street portraits

Street photography project

I am about to start a street photography project. While I have shot strangers in the past, this will be different.

In the past I have felt a safe distance away from the subjects in candid shots and those that I have taken portraits of, I’d approached and sought permission.

Street photography is going to take me right out of my comfort zone, candid shots up close and personal. I have a great deal of anxiety about doing this.

Partly because I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. I wouldn’t say I’m a handsome chap and I’m not the ugliest creature to walk this earth. I’m not tall or particularly short. I’m a little over weight but I carry it reasonably well… With the exception of sometimes looking like I am stuck in the ’70s & ’80s I think look really very average. so why do I think I stand out..

I’m using a DSLR that is big and unsubtle. Even in soho and the west end of London people do notice the larger more pro looking cameras.

On top of this is body language. This is my Achillies heel.  I have watched a few videos and observed a couple of street photographers and for the most part I am the polar opposite. The photographers that who produce the images I like are almost anonymous in the crowd, even when they are the subject and the photographer are the only two people in the street. They have a way about them; their body language is relaxed, they look non confrontational, they don’t make eye contact, they are quick and agile leaving the subject wondering if they had just had their photo taken and then thinking nothing of it.

Conversely I often get asked if I was in the military and on occasions get asked if I am a police officer. I’m always the person that gets asked for directions; even when out with a group of friends, the baffled looking person that is holding their mobile phone or an A-Z makes their way directly to me.

I think I am observant and aware of my surroundings but I put that down to where I grew up as a kid. I do tend to make eye contact and I can’t help that, I come into contact with a lot of people in my working day, eye contact, facial expression & body language are important. The visual clue is an important part of communication and because I rely on this I may hold eye contact longer than the average person.

Even wearing “normal clothes” I’m just the sort of person that does not blend into my surroundings. So, the reason I have chosen street photography is the challenge. As a genre of photography I have a huge range of options open to me.

I want to shoot soho life, the buildings, the people, the characters, the transient population and the resident community.

My big question at this point, and it really isn’t something I should be concerned with at the moment, is whether to shoot in black & white or colour.

Naturally as I go through the images I will get an idea of any theme in the content but here is the thing:

Lots of street photos are in black and white, often high contrast.

Some say the colour should be as seen and the image processed in a way to reflect the reality.

I personally like slightly desaturated images and this is likely to be my preference for the project but I’m just not sure it will show the grim or vibrance, the poverty, the glamour or the undercurrent of the area.

There seems to be no obvious consensus and it is really just a matter of taste.

If any readers can point me in the direction of any street photographers that use desaturated colour that would be extremely useful but I’d also like your opinion. What is your preference?

Black & white, Coulour: Desaturated or realistic?

No need for postcards, you can answer below…

Kind regards,

Jim Jimmy or James

City and guilds Photography, Level Two, Part One.

I have finished my city and guilds in photography.

This had two main submissions. In each case there were topic areas such as still life, landscape and portraiture.

There were no set in stone rules so landscapes could be the more traditional mountains and fields or could be city-scapes. The only stipulation was that the topic area and theme had to be agreed by the tutor.

For theme one I opted for portraiture of people in the age range of forty-plus years but specifically those with a strong visual identity relating to street styles, youth cultures and sub-cultures that I grew up with through the 1970’s into the 1990s.

The vast majority of the people I photographed were strangers and it took a bit of effort on my part to approach them.

Only one person declined which surprised me. The remainder seemed either bemused or flattered.

Although most were happy for me to use the images in any way I wanted, some have stipulated that they would be happy for me to take their portrait and use prints for my course work but they did not want them published in any public forum.

I was able to photograph some Punks, Skinheads, Mods, Scooterists, Rockabillies and Rudies but didn’t find the full range of street cultures that I wanted to.

This was partly because of the time of year and there being no major events that would bring large numbers of particular groups together. I also had some issues around time management; primarily having a full time job that involves some rather unsocial shift patterns.

The dark nights and poor weather meant that when I did spot someone I wanted to photograph it was in poor outdoor lighting or inside pub/club/concert venues.

I found that this restricted me a little as I did not have a good working knowledge of using small off camera flash or lighting modifiers. Going to some of the venues I wanted to travel light and not be weighted down by having lots of kit.

The following two portraits are examples of the work I submitted.

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Biker at The Ace Cafe in London.

I suspected I would find one or two bikers at The Ace but did not expect to get any portraits. The only person to decline was a Hells Angel patch wearer. I have limited knowledge of this group but know they keep themselves to themselves and for that reason I suspected he would say no. No harm in asking and his refusal was never going to be any skin of my nose.

Its a shame he declined but I fully unerstand his reluctance and distrust.

So, I was at The Ace and was actually looking for people with a classic 1940s 1950s rockabilly look.

This biker arrived and looked like he would fit with exactly what I was looking for and fortunately he agreed to be photographed. Once we chatted for a little while it turned out that we had mutual friends in the past and that I may have even been at a couple of venues that his sister occasionally frequented.

The problems I had taking this portrait were the strong contrasting light, I wanted to hint at our location without making the location as equally important as my subject, The Biker.

The location was getting busy and I was limited with composition options and didn’t want to capture people in the background wearing more routinely accepted clothing. That would have ruined the aesthetic of my shoot and removed the impact of my models style and genre.

My next subject is a Mod.

I had been to a number of locations where they are known to meet but again due to the time of year and weather, not very much was going on.

I had met and spoken to several people from the Mod scene but many were a kind of oasis style brit pop hybrid of the real McCoy. Some had the right jacket but the wrong shirt, the clothes but not the right attitude and so on.

To be honest I was struggling until I met David and his good lady who agreed to be photographed.

They both looked the part, not only in what they were wearing but also their confidence and demeanour.

I opted to submit this portrait as I felt it was the strongest of the images that I took with them.

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I was very lucky to have meet some really nice people and everyone that modelled for me were simply awesome, relaxed easy going, a dream to direct and just made my job effortless.

Each person that agreed to be photographed were sent jpegs and it is my intention to invite them all to a private showing so they can see the collection in its entirety as well as have a glass or two of wine.

If anyone of the people modelling for me happen to see this, I’d just like to say thank you again. Without you there would have been no project. What ever your genre……. Keep The Faith.

My second project theme was Film Noir. If you’d like a quick preview of some of those images before I make my diary entry, a handful have been uploaded to flickr.

Thanks for visiting and as always your opinions are always welcome.

Kind regards,

Jim Jimmy James

A Portrait

I wrote about a class outing to Leicester Square in London and spotting Mr. Warwick Davis.

Ordinarily if I spot celebs doing their thang I will just leave them be.

However, on this occasion Mr. Davis looked like he was just heading from A to B and happy to share a few seconds with people.

I asked if I could take a quick portrait and the intention was to ask if I could add him to my 100 strangers project on Flickr.

He was happy to stop and pose briefly but I didn’t get the chance to ask about my Flickr project because others started asking for selfies with him.

I’m fairly certain he would have no concerns about sharing the image on Flickr but the group rules are very clear, permission must be granted to post on their page. So for the time being my Warwick Davis portrait will not appear as one of my 100 strangers.

I actually wasn’t going to post the image here either but two people have asked to see it.

The story behind this image was a college trip to Leicester Square. I was struggling a little until I spied Warwick Davis and had taken his portrait.

He seemed a bit taken aback when I asked to take his portrait but he is probably used to just being papped.

Regular readers will know that is not how I do things.

Although I say he did not seem in a great hurry, he clearly was heading somewhere and I knew I would only have a few seconds with him.

I decided there was not going to be time to fart-arse around changing my lens.

The class project also had to be shot in landscape view so my head was not thinking in terms of portraits and bumping into Mr. Davis was totally unexpected.

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As a quick shot I’m actually reasonably pleased with this portrait. Had I felt I had a couple of minutes I would have considered the background a little more. (As it is I photoshopped out a sign that was at the side of his head).

I would have considered using a slightly shallower depth of field and I should have used the camera in portrait view. I also could have changed the focal length of 35mm by zooming to 70mm.

My personal criticism is that I didn’t notice and take a second to ask him to move his jacket a smidgen so that I could get the full slogan on his shirt.

That said, I certainly wouldn’t consider the portrait a failure.

As always the unexpected opportunity presented itself and has been a valuable lesson in my development.

Constructive comments are welcome.

I’d like to thank Mr. Davis for his time and thank you for reading my blog.

Kind regards,

Jim Jimmy James

Its all about the light. Again!

Playing with light, well actually understanding light rather than playing with it will take my photography into another level. I like natural light but haven’t really learned a massive amount about how to use it to my benefit. Although I’m not doing to badly at getting reasonable portraits. I did the candid strangers project to get me thinking quickly on my feet about the ever changing light situations from walking on the sunny side of the road to suddenly wanting to take a photo on the side that was shady or just about to take a candid image of a stranger and the cloud would clear and change everything. It was a good experience, often it was just simply changing my shutter speed, sometimes altering the ISO and on the odd occasion having to think about the exposure triangle in its entirety. I can hear people now saying ‘thats not complicated’. If you are one of those then all I will ask is that you take yourself back to when you started out. Yes once it is explained the concept is easy to understand but putting it into practice and feeling comfortable with it is one thing, its another thing when you need to do it quickly to get candid street portraits. However this was simply a project to get me thinking about exposure. Now I’m moving on and thinking about light modeling. Using light to add interest and another dimension to my images rather than relying on depth of field. When it comes to taking portraits of total strangers I am sure that I will feel like a total wally when I pull out my newly acquired reflector. However, I am following a couple of photographers on flickr that use reflectors and it seems like an easy way to sculpt light, lift shadows and even block out some harsh light. I just need to get over the fear of whipping it out in public. The reflector! Any regular reader will know I joined a flickr group to capture portraits of 100 strangers but this time with their permission and posed. This is majorly stressful for me, I like to do my own thing and just blend into the background. None the less I joined the group as a personal challenge and in the hope of improving my portraiture. Here are a couple of the photographers that I have started to follow…Iain BlakeTerry Lok,  Al Fed,  Barbara Asboth and Arnab Ghosal.  They’ve all given me a warm welcome to the online group and importantly for me, feed back on my images. I’m sure I will learn more from them as I progress through the challenge. If you have time please have a look at their work. They might even inspire you to join in and I hope an old friend that has been supportive throughout my learning might even fancy a go and dust off his camera. So….. learning about light also means learning artificial lighting. There is a huge amount to learn and I have jumped in head first with regards to using flash. My camera does not have a pop up flash built in to the body but I did that was intentional. I knew I would want to use more interesting lighting. Another group on flickr is where I plan on learning about lights. I think however I might have dive-bombed into flash photography when I should have perhaps dipped my toes in first. I have been using the flash on manual when I might have been better starting with the automatic side of things and looking at flash exposure compensation. I need to have a good look at this and once I get that under my belt I can start to think about looking at flash in more depth. Also the joy & expense of buying light modifiers. Anyway, enough waffle from me. Here are some images taken in Camden recently and one has been added to my new 100 strangers album.

At an event in Camden I introduced myself to Dennis and asked if he would sit for his portrait to be taken.

At an event in Camden I introduced myself to Dennis and asked if he would sit for his portrait to be taken.

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Dennis was more than happy to have Norman Jay MBE gate crash the photo shoot.

Dennis was more than happy to have Norman Jay MBE gate crash the photo shoot.

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I think the first image is pretty cool in black and white. It needed some work on the sun glasses to remove the flash reflection and the scooter reflection. Image two I will probably submit as part of my city and guilds work. Image three was very rushed, the light had been moved and I was concentrating on that more than changing my aperture. That said, I think the slight softness, although not ideal, is acceptable. If its good enough for Pierre Bresson (I recently viewed some of his work in Piccadilly) then it is good enough for me. In image four I like the point of view but knew the mannequin behind my subject would be a problem. I wish I had the balls to just move it or at least have asked the stall holder to shift it for a couple of minutes. If I was using the image for anything I would naturally try to deal with the flash in the glasses and remove the few rain spots on Dennis’ parker. Thank you Dennis for being a patient model and thank you Norman Jay (MBE) for the guest appearance. As always, thank you for visiting my blog. Jim Jimmy James

Learning New Tricks.

Camden is one of those places that at weekends if you were blind folded, given a stone and asked to throw it in some random direction you’d normally have a 50/50 chance of it hitting someone that looks interesting; be that their face, make up, hair or dress sense. Two weekends and a few hours on week day afternoons I spent there and all the goths, skins, mods, punks……….. where the hell was everyone? I had even gone to a few gig venues but only found people dressing with a kind of hybrid on the old youth cultures I grew up with. So I’m in Camden, it was cold and starting to get late so I decided it was time to head off (via a pub for a swift half and some food). Suddenly I heard the distinctive sound of a Vespa or Lambretta. I was certain it would be one of these hybrid-trendies. The scooter came around the corner and the rider was wearing a parker, looks promising I think to myself. As he passes I clock that he is wearing a crash helmet with the Trojan logo and a pair of DMs. The road goes to a super market, a petrol station or is a good point to turn around if you’d missed a turning. I waited to see where he was going and he headed into the petrol station to put air in his tyres. As I approached him I thought he’d be a great subject for a portrait. Hello mate I’m Jim, offered my hand and he introduced himself as Eddie as he shock my hand. I told him that I was learning photography and about a couple of projects I am doing. Fortunately Eddie was already aware of Flickr and his son in law is a photography assistant. I took a few shots of Eddie, close crop, half length and some with the scooter full in the frame. Whats new for me, learning about off camera flash. My first shot was over exposed and then the next was under exposed. Third shot onwards were all good. Also there is a little photoshopping but I hope it has enhanced the image. I usually use Lightroom to carry out adjustments but it just wasn’t doing the job. I knew photoshop would be a tool I would end up needing to use so I subscribed to Adobe Creative Cloud. Again, photoshop is new to me so I will learn how to get the most out of it with a little practice. In image one I didn’t like the flash on the black drainpipe, I felt that the label of the rodent trap was a little distracting and I really wasn’t keen on the air pump being in the shot.

Image pre photoshop  adjustments.

Image pre photoshop adjustments.

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Edit-1 with distractions removed from drainpipe and rat trap.

Edit 2 with air pump signage removed.

Edit 2 with air pump signage removed.

I am reasonably happy with the work I have done but will only really know how well it worked once I print the image. I emailed Eddie some jpegs and he very kindly offered me the opportunity to do some more photo sessions with him in the future. Thank you Eddie for your time and generous offer. As always, constructive comments are always welcome & thank you for visiting my blog. Kind regards, Jim Jimmy James