Friday, 27 June 2014

Taking a break from the streets...

I had some major changes in my life the past year and I have not been in the mood for doing much street photography. So I have decided to take a break from both shooting the streets and this blog until I feel I have something to offer...

"Rain" (Fujifilm X100)

Saturday, 22 March 2014

How to shoot – Part II – focal length

The street season has finally started here in Sweden, and with that I mean the season where you actually can shoot without risking your fingers to frostbite. I haven’t done any real street sessions yet this year, but the camera is always with me so there is always some moments to get some training.

In this post I will talk about different focal lengths for street photography. Many street shooters out there are sworn to the 35 or 50 mm focal length and could never see themselves shooting with a telephoto or a wide angle lens. I also had this narrow minded approach to street photography until recent. Just until one year ago I would not really care much for shooting with a telephoto lens. I would be within the 24-50 mm focal length (35 mm equivalent) for most of my street work. Today I would reach for anything between 21 mm to 400 mm (or even longer for some purpose) for my street photography. I don’t think the focal length defines the genre of street photography, there are just different tools and perspectives and different scenes demand different focal lengths. Although I would say most of my shots are and most probably will be between 35-135 mm, I would not hesitate to use a longer lens like a 300 mm for street portraiture.

It all comes down to what you want to say and show with the photograph. Do you want to have a wide scene with all of the information around the “subject” or do you want to isolate and get rid of distractions. It is all up to you! Only you can decide what you want to express with your photograph.

This year I have decided to experiment with different focal lengths and I will continue with my candid street photo series that I just started to investigate last year. I will try some different approaches for this task, including my Pentax K-5 with the 70/2.4 Limited lens which I really love, and it will for sure be interesting. I also have a secret project for 2014, which I will reveal later on.

To be continued…

Here are some photos from the last weeks.

Friday, 21 February 2014

How to shoot? (part I)

Street photography is a very broad term and covers a lot of ground within the realm of photography. Some are using a mobile phone to make their street photographs; others are using expensive gear like a Leica. What works for someone else, maybe doesn’t suit your kind of photography (or wallet). There are different styles of shooting, and I don’t think you can learn street photography from workshops that some street shooters out there offer. If anything, street photography is very personal and it deserves a personal style of shooting. Sure you can learn about composition and the rule of thirds, the golden ratio etc, but you most probably don’t have to spend your hard earned cash doing so. There is something called the Internet…and by a simple Google search you have access to a vast amount of knowledge. This being said, workshops are of course not only a source to learn, but also an opportunity to meet other people with the same interest in photography. So if you want to meet other street photographers a workshop would probably be a great idea, but for educational purpose I would say it is a bit overrated.

For me at least, the best way to develop my skills as a street photographer (or any kind of photography) is just to go out and shoot as much as possible. I prefer to walk the streets alone; I want to be stealthy so I dress in a way that doesn't stand out in a crowd. I prefer dark clothes and black cameras. I walk slowly and I try to not make any fast sudden movements. When I think of it, it is a bit like dancing in slow motion. The most important thing of all is to observe, really observe. I pretend I am an alien from some distant civilization that crashed on planet earth with a Fuji X100 in my hand (or the preferred camera of the day). The most ordinary things are put into a new light and you start to see things you would have missed otherwise. I am a nature person that loves to be out in the wild doing bird watching, swimming in a lake or the ocean, hiking or mountain climbing etc. So when I enter the crowded streets, it is like going to the zoo with a camera, shooting pictures of the animals. Sometimes I have a theme or a task that I am shooting for, but every street session is a practice run. Just like an athlete has to train regularly to stay in shape and get better, a street photographer has to do the same. For me right now, it’s all about training my eye, my composition, my distance determination, when to shoot and when not to shoot.

The most important thing of all is to learn the camera you are using. The best thing is probably to just use one camera and one focal length, and to get really familiar with that set up. Try to really learn every little thing about the camera, how it behaves in a certain situation and how to control the camera with muscle memory rather than your brain. Use all your brain power to analyze your visual input instead of fiddling with the camera. Here I have done it difficult for me; I use a lot of different cameras and focal lengths as I find it refreshing to use different cameras and approaches to my street photography.

To be continued…

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The depth of field myth

"The larger your sensor size the shallower the depth of field (DOF)"

This is not true! I see this all over the Internet and even some professional photographers don’t get this.
The three things that is important for DOF is:

1. Aperture (larger aperture gives shallower DOF)
2. Focal length (longer focal lengths gives shallower DOF)
3. Distance to subject (shorter distance to subject gives shallower DOF)

So it is the focal length that changes the DOF when comparing different sensor sizes. A camera with a small sensor must have a shorter focal length to achieve the same field of view as a camera with a larger sensor, given everything else is unchanged.

Another statements that I have come across on the Internet is:
"a Micro 4/3 sensor isn't big enough for me" 
There are several lenses (Voigtländer f/0.95) for MFT that will give you the same, or even better DOF than for APS-C cameras. So I would regard MFT and APS-C as very similar in the possibility to get shallow DOF.

I would say that it is a benefit to use shorter lenses (along with smaller sensors) for street shooting in most situations, because it will give you the opportunity to use large aperture optics and still get enough DOF for your frame. This will let you shoot with a lower ISO value, which in turn will give you better dynamic range and colours. 

I do some shooting for sport events (especially rowing) where you are located on land and shoot the boats with a 400mm lens. I use APS-C sensor cameras and they give the same DOF as my fellow photographers standing beside me with full frame sensors using the same 400mm optics. The only difference is, I will have a 1.6x crop advantage, and hence come closer to my subjects. This means that I will crop the photo in the camera instead of later using photo editing software.

So when you hear someone saying that a larger sensor gives you shallower depth of field, please let them know the truth!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Street season is out – and no winter so far!

So December is passing by outside my window. I have been very busy working the last couple of months and I am really in the need of some vacation time. The stock market is usually quite unstable around Christmas and New Year so it is a good time to take some time off. But the big question of the month is; where is the winter?? It is autumn here in Stockholm with temperatures being around 5-7 degrees Celsius most of the time. The forecast tells us that it will continue to be warm weather here in Stockholm for at least the coming ten days. So if we finally get some winter, it will be very short.

But I am not complaining, I love the summer (and even spring and autumn), but my favourite winter is the short one (even if the last years 5 months of winter had its charm). Sure you can get some very nice photos during the winter time, but after you have gotten these shots it’s just a waiting game for the spring to arrive. I am not a big fan of doing street shooting during the winter, it is cold, and handling the camera with gloves is not really something I want to do. If I do street work during the winter it will be done with a DSLR or a bigger camera with a decent grip. So don’t expect allot of street photos in the blog until the end of February. Instead I will put up some of my recent landscape work from where I live, Farsta strand.

I will do a proper summary of the year in my next post, but 2013 was the year when I found my way back to shooting with a film camera again, after 9 years of pure digital work. Hopefully I can present some of this work on the blog in a future post; I need to find a solution to scan the images though, as I haven’t been able to get my scanner to work with my latest computer (driver compatibility issue).

I have some subjects that I will discuss on the blog in the coming posts, stuff that was planned for last summer, but that I did not have the time to go through. Some of these topics are:

  • Techniques
  • Where and when to shoot?
  • What to shoot?
  • Ethics
  • Gear (Leica, Fuji, DSLR, digital or film)

Please leave your comments below! What do you want to see on the blog in 2014. 

So finally I just want to wish you all

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

Sunset at lake Magelungen, Farsta strand, Sweden (200 meters from my house), Fujifilm X-100

View towards southeast. Fujifilm X-100

Ice on reed, lake Magelungen, Sweden. Fujifilm X-100

Ice on reed #2, lake Magelungen, Sweden. Fujifilm X-100

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The Pentax Q project - and where is the winter?

November is over and out. Normally it should be winter here in Stockholm around this time. Last year we had 50 cm of snow here in Stockholm in the beginning of December. Today we had 7 degrees Celsius and no snow so far; well I guess it’s just fair after last year’s winter, which was one of the hardest in the last 40 years. I live just 100 meters from Lake Magelungen, and there was ice on the lake until the 24th of April this year. The lake was covered with ice for about 5 months, and that is very unusual.

Well enough about weather and ice, well it was quite cold shooting with the Pentax Q during November (even though I only did about 30 minutes of total shooting). It is time to conclude the Pentax Q project and try to figure out what this camera is all about and if it is something for street photography. Well for starters I could say that it is very stealthy, except for the shutter, that is audible, something I am not used to as a Fuji X100 shooter. Compared to other cameras it is still quiet, but definitely louder than the ninja shutter of the X100.

It is not fair to draw any big conclusions after only this short time of use and only 33 frames in the project so far. I have decided to continue with the Pentax Q project as a side project until next summer and then come back and give a more proper review of the Q as a street camera. But I can at least give you a first report about my findings.

Pentax Q speaks the same language as any other professional Pentax cameras out there (such as the K-5-series and the new K-3) and that is the language of “take me seriously, I am serious”. The menus are straight forward and informative, the physical buttons on the camera body makes the essential controls easy to handle, there is no need to dig into the menu system now and then. When the camera is set up and ready to go – everything is at the top of your fingertips. The camera is very comfortable in the hand, even after extensive period of shooting; so in this way it is a perfect companion for street work. There is one setting I would have liked to see on the outside though, and that is the AF/MF control; that setting is in the menu, but just one level down and very fast to access.

The lack of a viewfinder was probably the biggest challenge for me so far. I usually shoot almost exclusively through the viewfinder while using the X100, so not having this possibility was a bit of a challenge for me. But I am doing some street shooting with my Canon S100 from time to time so it didn’t really feel awkward. The Canon S100 I mostly use at the wide end (24-35 mm equivalent), which make the framing a bit more natural for me. With the 01 standard prime, which is equivalent to about 47 mm, I had to be more careful when I framed the shot.

At first I struggled with the slow auto focus of the Q, and was using pre-focus. Later on I did some testing with manual focus with the assistance of focus peaking, but I can’t really draw any conclusions from this training so far. I found the Q to be more a camera for non- or slow moving subjects. But with better training with the focus I can see it be useful even for other situations too.

What about image quality? That 1/2.3 inch sensor must be limiting? Well, not really! Sure there are limitations in the dynamic range and color depth. The noise handling at higher ISO should be a disaster? Yes and No – yes, you do lose some fine details when going above ISO 800, but you gain a beautiful film like grain structure. I LOVE the “noise” the Q puts out between ISO 800-3200, it’s one of the most organic “grain like” noise I have ever seen on a digital camera, and I am used to the X100 excellent noise at high ISO. It somehow reminds me of the noise that comes out of the X100, but again, not really. The Q has a rawer feel to it, it’s hard to explain. But I hope it comes through in some of the photos I put up on the blog.

This post is getting long, but I will come back and discuss more about “Mr Q” in the future. It is for sure an interesting camera for street photography, that is able to produce a very unique style of images, that has a certain feel to them, and I really like it!

Finally, here are some more photos made with the Pentax Q during November. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

The Pentax Q project - first days of shooting

So finally, I had a few minutes to spare on the street, yes minutes, not hours of searching and wandering the streets. I have made two training sweeps so far, yesterday (sunday) my wife and the kids went to Farsta centrum (the shopping center of Farsta, where I live). This day I only had some walk by shootings to try to figure out the camera, settings etc. I was shooting for maybe 5-10 minutes in total and found out that Mr Q is a tricky one to handle. The auto focus is quite slow and so far manual focus is not to think about because there is no viewfinder (I might try focus peaking later on), so I was stuck with pre-focus shooting style, so it was a bit difficult to nail the focus. It is only good shooting light between 10 am to about 2:30 pm (4,5 hours) right now here in Stockholm, so one really have to be efficient on the streets. The golden hour (or golden 30 minutes) sets in around 2 o'clock, and just forget about any light after 3 o'clock. I was out shooting between 1 and 1:30 and the light was still quite hard, and I clearly notice the 1.3 difference in exposure value of dynamic range (Pentax Q vs X100). The Q frequently clipped the whites and the blacks, where my X100 would have managed the light situation. 

Today I also had some errands in the center so I did a 10-15 minutes training sweep, this time alone. For today's session I turned off the sensor image stabilization, since I am shooting above 1/125 most of the time. I am shooting at f/2.8 most of the time, because this is where the 01 standard prime peaks. I was shooting in TAv mode (full manual + auto ISO), with the auto ISO set to 125-800. This set up seems to work ok, and I found that ISO 800 is more or less the maximum I want to go with the Q, beyond this there is loss of fine details. I must say I love the noise that the Q produces at ISO 800, it's very organic and "almost film like".

So here are the first 10 shots (from yesterday) from the Pentax Q experiment or the Pentax Q project as I now call it.

Note: my wife and our two kids in the background ;-)