'Truth' in Analogue Photography (3 replies and 5 comments)
Hi Roger (or anyone else with insight into this),
I had a question about 'truth' or perhaps 'spontaneity' with analogue photography. When I take photos using my film camera, I find it very hard to capture the 'truth' of a scene. By the time I've focused, set the aperture and shutter speed and found the 'right' composition, the scene has shifted/people have moved/expressions have become forced and the photo becomes staged - because I'll try to re-create what it was I first saw and originally wanted to photograph. My question boils down to this, how can one maximise spontaneity when shooting on film? The reason I ask is because the still photos of yours I've seen seem to have that 'truth' or 'spontaneity'. Is there also a link here with documentary filmmaking?
I've been shooting stills - for love and money - for over 5 decades. Film and analogue aka film... if you want to capture spontaneity you must be prepared well before you are going to shoot whatever captures your eye and mind. That means you have your lens choice on the camera, and the f stop and shutter speed set for the light conditions - and zone focused if possible... meaning you are shooting at an f stop that allows a good range of focus - say f 11 or 16 with a 35mm lens on 35mm film/full frame... and have it set to be in focus from 6 feet to infinity.... basically a point and shoot... it helps if you work on your technique so you can shoot without putting the camera up to your eye... people see a camera pointed at them they react like it's a gun... I can shoot street still with a 4x5 view camera - just set it on a tripod at a good location and act like I am shooting a building - people walk all around me... the camera is not a threat - I stand there and watch my stage of that corner of the world pass by - cable release in hand - and click when I see something interesting.... there are all kinds of techniques you can use - the trick is to not look like you are pointing the camera at someone... you might want to check out the YouTube videos on the great master of street shooting from Japan - Daido Moriyama - there are many other greats as well whose techniques you can learn and emulate...
You have to be ready when the moment confronts you. That is true whether you are shooting a still photograph, a documentary or a feature.
Street photographers of the past shooting film have done tricks like setting the camera at a certain distance, f-stop, and shutter speed that increases the odds of getting a quick moment captured. I don't think it is a crime to employ modern tools -- for example, when shooting digital stills on the street, I often pick an optimal shutter time (for me, the most important choice) and f-stop and use Auto ISO to compensate, along with some exposure compensation factor to underexpose highlights to avoid clipping. But if your camera is all-manual, you'll have to think about what is likely to happen and set your camera for that, and have some technique for quickly adjusting one of the factors if necessary just before you click.
Agree totally - had not thought about using auto ISO to expand the range of light ,but are you using autofocus or manual zone focus? (talking with digital)...
I agree with what already has been said but may I add that most people will avoid having their photo taken, they regard it as a threat unless ofcourse you ask them first and explain why you find them so intriguing. Once they know why they will be flattered and will bend over backwards to help you. Use your personality to win them over, get them to love the camera and lens even spend time getting to know them, then discreetly press that shutter while they prepare themselves. A small camera and lens will not intimidate compared to a larger one so will be good for street photography. I find a 135mm lens is good for keeping a distance from the subject before they realise they are being targeted.
Unfortunately, I don't think that always works. If you interact with the subject, you can lose the naturalism of the photo. They tend to pose. Photographers like Alex Webb say they just wait and their shot happens and don't interact with the subject. It requires a lot of patience! 🙂
Yes, you could be right, depends on what you are looking for. Studio work goes better with a bottle of bubbly to ‘loosen’ everybody up but some seasoned models just like a cup of tea and biscuit and then they’ve gone! Pros make life much easier. Patience is my virtue!