Project 9: A comfortable situation

Project brief

To find an outdoor situation in which there will be many people and activity, and which I feel comfortable  using a camera to photograph people. When reviewing the photographs, recall the comfort level I felt at the time, and consider to what extent this helped me in capturing expression and gesture.

The images below were all made along the South Bank of the Thames.

P9-A: 100mm, ISO 800, 1/500 @ f4.5

Borough Market is a well known tourist haunt and so the traders are used to being photographed – which means that the shoppers also tend to be more tolerant of photography.  I was reasonably comfortable in this environment and using a medium telephoto lens meant that I didn’t feel that I was intruding.  I soon found that one of the keys to market photography is managing to find a shooting position that captures something of the expression of both the buyer and the seller. This seemed easiest when working corner stalls or when able to shoot down the line of stalls.  Even at this early stage in Part 2 of the course I can see that I am going to need to work on improving my composition for ‘grabbed’ shots.  In this image I have done some, (hopefully subtle), post crop vignetting to darken down the edges and concentrate attention in the middle.

P9-B: 80mm, ISO 400, 1/160@f5.6

This family stood out because of their dress and because they alone were sitting on the pavement near the London Eye.  I was quite apprehensive about photographing this group – partly because they were seated on the ground which meant that I needed to adopt a correspondingly low camera position and it was difficult to do that inconspicuously.  I made a series of approach shots but each was marred by unsatisfactory poses or distractions in the background.  This was the last frame I made by which time I had clearly been spotted by the second woman from the left.  The image is not particularly satisfactory, a third child is partially blocked off by the standing child and I think my ‘discomfort’ comes through in the quality of the final image.  i.e. the rushed, slightly ‘that’ll’ do framing and composition are a result of that discomfort.

P9-C: 250mm, ISO 400, 1/125@f5 IS


I Sitting on some steps, a few yards away from this busker, I made several images of him before he became aware of me.  I was using a large telephoto lens and so once he had spotted what I was doing he became more self-conscious and subsequent images were less satisfactory.  Personally, I don’t particularly like taking images of people using a long telephoto as it feels as if I am spying on them.  As is my usual practice with buskers, I made a modest donation to this musician’s collection box after I had taken the photographs.  I don’t offer money beforehand as that seems to result in ‘staged’ poses whilst they let me take their photograph.

P9-D: 17mm, ISO 400, 1/160@f8

Although using a very wide 17mm lens, I was quite comfortable whilst making this image.  It seems likely that this was because the subjects were quite wrapped up in their fun.  Certain aspects of this shot intrigue me – I didn’t see the boy in the left background at the time of shooting but somehow his preoccupied stance adds something quirky to the scene.  Similarly, I had read this as a group of three on the bench, but with the benefit of hindsight, the right hand woman was merely an observer.  Less satisfactory, but still slightly quirky, there is the faceless woman in the background busy with her phone.  Of course, all that I saw when I grabbed the shot was the garland seller and the man laughing – it goes to confirm how selective the eye is when confronted with a busy scene – I have to train myself to see what is there and not what I want to see!

One of the stated final goals for this part of the course is for me to have the confidence and skills to tackle photographing people in natural activity without being conspicuous whilst still being able to make effective compositions with good timing.  I feel that in completing this assignment I have made some positive steps along that road.

One final point, not directly related to photography, is that during the Part 2 projects I found my varifocal glasses a decided encumbrance when trying to make good images of spontaneous situations.  If I had the glasses on to see the scene, I would find it difficult to use the viewfinder and if I took them off to use the finder then I couldn’t see well enough to anticipate the ‘action’.  As a result I am trying out monovision contact lenses – and the first results are encouraging!

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