Street photography: Add a trigger to your photographs.

Street photography: Add a trigger to your photographs.

ublished on 2015/09/10 - Text and Pictures by Alberto Mateo, Travel Photographer for The Last Footprint.

When you are shooting Street Photography, every image has to contain a clear reason that explains why it has been taken. If you have a wonderful background and nice lighting conditions you have a ‘postcard’, a beautiful but empty picture. If you only capture an action you have a photojournalistic picture. A good example of travel photography has a bit of both ingredients in a visually appealing composition.

Medieval walls of Kalegmedan Citadel under heavy winter snowfall, Belgrade (Beograd), Serbia.

I was on assignment in Belgrade, capital of Serbia, heart of old Yugoslavia during Winter. Snow had been falling continuously during the previous three days (I was lucky!) and although it made my stay in Belgrade a bit cold and uncomfortable, it gave the city (and hence my reportage) a special Winter feeling that liked very much.
It’s not very common to see snow so much I Winter in Belgrade, but if you have unexpected weather conditions, be ready to try get the most of them, no matter which ones they are. We do not usually are able to choose the weather conditions we are going to be working under when shooting a reportage.

I had been walking around old quarters during the afternoon and had taken some curious pictures, but when I was exploring the Citadel of Kalegmedan, an old fortress located in Belgrade old town, decided to walk up to the walls and see the aerial view. I saw this location at around 16:00. It was a great place to shoot photographs with the medieval walls covered with snow in the foreground, the white terraces in the mid-distance and the street losing in the distance… but there were two aspects I was missing:
The image lacked human factor. I knew I had the scenario, but the actors were somewhere away. I needed some human figures to set the scale. I needed to give the viewer something to compare with, and human figures are one the best things you can give to the viewer to compare. Trees, cars and other objects are also good choices to offer to your public, as almost everyone know their size.

In street photography you cannot prepare your scenario. You have to work with what you find in the place you are working in.

[pullquote]The image lacked human factor. I knew I had the scenario, but the actors were somewhere away. I needed some human figures to set the scale.[/pullquote]
In addition human figures are needed conceptually. Buildings, walls, fortifications and restaurant terraces are built by and for human beings, so one or more persons will add an invisible concept layer to your picture. Without people this picture looks empty.

The scene I had seen during the afternoon didn’t have a revealing light at the height of the scenario. It was a cloudy gray day… that light is usually great for portraiture (no shadows in the face!) but it’s too plain for buildings. The composition gave me some help adding some depth sensation with the street and buildings losing in the distance, but I needed a bit more to get the image I had previsualized.

The solution was to write down the location and go back later, when the light was going to be much better. I knew dusk light was going to be what I needed. So went away to continue shooting around, having in the back of my mind where I had to be a couple of hours later.
About thirty minutes before sunset I went back with my tripod (this was going to be a long exposure), composed the picture and waited for the light to go down. After some minutes natural light intensity went down enough to a point that it was more or less of the same as the artificial tungsten-yellow light that came from street lamps and buildings… I had to wait some minutes with my finger on the shooter for the couple to appear and be in the right position in the frame. The position of the human figures is key in this photograph. Although I’m not very fond of the so called ‘rule of thirds’ in composition, I believe it works for this picture.

"The position of the human figures is key in this photograph."

In addition, the bluish cast of the last light of the day, even bluer when was reflected on the snow, was compensated with the yellow-orange cast that came from the tungsten artificial lights, balancing the composition at a chromatic level.
BOTTOM LINE: PATIENCE is one of the needed virtues of all photographers. - All photography, and travel photography is no exception, is a bit about having patience; not always (sometimes you arrive to a location and you find something interesting to photograph), but most of the good pictures you may see are a result of patience. In this case I was patient twice: going back to the location I knew was going to give me the picture, and waiting for the pedestrians to be on that EXACT place to equilibrate the composition.
When you are out there you’ll see that people are always executing actions: chatting, walking, reading a newspaper… even something as simple as the action performed by these pedestrians, walking, can give a meaning and add a concept layer to your photographs. Just be there with the right photographic tools, wait for your opportunities and you’ll be rewarded.

What has your personal experience been regarding this aspect of photography?

Have you ever missed a person that you know would add meaning to the picture you were going to shoot?
Have you ever waited for someone to appear on a scene so that her human shape in a specific location of the frame improved the composition?
Have you ever scouted a location and gone back with different lights to get the best of it?

You can tell us about your experiences down there in the 'Comments' section...

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