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I teach Street workshops and I spend all day out on the street with my groups and only have groups of 6 people as that is just about the right amount to take around any city. Shooting candid is an art in its self so group size is very important to me. I also have FREE photowalks in the UK that are planned with Fujifilm UK or Fujiholics to get Photographers together for a great social event not just for Street but for networking or any other style of photography.

My workshops are designed for any level of photography, and I carry out one to one courses anywhere in the UK. I was not sure about starting the workshops as trying to teach people how to shoot Candid street in a group I thought was going to be an issue but its turning out to be a lot of fun.

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People come on my courses and have that light bulb moment and realize it’s not as hard as they thought. Once they have that light bulb moment and start shooting the way I teach, they go from strength to strength. One guy came on one of my very first workshops and said Street is not for him and he was not going to do it again. I was shooting in Liverpool a few weeks back and he was out on his own shooting Street and his work is getting better and better as he gets closer and closer. Not only that but he had confidence issues as well. He now finds a great release and calmness in shooting Street the same as I did when I was a young lad.

I have taken my workshops on the road now and with the help of Fujifilm UK can also offer loan cameras and lenses for my workshops if notice is given. I have some exciting places for 2015 and they all give a different aspect to Street photography: Brighton for example has its relaxing vibrant culture, London for the fast paced action and chaotic city life, Edinburgh for the most relaxed people in the UK and just up the road Glasgow for some of the best characters, Liverpool and Manchester for the amazing styles of the men and women, Hull for the amazing people, Cardiff for the Christmas markets. and Chester for historic backgrounds and so many more that I have not had time to plan yet.

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So, why not join me in a city near you or have a weekend break in a city far away ? With my new early bird prices and advanced train fairs at an all time low it’s a great way to spend a weekend in an interesting city exploring it by day with like minded people and some candid Street.

Don’t confuse my Workshops with the Free photowalks I have this year as they are completely different. I can’t teach 200 people on a walk I can only talk to people on the route and hand out hints and tips. If you don’t make it to my workshops follow my facebook page or twitter feed to find the Free walks and competitions. Who knows, you might win a Fuji X100T or a trip to Paris to shoot Street with me !

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Face Behind The Keyboard – The End

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Natalie Donnelly

My 2014 Portrait Project became what I can only describe as complicated, this was for many reasons. One reason was arranging times when it was a convenient time for both my subject and I to be available for a shoot, it became quite apparent very quickly this was going to be a big issue. The weather also had a big part to play in the timing of shoots and it was too nice or two wet for some of the planned shoots. I also quickly decided shooting planed portraits was not for me. I love to shoot people but in a more candied reportage style, so the whole project started to go downhill from day one. But I decided to continue with the project and just see how it progressed.

If I ended up with just a hand full of images but learnt a lot from my project the whole year’s project would have been worth it. But hardly any progress was made over the first few months, I said to myself over and over again, never again….

Every project I start is for a reason and this project was designed to not only take me out of my comfort zone shooting people I had first met on the Internet, but also shooting people I had not met at all and only ever spoken to via social media. There were a couple of exceptions, an old friend Sam and her husband Chris who approached me at the start of the year. Sam does not like having her photo taken but wanted to step out of her comfort zone and have her portrait taken by me this year. How could I refuse, Chris ended up having his portrait taken as he waited for me to finish shooting Sam, the best part of this story is, Chris has now brought a camera and taken up photography. Looks like Sam will have to get used to having her portrait taken!

Chris Wilson

One thing I found out very quickly was trying to pin someone down to shoot them at a date and time was almost impossible, this alone made me want to throw the towel in from the start. I love street photography and event photography it’s the spontaneity that gets me excited, I just love it when all the elements of a great shot fall in to place. Trying to get a subject to be in the place they wanted to be, to be shot how they wanted to be shot on the right day at the right time in the right dress, with the right light was almost impossible !

On one occasion I was due to meet my subject at 9am, but after a few Facebook messages and phone calls they did not arrive until 1pm, by this time the light was useless and the planned location was in the wrong direction to the sun and it was pouring with rain. We had to wait for the rain to stop then shoot a new location. By the time we got the shot it was nearly dark. This was a big learning curve for me. Did I want to spend a whole day shooting one subject for my project! The simple answer was NO!

One Lady came all the way from Australia and was very much out of her comfort zone when I shot her image so thank you Linda.

Linda Ripper

I love all my projects, making each project last a year was a good move, it gives me time to completely hate the whole project and to want to throw in the towel, but when the mojo comes back to then pull yourself out of that hole using the towel as a rope !

I now know I hate shooting planned portraits, I can’t think of anything worse than trying to organise and plan a shoot with people you have not met and may not meet again. I found out the British weather is just as unpredictable as I thought it was. I found out getting people to relax for their portrait was very complicated and required a lot of work, most of the shoot in fact was taken up with getting the subject to relax. I have noticed even with some of the best portraits I have ever seen there is sometimes a look in the eyes of boredom or mind wondering! I have always hated that look, in street I always look for those few seconds before eye contact to try and make the shot.

I was lucky to be able to shoot a couple of my subjects as they worked; this made the whole process much easier. On the whole people are quite hard to work with as subjects, the more creative they are the more difficult this becomes.

Don’t get me wrong some people are great and I would like to say thank you to all the people who have allowed me to shoot them and use their portraits in this project.  It was a pleasure to shoot you all and in some cases quite a laugh.  Some people I could not shoot and this was more down to both my work commitments and theirs, as well as the distances we would have to travel.

Lou Brown

I have learnt quite a lot from my project I can now use in my street and event work, I also have far more confidence in asking random people for a portrait than ever before! I have always been able to ask people for portraits but, not always had the confidence with some types of people at the important times. I won’t let these given moments pass me buy any more. I probably won’t shoot this type of portraits again but if do, I will plan at least a day or half a day for each shoot.

James Stamp

I have also found the Fuji X cameras are just perfect for Portraits, the XPro1 is my favorite, it slows me down and makes me think and also relaxes my subjects a lot more than a huge great DSLR in between my face and theirs. The Fuji X-T1 is also great when you want to speed things up when you can see the subjects mind wondering.

So in the end I managed 14 images, not as many as I thought but more than one a month so not to bad.

So that’s the 2014 project out of the way now for my very exciting 2015 street project…

Steve Colman