Street Photography Is Cool

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Street Photography Is Cool

Table of contents :
Street Photography Is Cool
Preface and Introduction
Section One - Because It's Contradictory, Like the Human Condition
Section One Intro
1. It's All About People
2. Yet People Can Be Absent
3. It Can Be Tough & Gritty
4. Or Shamelessly Picturesque
5. Fun to Do on Sunny Days
6. Get Cooler Shots on Rainy Days
7. It's Difficult to Do Well
8. But Is Sometimes Quite Easy
9. Street Photography: Superficial?
10. But It Can Also Be Profound
11. It Has An Emotional Side
12. But It's Often Deadpan
13. It's Becoming More Colourful
14. Yet Once Was Only Monochromatic
15. Sometimes Precisely Meaningful
16. Often Apparently Meaningless
17. It's All About Light
18. It's All About Shadows
19. It Captures a Moment in Time
20. Or Creates a Timeless Moment
21. It Can Be Glamourous
22. It Can Be Seedy
23. There's Beauty In It
24. And Ugliness, Too
25. Funny? Lighthearted? Amusing?
26. Or Solemn, Serious & Earnest?
Section Two - Because It Helps Us View the World As It Is
Section Two Intro
27. Recording the Chaos of the Street
28. Bringing Order from Chaos
29. Looking and Seeing
30. Getting a Balanced View
31. Awareness of Change
32. You're Shooting for History
33. More Than Just Surfaces
34. Chasing Down Details
35. Form v. Content, Form Wins
36. Content v. Form, Content Wins
37. Words Are Mostly Content
38. The Viewer's Imagination
39. Dramatise, Undramatise
40. It's a Colourful World
41. Getting Up Close & Personal
42. Taking the Longer View
43. The Extended Moment
44. Multiple Moments in One Shot
Section Three - Because It Can Tolerate Many Compositional Structures
Section Three Intro
45. It Depends How You See It
46. The Cinematic Style
47. The Beauty of Symmetry
48. The Beauty of Asymmetry
49. The Joy of Juxtaposition
50. All Kinds of Contrast
51. Achieving Balance
52. Deliberate Imbalance
53. The Complexity of Layers
54. Getting the Flat Look
55. The Urge to Simplify
56. Tending Towards Abstraction
57. Anchored by a Central Object
58. Using Visual Rhythms
59. Wide Angle v. Short Telephoto
60. From Above or Below
61. Deliberately Confusing Images
62. Subject in the Centre: Simples!
Section Four - Because It's a Very Democratic Art Form
Section Four Intro
63. It Has a Low Cost of Entry
64. Easy to Start, Hard to Improve
65. Canals, Parks, Malls Are Streets
66. People Are Equal in the Street
67. Celebrating the Ordinary
68. A Cat Can Look at a King
69. Dancing in the Streets
70. Street Eats and Drinks
71. Using Posters
72. Using Graffiti
73. Street Portraits: Candid
74. Street Portraits: Posed
75. Finding a Personal Style
Section Five - Because It's a Tough and Potentially Perilous Activity
Section Five Intro
76. How Perilous Can It Be?
77. Defusing a Confrontation
78. Don't Be Discourteous! Ever!
79. Is Anything Off-Limits?
80. Is Anything Else Off-Limits?
81. Right Place, Right Time
82. Hardcore Street: Too Tough to Do?
83. Bad Weather Street Photography
84. It's OK to be Anxious
85. Limbering Up
86. Working The Scene
87. 10 Strategies for Success
88. Developing a Sixth Sense
89. Reaching "The Zone"
About the Author

Citation preview

Street Photography Is Cool by John Lewell

For Oi Cheepchaiissara

"...and where is the use of a book, thought Alice, without pictures or conversations?" — Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures Under Ground.

Preface and Introduction

"Street Photography Is Cool... ...and This Book Explains Why"


I've been meaning to write a book on street photography for the last year or two, but have waited until collecting enough half-way decent photos to illustrate the points I needed to make. I suggest you read the Introduction and continue with the first few chapters, but you can dive in and out of the book at different places if you wish. The chapters are short, and, I hope, fairly easy to read even when the concepts are challenging. The work is entirely my own: text, photos and e-book design, so I'm skipping the acknowledgements page. However, I'd like to say thank you to all those who've been in front of my camera when I've taken a photo. Without you, the general public, there would be no book.


No, that's not me in the photo. I'm the guy behind the camera. That's where I prefer to be, although sometimes other street photographers insist on putting me in their pictures — which is OK. I can't really complain, can I? These days I take only street photos. You'll find out why during the course of reading this book. I truly love street photography and I've decided it's time to share my passion and perhaps even give away a few secrets. To many people, street photography is a thoroughly disreputable activity. The art world ignores it; and even the photographic industry doesn't seem much interested. There is no ideal street photographer's camera, as there is for other genres, such as landscape or sports. I don't talk much about cameras in this book. You can find that kind of information anywhere. Here, I'm going to talk about everything else, with street photography the unifying thread.

First: a Quick Question

Which of these shots do you prefer? The one above, or the previous one in this Introduction? It's not a trick question. I really don't mind whether you prefer one or the other. Yet I think most people would recognise the ironic humour of the shot above (Banana Guy), and, unless they've developed an eye for street photography, prefer it to the earlier shot. However, I'm hoping that those who chose the second example will change their minds after reading this book. While Banana Guy is amusing, it's really just an "OK example" of candid street photography. I think it's greatly inferior to the other shot, taken in good light with all the various elements in the right place. I'll have more to say about Banana Guy later, but honestly, it's only a snap, whereas Allow Me To Introduce Myself is the kind of street photograph I really like to get.

A Difficult Genre

Of all the genres and sub-genres of photography, street photography is the easiest to attempt and the hardest to master. Is it worth the effort? I've been doing it for a decade or more and I think it is. In fact, I think street photography is cool. In this book I want to explain exactly why. Anyone with a camera — almost any camera — can walk the streets and photograph people engaged in their usual activities of commuting, shopping, selling, chatting, laughing, arguing, hugging & kissing, parading, demonstrating, busking — you know the drill — walking the dog, the cat, the ferret — mugging, pickpocketing, ramraiding, in fact doing all kinds of illegal stuff as well as perfectly innocent stuff, like eating, hanging out, or checking their mobile phones.

I'm Not Joking About the Ferret

At least these guys (in the very centre of London) are not on the phone, although the ferret is looking for another way to break up the conversation. I'm not joking about phones, either. It sometimes seems like ninety-nine percent of human activity on the street does actually consist of people checking their mobile phones. That's why I talk mainly about photographing the one percent of possible other activity, plus occasional lapses when someone with a phone looks sufficiently interesting to become the subject of my attention. I may have exaggerated slightly, but the point I'm making is this: all human life spills out on to the streets of our major cities and it's there for the taking. It's raw and real, even when it's mundane and unremarkable. For the photographer it's an endless resource that just keeps on giving. Occasionally, very occasionally, it gives unexpected visual treats you'll want to share or perhaps merely treasure for a lifetime.

This Is Not a How-To

I've written at length on street photography in a weekly blog, so I've already had a chance to think comprehensively about the subject with the aim of discussing it. However, neither my blog nor this book are "how-to" exercises, because like all creative arts street photography is not a straightforward do-this/get-that process. There are tactics and strategies you can try (and these I'll describe later), but by far the best way to approach this art-form is to "go it alone" and allow your personal style to develop naturally. I'm opposed to the process of copying other people's styles. Yes, it's OK to learn from their insights, to pick up and develop their techniques, or even to steal a few ideas if you can make them serve a higher purpose. But to adopt a person's artistic style is to steal that person's identity. Worse: it cuts the essential lifeline between artist and reality. Whatever talent an artist may have for creating visually compelling images, if there's no direct contact with reality the result lacks all conviction. Street photography's growing popularity has come about, in part, because the audience for visual art has become jaded by the output of painters — and indeed photographers — who produce work in the studio with hardly any reference to the reality outside. The art world itself seems to sense this shift in sensibility and has reacted by promoting street art (aka graffiti) as a valid and potentially valuable (though hard-totrade) art form.

A Source of Inspiration

I was heartened recently to read a short piece posted online by the New York Film Academy, entitled "Street Photography to Use as Inspiration." No, the (unnamed) author wasn't telling students to check out the work of famous photographers, but rather to go out and take some street photos as a means of escaping from a creative rut. That's terrific advice! Any photographic student who's been trying to come up with new concepts or has been wrestling with the technicalities of studio lighting can benefit from walking the streets with a light, hand-held camera. Such an experience has the potential to transform a person's whole approach to photography: and here's why. Going out to the streets takes you back to reality. There it is! Chaos! At least, much of what you can see in a busy city is chaotic, even though the underlying street plan may be regular and the buildings mostly straight. People are individually engaged on their own personal quests: to reach a destination, or to meet with others. They criss-cross at intersections; they cluster around transport hubs; they sometimes form higgledypiggledy lines outside shops before the doors open.

Order From Chaos

It's the job of the street photographer to bring order to all this chaos. In fact, that is the job of all artists: to create meaning by imposing order where once only chaos existed. I think it's meaningless to point the camera randomly and take a snap (although such an approach can be justified if you're trying to say: "Look at this randomness!") There has to be some purpose, what scholars and critics call "intentionality" operating within the normal street photography process. Ultimately it's a question of finding meaningful or visually interesting content, then capturing its image in a great composition. Whoaa! There are lots of ideas jammed into the above two paragraphs. "Order out of chaos," "meaningful content," and "great composition." I'm not spinning out these ideas lightly. They encapsulate a way of thinking about street photography that can be a real help when you're actually taking pictures. Certainly, it's what works for me. Admittedly, I've expressed them very cryptically so far, but I'll elaborate on them later in the book. While "bringing order from chaos" stands alone as a profound concept, the others I've mentioned are really a double-act, "composition" being "form," one of the terrible twins who are often at odds with each other as: "content versus form." I think and write a lot about composition, sometimes to play devil's advocate in order to test one of my (possibly) over-adventurous compositions. "No, you can't have that figure chopped in half at the edge of the frame!" exclaims the advocate. To which I can reply: "Well, Edgar Degas did it, frequently. So why not?"

A Generous Medium

One of the great qualities of street photography is the latitude it gives us in creating compositions. Sometimes you can even get away with skewing the horizon line, which is something of a "no-no" in landscape photography. We're fortunate to have this latitude because it's not possible (and definitely not kosher) to arrange the figures in a street scene. You have to allow them to move freely until you can freeze the movement into an effective composition. For a large number of photographers, some of whom are technically very accomplished, the emphasis on form at the expense of content has led to endless pictures of near-abstract quality, especially when set amid the sleek lines of modern architecture. You know the kind of thing I mean: strong diagonals, high contrast, with brilliant light and deep shade, a lone figure silhouetted against a patch of colour. Great! Take another one like it. Nice! And another and another... (Oh, for heaven's sake!) This is what happens when you throw away content: the very stuff that photography captures so brilliantly. Yet it's also easy to go too far towards accommodating content at the expense of form, especially in the rough and tumble of the street. I've done it myself.

Back to Banana Guy For example, one of my most popular images on Instagram is the photo I mentioned earlier: of a tourist whose partner is showing him a ridiculous, banana-patterned teeshirt. The point of the image is the fact that he's already wearing the very same teeshirt, and, indeed, matching shorts! I felt guilty that so many people liked it, because honestly the composition is not great. It's just acceptable, given the ironies and ambiguities of the content. (Is he seriously considering buying a second outfit? Is this one cheaper, better... different?) I took my shot of Banana Guy hastily out of necessity. After all, I could scarcely ask the couple to repeat their actions because that would be way beyond the rules of candid photography. In my view, the best street photography is always candid. If you attempt to arrange reality you may well be bringing order to chaos but it's not the best way of doing it. The street photographer's role is not to interfere with what's out there — but to be selective and present the selection in a way that's satisfying: visually, intellectually and emotionally.

Almost Respectable

The end product of street photography, if not the activity itself, has become almost respectable, thanks to the efforts of its greatest practitioners, such as Henri CartierBresson, Saul Leiter, Vivian Maier, Joel Meyerowitz, and Daido Moriyama. Although it's hard to earn a living from it until you become famous, dozens of brilliantly talented street photographers have emerged and thousands more are getting better all the time. The driving force of this movement has been digital photography, enabling people to shoot freely with little expense, apart from the initial cost of equipment. Alas, on today's social networks, especially Instagram or Flickr, you can see plenty of bad street photography. This is only to be expected. Social media accounts are so voracious in their appetite for new work they tend to encourage people to show second-rate images. Even photographers who have exceptional portfolios are tempted to put sub-standard work online, simply in order to "stay fresh." For my own part, I try to maintain as high a standard as I can, but posting "a picture a day" is never going to result in anything but a mish-mash of images, some great, some good, others just about acceptable.

Finding the Best

Years ago, mediocre work hardly ever saw the light of day. There was nowhere to see it, except when friends brought out their albums and slides and made you look at them. Now, all the bad imagery gets mixed in with the good stuff and makes it harder — not easier — for photographers with original ideas to get recognition. My recommendation is to hang out with the best: to go and see the work of classic street photographers whenever there's an opportunity, or to search online for the best contemporary work. To help you do this I've created a website called Street Photo Index ( which is part of my larger index to the world of photography: Photo Start Sheet ( Use the first of these to see portfolios from the best street photographers, classic and contemporary, and use the second to get all the information you need about cameras, lenses, courses, books, galleries, and all the paraphernalia of the multi-billion dollar photo industry.

Getting the Best

There's a reason why great and truly memorable street photos are so scarce: this genre (as I said at the beginning) is very difficult. No one embarking on street photography should be in any doubt about the challenges that lie ahead. If you return from a day's shooting with just one fragment of "gold dust" you're doing well. The most important step you can take towards becoming a good street photographer is to take the genre seriously. I mean really seriously! It requires you to be in the right frame of mind, paying one hundred percent attention, using a camera you know inside out. I'm also tempted to say: you need to be able to predict the immediate future, to work out exactly when to take the shot. The concept of the "decisive moment" goes in and out of fashion in photography, but I doubt if it will ever disappear entirely. It's hardwired into the medium.

The Sub-Genres

As in all human activity, street photography is riven with disagreements about what it is and how to do it. The result has been the rise of various factions, each of which pursues a shared aesthetic and often a common set of ethics. For example, there're those in the strictly candid group (including myself, with occasional lapses) who think the photographer should be almost invisible, so as to capture reality without interfering. Alternatively, there are photographers who take impromptu, but posed, street portraits: usually resulting in enviable technical quality, but perhaps falling short of the ultimate quest for truth. Among the other sub-genres are the semi-abstract categories, where photographers are clearly playing with light and shadow, patterns and texture, often to great effect. These images are easy on the eye and they look great on the wall. Given the difficulty of real, candid, up-close street photography I'm not surprised people often stick with this category. Then there is the gritty, hardcore, in-your-face crowd, some of whom are determined to make every city look like a wasteland of slums, low-life, and criminality. That's OK. It's there and it needs our attention. However, I don't think it tells the whole story. I like to mix my locations, going up-market and down-market as the mood takes me. When addressing hardcore subjects I try to find a soft element to ameliorate the grittiness, and vice versa. You could say (but I'm sure you're much too polite) that both my work and my advice is contradictory.

Say Hi to Contradictions

With these thoughts in mind, let us proceed. In answer to the question "Why Is Street Photography So Cool?" I've named the first section: Because It's Contradictory, Like the Human Condition.

Section One "Because It's Contradictory, Like the Human Condition"

Section One Intro

If you look at the chapter headings of this section you'll soon recognise some of the contradictions of street photography. It offers beauty and ugliness, fun and seriousness, superficiality and profundity: and plenty of other apparently opposing elements. As the author of these twinned chapters I admit to being fascinated by contradictions. Although not many rational people enjoy the experience of "cognitive dissonance" (holding two contradictory thoughts at the same time) I find it helpful, even essential, in taking street photos. So, please, consider the contradictions which I believe are inherent to the art form. You may find them useful, too.

Chapter One It's All About People

It's All About People A street photo without people is not, in a full sense, a street photo. It's merely a photo of a street. Human beings are the necessary actors who play their roles in the context of the street environment, their stage. Lose these actors at your peril! So can we say it's "about people?" When I'm commenting on artistic work, whether literature, painting, or photography, I'm wary of the word "about." It's so sluggishly literal! "What's it about?" people ask. I try to give them some clues, but the whole experience of understanding a work of art goes beyond describing its particular descriptive content. Sometimes a work of art is like a flower. What's a flower about? There's a botanical explanation, but otherwise your guess is as good as mine.

Rounded Characters, or Stick Figures With those cautionary words in mind, I think we can still acknowledge the importance of people in our art form. It's true that many talented street photographers reduce the role of the person to that of a stick figure walking in the distance, totally lacking in emotion or personality. The figures are there simply to complete the picture and give an indication of scale. However, once you get closer, once you can see a person's features and expression, then you can begin to detect emotion and see, with clarity, how they're reacting to other people in the shot. People are endlessly fascinating. Personally I'll never get tired of trying to understand them, in whatever way is necessary: via insights in literature or through street photography. Most people do it with personal contact, but that, I find, can be very misleading unless you have reason to encounter people from everywhere and from every walk of life.

Playing Detective Do people reveal much about themselves by how they look? Photography doesn't dig much below the surface, but you can catch revealing moments and there's a lot you can deduce, Sherlock Holmes-style, from a person's appearance. Half the fun of street photography is in making intelligent guesses about the people you photograph.

People often look better in my pictures than how I remember seeing them in reality. At the time I took the shot they were in motion, looking fairly ordinary "in the round," but by stopping them in their tracks I've given them a chance to speak to us from a fixed position. They have a lot to say. Certainly, I never want to make fun of people or make them look bad in a photo. In fact, I don't want to impose any views of my own. I like to let the photos and the people in them speak for themselves.

Say It With Flowers

I much prefer to photograph people when they're going about their normal business. It may be a lot easier to obtain a high quality image when a person poses for the camera, but occasionally, as here, a truly candid shot captures not only the main subject but also other people in supporting roles.

Chapter Two Yet People Can Be Absent

Yet People Can Be Absent Here's the first contradiction in this section of contradictions: a street photo may be devoid of people, but people are never really absent. You can see traces of them everywhere. For a start there are the buildings. They may have been constructed recently or centuries ago, but the ghostly presence of their architects and builders are plain to see — and feel! Then there's the clutter of modern life: parked cars, empty stalls, street decorations, and discarded newspapers. It's impossible to take a street photo without including either a building or an object that hasn't been placed there by a human being.

Low-Hanging Fruit Although ninety-nine percent of my own street photos include real, live human beings, I occasionally come across still life compositions that beg me to record them. These images are the "low-hanging fruit" of street photography. One of them might be the window of an empty café (as on the previous page) or, as in the Section One gallery, an image of nature clawing back some of the city, one mouthful at a time. See: Special Tree at the end of the chapter. Both of these images illustrate how street photos can be effective, even without the overt presence of people. Of the two, the café window is closer to the normal concept of a street photo because of the puppet figure behind the sofa. The figure is a substitute for a real person, presumably one of the waitresses who will shortly be there to serve customers sitting on the stools. My other shot is more austere. The tree stands in one of the busiest parts of Bangkok and thousands of people walk past it every day. I had to wait for a minute or two before I could get a clear shot of it. Like many old trees in Bangkok it's held in reverence by the local population who tie chiffon ribbons around its trunk to signify protection. Many people believe such trees are the home of spirits. In this example, someone has even gone to the trouble of painting the railing. The tree is eating it for lunch.

Why I Take Them I don't look deliberately for still life images because most of the time I'm trying to find dynamic compositions in which people play the major role. Yet there are good reasons to keep an eye out for them. Firstly, it's impossible to ignore the opportunity once you've seen it. Secondly, it's easier to get a technically perfect photo of a still subject as opposed to a street scene filled with people. Thirdly, over time you can build a collection of images that will almost certainly add new dimension to your portfolio. So why not do it?

Special Tree

Throughout the city there are hints that Nature can claw back its territory, if given the opportunity. First it would be the weeds, then the trees would take over. Some trees have been here all along, like this one: a rare survivor of the human conquest.

Chapter Three It Can Be Tough & Gritty

It Can Be Tough & Gritty It's cool to be "streetwise," so it follows that tough and gritty street photography is cool. It has a huge following on social media and is probably more popular than the softer, more picturesque styles that sometimes struggle for recognition. I can see why this is so. Given the wear and tear every large metropolis suffers, there will always be areas that are run-down, overpopulated or "ripe for redevelopment." Often, these streets yield the best photos because they're more crowded and more visually appealing. Elements of surrealism creep into the background, with posters, billboards and hand-painted street art on the walls. Then there are the people. The subjects you find in the gritty parts of the city tend to be wearing clothes other than grey suits, with copious amounts of cheap jewellery, tattoos and multicoloured hairstyles.

More Real, or Not? When we look at tough, gritty street photos we're more inclined to say: "That's real!" And this is because Realism in art has always been tough and gritty, ever since Gustave Courbet became its champion with paintings such as The Stone Breakers, (1849). If we think about this logically, there's no reason why rough areas of town should be more real or give us greater insight into reality than the posher parts. Do people reveal more of themselves when they give greater rein to free expression? Or is it not all a theatrical performance, mere pretence: in fact, a long-winded complaint about how an unfair capitalist society forces many people to survive rather than prosper? Surely, if people spent more time earning a living and less time painting the walls with graffiti, they too would grow richer and move upmarket. Personally I like to alternate between posh areas and run-down parts, looking for shots and trying to keep an open mind, rather than filtering reality through a political lens.

Grittier in Black & White? Lots of street photographers prefer to shoot in black & white because it lends itself to

high contrast scenes where a gritty "look" seems appropriate. I think this harks back to the days of using Kodak Tri-X film with its high (ISO 400) sensitivity and prominent grain. Technology has moved on, but many photographers cling to the past.

Or Equally Gritty in Colour? I don't feel I need to resort to black & white in order to communicate a gritty, urban feel. When I have the right subject matter I find I can take a gritty shot in colour, even when the light is soft and appealing, as it is in the picture called "Hell My Name is BKK" on the next page.

Hell My Name Is BKK

These fine art stickers on an empty oil drum, outside a gallery in a back street of Bangkok, are a gift for the photographer. I waited a minute or two for a man to trudge past them in the evening sunlight.

Chapter Four Or Shamelessly Picturesque

Or Shamelessly Picturesque If you're in an attractive part of town, the chances are you'll want to include some of the background in your street shots. Do this in good light and you'll end up with picturesque images. There's nothing wrong with it, even though the word "picturesque" has a bad reputation because of its history. The first person to use the word was the English cleric, artist and schoolmaster William Gilpin (1724-1804) to describe the "kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture." Hmm. That sounds ominous! Even in his day Gilpin was cruelly satirised in William Combe's comic poem The Three Tours of Doctor Syntax for his pedantic ideas on art. He rather laid himself open to such criticism, for example, by instructing his pupils to "add a tree here and there" to improve the composition, instead of drawing what they saw in front of them.

A Possible Disservice? Poor old Gilpin! Cultural critics have a habit of dismissing him as a progenitor of middle-brow aesthetics, but I think this description does him a disservice. He helped to bring the beauty of nature to the attention of a wider public, especially to city dwellers for whom the railways were making the countryside accessible for the first time. Clearly it's not a good idea to "prettify" your images, making the world look more benign than it is in reality. Yet it's no more absurd than "grittifying" your photos by ramping up the contrast and adding Tri-X simulation. At its most extreme, the process of prettifying the subject ends up as "chocolate box art," almost a form of advertising in which there's an element of persuasion involved. Much the same is true of the "Gritty School of Street Photography." It's a process in which photographers try to make their images more appealing to the viewer and hence more popular than those of other photographers. Their photos will say: "Look at me! I'm more attractive than the photo next door."

What Should the Subject Be?

It's time to ask: what is the proper subject of the street photographer? When we're looking for the most compelling arrangement of figures, or balancing our pictures by getting "that lamp post" in the right position, are we not guilty of following Dr Syntax (sorry, William Gilpin) in his advice to add a tree here and there? I hope you'll find the answer to this question in the coming pages, but in the meantime, don't be deterred by academic critics. They slayed the picturesque ideal, even though it still has the power to give visual pleasure. They even outlawed "beauty" in modern art, having determined it was all in the eye of the beholder. I take picturesque shots occasionally, although I don't make any attempt to make the location look prettier than it is in reality. Once beauty disappears entirely from art it will have disappeared from the world.

Sunday in the Park

There are picturesque scenes in the middle of towns in England. This is central Colchester, a stone's throw from the High Street, on a Sunday afternoon in summer. Is it a street photo? Only in the broadest sense, but, taking the shot from the main pathway, I'm using the same candid style I would apply to a busy street scene.

Chapter Five Fun to Do on Sunny Days

Fun to Do on Sunny Days Like any other activity, street photography is most enjoyable to do when the weather is smiling. Go out on a sunny day and you'll come back with sunny pictures. People are relaxed (as in the photo above) and you'll capture their good mood in your shots. I like cheerful, sunny, happy shots because I think I'm contributing to the overall wellbeing of those with whom I share the pictures. Why add to the world's misery unless you really need to report it as a war photographer or photojournalist? Street photography exists as a counterbalance to pure reportage. It has an element of entertainment to it, a touch of showbiz that you won't (or shouldn't) find in tales from the misery front.

Let's Be Precise In photographic terms, the expression "sunny day" is somewhat vague, because it can refer to a whole variety of conditions, depending on the time of day, the latitude of the location, the degree of local humidity and air pollution, and whether or not there's a slight covering of cloud. All these factors can affect your photos dramatically, giving them a certain "look" which may or may not be suited to your emerging style. Over time, you'll get to know what sort of sunny day conditions are best suited to the kind of pictures you want to take. That's why, in contrast to many writers on photography, I'm not prescriptive about when, or how, or in what type of sunlight you should take photos. The most common advice given to amateur photographers is to take shots in the "magic hour" before sunset, when the sun is low in the sky. It's not bad advice, but it may not suit everyone. It certainly gives your photographs a lovely warm and gentle feeling, with particularly good illumination of faces. My shot, "Overcooked," of a man baking fish while the sun goes down shows what I mean (at the end of the chapter).

High Contrast, or Not? Some photographers love the high contrast and deep shadows of bright days when the sun is at its peak. I heard one YouTube street photographer say: "Ah, the light is getting too soft now, so it's time to stop." Well, that's exactly the time when I would start to anticipate the prospect of getting good pictures. I like a sunny day to be bright,

but not harsh, preferably with a thin covering of cloud so the entire city becomes encaged in a natural light box. Unfortunately, you can't order these conditions in advance, but it's worthwhile checking a detailed and localised weather forecast before committing yourself to a day's shoot.

Technical Interlude The one thing that's common to all sunny days is the high level of luminance in comparison to days when it's overcast and stormy. This means you can work with greater confidence in your camera settings, even to the extent of fixing the ISO while shooting in aperture mode. Here's what I mean. Most cameras provide options for either fixing or adjusting the settings that affect exposure: notably ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. Working in aperture mode (nearly always my preferred option) enables you to fix the aperture and let the variable shutter speed or the ISO take care of correcting the exposure. This gives you some control over the depth of focus: vital for the street photographer. On a sunny day you can also choose a fixed ISO setting, such as ISO 200, and still get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze all but the most rapid actions.

Back to Creativity It's cool to have control, so often absent in our chosen field! Street photography is normally bedevilled by factors beyond our control: notably the weather, the light, and unpredictable people. Yet it's our mission to bring order from chaos and in this task we need every bit of help we can find. Ultimately, making full use of a camera's settings can account for only a small percentage of street photo merit. The rest is down to subject, composition, creativity, and even a bit of luck. When all this comes together: that's a sunny day!


No, I'm sure they're cooked to perfection. It's the colours in my photo which look a bit overcooked, but I haven't increased the saturation. When the sun goes down in Bangkok, warm colours look especially intense.

Chapter Six Get Cooler Shots on Rainy Days

Get Cooler Shots on Rainy Days If there's even the slightest hint of rain I take an umbrella and hook it over my arm while shooting. I don't bother with protective coverings for the camera because I use a product that's waterproof. Even so, I prefer not to let it get soaking wet, so I raise the umbrella as soon as the rain comes down. I really enjoy street photography on rainy days. Nobody has ever paused to object when I've snapped them from under my umbrella. Maybe coping with the rain has distracted them, or perhaps my (fairly large) camera is not so visible as it usually is.

Getting Closer Whatever the reason, I succeed in getting closer to people without their noticing: and that's what I like to achieve when taking candid shots. Shots are cooler on rainy days for many reasons. First, the overcast day can give you gentle, even lighting which is ideal for faces and figures alike. I prefer soft light, filtered through haze or cloud. Cities where there is high humidity, like Bangkok, have soft light even on sunny days. Second, the light is further improved when it bounces off standing water to provide natural up-lighting to illuminate people from below. So we have 1. Light, 2. Light, and 3. Light again, in the form of reflections which can add repetition and symmetry to our compositions.

Get With the Mood Is there anything positive, apart from light, to be said about rainy day street photography? Yes! It's the general "atmosphere," the mood, created by the fall of water on dusty city streets. My photo called Rainy Day Blues captures the sometimes bleak mood that comes with falling rain (at the end of the chapter). Most people are completely unprepared for getting wet, so you see all kinds of makeshift forms of defence being used: newspapers, folders, shoulder bags. What's more, people stop using their mobile phones in the rain. Oh heavens! Please rain a little longer.

Rainy Day Blues

The visual effect of falling rain is not alone in creating atmosphere. People's forlorn expressions and bedraggled appearance add to the melancholy feeling.

Chapter Seven It's Difficult to Do Well

It's Difficult to Do Well Street photography is like the game of snooker: millions of people admire it, thousands enjoy taking part, but only a few hundred are any good at it. Like snooker, you really need some natural ability, plus huge dedication and lots of practice to master it. Even so, there are degrees of mastery. If you make a 50 break in a game of snooker you might think you're doing well, but as Ronnie O'Sullivan once said: "A 50 break? What's the good of that?" However, you mustn't let the level of difficulty put you off. Once you start getting 50 breaks (or decent street shots) you can make them happen more frequently. Alas, there's once big difference between the two activities I've mentioned. In snooker, a break is a numerical number and impossible to dispute. In street photography, the quality of a shot is open to debate. It can be galling to see poor and easily obtained shots outgunning your own on social media, but don't worry. Many people prefer more obvious photos than the ones you're proud to show them. If your work is good, it will gain recognition eventually.

Why So Hard? So why is street photography so difficult to do well? It's mainly because we've opted for a genre in which subjects are constantly on the move in unpredictable ways. This makes it more difficult than, say, sports photography where they play by the rules of a game. Life is always harder for a purist who refuses to compromise, such as a street photographer like myself who wants to take images that are entirely candid. Clearly, if you stop people in the street and ask them: "May I take your portrait?" then you can choose a background and take your time composing and focusing the shot. The result, always, should be really good, if lacking the one dimension that only the "invisible camera" can provide: "window on the world" objectivity. Street photography is only cool when it's done well. If it's nothing more than a random snap of people aimlessly milling around, then there's no point to it. It's likely to be mediocre, inadequate, unstylish, indifferent, worthless or naff. All of those are definitely uncool.

Cash Casino

I took half a dozen shots of people in front of this "cash casino" until a woman in a stripey shirt walked past. As luck would have it (and you need a bit sometimes) her shopping cart lost a wheel. I guess the wheel spun in my favour that time!

Chapter Eight But Is Sometimes Quite Easy

But Is Sometimes Quite Easy Now here's a contradiction. I've just explained why street photography is difficult, but I need to set the record straight by telling you it can also, on occasion, be easy. Quite frequently I spend an hour or so without getting any decent shots, then suddenly I take a couple of good ones — of entirely different subjects — within a few seconds of each other. I'm sure this happens to every street photographer, but I never cease to be surprised when it happens to me. Here is an example. I was walking briskly towards the centre of London's Covent Garden when I spotted a young man wearing a bright red hood, standing in front of an art gallery. He was looking at a huge black & white blow-up of a picture of a man on a ladder, the original for which was taken some years ago by photographer Clive Boursnell (note: Boursnell's image was heavily cropped for the window). I waited a couple of seconds for another passer-by, took the shot, then continued on my way, still thinking about ladders.

On to the Next One Oddly enough, fifty yards away I could see a real man on a real ladder changing a light bulb in a street lamp. "I'll never get a shot as good as Clive Boursnell's," I was thinking, regretfully, when two women came walking towards me. One of them was wearing vivid colours and both were carrying matching bags resembling oldfashioned radio sets. I couldn't believe my luck. With good composition I knew this image would be better than the one I'd just taken, especially when another couple walked past in the opposite direction. (See: Matching Bags at end of chapter). I like to keep these images as a pair because the second one references the first. Here, there's a genuine link to the past with a nod towards an early photographer who trod the same streets and found subjects when Covent Garden was still a vegetable market, before it became the haunt of tourists and street performers.

Don't Count on Serendipity Yes, street photography would be simple if serendipity kicked in all the time. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. You have to use a lot of different strategies to

be successful, some of which I describe in the final section of this book. For now, just remember: it's really difficult, but sometimes it can be as easy as falling off a ladder.

Matching Bags

Seconds previously I'd seen a huge enlargement of a vintage photo depicting a man on a ladder when this scene appeared in front of me. Carl Jung said nothing about street photography in his book Synchronicity, but maybe this was a "meaningful coincidence" such as he had in mind.

Chapter Nine Street Photography: Superficial?

Street Photography: Superficial? It's easy to level against street photography the charge of superficiality. After all, in the course of daily life anyone can see the kind of scenes depicted by it: girl walking in front of a poster; man sitting on a bench smoking a cigarette. Furthermore, like all photography, street photography merely records the surface of the world, freezing movement into a single moment. It lacks the functionality of literature where a writer can dig below the surface, tell us what's going on, reveal motivations, attitudes, and intentions. To make matters worse, many street photographers follow the example of painters and sculptors in a tendency to reduce their artistic style to its essence, a process I'll call "abstract drift." In the example of Picasso, what started as realistic portraiture and complex compositions, ended in "squiggles with horns" and similarly sparse creations. Did it work for Picasso? Yes it did, because of his experience, inventiveness, and perfect hand-eye coordination. His late drawings are recognisably "Picasso," just like handwriting or a personal signature. By contrast, the street photographer uses a blunt instrument (the camera!) which doesn't lend itself very readily to revealing artistic "voice".

Let's Fess Up I think we should readily admit that most street photography is superficial, for the reasons I've given above. So what? Doesn't some of Mozart's music strike you as being superficial, all surface, no depth? And did these works not lead to others that are unquestionably sublime? In his case, we then listen again to the ones we thought superficial and begin to find them more compelling.

It's a Starting Point If I were to teach street photography in an art school I would say, on the first day of term: "There's the camera. Out there is the urban environment. Go and take pictures and we'll see what you get." I'd give no hints or directions whatsoever. Find your own way there! Find your own way home!

The city streets are a fundamental resource of artistic material. They're the Urban Reality, constantly changing and evolving. Our response to them is hugely important artistically. We mustn't go out there with preconceptions, merely to bring back what we took with us. Reviewing this chapter (and the last) I'm reminded of the poem by W.B. Yeats that begins: "I sought a theme..." It ends with the lines: "I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart." (The Circus Animals' Desertion, published 1933).

Locked Arms

At first glance it's a "nothing shot," but, as you can see, it's not as ordinary as it appears. Amazingly, the intertwined couple were not participating in a photo shoot (I looked around carefully for the photographer and couldn't see one). They were just sitting by the side of the road in a deceptive pose. I wished I'd had a slightly longer lens, but I took the shot from between parked vehicles without being noticed. Is it another superficial street photo? Answers on a postcard, please.

Chapter Ten But It Can Also Be Profound

But It Can Also Be Profound In the previous chapter I talked about superficiality, even praising it now and again, before suggesting that it's a great starting point from which meaningful work can emerge. If I now praise profundity, please don't think I'm knocking superficiality. There's much to admire in superficial work, just as there is in popular music. Within the clichés and limitations of pop songs, writers and performers have produced works that are profoundly insightful and moving.

No Shortcuts So it is with street photography. I wouldn't blame you if you want to find out how to move from superficiality to profundity by the shortest possible route, but I don't want to talk about shortcuts. I can point you in the right direction, but it would be wrong for me to say: "Take a right here," or "make a left there." That's for you to decide. Street photography is profound when it speaks to us on several levels: emotional, intellectual and aesthetic. To those I could add "spiritual," although that word has religious and denominational implications, so I'll stick with the others. For now, I'll gloss over the aesthetic component because it's the easiest to deal with, particularly as it's also the major (sometimes the only) component of superficial street photos. It becomes even more effective when it's underpinned with intellectual and emotional content.

Going Deeper Leading to profundity, the art of street photography comes from recognising those objects (and figures, faces, incidents) that have an emotional impact. Take, for example, Daido Moriyama's famous photo Stray Dog (1971). This famous image has become Moriyama's "signature" photo, the one that symbolises his art. The dog is both a surrogate for Moriyama himself and a creature with whom the onlooker can identify. It's scarred, tough, not yet defeated. As New York street photographer James Maher has written: it's "roaming for scraps of identity in an uncertain and quickly changing world." Some street photographers, myself included, build a private language in which certain

forms and objects take on an almost symbolic meaning. For example, in the background there will be things that are elemental: earth, air, fire, and water. In the foreground you may have fundamental forces that are equally elemental: love, sex, hunger, acquisitiveness. With a little intellectual ingenuity, you can orchestrate an interplay between these background and foreground categories.

The Classical Elements Earth, air, fire, and water are the classical elements which philosophers once thought (along with the aether) comprised the totality of the world. In a street photo, "earth" is the road, the sidewalk, the iron railings, steel girders, bricks and cement of buildings; air is the open sky, haze, mist and murkiness; fire is sun, light, charcoal ovens, and smoke; water is rain, snow, oceans, rivers, and fountains. I think the photographer needs to be aware of the elemental significance of these things, especially when including them in a picture. To achieve profundity in a street photo you need to be not only thoughtful but to look and think with feeling. Ask yourself: What moves you? What excites or puzzles you? With what do you identify? At all costs, avoid the obvious. As William Eggleston said: "I am at war with the obvious."

Samuel Adams

Is this man thinking profound thoughts? He's certainly thinking, as are the people on the bus behind him. Unlike them, he can change his mind and go quickly in the opposite direction, if so inclined. The image provokes thoughts about free will and determinism, so it has the potential for profundity, even though no one's going anywhere in my motionless picture.

Chapter Eleven It Has An Emotional Side

It Has An Emotional Side Years ago in Japan people rarely showed emotion in public. It was considered to be extremely uncool. Even when amused, women would conceal their laughter by hiding it with a hand or a fan. It would have been wonderful to have wandered around the streets of Edo (modern day Tokyo) photographing the fiercely impassive samurai, and glimpsing the women who would probably turn away from the camera and hurry back indoors. If your style demanded a show of emotion, Edo would not have been the ideal location. Even today, you're more likely to find overt emotion in other Asian cities or in the West, rather than in Japan.

Here's a Question My question is: Can street photography still be cool when you photograph people showing emotion, such as anger or hilarity? There's bound to be something gratuitous about such a photo, especially when you can't show what has triggered the outburst. I get around this problem by only photographing angry people if they have a cool appearance, like the two people at the beginning of this chapter. The man with the outstretched arm was making a point very forcefully, but I think he was angry about some situation that had arisen rather than with the other man personally.

Laughter on the Streets It's great to see people laughing when they're having genuine fun, but maybe not so great to witness them laughing with derision at someone's misfortune. The boy on the left in my Fountains photo (next picture) is cackling with derision, but we can clearly see the action that's provoked him. On the right, another boy has placed his foot over one of the fountains to stop it gushing. He hasn't met with any misfortune, yet. Cackling boy is predicting what's going to happen: a wet foot, or worse. My picture has a reminder of "worse" in the form of a man with a bandaged foot, limping along behind the others. Many of my images include subjects who are laughing out loud. They're usually sharing a private joke, often, I suspect, of a salacious nature. I think this kind of image can be cool, because it prompts the onlooker to speculate about the cause of the

laughter. With nothing else on which to base an opinion, you have to make guesses about the character and personality of the subject. One thing leads to another. That's cool!


We are quick to notice the boy who is laughing with derision, even though he's near the edge of the image and there are six other, larger and more central figures in the frame. Why? It's not because of his yellow shoes but because he's showing emotion.

Chapter Twelve But It's Often Deadpan

But It's Often Deadpan In comedy, "deadpan humour" is the art of telling a funny joke while keeping a straight face, as if the joke were not funny at all. However, in general usage it means "expressionless," or "unemotional." Because people in the street are mostly going quietly about their business, without displaying emotion, the majority of street photos are essentially deadpan. Very often the people in these photos seem to be too quiet to be believable.

Too Good to Be True We photograph people when they're usually on their best behaviour, walking in public places where displays of private emotion are frowned upon. Only a few minutes previously some of these well behaved people will have been screaming at their husbands, beating their wives, or threatening to strangle the kids. That's OK. We'll just have to accept that private lives are much more dramatic than public appearances. (No, I don't mean it's OK to strangle the kids. I was attempting to be "deadpan.") When you become aware of the discrepancy between the private reality and public persona you can use it to your advantage in street photography. You can begin to suggest that there's "far more than meets the eye" in your photos. You can capture furtive glances, guilty looks, or moments of exasperation.

The Sudden Revelation Sometimes, for a split second, subjects will let the mask drop and reveal more about themselves than they would like you to see. That's a good time to take a shot, but it's not one you'll find very often. In the meantime, you have to deal with largely expressionless, deadpan material. Comedians would never put up with it. Their material is funny; it's their delivery that's deadpan. So, in a sense, the roles are reversed. The street photographer has to introduce elements which enliven the low-key material, bringing it closer to the truth. My shot of two young women crossing the road in front of a tailoring outlet called "Bespoke Bustling" is an example of deadpan humour in street photography. Bustling is a process of gathering up and pinning material in wedding dresses; it also means

"moving around energetically." The two women are moving quickly and one wears her dress with material gathered up around the waist. I like the fact that both of them are wearing backpacks and thus able to conceal their hands. The word "bespoke" seems to resonate in the context of the image, although I can't offer a full explanation for it.

Cathedral Dogs

There's nothing overtly humorous in my photo of a man walking six whippets past the front door of a cathedral, yet there is something amusing about it, in a deadpan kind of way. Can you spot what it is? The man has long hair; the dogs have short hair. He has a paunch; they're really skinny. Both man and dogs share the same, stoic expression, but neither has any apparent connection with the cathedral apart from proximity to it.

Chapter Thirteen It's Becoming More Colourful

It's Becoming More Colourful Modern digital cameras are more versatile at handling colour than were film cameras of years ago. Today, if you shoot on film, you can make colour corrections in postprocessing, but a while back this was not possible. Film stock dictated the "look" of your colour photos: Kodachrome, Ektachrome, Velvia, and so on. The infinite malleability of digital colour photography is hugely beneficial for commercial work in the studio, but it poses a big challenge to the street photographer. Shooting in colour on the street is difficult because colours are often in the wrong place at the wrong time. You may get a great shot that would be perfect except for a splash of bright colour near the edge of the composition, distracting the eye from those parts of the picture on which you want the viewer to concentrate. Note that I said "composition" rather than "frame," because you can often crop out glaring coloured objects which appear at the edge of a frame. However, you can't crop them out of the ideal composition.

The Streets Are More Colourful A century ago the city environment was far from being the multi-coloured funfair it is today. In front of the grey stone buildings you'd see men and woman wearing dark clothes, usually either black or grey because "brown in town" was not considered cool. If there was traffic in the streets, it was monochrome, although the brown horses had been largely replaced by Ford automobiles (delivered in any colour as long as it was black). Now we have a cacophony of colours: advertising hoardings, neon lights, rainbow trousers, and high-viz orange jackets that confound even the most sophisticated camera sensor. There's no shortage of subjects in colour. Fortunately, in cities such as London, the walls of Portland stone are still standing (or were rebuilt after the Blitz), and they make a good backdrop for multicoloured subjects. In other cities, there's sometimes a reversal of subject and background. The most striking example I've found is in Singapore's Little India, an area where the walls have been painted in primary colours. Here, if you include a human subject in a street photo, you're likely to find it's someone sensibly wearing a white shirt and black trousers. It's the only way to stand out in such a colourful place!

Composing in Colour On a typical city street, colours come together in ever-changing combinations. As a result, the street photographer has to wait for the right moment when they're all in positions that are appropriate to the photo. The main challenge in the dynamic environment of the streets is in coping with a layer of chromatic information, which is additional to all the other elements of photography: light and shade, shapes and textures, and the freezing of movement. With all of these variables to consider, it's no wonder a lot of people still shoot in black & white. Personally, I love the challenge of shooting in colour. The only drawback is the tendency to shoot colourful scenes simply because of their brilliant hues rather than for any other reason. You could level this criticism at my shot of the man in Little India, but I think it's rescued by the figure's monochromatic appearance.

Colourful Column

It's a courageous town planner who allows buildings to be dressed up in primary colours, but in Singapore's Little India the plan (if plan there be) works very well. I was lucky to find the monochrome man for contrast.

Chapter Fourteen Yet Once Was Only Monochromatic

Yet Once Was Only Monochromatic The early street photographers were so good at shooting in black & white they "set the tone" for everyone else who followed them. Eugène Atget, André Kertész, Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson led the way by presenting urban visions in monochrome, at a time when cities themselves were relatively subdued in colour. Even later, when photographers like William Eggleston and Saul Leiter were pioneering the use of colour, the more recently discovered work of Vivian Maier seemed to underscore the point that black & white represented the only true way. (Her many photos in colour have only recently been widely seen.) Today, millions of street photos on social media are shown in black & white, even though the majority of them have been originated in colour. Yet only a few people seem to be using black & white skilfully, combining, in the same high contrast photo, deep blacks with gently graduated face tones. Frequently it looks as though most of the b&w photographers have simply hit "convert to b&w" rather than taking time to adjust the distribution of tones contributed by red, green and blue.

Why Shoot in Black & White? As far as I can understand, the only reason for shooting in monochrome is to pay homage to tradition. A black and white picture looks like a "proper photograph," especially when you hang it on the wall of a multicoloured apartment. Yes, it all comes down to tradition and your taste in home decor! As far as tradition is concerned, it's purely the short and restricted tradition of photography, rather than the longer tradition of art, which dictates in favour of black & white. Painters have always worked in colour, dating back to cave art twenty thousand years ago. The Ancient Greeks painted their buildings and statues; medieval art is intensely coloured; Giotto's murals are in colour. Nearly all art is colourful, like the world itself, right up to the time of Henry Fox Talbot and the birth of photography. I don't really do black and white. Even my picture of a cow looks better in colour, and it was a black and white Friesian!

Addendum: About the Cow

It was dusk in Khao Yai, a rural but rapidly developing area of Thailand, north-east of Bangkok. I was standing on a strip of land designated to be a high street in a year or two, then a man ran past driving a cow. I panned the camera rapidly and took a photo. It's a curious image, because parts of the cow are sharp and other parts are blurred. The panning motion froze the cow's forward movement but not the movement of its legs. Maybe the picture can serve as a metaphor for the development of photography. Technology moves forward, but art can be stubbornly retrograde, in a fuzzy kind of way.

Vintage Clothing

High contrast works well in black and white, when colour is largely irrelevant to the composition. I tend to compose my shots with colour always in mind, so I have few b&w images to show. This European tourist was enjoying the late autumn sun in London, sitting motionless outside a vintage clothing store. I'm intrigued by the mannequin's tee. Calvin Klein is vintage?

Chapter Fifteen Sometimes Precisely Meaningful

Sometimes Precisely Meaningful You won't find many street photos to be "precisely meaningful." The best shots in the genre are often subtle and ambiguous, with hints, overtones and shades of meaning, rather than bold statements with messages that could better expressed in words. Yet sometimes the meaning can become apparent to the viewer immediately because it's "that kind of picture." This is true of my photo Happy Fish, in which a girl is trying to make her grumpy boyfriend smile by stretching the corners of his mouth. The message? Clearly, it's something like: "Keep cheerful!" Maybe the guy has had a bad day, or maybe he's hungry and was hoping the restaurant would be open by now. By chance, the restaurant itself is called "Happy Fish," which is the perfect title for the photo. Yet is "keep cheerful!" really the only meaning of the picture? Is it even the main meaning? At first, the man appears to be the most important figure in the photo. He occupies the centre of the frame and his tee-shirt is the same colour as the restaurant behind him. Yet we soon notice that the only active player in the image is the girl, with her arms outstretched, smiling sweetly. Although there's an initial interplay between the name of the restaurant and the man's expressionless, fish-like passivity, it's the girl in her bright pink tee-shirt who's really the "happy fish," lifting the spirits of her friend, and hopefully those of the viewer.

Meaning or Message? I'm all in favour of a photograph being meaningful, but I don't think it should surrender its meaning too readily. It needs to put up a fight, to compel the viewer to stay longer and study it for clues. When I was a student I attended an interview at a London art college with the aim of joining their film department. At the end, the interviewer asked me: "But what is it you want to say in the films you make?" In other words: did I have a preconceived message? I told him truthfully I had no such message. I just wanted to explore the medium to see where it would take me. Needless to say, I wasn't accepted. Surely, meaning is a desirable destination but a preconceived message is not even a good starting-point.

The Fitting Room

If I can speak man-to-man for a moment: we've all been there; that's why this photo has a precise meaning. A guy waits for his partner to try on clothes in a fashion store. It's a timeless subject (isn't it?) like "peasant shepherd tending flock." Of course, if the lady bears any resemblance to the woman in the photo, and if she's buying flimsy items of underwear like those on the hanger, it may be well worth the wait.

Chapter Sixteen Often Apparently Meaningless

Often Apparently Meaningless The human mind always searches for meaning, asking why, what, when, where, and how? When something visual has no apparent meaning the mind fills in the blanks with meaning of its own. I don't think a street photo can ever be entirely meaningless. After all, it's an image extracted from reality, and to suggest it lacks meaning is to deny that existence has meaning. The magic of photography lies in the vital connection it makes between reality and the viewer. Just think of all those painted portraits of important people from history: George Washington, Admiral Nelson, Napoleon Bonaparte. Wouldn't you really prefer to see a photograph of them? Even though a portrait may be more accurate than a badly taken photo, I think we'll all want to see the photograph, if one existed. The idea becomes even more vivid when the historical figure never sat for a portrait. How many famous paintings of Jesus would you swap for a single photograph of Him? The Turin Shroud, which supposedly wrapped the body of Christ and assumed the imprint of his form, has been hailed as a kind of photogram. For that very reason it has attracted far more interest than is normally accorded to other representations, magnificent though they are.

Getting the Point If a street photo can never be entirely meaningless it can certainly be banal. That's not good and it really isn't cool! One way to avoid banality is to take a photo only when you've noticed something that inspires you to take it. This feeling of inspiration needn't be overwhelming: it can be just a passing thought with a tinge of emotion. You don't even have to understand it fully. Understanding can come later when you look at your images. When I saw the three women cleaning the windows of a restaurant in Bangkok's Gateway mall I immediately sensed the potential for a photo. Yet I saw merely the colour harmonies and the variety of shapes made by the figures in the foreground. I had no desire to make a meaningful statement. However, I knew it was an unusual shot as soon as I'd taken it, because the woman in

the centre suddenly stopped working, straightened up, and dashed inside the building as though she'd left something under the grill. Her sense of urgency, expressed through her stance, gives the picture meaning.

When Best Intentions Fail When I look at my photos after a day's shooting I do sometimes come across a picture that completely mystifies me. I think to myself: "Why on Earth did I take that one?" Then, on looking at it closely, I start to recall exactly why I took it. The shot may not have worked out as I intended, but there was certainly intentionality behind it. Street photos that tend towards abstraction have less apparent meaning than their representational competitors. Yet they, too, can be intriguing, satisfying, and uplifting, with beauty, drama and dynamism. If that's true for semi-abstract pictures it's even more true for photographs with just a modicum of meaningful content. So don't get too worried about the meaning of meaning. I'll try not to mention it again.


This photo is entirely without meaning, which is rather the point of it. I like the banality of the man's stare, meeting the bovine gaze of the cow. I knew the shot would have a banal quality to it, so I took it from a low angle to add stature to the participants. I must say, those are the fanciest doors I've ever seen on a cow shed. Oh, it's a crêperie...

Chapter Seventeen It's All About Light

It's All About Light Have you noticed how many of the world's ugliest animals dwell in total or near-total darkness? The "naked mole rat" (Heterocephalus glaber) often comes at the top of the list, a creature even uglier than its celebrated, cancer-resistant cousin, the blind mole rat, which, surprisingly, often ventures into the light. Then there's the vampire squid, not Goldmann Sachs but the actual creature Vampyroteuthis infernalis, the "squid from hell" which feeds on the decaying dead in the unlit depths of the ocean. Many life-forms can exist without vision, including human beings, but nearly all photography is based on light and our ability to see how it illuminates the world. Sure, there's thermal imaging, X-rays and infra-red, but ordinary, everyday photography would be non-existent without light. We need to make the best of it. Every photographic artist, even one who is visually impaired, needs to become expert at judging the intensity and quality of light. This would be a lot easier if only we had names for the different types of light occurring in nature. "Bright" and "hazy" are not really sufficient. If the Inuit dialect spoken in Nunavik, Quebec, can come up with fifty-three names for snow, including "pukak" (crystalline powder snow resembling salt) then surely the world's photographers could try to describe all the lighting conditions we encounter in the open air? There used to be a word for light on foggy days in London: pea-soup! Even then it referred mainly to the fog itself as the light was fairly minimal. In pea-soupers you could see nothing further than two or three feet away. They have long since disappeared following the banishment of coal fires.

More Names for Light So now we have "bright," "hazy," and "pea-soup (archaic)." Are there any others? How about "hallucinogenic"? This would be the brilliant pollution-free light which inspired European artists of the early twentieth century when they visited North Africa for the first time. I am thinking of the effect it had on Paul Klee and August Macke when they travelled to Tunisia in 1914. They changed their colour palettes as soon as they encountered it.

Or how about "golden light," the kind you get in the tropics, half an hour before sundown? If this is the kind of light you enjoy in street photography you need to work quickly. You won't be able to simulate it in Photoshop. I love to work with "dappled light," when it's filtered through the leaves of trees. It creates unusual patterns and forces the viewer to look more carefully, connecting the dots to make sense of the picture. There has to be general agreement before a word can identify a non-object, such as the condition of light. We'll never have enough words for it, so maybe we'll have to stick with technical concepts like "colour temperature," "colour bias" and "local contrast."

Warm Light, Cold Light In northern Europe, daylight ranges typically from warm "early sunrise" (around 2,500 Kelvin) to cold "north light" (7,500-10,000 Kelvin). Although I often take photos in golden light when the sun is going down — as in the next shot — I really prefer to shoot in "overcast daylight" (around 7,000 Kelvin). I think that's cool enough for me.

End of the Afternoon

The "homeward bound" feeling of this image is accentuated by the late afternoon sunlight. In street photography it's essential to use the available light to reinforce the message or feeling of the shot.

Chapter Eighteen It's All About Shadows

It's All About Shadows After the light comes the dark. In photography they're the two main components, not really contradictions so much as necessary opposites. In Western thought, if light is normally considered good, darkness is something to fear. "Men fear death as little children fear to go in the dark," wrote the Elizabethan philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon in one of his most famous essays (Of Death, 1612). The Eastern view is somewhat different. In what remains my personal favourite among all the essays I've read, In Praise of Shadows (In'ei raisan, 1933-34) by the Japanese novelist Jun'ichiro Tanizaki is a paean of praise to the aesthetics of Old Japan, before electricity came along to banish the darkness. Tanizaki lamented the rapid disappearance of shadows from the Tokyo cityscape. He regarded electric light as a Western invention that had destroyed the conditions necessary for viewing Japanese paintings, houses, theatrical performances, and even the rice served in lacquerware bowls.

Shadows Today Today, you'll still find better and more interesting shadows in old city streets, whether in London, Bangkok or Tokyo. Shadows add mystery and drama to a street photo, while also providing much needed contrast and deep blacks which seem to anchor the image, when printed, firmly to the page. Processing software makes it very easy for us to get rid of shadows. Demonstrators of these techniques will often say: "Let's just lift the shadows so we can see more detail in them." Fine, I do this myself sometimes, but really the whole point of having shadows is so that you can't see the detail in them. They're supposed to be a counterweight to the brightly illuminated areas.

It's About Imagination When everything is illuminated brightly, as it is with TV lights or photographic flash, there's no room for areas of uncertainty where our imagination has to fill in the gaps. I think this is why Tanizaki was so fond of shadows. His writing is the same: nonexplicit, encouraging the reader to form mental pictures based on subtle indications rather than detailed descriptions.

Admittedly, technology also allows us to enhance them deeper and blacker than they were in reality. as a matter of course, but, personally, I think it's becomes a mannerism. Creativity emerges from a images with a pre-conceived look.

shadows in a photograph, making Some street photographers do this deplorable when, by repetition, it vision of reality, not by stamping

Shade and Shadow I've made no distinction between these concepts, given the fact they both come from either the reduction or the total absence of light. Shade is the gentle shadow which gives objects an appearance of three dimensions; whereas bright light will cast deep shadows on to the surfaces of objects if not much light is coming from another direction. Much of the fun of street photography consists in playing with light, shade and shadow. With experience, a photographer can anticipate what these factors are doing to the image, even to the extent of noting how reflected light modifies colours and alleviates the shadows. Beyond a shadow of a doubt: shade and shadows are among the coolest components of street photography.

Deep-Fried Ice Cream

I'm not sure if this is deep-fried ice cream. The customers don't seem to be certain either. I asked my partner who is an expert on Thai food and she's equally in the dark. One thing I do know: the shot is vastly improved by the deep shadows, the steam, and the shaft of light from above. I'm particularly grateful to the purple straw in the bottom right-hand corner for balancing the composition.

Chapter Nineteen It Captures a Moment in Time

It Captures a Moment in Time Street photography will never fall completely out of favour if it continues to capture moments in time. Granted, all still photography does this, by definition, but the process is more apparent in some images than others. When photography freezes a rapid action, then it's very clear that it's captured a moment in time. By contrast, a picture of a static landscape on a clear day, or a portrait photo in a studio, could be taken at any moment. A few minutes earlier or later would make very little difference to the image itself. There's tons of action in the street and it's the task of the street photographer to freeze it at appropriate moments: moments that typify the scene, or the opposite, moments that are unusual or even unique.

That Old Decisive Moment I keep wondering why Henri Cartier-Bresson's "decisive moment" has fallen out of fashion. Is it merely because the art world, obsessed as always by originality, considers it to be a case "been there, done that"? I don't think so. If you don't take a street photo at the most appropriate moment the result is usually quite dismal. You end up with pictures of people turning away, relaxing their faces after giving someone a joyful smile, or assuming a boring position after moving from one that was strikingly photogenic. The title for Cartier-Bresson's seminal volume The Decisive Moment (1952) was not his idea, but that of his publisher. It was an inspired choice (derived from an aside he wrote in the book: "there is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment") because it identified one key aspect of his art. Yet that's all it was: one component among many. Unfortunately, it was perhaps too easy to understand when you saw a figure poised with one foot about to break the surface of a puddle of water. Bresson's image now looks dated because of the clothes worn by his sprightly subject, so in a sense the moment has become "an old decisive moment" rather than one which our imagination can bring to life in the present. Maybe for the reason I've given, many photographers have stopped bothering with the decisive moment, fearing it will date their images by association. Or perhaps the phenomenon of becoming dated is actually inherent in the capture of a decisive moment. Seeing it frozen, reminds us that it occurred in the past and not in the eternal

present of the image. If you want your images to look timeless, it's probably best to avoid decisive moments. I don't agree with Bresson that everything has them. After all, what's the decisive moment of the Pyramids in Egypt? Or even that of a Grenadier Guardsman on duty outside Buckingham Palace? No, decisive moments occur when you freeze movement. If there's no movement, the effect simply isn't there.

Differing Timescales We think of time as being a universal standard, like the speed of light, but we experience it subjectively. In fact, you can't divorce the experience of time from time as a concept. Time passes slowly when you're bored; quickly when you're being entertained. It drags when you're a child and speeds up in later life. In a sense, people carry their own individual time with them wherever they go. The people you see on the street are not robots running on universal time. They're human beings of different ages, each with a personal experience of time which is unique to the individual. Street photographers who capture a moment in time are also imposing their own moment on the scene. It's an act of sharing, of colluding with strangers in the pretence that time, for a split second, is a universal currency.

That Awkward Moment

Modern design can be cute but uncomfortable, completely failing to put people at their ease. If these two people are on a first date, they certainly seem to be ill at ease with each other. Maybe he's lost the cinema tickets. By coincidence, the movie they're waiting for is called "That Awkward Moment."

Chapter Twenty Or Creates a Timeless Moment

Or Creates a Timeless Moment Most artists crave to make works that can be considered "timeless" in years to come. Such works attain the status of being classics: the ultimate category of art, one better than "iconic" which has connotations of uncritical acclaim. Street photographers are no different, but can their work ever be considered "classic," bearing in mind that it deals with transitory and ever-changing subject matter? It will only be possible to make a final judgement on individual images in years to come, when fresh eyes can see the photographs, free from the influence of being too close to the original material.

Not a Picture of an Instant If you've read the previous chapter you can guess that a photograph which celebrates or encapsulates a "timeless moment" must be free of a so-called "decisive moment." It must give the impression that the viewer is looking at a timeless, much experienced and universal phenomenon, whether it's a lingering kiss or a wistful stare, rather than something that occurred in an instant snipped from the flux of time. It's true that painters can take a decisive moment and turn it into a classic, timeless moment. Titian, for example, did exactly this with his great masterpiece, the Bacchus and Ariadne (1520–23) in the National Gallery in London. He depicted Bacchus in mid-air, his cloak billowing behind him, leaping from a chariot pulled by a pair of leopards. Backed by the force of mythology the painting seems to be perennial in a way that HCB's leaping pedestrian can never be. So, apart from being wary of decisive moments, how can we take pictures in which time will seem to stand still continually, now and forever? I often photograph people who are lost in thought or gazing into the distance at a faraway object. I do it without being intrusive (which is really essential to avoid breaking the spell). Are these people experiencing a "timeless moment"? Not necessarily, but daydreaming is certainly a pastime that can bring time to a standstill. In writings on mysticism you come across timeless moments over and over again. They're probably more frequent than is commonly recognised and not to be confused with a full-blown mystical experience. Dozens of perceptive writers have described them, from Aldous Huxley and E.M. Forster, to F.C Happold and Arthur Koestler.

Eternal Landscapes In vast open spaces like Monument Valley where time moves at a geological pace, landscape photographers can give the impression of timelessness almost without breaking sweat (despite the heat of Monument Valley). Can street photographers do the same, without such a magnificent subject? It's hard, but I come back to the basic components of the image: people doing age-old stuff like buying and selling, walking and talking, eating and drinking, plus the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Surely it's possible to make something from this huge kit of parts that will stand the test of time?

Woman and Tree

When I saw this woman standing six inches away from a tree I knew the photo would be unusual. Both subjects would be in sharp focus, something that rarely happens normally with my 40mm lens. It's not just her proximity that enables the focus but the fact that she's standing very still. Is it a timeless moment? Yes, in the sense that she and the tree have "become one" in the photo.

Chapter Twenty-One It Can Be Glamorous

It Can Be Glamorous Glamorous? Are you sure? Most street photography involves slinking around dusty, polluted streets, wearing practical, inconspicuous clothes, looking for shots of strangers. It's not even as glamorous as being one of the paparazzi. At least they're chasing celebrities who, for the most part, are rich, famous and good-looking. This is where I need a good lawyer, someone who can argue that black is white, leaving you convinced you've just heard the truth. Yet the fact is: I do think, on occasion, that the process of taking street photos can actually feel glamorous, even if it isn't. For example, you may just have flown to a foreign city you've never visited before. You're confident of your ability to work the streets and get some great shots. You are definitely not one of the hordes of tourists who mill around taking aimless snaps of each other. You have what you believe to be the best camera for taking the kind of pictures you want. You're in charge. Everything's cool — and that feels glamorous.

When the Subject is Glamorous Big, metropolitan cities are teeming with well-dressed, glamorous people. Many street photographers decide to make them the subject of their work, often with terrific results. For many years, Scott Schuman has delighted us with his street photos of fashionable people in his blog The Sartorialist ( He pioneered this sub-subgenre of photography online but many others have followed, including German fashion observer Gunnar Lillehammer, the Style Clicker ( I've devoted a section to these photographers on the "blogs" page of my directory. Check them out! I think their work is more glamorous than that of the "Fashion Influencers" in the adjoining section.

When the Venue is Glamorous After a day of tramping the unforgiving streets in a grim part of town I like to retreat to upmarket areas to relax, soak up the atmosphere, and take more shots. My ploy works well in tropical cities, especially in the prosperous Far East. There, not

only can you find beautiful and well-dressed people, but you get the added bonus of finding many of them to be well-but-scantily dressed, enabling you to grab genuine glamour shots. Needless to say, these shots have the further advantage of being entirely candid. I hasten to add: it's not enough to take photos of bare skin with no other thought in mind. You'd be better advised to hire a model and shoot soft porn, or worse, those depressing "glamour shots" of so-called "boudoir photography." When the location, venue and subject are glamorous and when you, the photographer feel your spirits rising as a result, then sure, street photography is glamorous in the best sense of the word. I rest my case.

In Front of Coxy's

Sometimes you can find glamour, fully clothed, where you least expect it. On a dull day in this English market town I was delighted to find this lady wearing a stylish outfit with such aplomb. Glamour exists in style and attitude together. Here they make a strong contrast with the roughness of the market.

Chapter Twenty-Two It Can Be Seedy

It Can Be Seedy When an antiques dealer sells a large, distressed mirror for £1,000 (the sort most people years ago would have sent to the tip) you know you're in the world of "Shabby Chic." It's a style that can be extremely attractive, given matching décor and an educated eye. So if you think gold taps and chintzy furniture represent the trashy taste of "les nouveaux riches" you may develop an eye for shabby chic. It has connotations of bohemianism, which is always fashionable and even better when it's expensive. Now we're talking Bloomsbury, Virginia Woolf, and Lady Ottoline Morrell. It's the same with street photography. In fact, other photographers, too, like to go slumming, placing fashion models in doorways of run-down buildings, or (the old favourite) taking general shots of rust, ruin and picturesque squalor.

That Word Again I've discussed "the picturesque" in an earlier chapter, but here it is again, in the context of showing "seediness" to be at the opposite end of a spectrum: from high to low society: from photographic glamour to photographic seediness. The late Susan Sontag (1933-2004), in her controversial essay collection On Photography, expressed a particular disapproval of pictures of rust and she lambasted street photography for its intrusiveness and voyeurism. She seemed to think there was a special place in hell for the detached observer who photographed reality in all its shabbiness and turned it into attractive pictures. "The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world 'picturesque.'" I've read Sontag's On Photography twice, shortly after its first publication and again, ten years ago. I feel like reading it once more because, after practising street photography, I can no longer agree with everything she said. In particular, I dislike her disparaging comment: "When Cartier-Bresson goes to China, he shows that there are people in China, and that they are Chinese."

A Poorer Place

The world would be a poorer place without street photography and its depiction of poor places, along with rich and poor people, and rich places. I subscribe to the view that taking pictures of reality helps us to understand it, a view which Sontag, imprisoned as she was by words and language, tried to dismiss as being unintellectual. I don't think photography corrupts the human mind by displacing words with pictures. We can think in pictures, just as we think in words or numbers. With a copy of Sontag's essays in my back pocket, I think I'll stroll around Hong Kong Island and take some shots, if only to lay the ghost of blind intellectuality.

Woman in Red

In this Hong Kong market scene, a woman in a cheap red coat buys meat for dinner. No, it's certainly not a high-class deli and the customer is definitely not rich. Yet the general shabbiness is not without style when pictured in a photo.

Chapter Twenty-Three There's Beauty In It

There's Beauty In It I can't pinpoint the year in which beauty became a dirty word in art criticism, but it happened a while ago. In four essays on beauty published as The Invisible Dragon (1993) art critic Dave Hickey expressed his fear of being ostracised professionally if he so much as mentioned the word. Hickey began by recalling the day he broke his silence by addressing the subject directly in a conversation with a graduate student: "...I direct your attention to the language of visual affect — to the rhetoric of how things look — to the iconography of desire — in a word, to beauty." Hickey highlights the discrepancy between "beauty" and "meaning," with beauty still retained as a passport to acceptance in the auction room, whereas academia rejects it in favour of artworks with "meaning." He contends that the art market is more forgiving than academia because it still allows radical work — work loaded with meaning — to become highly valued, as long as it has aesthetic quality. Academics, on the other hand, are like the "benevolent wardens" in Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon prison: they distrust appearances. Beauty becomes dangerous. "It steals the institution's power, seduces its congregation, and elicits the dismay of artists who have committed themselves to the excruciating tedium of plain honesty." It's a great book and I highly recommend it. Although it's not about street photography, as such, it gives me confidence to discover beauty wherever it exists when I'm out taking photos. I must emphasise: I don't mean obvious, chocolate box beauty, although I don't despise even that, especially if there's a hazelnut whorl somewhere underneath. I mean beauty in shapes, forms, colours, faces, gestures, figures. Do I also mean treating ugly subjects in a beautiful way? Why not? They're still ugly.

Poet with the First and Last Word John Keats (1795–1821) closed his great poem Ode to a Grecian Urn with the now famous lines: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." He also opened his major work, Endymion with: "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: / Its loveliness increases; it will never / Pass into nothingness..."

If you photograph a thing of beauty you can scarcely avoid capturing a trace of it, perhaps even much of it, especially if it's a photo of an object rather than a person. How sad to live in a world where academia rejects such a commonsense notion! Academia? You're fired!

Customers Bearing Gifts

Upmarket elegance and beauty are the focus of this shot, at Emporium in Bangkok. I like the way the model in the poster is looking at us from the corner of the image. Yet unlike the others she cannot move and beauty resides not only in form but in graceful movement, for example, in the slow processional march of the two young women as they enter the store.

Chapter Twenty-Four And Ugliness, Too

And Ugliness, Too If street photography is to show a balanced view of the world then clearly it needs to show ugliness as well as beauty. Whether it actually needs to be ugly is a different question. The critical eye of the viewer will admire the beauty of the composition, even if the subject looks like one of those naked mole rats I mentioned earlier (It's All About Light). Photography is famous for its tendency to make ugly scenes look attractive by reducing everything to a flat surface using tones and colours. It doesn't record the unpleasant smells of reality and can make a distant field of litter look as beautiful as a wildflower meadow.

The Suppression of Ugliness The street photographer soon learns which scenes look good in a photo, despite their apparent ugliness in reality. For example, a jumble of dirty brown buildings may blend together without much variation in tone to form a mysterious backdrop for a visually interesting subject in the foreground. The camera seems to suppress the ugliness, but it's simply doing its job correctly, mapping tones from reality to the picture surface.

Looking for Ugliness If you look for ugliness you don't have to go far in a modern city to find it. You could start with some of the hideous street sculptures which local authorities have sanctioned in the name of art. I don't usually photograph them myself, and although I made a Pinterest collection of them under the title "Who's Idea Was This?" I rarely view it. It's too depressing. In fact, I must confess I don't look for ugliness, even though I believe it's wrong to show an endless image-stream of beautiful people, appealing scenes and desirable objects. On the whole, the man-made world is an ugly place that tends to make people uglier in spirit, so why reproduce it with imagery? Is it to remind ourselves of its awfulness?

Denying Ugliness

Cameras record surface appearances; they don't automatically see past an ugly face to reveal internal beauty, if such exists. Even the epithet "ugly face" seems cruel these days, not one you can use in politically correct company. People may even like to celebrate ugliness, in testimony to the way in which the human spirit often triumphs over adversity. However, well intentioned people are not necessarily more inclined to buy an ugly car or marry an ugly person. Secretly, we all prefer beauty. Graphic designers go to endless lengths to make their fonts appear harmonious and their layouts beautifully proportioned. They do it in order to retain the attention of the viewer. So you see: market forces are at work, in graphic design as in Darwinian evolution! Can the street photographer escape them? Please read on, I'll think about it some more.

I Love You

Ugly, or beautiful? In good light (which this is) it's difficult to say whether a street scene is one or the other. Normally, a giant crow staring at a disembodied heart would be ugliness in spades, but the sunlight and the passing human figure have nullified the effect. Photography can make anything look beautiful.

Chapter Twenty-Five Funny? Lighthearted? Amusing?

Funny? Lighthearted? Amusing? In this final pair of contradictions I'm pitting "funny, lighthearted and amusing" against "solemn, serious and earnest". Street photography can be all of these things and much more besides. It's a generous, all-encompassing genre to which just about any subject can be admitted. Whether you levitate towards the humorous end of the spectrum or gravitate towards the solemn one will depend on the choices you make. (I'm abbreviating the second set of characteristics to "solemn" rather than "serious" because most humorists are serious about their work.)

Clever-Clever Visual Humour In looking at critically approved street photo collections I see far too many visual puns. I'm sure you've seen them, too: a subject's head obscured and replaced by another object closer to the camera; painted lines on a wall appearing to express the subject's angle of vision; cute correspondences between the shapes of objects and those of people. At first, these visual puns were slightly amusing. Today, they've been done to death. Even The Guardian's well informed photography critic Sean O'Hagan has started to refer to the "tired tropes of street photography" (What next for photography in the age of Instagram? 14 Oct 2018). I hope, by this aside, he's not dissing the entire genre, but rather, is referring chiefly to visual puns.

Irony and Gentle Humour There are no visual puns in my shot of the sleeping man in Bangkok's Chinatown, but it's a gently humorous picture. I was astonished to see anyone sleeping so peacefully amid the hubbub of the market, but there he was: blissfully dreaming of...maybe elephants bearing lunch? The streets are packed with subjects which lend themselves to irony and gentle humour. I often find them when there's a written message involved, such as when people pass in front of signs carrying statements that may or may not be applicable to them. I admit, this can be wholly unfair to the subject, but if it's clearly humorous, you can probably get away with it. See: The Cat is Not Trustworthy at the end of the chapter.

Laugh Out Loud Humour It's not easy to trigger overt laughter in street photography and is probably best left to stand up comedians. Although I often take shots of people laughing out loud, it's usually the missing cause of their laughter which gives the picture its force. Working in a silent medium, as mime artists do, street photographers are obliged to stick to dry wit, irony, gentle humour and (oh no!) visual puns. Except for those puns, it's all pretty cool.

The Cat Is Not Trustworthy

There's genuine wit in this wonderful variation on "Beware of the Dog." Even though there are plenty of other signs in the background, this is the one we read. Wording aside, it's the light, composition and other content which makes the image.

Chapter Twenty-Six Or Solemn, Serious & Earnest?

Or Solemn, Serious & Earnest? By "solemn, serious and earnest" I mean direct, from the heart, and without irony. Most of the best street photos fall into this category, although I admit to preferring those that are neither too solemn nor too earnest. My shot (above) of a religious ceremony at Wat Pasee in Bangkok, is a scene that obliges the street photographer to be on his best behaviour. I was attracted to it initially by all the yellow objects: the chairs and baskets, so I decided to take a discreet picture. The scene shows the use of "sai sin" (sacred threads) which are wrapped around people's wrists (or in this case, their heads) to connect them in prayer. There's a nonparticipant in the foreground, checking her mobile phone, but it's a detail which doesn't detract from the spirit of the image. In fact, it adds to the seriousness of the scene. Those taking part are wired with sacred threads; others can only use wi-fi.

Attitude to the Subject This chapter and the previous one deal with the photographer's relationship to the subject. Whatever that relationship or attitude may be, viewers will almost certainly notice it. For example, to a complete non-believer the scene I've shown above may seem extremely bizarre, but I've been careful to show it sympathetically. I could have walked towards the front, picked out one of the least appealing members of the congregation and caught them in an off-moment with eyes half-closed. Now the sceptical viewer could exclaim: "How absurd! But what a great photo!" All people can learn from the experience of observing daily life in a foreign culture, but only when they don't jump to the wrong conclusions. I think it's best to keep an open mind and treat every subject with sensitivity. It's the only way to take images which add to, rather than subtract from, our understanding of the real world.

When the Subject Is Serious Fortunately, not everyone in the street goes around roaring with laughter all the time (except in my home town, and then only on Saturday night). Even at recreational events, many people have serious jobs to do, like the women in my photo called Before the Festival.

There's a sense of nervous anticipation in the air just before the start of a parade on a very hot day (see the next page). Will all those taking part make it to the end? Or will children, the frail and the elderly be in need of medical care? I think these women are on hand to provide assistance when needed. Underpinning all the fun is some serious back-up. That's really cool!

Before the Festival

Street photos can be serious and cool at the same time. I like the fact that the women in the background have confident smiles whereas those in the centre (with more responsibility?) look apprehensive. We can't see the expressions of the two on either side.

Section Two "Because It Helps Us View the World As It Is"

Section Two Intro

Taking street photos is an activity that requires the photographer to see the world as it really is, in all its imperfections. It doesn't permit you to rearrange reality to suit your photo. The city environment is both ordered and chaotic, with fixed structures forming a backdrop to a constantly changing foreground of people and traffic, with birds and animals occasionally entering the fray. There's much to see, but we have to learn to see it without preconceptions. The reality of the street is the starting-point for all street photography. When we develop an understanding of the places and people in front of us, then our images gain immeasurably as a result.

Chapter Twenty-Seven Recording the Chaos of the Street

Recording the Chaos In its most basic mode, street photography records the chaos of the street. Anyone attempting to take street pictures for the first time is very likely to do little more than capture the chaotic, multi-coloured muddle of pedestrians, traffic, signs, wires, street furniture and assorted shop-fronts of the average city street. So here's a question I need to answer at the outset. When reality is chaotic, surely a chaotic photo is a truthful statement, an accurate record of what the photographer saw? If the answer is "yes," then all street photos should be chaotic, unless the street itself is well-ordered in the sanitised style of modern, over-planned development.

First Attempt However, even a person's first foray into street photography will governed by a process of decision making: starting with the decision to take a picture. The initial motivation behind capturing an image of urban reality will surely be a desire to freeze movement, record a moment in time, and reduce the world from three dimensions to two. That, in itself, is an anti-chaotic and very human motivation. Having taken a decision to photograph the urban world, the new entrant to street photography must then decide where to point the camera. Do you see where my argument is going? A person with a camera points it at a subject, so in all likelihood the subject will in the middle of the frame. That's not chaos! It's an ordered, if possibly rudimentary, work of art.

Shortcuts to Success Some photographers never move far beyond this first attempt at composition, mainly because it's quite effective. By concentrating on a lone figure, a singular object, or even a small group of people, it's possible to make a satisfying picture which isn't too badly cluttered (an example is the photo at the end of the chapter). Taking the idea to the next stage, the photographer may start to ignore the chaos of the street altogether and decide to wait for subjects to pass in front of plain backgrounds, such as bare walls, or open, out-of-focus spaces. Another approach is to switch to black & white, a ploy that immediately cuts out much of the chaos by getting rid of all the clashing colours.

The strategies I've just mentioned are perfectly valid and can lead quickly to success, but if you use them exclusively than you're probably evading the central issue in street photography. You're not acknowledging the full, chaotic reality of life on the streets.

The Brave Photographer Instead of being evasive, the brave photographer looks at the chaos and sees it for what it is: the organic, growing tip of reality. In the metropolis, you can feel the energy of this unfolding growth in all its power. Here you can witness not only the rearrangement of the environment to meet human needs, but also the chaos that results when conflicting ideas made manifest in materiality are piled one on top of another. The American photographer Garry Winogrand was extraordinarily brave in confronting this chaotic reality head-on. Although I'm not really a fan of his work, I greatly admire the honesty and effort he put into its creation. Of all the celebrated street photographers he seems to me to come closest to "recording the chaos of the streets," capturing their energy and unpredictability, without resorting to reductionist tricks to make his images more appealing. Winogrand had a liberating effect on street photography, validating the "chaos is good" approach to the genre. His only compositional rule appears to have been a selfimposed directive to maintain at least one vertical line somewhere in the frame. (Take a look at his pictures and tell me if you see one.) In the next chapter I'll explain why I find Winogrand's approach inadequate and why it's important to seek alternatives.

Boris Trike

Much, but not all, of the chaos in the street disappears when you single out a subject against an uncluttered background and place it somewhere near the centre of the frame. In this shot, the tricyclist is moving away from clutter into the less cluttered area, which, I believe, is more satisfying than if it were the other way round. We prefer to move towards order and away from chaos.

Chapter Twenty-Eight Bringing Order from Chaos

Bringing Order from Chaos Fundamentally, art is a process of bringing order from chaos. It's there in literature, painting, sculpture and very obviously in architecture. Architects provide the city street with the one element that changes only rarely: the buildings on either side of it. If buildings suggest order, forethought, design, proportion, and stability, then by contrast, people (and dogs, cars, etc.) provide movement, unexpectedness, spontaneity, and emotion. Were it not for the (mostly) rational intentions of all the people in the street you could say it is they who bring the chaotic component to the scene. Surely, this chaos is the opposite to the long-term dynamic that creates the city?

Looking Deeper Perhaps the best exposition of the fundamental opposition of order and chaos — and how it functions in art and literature — is to be found in Camille Paglia's great work Sexual Personae (1990). Here she delves into Greek mythology to find figures who embody the two concepts: first identifying the god Apollo who represents order and control, then Dionysus who represents chaos and the so-called chthonian powers: the dark forces of the underworld that fuel the energies of nature. Paglia argues that artists, both painters and writers, are usually conflicted between Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies, one or the other prevailing to give their work its distinct characteristic. Noting that the natural world is in constant flux, Paglia says: "There are no objects in nature, only the gruelling erosion of natural force, flecking, dilapidating, grinding down, reducing all matter to fluid, the dark primal soup from which new forms bob, gasping for life. Dionysus was identified with liquids — blood, sap, milk, wine. The Dionysian is nature's chthonian fluidity. Apollo, on the other hand, gives form and shape, marking off one being from another. All artifacts are Apollonian."

Always With Us The above passage, and Paglia's book as a whole, can be enlightening for the street photographer who wonders why our cities, the products of evolved civilizations, are so often chaotic. It's because the Dionysian powers are always with us, to a greater or lesser degree.

Along with non-city-dwelling nomadic peoples we are motivated by desires and emotions: love, hate, hunger, lust, curiosity, competitiveness and the compulsion to procreate and survive. Conversely, the great buildings that soar into the sky in the modern city are products of Apollonian aspiration, delivered by thoughtful architects but most likely paid for by people who were motivated by Dionysian energies.

Bear It In Mind Can we allow ourselves to think about these ideas when we take our street photographs? I think we should, and here's why. As you would expect, the same forces are at work in ourselves. When you walk out on to the street with your camera you are motivated by Dionysian desires but your mind is telling you to bring Apollonian order to the world. Without intense desire and motivation no one can succeed as an artist. You need to be in touch with vital sources of energy. For a man, in Jungian terms, that might involve being aware of the "anima," the feminine figure in the psyche who can provide inspiration and motivation. It might involve immersing yourself in the chaos of the street and drawing energy from it. At the same time, you need to keep creative control by observing, selecting, waiting for the right moment. Of these, it's the looking that's the most important. An objective gaze is a truly Apollonian characteristic, according to Paglia.

The Alternative Approach The best street photographers are people who carry with them their knowledge and culture but who are prepared to set aside their intellectuality in order to let creativity take over. Henri Cartier-Bresson continues to inspire street photographers today because he tapped into the essence of the medium. Like Eisenstein with montage and film editing he was the first to capitalise on the medium's inherent qualities — and he was brilliant enough to explain how he did it. He said, in an interview (you can find it on YouTube): "You have to be yourself and you have to forget yourself...In photography you've got to be quick, quick, quick. Like an animal with a prey...I never think, I act, quick." And again: "There're no new ideas in the world. There's only new arrangement of things. Everything is new, every minute is new." There, in a nutshell, you have a valuable insight that corresponds very closely to the

thesis set out by Camille Paglia. By "everything is new..." Cartier-Bresson draws attention to the world's fluidity, its Dionysian nature. He suggests you need to have creative energy to capture reality in photography by pouncing, like an animal. Again, that's a Dionysian characteristic, but equally "you have to be yourself" — you mustn't throw away your controlling Apollonian abilities, you should allow them to work naturally ("...and you have to forget yourself") in order to balance the conflicting dynamics.

Where We Are Now Venturing on to the street, I, for one, can't help but remember where we are: occupying the surface of a planet in which the habitable part, with its layer of atmosphere, resembles the skin of a balloon. Below us is boiling magma (very Dionysian!) while high above and all around are billions of galaxies full of destruction and creation, black holes and the birth of stars. The very fact that we exist at all is an improbability, the result of a long chain of happy accidents in the midst of the energy and violence of the universe. Bearing all this in mind and looking at the urban world with fresh eyes we can begin to understand and appreciate it more fully. The city has been built largely in defiance of the universe. You won't find another soaring skyscraper beyond this planet for several trillion miles, if at all. Human beings have subdued nature and brought a new kind of order to the world, making it a more convenient (but in many ways no less precarious) place to live. Nature fights back at every given opportunity — and few venues are more photogenic than a decaying city overrun by weeds, moss and creepers. However, nature is not entirely destructive. Left to its own devices, it reaches islands of equilibrium, allowing order to become established by balancing one force against another.

The Perennial Conflict Everywhere you look in the modern city you see evidence of the conflict between Apollonian and Dionysian forces. You find it in the built environment; you see it in the people; and you feel it in yourself. In places where the city has crumbled you can observe nature moving in, slowly at first with those innocuous weeds, but followed with increasing speed by larger invasions of shrubs and trees. Ancient cities have disappeared entirely, under vegetation in the jungle or beneath the drifting sands in the desert. Ever the optimist, man constantly rebuilds elsewhere and our modern cities are so full of steel and concrete they project an almost convincing illusion of permanence.

Yet nothing is permanent and it's the task of street photographers to salvage what we can.

Hip-a-Long Cassidy

I find this to be a satisfying composition, with its balanced combination of order and chaos. The background represents order with verticals, horizontals and rectangles. The man in the centre seems to be standing still, so he's almost part of the ordered background. However, up front there's a pile of broken furniture and on the right is a casually dressed guy scurrying past. The jaunty man and the furniture belong to the world of chaos, while everything else is ordered. The two are interwoven in the picture, framed by a couple of cars which could belong to either category.

Chapter Twenty-Nine Looking and Seeing

Looking and Seeing There's a wonderful passage near the beginning of Alan Paton's classic novel Cry, The Beloved Country in which a 69-year-old Zulu pastor, the Reverend Stephen Kumalo, visits Johannesburg for the first time in his life. Initially, he is too nervous to leave the station. Even when someone eventually helps him go to the city centre he is overawed by everything he "sees." It's all so unfamiliar you could say that he looks at the unfamiliar surroundings without really seeing them at all. To look and really see is to understand. Maybe the understanding won't be complete, but at least the person who really sees will soon get a sense of what's going on.

Personal Experience I've had this sensation myself on several occasions. Brought up in a quiet area of England I went to London for the first time when I was a teenager. I wasn't quite as dumbfounded as the Reverend Kumalo, but I found it hard to take in all the unfamiliar sights. Later, when I began working in New York, I was half-expecting to feel the same sense of shock, but the city proved to be more familiar than I expected. I suppose it was through seeing so many movies and old episodes of Kojak. However, visiting the Far East for the first time was completely disorienting. Like London but unlike New York, Bangkok has a meandering river running through it, flowing towards all the points of the compass at the same time and destroying any sense of north, south, east or west. The streets don't conform to a grid and I found even the signs indecipherable. I confess it's taken me many years and repeated visits to find my way around.

Initial Impetus I took up street photography in Bangkok, partly as a response to this feeling of disorientation. I thought maybe if I pointed a camera at this extraordinary city I'd be able to scrutinise it more closely and perhaps come to terms with its unimaginable chaos. My personal impetus in taking up street photography was therefore an attempt to absorb the disturbing but also energising impact of what appeared to be "chaotic Bangkok." Over the past few years I've come to understand the city and its people a

little better, chiefly by looking and seeing, and it no longer seems quite as chaotic as it did before.

Bangkok Days Lawrence Osborne, in his wonderful memoir Bangkok Days wrote: "I can't get to the bottom of Bangkok, and I never will." Nonetheless, I think he cracks the puzzle in the last two pages when he recalls how, on first arriving in the city, he saw himself through the eyes of a monk alighting from a boat at Wang Lang pier. Regarding him with detached amusement, the monk appeared to be wondering: "Is that a lonely man?" By the end of the book, the writer has experienced the unfathomable chaos of the city and has had the insight that life in the East does not revolve around the drama of personal love. It revolves, if that's the right word, around the concept of reincarnation. A transgender person of his acquaintance releases a bag of writhing eels and catfish near the "curious statue of a uniformed sailor" (see my photo on the next page), doing so in the belief that one day she, along with the eels and catfish, will be reincarnated as "a frog, perhaps, or even a man." Gathering insights from wherever we can, helps us see a city with sympathetic understanding. It may not be necessary for travel photography, but it's essential for street photography in which you place the local inhabitants centre stage. Whether you're in Johannesburg or Bangkok, looking is easy; seeing takes time and understanding.


When I took this shot I hadn't yet read Lawrence Osborne's memoir Bangkok Days in which this statue appears in a key passage at the end. It marks a place where the author witnesses chaos and comes to a greater understanding of the city and its inhabitants.

Chapter Thirty Getting a Balanced View

Getting a Balanced View As a general principle, in life as in art, balance is almost always a desirable state. When anything is out of balance, whether in society as a whole or in the body or mind of an individual, balance is good and imbalance is very definitely bad. Imbalance causes various corrective measures to kick in, resulting a long and often painful journey towards the restoration of equilibrium. I know this isn't a fashionable view, but I recognise it as being entirely factual. Today, artists (and increasingly technologists) find it more rewarding to "rock the boat," to create imbalance, and to introduce so-called disruptive inventions that destroy existing order.

What Is a Balanced View? This short chapter, as you've probably guessed, is not about achieving balance in the composition of a street photograph. I'll save that for a later discussion. Here, I'm more concerned about achieving balance in the actual process of taking pictures in the street and therefore in the total body of work produced. I think the artist's best approach to street photography is to regard the city with the wide-open eyes of a child who brings no preconceived ideas but only vision and an enquiring mind. Such an approach is more likely to result in a collection of photos that represents the place and its people with honesty, insight, and (yes!) balance. It's harder to see the world in this innocent way if you're taking pictures in your home city. That's why I think it's great if time and circumstances enable the street photographer to move to an unfamiliar foreign city for an extended period. Take a few months off! Quick holiday breaks are not long enough to learn all you need to know. Don't hop from country to country, soaking up the sights. They've all been photographed before.

What to See To achieve a balanced view you need to look at all parts of town, from posh areas to poor ones. In street photography, what matters is not, primarily, the subject matter itself, but your response to it. You may find yourself responding in surprising ways to new experiences and unfamiliar sights.

Most modern cities contain a mixture of cultures and ethnicities, which makes them great places for taking pictures, not least because people anticipate and accept your curiosity. It's harder when you're part of a tightly-knitted tribal community.

It's Cool to be Unfashionable? As a natural contrarian I'm not worried about being swayed by the passing breezes of fashion. I'm even prepared to quote the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold (1822–88) whose verses To a Friend begin awkwardly with the line: "Who prop, thou ask'st, in these bad days, my mind?" It's an old trick: begin awkwardly then surprise your audience with brilliance. The poet goes on to celebrate his friend, an old man, "the clearest-soul'd of men," for whom: "Business could not make dull, nor passion wild; / Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole..." Put into the present tense, it's exactly my own message to street photographers: see life steadily and see it whole.


This image has a kind of all-embracing feel to it. On their own, the people in the poster would seem narcissistic, whereas the man on his own would appear to be lonely and forlorn. Brought together, in the context of the station, we get a more balanced view. After all, the models may not be narcissistic when they're not in front of the camera — and the man may be happily married with a huge family and a wide circle of friends.

Chapter Thirty-One Awareness of Change

Awareness of Change One of the keys to unlocking your creativity in street photography is to develop an awareness of change. I've become acutely aware that the two cities where I do most of my work (Bangkok and London) are each changing at a remarkable speed, in some areas slower than others, but even then, always noticeable, given a sharp eye. Perhaps you wondering: Why develop an awareness of change? After all, photography takes place in the present moment. Isn't it therefore all about capturing this moment and none other? I prefer to take a broader view of street photography, one that can pay dividends in the future. So let's look at two types of change, bearing in mind that you could sub-divide the phenomenon into a million parts and be no closer to the truth.

Two Types of Change First, there are the slowly changing aspects of the street: the disappearance of buildings, the appearance of new ones, and so on. Second, there's the rapid, second-tosecond change in the positions of people, animals and traffic. Parts of London change hardly at all from one decade to the next. If no one is walking past, a row of Georgian houses looks almost exactly as it did in the eighteenth century. However, if you were to take a picture of the same houses with pedestrians in the foreground, you'd have a fine collection of varied images within a very short while! Maybe you want even quicker results. Here, then, is an example of how quickly the mood, atmosphere and content of street photos can change from one second to the next. At the top of this chapter I've placed an image called Checked Out. It features two Chinese tourists who I'm guessing have checked out of their hotel and are now enjoying a few moments before heading off to the airport. They're sitting on the fountain called Horses of Helios, although you can't see the sculpture very clearly in the shot. In the EXIF of the image (camera settings and other info), Checked Out is timed at 16:56 and 23 seconds.

One Minute Previously Now take a look at the photo at the end of this chapter, showing a whole crowd of people waiting to cross the road in front of the horses. The EXIF tells me I took the shot at 16:55 and 20 seconds, in other words just 63 seconds earlier! If you look closely at the crowd you can see the Chinese gentleman at the back, on the left. He's grinning broadly and his partner has the strap of her bag over her shoulder. Just think of all the changes that occurred in that long minute. The crowd of people crossed the road. I must have walked a little way down Haymarket then doubled back to the horses where I photographed the couple. By this time, the man had stopped laughing and had sat down and begun to smoke a cigarette. When I'm in reflective mood, like the man at 16:56 and 23 seconds, I try to figure out a mathematical theory for estimating the number of street photography opportunities that occur each day in our major cities. I think the number just rose from billions to trillions. The mood and visual appearance of a city can change in the blink of an eye. Go with the flow, attune yourself to its rhythms, and try to grab at least one or two of the trillions of opportunities being offered to you.

Galloping Horses

I suppose it's no coincidence that these rearing figures known as The Four Bronze Horses of Helios are positioned at the top of Haymarket, the place to which traders brought hay in the nineteenth century. In those days the streets were full of horses: pulling cabs and carriages, constantly moving unlike their modern-day bronze cousins.

Chapter Thirty-Two You're Shooting for History

You're Shooting for History Having developed an awareness of change, both from one second to the next and over much longer periods, the photographer is becoming reasonably well equipped to see what's really going on in the city streets. Regardless of its aesthetic qualities, a street photo is an historical document. It records images of people in the context of the city at a particular moment in time. So remember: when you're out taking street pictures, you're shooting for history. I love looking at historical photos of my home town. They go back as far as the midnineteenth century, but I wish they went back to Roman times. I'm sure everyone would have been taking photos of the Emperor Claudius, making his way towards the temple from Head Street, accompanied by his elephants. In the absence of the Emperor Claudius, I've had to base my "historical" street shots on more recent subjects. I offer two examples in this chapter, the first being a photograph of a former hardware store called Jacks (apostrophes were the only things they didn't stock).

Jacks I took this shot at 16:44 on August 21, 2013. Several years have now elapsed and the shop already looks very different today. I can imagine its history, starting with its date of origin: 1946. It would have traded briskly in the years following World War Two, owing to postwar reconstruction. The boom years of the Fifties were quick to follow, then, despite increasing competition from larger stores it would have survived the Beatle years and the Thatcher years before going into decline at around the turn of the century. Closure came a few months before I took the photo. The girl in the photo clearly does not belong to any of the eras I've mentioned. To her, 1946 is "great grandpa" territory, and I doubt if she remembers much about the turmoil of the twentieth century. There's something slightly retro about her style of dress (the shoes and the short leather jacket) but the large shoulder bag and the coloured hair were very "now" in 2013 and the whole outfit would still look good today.

Layers of Time

My photo has within it several "layers of time" which I've tried to disentangle in the above explanation. As always, the human figure is the most up-to-date element in the shot, but in her appearance even she carries references to the past, as we all do. For once, I think I've brought together subject, context and layers of time into a single image without any one of them being dominant. A casual glance may dismiss it as yet another photo of someone walking past an old shop, but you can scrutinise it and unravel the story without my telling it. The narrative is there, in figure, setting and time.

The Stockwell Arms I've written at greater length about the next shot (at the end of this chapter) in my street photography blog. Here, I'll keep it brief. It's another "historical street photo," taken at a transitional moment (16:19 on March 24, 2012) in the life of the building. The first novelist in the English language, Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), author of Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, etc. lodged at this establishment for a while, according to historians. Following its refurbishment, completed a year or so after my shot, it became an upmarket restaurant. The owner sadly passed away, the restaurant closed and the building hosted his widow's quilting shop for a year or two. At the time of writing, it's all up for sale.

Time Waits for No One When I took the two shots in this chapter I was aware of their historical references. However, I could not have predicted the changes that would take place in the following five or six years. You see, history starts being woven again from the very moment we press the shutter button in our vain attempt to stop time in its tracks. As street photographers we have to be aware that we are part of the flux of time and try to find ways of using this awareness to make our images more meaningful. When you feel the ephemerality of things, you tend to find certain subjects (and their contexts) more intriguing, more visually interesting, and, if you have a personal connection to them, more emotive. So keep looking, and remember: you're shooting for history.

The Stockwell Arms

There is something poignant in seeing this building in its "underwear," now it's all finished, yet up for sale again. The builders discovered a bowlful of Roman coins in the courtyard, which the late owner generously gave to the children of visiting customers.

Chapter Thirty-Three More Than Just Surfaces

More Than Just Surfaces A common criticism levelled at street photography is that it just captures the surfaces of places and people. It has, the argument goes, no explanatory function and is, in other words, woefully superficial. I strongly disagree. A good street photographer can dig below the surface, discovering hidden treasures where you'd least expect to find them. Don't believe me? Oh, alright then. I'll show you a surface. I took the shot at the head of this chapter in Bangkok, outside a new office building. Inset between the stone slabs of the pavement are strips of grass. I didn't look too closely, but I think they must be a type of AstroTurf, or another brand (FieldTurf? LazyLawn? Easigrass? Royal Grass?) A cleaner was hoovering the fake grass, using a powerful vacuum machine. She looked up at me, just as I took the shot, and I took the picture in the split second before her face broke into a broad grin. I thanked the lady for letting me take a cheeky shot, although she didn't have much choice! We had a moment of shared hilarity at the expense of the architects who'd inflicted fake grass on the general public. I suppose it breaks up the monotony of the paving, but it's already becoming flattened by pedestrians and it's a devil to keep clean. My shot, which is quite literally about a surface, actually delves below the surface of the subject, revealing the intelligence and sunny disposition of the person it features. At first it looks like an interior shot, but there's something about the light (its evenness, intensity and colour) which says "outdoors, in the morning."

Into the Light My second shot in this chapter (at the end) continues the theme of surfaces and light. I should really offer it without explanation, because it's largely although not entirely self-explanatory. The photograph shows a group of people leaving a very beautifully constructed building. Two of them pause while a man in front makes his way gingerly down some (presumably) difficult steps. If there's a "message" in the photo it's the fact that the people are emerging into the light, almost as if they're becoming "enlightened."

Clearly, it's a well-worn passageway. Thousands of people have walked this way before. The bricks are softer than the material holding them together, but even the latter is shiny and worn. The large, dark patch on the right of the image suggests a cavernous interior, perhaps some kind of tomb or pyramid. All of what I've said above can be deduced from the photo. Now I can tell you what it is. At this location, in the ruins of Ayutthaya in modern-day Thailand, relics of the Buddha were once kept. They've since been transferred to the nearby Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. There's not a great deal to see at the original site, but you can still feel a frisson of awe when you move from the darkness to the light. Visually, both of the shots in this chapter are all about surfaces, but I like to think there are hidden depths as well.

Into The Light

I've called the subheading in the chapter Into the Light, but the picture title is Into The Light with a capitalised T. It's not a typo: just my way of drawing attention to the difference between daylight (external) and enlightenment (internal).

Chapter Thirty-Four Chasing Down Details

Chasing Down Details Sometimes you may notice a small detail and make it the point of focus that draws the viewer into the picture. Once there, the viewer begins to get the larger meaning of the photo by reading the whole composition. My image (above) of two women standing behind the counter in a clothes boutique is this kind of shot. I spotted them from the public walkway of a shopping mall in central Bangkok and immediately noticed that one of them was showing the other her nails. It was the end of the day, the customers had mostly gone home, and there was nothing much else to do. Unseen, I took the picture from the open doorway and disappeared.

Details Matter Yes, but why do details matter in street photography? I think it's because they demonstrate the intentionality of the person taking the picture. All photography contains the directive "look here, see this," but street photography deals mostly with rapidly changing actions. In these circumstances it can be hard to pick out a meaningful detail until after you've frozen the action and viewed the result.

Wide Angle Is OK Any discussion of photographing details can prompt thoughts of macro lenses and close-ups, but the street photographer is likely to be using a wide angle lens, somewhere between 28mm and 40mm, or possibly 50mm, although this can't really be described as "wide angle". Are we on the same page? I hope so, because the single message I want to get across in this short chapter is about the placement of detail within a wide angle of view. The viewer's eye needs to be caught by the detail. You don't need to provide a close-up, unless you have the luxury of making a spread for a magazine or web page. For the single street photo, small but noticeable details can unlock the image, making it accessible to everyone. In my fashion store photo, once you follow the gaze of the woman examining her nails you get drawn into the image and start to look at the other details, of which there are many! For example, the design of the boutique with its "suitcase theme" is intriguing, then there are all the bits and pieces in the "office area" on the left. If your eye strays too far, diagonal lines lead you back to the nails.

Chasing down details is easier in photos than in the real world, is it not?

Lost in the Yaowarat Road

There's lots of detail in this shot of two tourists in Bangkok, checking a map, watched by a security guard. Not only the map but the women's tattoos also invite close inspection. Is the guard looking at those or the map?

Chapter Thirty-Five Form v. Content, Form Wins

Form v. Content, Form Wins In representational art there's always a battle between form and content. Artists who work in a purely abstract mode don't get caught up in this conflict. They're happy to play with lines, shapes and colours quite independently of content. Even artists like Paul Klee, who took reality as his starting-point, liked to "take a line for a walk" as if it were a pet dog, stopping here and there of its own volition to sniff the grass. In the battle between form and content, form often wins. Photographers, working within an intensely representational medium, sometimes eliminate content altogether in favour of lines, shapes and colours. At the top of this chapter I've placed an image of a woman at a food counter, washing up. It's one of those images that "tends towards abstraction" at the expense of content. If content were deemed to be more important, it might reveal exactly what she was washing. Instead it gives us red and orange lines and shapes, with glimpses of disembodied hands, which, on closer inspection, are seen to belong to two men on the other side of the glass case.

Actors on a Stage As soon as any artist begins to create order from chaos, making compositions that are pleasing to the eye, form begins to show its prowess in battle. At first it imposes itself in fairly obvious ways, like a theatrical actor standing in the middle of the stage. Later, it will hide in more complex compositions that seem more natural and more appealing to popular taste. (The actor goes to Hollywood!) Probably because there aren't any straight lines in nature, landscape photography resists the abstract tendency more successfully than street photography. By reducing the human figure to a silhouette and placing it in a pattern of lines and colours, courtesy of modern architecture, many street photographers enjoy the embrace of form at the expense of content. What can I say? The formal extreme works very well on one level, but personally I think it's too restrictive. It makes me feel imprisoned, like one of those silhouettes in a sunny patch of colour, surrounded by shadows and steel girders.

When Form Wins

On the other hand, when form wins we can often revel in the sheer beauty of the composition, undistracted by the intrusion of realistic elements with all their emotional connotations. The victory of form is a victory for the intellect, not the heart. I'm all in favour of intellectual victories, but I guess my heart's not in it.

The Hidden Chef

For me, this image is an outlier that I can place only into the "Form Wins" category. Form has almost completely taken over, to the extent that we can't see much of the chef at all. Other photographers have explored the possibilities of frosted glass to great effect. Here, I've used its pattern and the light falling upon it, rather than its translucent qualities.

Chapter Thirty-Six Content v. Form, Content Wins

Content v. Form, Content Wins Street photographers who see only the subject but not its formal qualities, allow content to win the battle of content versus form. They show us places we've never seen, people we've never met: and the whole experience of viewing their pictures can be joyful, emotional, shocking, disturbing, or just plain interesting. If there's beauty in the result, it resides in the subject, not in the photographer's composition. There can be value in this kind of shot, but I always feel there's something missing. On social media I see far too many street photos that are nothing more than halfhearted attempts to capture something that's caught the photographer's eye. Street photographers must do more, because if content wins "hands down," they run the risk of repetition and banality, while failing to develop a personal style.

What Is Content? Having introduced the idea of a "personal style" I need to expand the definition of content. Content is not just the joyful or miserable reality I've talked about above. It also embodies the response of the photographer to it and this response finds expression through personal style. In turn, personal style becomes as much a part of the content as anything that existed in front of the camera. Forgive me if this idea is not easy to understand, but I'll come back to it again later in the book. I'm clear in my own mind that, for me, it's the right way to do street photography. Both content and form are hugely important and we mustn't let one of them defeat the other.

Let Me Put It Like This

Content wins this time, but form puts up a good fight. When these two paused and the guy tried to get his point across (much to the girl's incredulous amusement) I had to take the photo quickly, without much thought to composition. Nonetheless, the red Toyota makes a good background and there are blue objects like the cone and the van which offer their support to the man in the blue tee-shirt. But she still doesn't believe him.

Chapter Thirty-Seven Words Are Mostly Content

Words Are Mostly Content Despite the best efforts of graphic artists and sign-makers to turn them into pretty objects, words are the common currency of language, and, obviously, they have meaning. If you include them in a street photo along with other elements they'll punch above their weight in the clamour for attention. Or sometimes they don't. Words in a foreign language will carry no significance for the viewer who can't read them, a fact which may pose a problem if you're taking pictures in a country where you don't understand the language yourself. With my literary bias I like to include a few words in my photos whenever I get the chance. They often provide the significant detail which I discussed in a recent chapter (Chapter Thirty-Four: Chasing Down Details).

First Example Take, for example, the photo on the previous page. It's a candid shot of pedestrians taken on London's Oxford Street. Two of the women in the photo are very jolly and appear to be sharing a joke. One of them wears a tee-shirt (popular among tourists in London at the time) which says I Woke Up Like This. The phrase is a usually a tongue-in-cheek apology for a dishevelled appearance or grumpy mood. However, in this case, the message would be more appropriate coming from the woman in the background with her vexed expression. Without the words on the tee-shirt the photo would still be acceptable, but it would lose some of its vitality. Words seem to bring a photo to life by inserting their meaning into the mind of the viewer. I guess that's why people wear tee-shirts with written messages on them.

Words On Other Stuff Although wordy tee-shirts are common, they're not as ubiquitous as posters and billboards. Advertisers are well aware that people love to photograph ads with clever wording, so they keep coming up with ideas. I like the handwritten versions, such at the little blackboard on Pottinger Street, Hong Kong, which advertises a barber's shop. The street is a favourite haunt of tourists, partly because of its central railings which are wrapped in knitting.

The barber's sign is equally unusual. It bears a cryptic message to prospective customers and resembles a short, concrete poem. I checked on Google Street View to see if the wording had changed since I was there. It had. This time the board said: "Time for Some Short Week Sleek." I bet Gold Pony Boy gave that one a miss.

Stay Gold Pony Boy

The pretty railings in Pottinger Street are a tourist attraction, so the positioning of the barber's sign is a good marketing idea. Unfortunately, most selfies will leave out the wording. Such a shame!

Chapter Thirty-Eight The Viewer's Imagination

The Viewer's Imagination There's no need to be too explicit in street photography. You can leave plenty to the viewer's imagination. If the viewer is obliged to fill in the gaps, to make an intelligent guess or to invent a full story to explain the meaning of a picture, you're on to a winner! It's the viewer's imagination that brings an image to life, prompted by visual cues artfully provided by the photographer.

The Japanese Aesthetic In making this argument I'm taking my own cue from Japanese aesthetics which have long been influential in the west. Back in the nineteenth century, Japanese printmakers like Hokusai and Utamaro exerted a huge influence on western art when their prints were found in packing cases carrying tea to France and Britain. These artworks inspired a whole generation of Impressionists who were already thinking along the same lines. Like Monet, Seurat and Degas, the Japanese artists didn't try to describe reality in a literal manner by showing every detail. Rather, they gave an impression that allowed the viewer to imagine the original scene or figure. Exactly the same aesthetic can be found in Japanese literature, with writers like Tanizaki (mentioned in an earlier chapter in connection with shadows) being able to conjure up a scene or bring a character to life though hints and indications rather than by full description.

A Touch of Irony There's more than a touch of irony in the fact that the makers of digital cameras are predominantly Japanese. Years ago, these cameras may have given just a broad impression of reality but today they spell it out in every detail. A modern digital camera can banish every shadow, remove all the mystery and leave very little to the imagination. If you're going to use such an explicit tool you may have to modify your technique if you wish the viewer to start generating alpha waves in a daydream that's partially directed by your photo.

Tools of the Trade There are so many! I don't just mean the obvious techniques, like using shade and shadows, or anything that obscures the subject, like smoke or steam. Those elements are useful, but you don't need to hide the subject under a cloud. You can hide the subject in plain view. Street photography can be very good at triggering the viewer's imagination when the photo elicits some questions that hang in air without an obvious answer. Who is this person? What is she doing? Where is she going? These are existential questions, the like of which you've probably encountered not only in photography but in painting. The Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) created a masterwork that contains the words "D'où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous," in the top left corner. In English they translate as: "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" although Gauguin left out the question marks. The questions (or statements) in Gauguin's work are almost superfluous. His figures in themselves are the very embodiment of questions and his painterly technique of broad brushstrokes allows the viewer to ponder questions of this type while looking at the picture. I had a print of the painting in my room as an undergraduate and I feel its presence has stayed with me, although the print itself has long since disappeared.

Phuket Workers

Without any explanation, this photo raises questions like: "Who are these people?" and "Where are they going?" I can't answer precisely, but I can say it was late afternoon, so I'm guessing they're returning from work. They're wearing the uniform of a construction company, hence they must be in the building trade. You have to imagine the rest.

Chapter Thirty-Nine Dramatise, Undramatise

Dramatise, Undramatise The streets are full of drama. You can hear it from a distance, erupting suddenly then dying down as rapidly as it began. The sound is usually that of people shouting, laughing or screaming, all of which can signify movement, action and the presence of a crowd. The street photographer becomes attracted to the promising sound of dramatic action like a moth to a flame. Like any other street photographer I always go to investigate what's going on, whenever I hear a disturbance. Most of the time I'm disappointed because it's usually a minor argument between people who are drunk and disorderly. Occasionally, however, I manage to extract a good photo of a completely unrelated subject, maybe of an onlooker who's sufficiently distracted by the melee to enable me to get a closer, candid shot (like the "Man About Town," at the top of the chapter, who was hurrying past a reversing truck at the time).

All the World's a Stage Maybe because I often take street pictures during the day in London's West End, I'm constantly reminded of the theatre. I'm glad to be reminded because I want to avoid any suggestion of theatricality in my pictures. There's no acting involved in my candid shot of a passing girl, at the end of this chapter. Acting is pretence, which is fine for the theatre but not great for candid street photography. Once the subjects appear to be "hamming it up" you're in the realm of snapshots and selfies, not serious picture making. Nonetheless, when people are dressed up for their public walk there is always a hint of acting. The street photographer is always more likely to get a picture of a subject's outward persona rather than of his/her true character.

Personal Inspiration I take much of my inspiration from the movies. As a consequence I've developed a cinematic style of street photography in which there's usually "something going on." Because I freeze the action into a still picture, I'm able to retain the cinematic style (and the freedom this allows in composition) without the content appearing to be too

obvious. At least, that's my intention. The inspiration comes from the Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni whose movies are controversial because he refused to exploit their dramatic potential: the potential that was clearly present in his material. In fact, he deliberately "undramatised" the cinema in pursuit of greater truth. Explaining his approach, Antonioni said: "...Fellini forces reality; Visconti dramatises it. I for my part try to undramatise, particularly externals, so that I can show the interior life of my characters realistically." I love this approach, although it's more applicable to movies where drama is ostensibly the structural basis of just about every film. Antonioni, I am sure, took his own inspiration from still photography, bringing stills to life, cautiously at first with twenty-four frames a second, then (from Red Desert onwards) with colour.

It's Those Hints Again Once again, we're back to the idea of bringing the artwork to life (whether it's a novel, film, photo or painting) by dropping hints, giving indications, and deliberately leaving out explanatory description and drama. Watching Antonioni's films, the imaginative viewer is obliged to identify with the characters in order to understand them. By this process of empathy they become more real to the viewer and their inner life is revealed.

Top Knot

This candid close-up photo of a passer-by is an example of what I mean by "cinematic style." For example, there's significant wording behind her, but does it say "A Day's March" or something else? We get only an impression, as we would in a movie when there's no time to scrutinise every background word.

Chapter Forty It's a Colourful World

It's a Colourful World Among street photographers, I may be outnumbered by those who are still wedded to black & white, but I'm a dyed-in-the-wool champion of colour. I'm still puzzled why so many people still cling to black & white, given today's versatile and sophisticated colour tools. I can only put it down to their reluctance to embrace change: a deep obstinacy rooted in habit and tradition. Incidentally, at the time of writing, I must note that 7,000 households in the UK are still watching television in black & white! I wonder if anyone has saved enough on the licence fee (colour licenses being more expensive) to purchase a Leica Monochrome M?

Boarded Up Mentality When I lived in California I made the acquaintance of a well-known photographer who went even further. He had ostentatiously boarded up his colour television set, as if to say: "We don't want new-fangled media here." I suppose it created a talking-point in the living room, making conversation more or less obligatory in the absence of TV. Whether boarding up a television set is akin to sticking with black & white photography is open to question. I voiced my objections to b&w in a recent blog post and was severely taken to task by an Italian photographer who dismissed me as a philistine. So, what about all those Italian artists of the past, like Giotto, Georgione, Titian, Veronese, Botticelli, Raphael, Andrea del Sarto, Giovanni Bellini, Lorenzo Lotto (and the thousands of others)? Did they paint in black & white? No, of course they didn't. The world is vibrant with colour and the artistic mainstream represents it in colour.

The Challenge of Colour In the chapter called It's Becoming More Colourful, I described some of the difficulties of composing in colour. Frankly, if you're going to shoot in colour you need to put it way up towards the top of your list of shooting priorities. Do you have such a list? I do, but it's unwritten and constantly changing as I adapt to the conditions: location, weather, light, and so on. If it's a sombre day with little contrast I may be looking for a splash of colour to enliven the image. If there's a soft

covering of cloud I'll seek out subjects with harmonious colours and gentle gradations of tone, as you see in my image of Muay Thai fighters exercising in Lumphini Park, at the end of the chapter.

Understated Is Best Photos with oversaturated colour belong to the world of cheap adverts and chocolate boxes. I don't think I'm alone in finding them unappealing. Surely street photos can celebrate our ability to reproduce colour without yelling too loudly? There's no need to crank up the saturation or jazz up the vibrancy. You just need to use it in a way that's appropriate to the image. If, on a sunny day, the scene is awash with colour, then even a colour junkie would have no need to exaggerate it. I hope people never place me into the colour junkie camp, but, even if they do, you'll never catch me switching to black & white.

Upside Down

The colours in the shot are mainly green, black and brown, rather than vivid, rainbow colours. Yet it gives a strong impression of being a picture in full colour, depicting suntanned skin and tropical leaves. Converting it to black & white would drain it of meaning, as well as colour.

Chapter Forty-One Getting Up Close & Personal

Getting Up Close & Personal Street photographer Mike Back, one of my friends on Instagram, describes his work in these terms: "This is 100% proper street photography not like most street photographers shoot nowadays." He lambasts others for shooting back views or for standing too far away because they're scared of moving in close to get clear shots of people's faces. He seems to like my work, but then, I sometimes get closer than he does. However, I also like to take back views as well as plenty of shots from afar. Henri Cartier-Bresson usually took pictures from a distance, and no one ever complained.

A Balanced Portfolio My advice is: do both. Get up close and personal, but also take a broader view of the world by including more of the environment in which people are moving. A good portfolio of street photography needs both types of work, otherwise your pictures will look too similar and they won't give the impression of a balanced and accurate view of reality. My supporting argument for this advice is simple. We move freely around the streets, sometimes taking in distant views, at other times brushing past strangers in close proximity. Our experience of the world is both close and distant, not one or the other exclusively. It is, I agree, very hard to stand in front of strangers without their permission and photograph them, thereby risking their displeasure. Remember: they have no idea whether your intent is good or bad. Partly for this reason I like to take the shot surreptitiously, without being noticed. In any case, the shot is always better than one in which you can sense the subject's awareness of your presence.

Words from the Front War photographer Robert Capa famously said: "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough." Capa gained a huge reputation by moving around fearlessly on the front line during the Spanish Civil War, taking pictures that included his iconic shot The Falling Soldier. That time, he was so close to his subject, a Republican militiaman supposedly at the moment of death, photography experts are still debating whether or not it was

staged. There's no doubt that Capa and other war photographers staged a lot of their shots during the Spanish war. Capa himself was not an objective observer, but a partisan of the Republican cause. Incredibly, he photographed The Falling Soldier from in front of the subject, presumably with his own back to the enemy marksman. Analysis of the landscape indicates that the front line was really a long way off. Why do I mention Capa's photo in the context of street photography? The answer is twofold: first, because objective truthfulness is almost as important in street photography as it is in war reporting; second, because "getting in close" is amazingly effective. Capa was right about that.

Rights and Wrongs I'll deal with the second point first. Publication of The Falling Soldier stimulated support for the Republican side because people could more easily identify with a man whose face they could see, rather than with a distant figure. They saw him falling and they wanted to take his place: the very definition of comradeship. By getting in close you can draw viewers into the image and connect them directly with the subject. As regards the point about objective truthfulness, it's a quality faked by people in both war and peace. I was going to say "faked successfully," but I feared being misunderstood. There's no success involved in fakery, even if it's never discovered. When I take a candid shot, up close and personal — yet without being seen — I feel I'm getting nearer to the truth.

Chilly Day

It was a chilly day in London's Soho district, but there was a welcoming light outside the Gay Hussar restaurant (now, alas, permanently shut). Although I was very close to this couple they were too busy sharing a joke to notice me.

Chapter Forty-Two Taking the Longer View

Taking the Longer View If "up close & personal" draws the onlooker into the photo, what's the advantage of taking a longer view? By including more of the surroundings in a street photo you're opening up a world of opportunities in your composition. You can establish contrasts and juxtapositions, you can create mood and atmosphere, and you can even introduce key elements for roles that are almost as important as that played by the main subject. If this all sounds a bit theatrical when compared to honest, in-your-face street photography, don't worry. It's just my way of putting it. You can regard your subjects as being actors on a stage, but they're real people leading real lives, even when they sport purple hair or wear seven-inch heels. In my shot of the tented food market at the top of the chapter, by taking the longer view I found striking contrast between the warmth and charm of the market compared to the brutalist architecture surrounding it. The tents are just part of it; ultimately it's the people who bring the scene to life.

Looking for Interplay Most of the time when I'm shooting on the street I look for compositions in which there is some interplay between subject and surroundings. By "interplay" I don't necessarily mean a direct connection or even one of those clichéd visual correspondences that have the force of a weak pun. I mean something more subtle, as when the subject tells us about the setting, or, vice versa, when the setting give us the lowdown on the subject. It's a notable achievement if you can take a street photo in which the component parts seem to chat among themselves. For example, whether Robert Capa's The Falling Soldier (discussed in the previous chapter) was staged or not, it's a great photo because the distant view of the hills in the background is strongly suggestive of eternity. The two elements, the falling man and the distant, slightly skewed landscape, create a sense of falling into oblivion.

The Really Distant View Occasionally I'm so struck by the beauty of the city I take a really distant view without worrying too much about getting elements to interact.

For example, I loved the dappled light which was casting shadows from the branches of trees at the entrance to London's Denmark Street, home to shops selling musical instruments. (See: end of chapter). It was early spring and the pedestrians, still pallid from winter, were walking around in shirt-sleeves for the first time. I waited for a bus to stop at the lights to anchor the image firmly at the centre. Although I wasn't consciously looking for it, interplay still happens between the elements of this picture. The bus waits politely for pedestrians to cross the road. The orange colour of "Wunjo Guitars" on the left is repeated on Google's London headquarters in the background. And the shadows of the branches play equally on the road, the people, and the traffic. I've now convinced myself to make a print of it. Thank heavens I was resting the camera firmly on some street furniture to get maximum sharpness. Ah, the luxury of a distant view!

Tin Pan Alley

I composed this view of London's Denmark Street in the top half of the frame to avoid tilting the camera. It's good to have time to compose the shot with care: a relatively rare occurrence in street photography.

Chapter Forty-Three The Extended Moment

The Extended Moment In the first section of this book I discussed "decisive moments" (Chapter Nineteen: It Captures a Moment in Time), then, in the subsequent chapter, I introduced the idea of timeless moments in Or Creates a Timeless Moment. So many moments! Do we need another one? I don't see why not, especially as looking for "extended moments" is one of my specialities. You'll recognise an extended moment when you encounter it. It occurs in the tropics when the air hangs heavily and people become listless. Suddenly, you have time to take a proper shot. It doesn't matter whether you take it now or in two or three seconds' time: the resulting photograph will still have vitality because the scene is about to change, yet for a brief while remains more or less the same.

First Example I think you can get this effect when someone is browsing a market stall, then stops to scrutinise an object on display. For a moment or two, the person is lost in speculation, pondering the suitability of the product or puzzling over its presentation. My shot of a woman looking at a mannequin on a clothes stall in Bangkok is this kind of picture (at the top of the chapter). It's hard to see whether she's examining the white blouse or merely looking at the mannequin's raised fingers. Personally, I think she's wondering if the off-shoulder cut of the blouse will suit her, but there's another reason why the image seems to contain an extended moment. I can't improve on my Instagram description of the shot: "The wooden display mannequin is one of the least pretentious you could find. It makes no claim to beauty or realism, yet seems to come to life in my photo. I think that's because it's more demonstrative than the customer. What's it trying to say? "The blouse is 200 baht" or "Two for the price of one"? The customer considers the offer carefully, a protective hand on her womb." Yes, it's the position of the subject's hand, not that of the mannequin which is the key to the "extended moment" feel of the image.

Second Example Just yards away from where I took the picture of the woman with the mannequin I

found another "extended moment" in the presence of two young men, one of them wearing a Hollywood tee-shirt. They're both looking upwards in the same direction. One of them clasps his legs in a position that can be held for a minute or two, but not for much longer. The other makes a half-grip with his hand as though grasping an imaginary cigarette. Their other-worldly attitudes are quite different from those of the people in the background. Yet only one person is walking. The others are waiting, waiting... OK, I'll come clean and admit: we're very close to a bus terminal at this location. People are waiting for transport and time hangs heavily before the long journey home. The word "Hollywood" makes us think of our favourite movies which memory has now compacted from hours to seconds. In memory, our lives consist of extended moments. They're the ones we recall. Only once we've retrieved them from the back of the mind can we unpack them and extract the full, time-coded narrative.


Waiting for a bus, dreaming about Hollywood (a long way from Bangkok), this man and his friend are drawing out the moment. I could have taken the shot a second or two earlier, or later, and it would not have been much different.

Chapter Forty-Four Multiple Moments in One Shot

Multiple Moments in One Shot As a final addendum to my discussion of street photography "moments" (decisive, timeless, & extended) I need to mention a curious phenomenon. Very rarely, and only with a little bit of luck, it's possible to capture two, three or even more "decisive moments" in a single shot. Hold on a minute! I can almost hear some readers complaining that this so-called phenomenon is nothing more than several actions occurring simultaneously. Surely it's easy to take a crowd shot to freeze the movements of at least two or three subjects at a critical moment? No, that's not quite what I mean, but I do agree that highly detailed crowd shots, printed large to allow for up-close scrutiny, can deliver a similar effect. Many photographers have taken this approach, notably the German fine art photographer Andreas Gursky in works such as Tote Hosen (2000). Yet the overriding impression we get from this image of a crowd at a rock concert is of the thousands of identical actions: one arm raised high, repeated by nearly everyone in the picture.

Small Groups Only I'm talking, rather, of smaller compositions in which you can see two or three separate actions, each caught at a critical moment. My shot of three women examining the pros and cons of bra inserts on a stall in Bangkok (top of the chapter), is a good example. One person scratches her head, the other two squeeze the products. Their stances are all different and there's no orchestrated collusion between them, as there would be in an image of, say, the audience at a rock concert. When the group is small, you can sense each person's individuality even though you can't see their faces. As I've already mentioned (in It Captures a Moment in Time), in the course of leading individual lives of varying lengths people seem carry their own time with them. When you show two or more people making very specific, individual, uncoordinated movements, and draw attention to them in the composition: that's exactly what I mean. In fact, when you take the picture, it's "one small moment" for you the photographer, but "one giant set of decisive moments" for the subjects of your photo.

Jamón Ibérico

The passer-by has just reached the word "Just" in the sign; the man on the left has just turned to look at the person who is just trying to ease a tricky piece of acorn-fed ibérico ham off the bone. In a sense, these are all minor decisive moments, brought together as one.

Section Three "Because It Can Tolerate Many Compositional Structures"

Section Three Intro

The art of composition lies at the heart of street photography. It's not a simple process of "point and shoot," it's one that involves strategy, selection, waiting, seizing opportunities, and "working the scene." Fortunately, street photography is more tolerant of wayward compositions than would be acceptable in other art forms. Nonetheless, the onlooker has to experience the presence of a guiding sensibility. There must, surely, be a sense of human intention rather than robotic behaviour in the making of a street photo. The following chapters discuss the many forms of composition which have a proven track record in street photography. Subjects range from symmetry, balance, and simplification, to juxtaposition, visual rhythms, and layers. It's a compositional cornucopia, so please read on.

Chapter Forty-Five It Depends How You See It

It Depends How You See It If you're reading this book to help you improve your own street photography you've probably noticed that I'm not very prescriptive. I don't say: "Do this, get that." No, I'm not being evasive. I just want you to make up your own mind about your own work. Your response to the city will be different from mine. You'll pay attention to people and incidents that I may ignore, and vice versa. In the course of a few hours on the street, each photographer makes hundreds of individual decisions. Shall I go this way, or that? Do I want to wait for those people to move into shot? Should I stand still or should I walk? The decisions you make will all influence the way you see the city — and therefore the content of your images. This whole section of Street Photography Is Cool is not, however, about content. It's about form and composition. In other words, it's not about what you see but the way in which you see it.

So Many Ways There are so many ways of looking at the modern city! On a bright, sunny day you can admire its beauty. On dull, miserable days you may see nothing but ugliness. A big city always has both faces to show, while a great metropolis like New York (the "Big Apple") can give you a bite of everything. The key point to remember is the fact that there's more in the modern city than you (or I) ever really acknowledge. I have my favourite haunts where I know I'll get good shots, but I have to force myself to explore new locations, knowing in advance that some of these visits will result in failure. The way you see the city is dictated by your response to it. If you find an area repellent or boring, your images will reflect your attitude. Even if you work in a contrary fashion, picking out rare delights from a place you find generally unpleasant, it's your attitude that's made you do it. Some photographers may respond to the dynamic qualities of the city, representing movement and speed in compositions that echo the same qualities, like those of the Futurist artists of the 1930s.

Alternatively, others may respond more readily to oases of calm in the parks and squares, away from the bustle of busy areas.

It's There in Your Personal Style The way you see the city will inspire and mould your personal style. Over many years I've evolved a naturalistic style to accommodate subjects ranging from dynamic to static, from beautiful to gritty, and from sunny to miserable. Frankly, I think the city is too big, too important, and too all-embracing to take any other approach. You don't have to agree.


I rarely come across such a gigantic poster as this one, seen in Kuala Lumpur. It's really a hoarding that hides a building site. To me it seemed to turn the entire street into an interior scene, such that people walking past were actually inside an oversized room. That was my way of looking at it.

Chapter Forty-Six The Cinematic Style

The Cinematic Style The term "cinematic style" suggests there is one identifiable style which is essentially cinematic. I'm not sure that's true. Although I claim to have a cinematic style of my own, it comes from a certain kind of film-making rather than from cinema in general. There is, after all, a huge difference between the cinematography of The Blair Witch Project and, say, Lawrence of Arabia. One emphasises claustrophobic horror with lots of close-ups and shaky camerawork, the other shows desert warfare with slow-moving scenes of epic grandeur. These movies spring to mind because they contain thousands of individual frames that are typical of their respective styles. Of the two, Blair Witch has the freer compositional style, created deliberately to disturb the viewer. By contrast, everything in Lawrence is carefully composed, making even the chaos of battle look organised. My own approach is to find an alternative way, somewhere between the two extremes I've mentioned. I want the freedom to explore new and original compositions, but I also want to find order within the chaos of the street. To do this I draw on my experience of watching films, borrowing the compositional ideas of cinematographers and applying them to stills. In particular, I'm intrigued by the style of dramas, thrillers and espionage films, when the camera moves outside into the city to follow the action. Sometimes these street scenes can look a little stilted because all the extras are playing a role rather than behaving normally. I tell myself I can do better by making my "cinema stills" look more naturalistic.

Is There Really Any Difference? Sometimes, when I'm watching a movie, I press "pause" to examine a single frame. (You have to do this mentally in a real cinema!) Frequently, the frozen image looks like a well composed photograph. I sometimes wonder whether it might not be better to take a continuous movie of action on the street, followed by making a selection of the best individual frames. All that's stopping me is image quality and a reluctance to generate more hassle. Movies have belonged to the mainstream of popular culture for a century. As a result, the language of film has become pretty much universal in the civilised world. For this reason I think it's possible to make visual compositions similar to those from the

movies without mystifying too many viewers of the photograph.

Heroin Two

This shot illustrates exactly what I mean by "cinematic style." It seems to be part of a narrative. The couple in yellow "Heroin" tee-shirts are coming from somewhere, and going around the corner to somewhere else. In stills mode, my camera didn't track them in real time, although I admit to having taken another photo, when they first entered the covered area.

Chapter Forty-Seven The Beauty of Symmetry

The Beauty of Symmetry Symmetry is one of the universal forms of nature. We have two legs, two arms, two eyes, and (Picasso notwithstanding) a nose in the middle of the face rather than to the side. Dogs have four legs, one at each corner. Despite the absence of straight lines, nature has given us symmetry, as if to say: "There, you see, the world is not as chaotic as you imagine it to be. Order dwells within it." Our love of symmetry stems from our gratitude towards nature for having the wisdom to shape the world in such a delightful way. If symmetry were to disappear, if living beings sported an indeterminate number of legs, arms and eyes (etc!) then the world would resemble a vision of Hell. Our everyday reality would be, not merely lacking in beauty, it would be a universal insanity.

The Religious Dimension Symmetry is one of the key elements of religious art. It's especially important in Islam and Christianity, in which one God reigns supreme, less so in Buddhism and Hinduism with their multiple spirits and deities. In an article titled The Perception of Symmetry, (2004), written for the Tate Gallery, art historian Michael Bird draws attention to the 1948 breakthrough painting Onement I by American artist Barnett Newman. The painting is dark brown, with a vertical line dividing it into two equal halves. Says Bird: "Behind the tightly channelled magma flow of the central cadmium red 'zip' lies biblical cosmology, in which, as the world is formed by God's actions of making and dividing, the powerful binaries of male and female, good and evil emerge." If dualism comes from the splitting of unity, symmetry is a reminder that unity still exists, if slightly beyond our full perception of it in everyday reality.

On the Street You can find symmetries when you're out taking pictures on the street, but they tend to remain hidden until you hunt for them and compose the picture carefully. There are plenty of examples of symmetry in buildings and shop windows, although symmetrical backgrounds can be broken by the presence of figures. Alternatively, you

can introduce a hint of symmetry though the chance arrangement of figures themselves. As Michael Bird says, in the same article quoted above: "(Symmetry) translates into action and duration as pulse, mimesis, echo, rhythm." In other words, even within time itself, you can discover symmetry in the form of regular repetition. Take, for example, my photo (at the top of this chapter) of two ladies coming towards the camera, flanked by two other women going in the other direction. The composition is, in a sense, symmetrical, but the symmetry occurs within the action. At a precise moment in time, two people balanced the actions of two other people and created a largely symmetrical composition.

Searching for Symmetry Photographers are always seeking symmetries. For example, landscape photographers love to take pictures of piers or jetties which can lead the eye to the distant landscape beyond. Such pictures have become a cliché, yet I still enjoy them (and many look fresh and original when the pier has individuality). Symmetry + distant landscape = eternity. It's not a bad formula! Street photographers have to be more subtle, extracting vertical symmetry from reflections in water and horizontal symmetry from reflections in glass windows. It's hard to avoid cliché here, as it is down by the jetty, but even a hint of symmetry may be enough to remind us of its importance. Nature signals to us through symmetry, and by portraying it in pictures we acknowledge the signal and send one back in return.


Symmetry doesn't have to be boringly perfect to be effective. The above picture has lots of symmetries. A man stands in between two establishments, as though undecided about where to go next. The cocktail bar and the Chinese restaurant would be mirror images of each other if returned to their original architecture. Predominant colours are black and red, with approximately equal amounts in each half. It's symmetry: the jazz version.

Chapter Forty-Eight The Beauty of Asymmetry

The Beauty of Asymmetry If symmetry is beautiful, how can asymmetry be beautiful too? That's the easiest question I've posed in this book so far, because the two concepts are not opposites. The opposite of symmetry is not asymmetry it's the absence of symmetry altogether. In a composition, asymmetry can look extremely satisfying — just like symmetry itself — if it's balanced. In fact, it's something you can use more frequently without falling into cliché because it's less obvious and allows for greater freedom in composing the shot. To achieve a well balanced, asymmetrical photo you need to be looking for that kind of composition. I would even go further and say: you need to absorb the idea of asymmetrical balance so thoroughly it becomes part of how you see reality. Instead of consciously seeing (by looking) it becomes the way you "feel" the scene in front of you.

Feeling Asymmetry Take my shot of a woman chatting on her phone in Bangkok's flower market. As soon as I saw her I felt the entire composition and realised its asymmetrical beauty. Near the centre are some tall clumps of broom, on either side of which are other columns composed of more broom, a person, bins and stools. There's symmetry in the arrangement, but the elements are so different they need the asymmetrical counterbalance of brighter colours on the right. I'm happy with this composition because even the horizontal lines are balanced asymmetrically the other way round. The small rectangle of the bright window at the top left is balanced by the dimly-lit, larger rectangle behind the figure, half-way down on the right.

Pushing the Limits of Asymmetry In what I've just said about the previous shot I've indicated two or three ways of balancing images with asymmetrical elements, using: colours, or brightly lit and darker areas, or differently sized elements.

You can push the boundaries further by using weight and even diagonal lines to balance the scene. I can illustrate this with a photo from inside a shopping mall. The scene (see: Teenage Pink at the end of the chapter) appears to be almost perfectly balanced, although the two girls on the right, with their feet tucked under them, seem to be floating upwards, very, very slightly. The composition is so complex I can't claim to have figured it out consciously when I took it, but again I felt the asymmetrical balance and waited for the man on the left to move into clear space. The six pink chairs on the right are weightier than the three on the left, but all those columns with their dark, empty plant-holders and the diagonal escalator more than make up for the imbalance. In fact, the photo needs the big diagonal to push our attention towards the other side of the picture. Fortunately, there are other, less prominent diagonals, so its presence does not look out of place. I should add that the silver pole supporting the black and white barrier strip in the centre background acts as the fulcrum of the balance. By my reckoning, asymmetry is a subtle form of symmetry that begs us for balance, urging us to restore order after its flirtation with chaos. When we oblige, we're often rewarded with one of our better shots.

Teenage Pink

In practice, this composition was relatively straightforward to take. I crouched down for a low angle to emphasise the space, waited for the man in the background to move into a clear position, then I took the picture.

Chapter Forty-Nine The Joy of Juxtaposition

The Joy of Juxtaposition It's probably the most commonly used ploy in street photography: taking a picture of a person who is standing near an object of visual interest. One variation is to snap two strangers wearing identical or utterly contrasting clothes. With juxtaposition, it's the side-by-side contrast that matters. Where a picture of either subject would be less appealing on its own, two women wrapped up in winter coats walking past a window full of naked male torsos is always going to be better. You can juxtapose abstract elements like colours and shapes, or lines, such as verticals and diagonals (as I've done in the previous chapter). For maximum impact, however, I think you need to juxtapose content as well as form.

Mixing Content Seen individually, every subject has a feeling, depending on your response to it. In truth, it's you (and I and hopefully the person who looks at our pictures) who has the feeling, not the subject per se. One of the unique features of street photography is the way subject matter rearranges itself in front of us while we're watching. If you're looking at a grey truck, covered in dust and parked outside the dark, cavernous interior of a wholesale store, it's only a matter of time before some people in brightly coloured clothes walk past. I found just this kind of shot (see end of chapter) on a sunny day in Phuket's Old Town. The dust covering the truck had reduced even the red and yellow tail-lights and the yellow number plate to the same shade of grey. The dirt spoke of miles of travel through a hot, dusty environment. In contrast, the ladies with their shopping are wearing freshly washed clothes and they're now heading back to their nearby homes to prepare lunch. Does the photo's onlooker make a similar analysis on seeing the picture? I doubt it, but I think most people would feel there's something "going on" in the picture, besides it being a simple snap of truck and passers-by. They feel the clash of differing elements, made possible by the varied mixture of content on the street.

Triggers and Connotations Nearly everything we see has an emotional or factual connotation, brought to us

courtesy of linkages in the brain. If you see a man carrying a heavy load of long-stemmed roses you may think about hard work, but the sight of the roses may also trigger memories of romantic evenings, hot dates, love and sex. (See the last picture in this chapter). It's hard to control all the connotations in a photograph because everyone has a different set of memories. Fortunately, there are universal themes that are common to all. Food will always make us think of taste, cooking smells, hunger, and satiety. Bare skin prompts thoughts of touch, sensuality and pleasure. In pictures, it's what they do.

Behind the Truck

Even on its own, the truck would make a good photo if you regard it as a sculptural object. People add other dimensions: colour, movement, and contrasting content.

More Long-Stemmed Roses

I used this image to illustrate a blog post called It's a Man's World, It's a Woman's World. All we see in the shot is the muscle power needed to shift roses in bulk. Hence, the juxtaposition is between toil and pleasure, although pleasure will be in the future when someone receives a bunch of flowers.

Chapter Fifty All Kinds of Contrast

All Kinds of Contrast As I've indicated, contrasting content is particularly effective in juxtapositions, but you can also use other forms of contrast to improve your photos. It's one of the fundamental components of street photography. Once you recognise it, you start seeing it everywhere. Photographers who shoot in black and white are usually good at noticing tonal contrast — which is not what I mean. However, tonal contrast is certainly important in street photography as it is in all photography. Without it the image appears lifeless. If you're photographing grey tones on a grey day, somehow, somewhere, you need to find some highlights and deep shadows, or else dive into Photoshop to enhance them in the image.

The Other Kinds of Contrast As in my discussion of juxtaposition, here I'm talking about contrasting forms and content: about lines, shapes, and colours, together with all the people, objects, and backgrounds that find their way into our pictures. The point is: you needn't always depict contrasting elements side-by-side, as happens with juxtaposition. They can be anywhere in the frame, so long as you make it possible for the viewer to see a connection between them. For example, in the foreground there could be man sitting on the roadside with a notice saying "Unemployed," while in the distance, way over to the right, could be an advert for an upmarket recruitment agency. Anyone "reading" the image (rather than giving it a cursory glance) would find the connection and appreciate the contrast between the different worlds represented by these two elements.

Multiple Contrasts There are several kinds of contrast in my shot of a woman holding a dog while listening to an all-female choir (top of chapter). For a start, there is the obvious contrast between the woman's flaming red hair and the black outfits of the singers. However, the contrast goes further, because all the singers are blonde (I don't know if that's a condition of joining the choir!) and the dog is blonde as well. It's the Choirmaster's Dog.

I think these two stark contrasts are helpful in suggesting a further contrast: one which, really, is the whole point of the picture. The woman and dog in the foreground are listening in silence to the voices, which were quite loud in reality, even without amplification. The whole scene made me wonder if it were possible to represent sound in a street photograph. The result is what you see. You can't hear it, but you can sense the silence of the listeners. Surely, given such silence, there must be magnificent sound arising from the choir — and there was!

Another Example Here (at the end of the chapter) is another example of contrasting content: a shot I've called Pleased to See You. I was walking past this row of well behaved teenagers sitting quietly on a bench, when a girl ran up and jumped into the arms of a man standing in the foreground. Her dramatic action makes a great composition because of the contrast with the people on the bench. They're completely undemonstrative, chatting idly, with no overlapping, let alone becoming entwined like the couple up front.

The Selection Process In a town or city there's such a quantity of contrasting content the photographer has to be selective. But that's good! Street photography is a complex process of selection, made easier by the generosity of reality in providing us with so much material.

Pleased to See You

The contrast between the row of people in the background and the exultant couple in the foreground is striking. There's contrast in expression, mood, movement, and form. Even the relative size of the couple compared to the seated figures draws attention to (and becomes part of) the contrast.

Chapter Fifty-One Achieving Balance

Achieving Balance Time and again in this book I return to certain key ideas, one of which is the importance of balance. I'm not saying you can't have an unbalanced photo (I'll discuss that in the next chapter) but I certainly think you shouldn't produce one accidentally without being aware of it. To achieve balance you have to be able to recognise it. I think it comes from having a sense of the relative contributions made by objects on either side of a vertical dividing line. This is easier to perceive if the dividing line itself is perfectly vertical.

The Straight Eye Some people have a "straight eye" and others don't. I suppose I'm lucky in being able to notice the slightest deviation from the norm in a vertical line. My father was the same. I remember him getting cross with an interior decorator who was hanging new wallpaper in our sitting room. The man hadn't used a plumb-line so the first drop was crooked, as were all the others. I, too, could see it was crooked but the decorator couldn't. "It's as straight as a die," he protested. Father fired him and hung the wallpaper himself. The straightening tool in Photoshop (or whatever editor you use) is the most useful tool of all. There's no shame in using it to make corrections to verticals, not only because the streets are full of them, but also because it's great training for developing a sense of visual balance.

The Next Step However, straightening is just the starting-point. The next step is to find the (imaginary) central dividing line and work from there. Because most street photos are asymmetrical you will probably find that this "central dividing line" of the composition is somewhat to the left or right of the true centre of the frame. If you've composed the original image to have the "fulcrum" (the actual point of balance) off-centre, you should place greater visual weight in the smaller section to counterbalance the leverage of the larger area on the opposite side. In other words, the sum total of people and objects on the left of the image should seem to have the same visual "weight" as those on the right. If that's not so, the image will look lopsided, almost as bad as having a crooked horizon line in a seascape.

The Fulcrum Effect I've demonstrated the fulcrum effect in the chapter on asymmetry (The Beauty of Asymmetry) but the photo at the head of the current chapter is another example. At first glance Red Kiosk looks like an unbalanced image with a big splodge of red on the left. However, the brightness of the steps, the black doorway, and the actions of the two men help to drag the fulcrum towards the centre. It's almost there, running down the right hand side of the telephone box (the crooked lamp points towards it). I'm showing this image because it makes the point with humour. If your eye is drawn to the left by the red box you see a man with his hand on his chest. He seems to be saying: "Are you looking at me?" The reply is "yes and no" because in trying to answer the question we look to the other side of the image and find equal interest in the interaction of the two men and the decisive moment of the outstretched foot.

Red Corner

Because the figure on the right is closer to the camera, and therefore bigger, she balances all the figures on the left, helped by the greater amount of red in the background. A viewer of the photo may not immediately notice the figures on either side of the main subject, the man who strides towards us, demanding our full attention. But subliminally the balance adds to the impact of the central figure.

Chapter Fifty-Two Deliberate Imbalance

Deliberate Imbalance Balance is such a key part of good composition, few people take pictures with deliberate imbalance. An exception is when they intend to add lettering for a book title or a magazine layout. However, there are other exceptions which "prove the rule," thereby confirming that balance is good, and much to be preferred. Take the image at the head of this chapter, for example. This entrance to a narrow alleyway in Bangkok looks particularly forbidding because a graffiti artist has spraypainted a menacing, mouse-like face on the wall. The face is a cross between Mickey Mouse and The Scream. That can't be good!

What On Earth Was I Thinking? I wanted to show someone bravely entering the alley, but only motor-bikes ventured into it. I snapped a photo of one of them: the image you see here. Rather than walk, the passenger had taken a "Bangkok rocket" (motor-bike taxi) to whisk him along the evil alley. On one side is an abandoned store, on the other a derelict building. I took the shot quickly from across the road. The result isn't bad. I like the fact that over half the image shows plain corrugated iron. Its blankness enhances the slice of the photo that contains all the visual interest. At the same time, this plain area is not completely devoid of features. There are little details which break the monotony without spoiling the desolate effect: the log of wood and the lone plant springing up behind the barrier, the latter signifying a longterm closure of the site.

The Impact of Banality I knew the shot would be completely unbalanced, with all the visual interest on the left-hand side. But I also recognised the impact of the corrugated iron barrier. Its message is: "Don't pass" — which is the same message suggested by the mouse. The much-quoted phrase "the banality of evil" springs to mind. (It was originated by the German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt, 1906-75). What could be more banal than turning a joyful cartoon character into a figure of death?

I admit: there are different ways of reading the image, ranging from mild (the mouse has been placed on the wall as a roadside warning of danger) to vicious (it's there as a curse). Either way, or with any other interpretation, the imbalance within the picture makes the onlooker worried and encourages speculation.

Balance of the Mind Neurologists tell us that "excitatory neurons" in the brain have the effect of increasing mental activity, while "inhibitory neurons" decrease it. The brain maintains stability by matching the conductance voltage in any given cell, resulting in stability and balance. We deliberately upset mental balance when we choose to take on board new and unfamiliar experiences. In normal circumstances the mind sorts and accommodates them or else it disposes of them entirely by forgetting. Photography can be a dangerous activity because it doesn't let us forget. It preserves even those memories we'd rather send to oblivion. I promise not to take too many unbalanced images.

Cab Reflection

As in the first shot in this chapter, all the visual interest is to the left of the picture. I just about get away with it because the subject leans into the taxi and has a double reflection in the bodywork. The little bit of tail-light helps to balance the picture, too.

Chapter Fifty-Three The Complexity of Layers

The Complexity of Layers A street photo with "layers" has several planes of visual interest at varying distances between the camera and the far background. It's regarded by many as the most difficult composition to achieve, but also the most prestigious. If you can get a good shot with layers, you're definitely on Year Three of a crash course in street photography. In music, the equivalent of a photo with layers would be the symphony, or in literature the "symphonic novel," as defined by E.M. Forster in Aspects of the Novel. A symphonic novel has multiple themes, each of which brings contrast or reinforcement to the main thrust of the book. It's an encompassing work like The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence rather than a tightly focused satire such as Headlong Hall by Thomas Love Peacock.

Layers at the Carnival I'll start with an example of layers. At the head of this chapter, Watching the Carnival shows people of different generations in each plane. Nearest to the camera, and the most out of focus, are two children exiting the frame to the right. On the left are two younger children, in slightly better focus. Almost in the middle is their supervisor, in sharp focus, while behind her are two elderly people watching the parade in Plane Four. In Plane Five is a girl with red earphones and beyond her are buildings in the background. I was lucky to get a clear shot of the elderly couple, because without them the image wouldn't have very much meaning. The sensations I get from it are all about movement and the passing of time, as the years tumble away right in front of our eyes. I like the fact that everyone is serious. There can be no messing about when you ponder the brief span of human life.

3D Chess Composing a picture with layers is a bit like playing 3D chess. It's not easy! The key to it is to have some meaningful correspondence between the different layers: between subjects in the foreground, middle-ground and background, as I think I've achieved in the carnival photo.

If you're looking for practical advice, I'd say: "Use a wide angle lens." Cameras with fixed 28mm lenses are clearly a great option, as are system cameras with lenses that give you 24mm or 28mm on full frame, or their close equivalent (such as 16mm or 18mm with the APS-C sensor format).

How Close? You need to be within a few feet of the closest object, otherwise you'll not get the allimportant foreground layer to offset — or perhaps even frame — the more distant elements. As a rule of thumb, six feet is about as close as you can go without blurring the foreground when your focus is on something just beyond it.

How Many Layers? My personal view is that three or four layers are usually sufficient in street photography. Going beyond three layers introduces levels of complexity that are completely out of control, unless some of the layers have objects that are fixed (or you get lucky). In landscape photography you often see wonderful shots of rolling hills in the mist, with five or six layers gradually receding into the distance. On the street you rarely find that kind of subject, unless it's a slow-moving queue of people lining up in zigzag fashion for a popular event.

Pagoda My photo called Pagoda (at the end of the chapter) is a simple shot with four layers. I emerged from a narrow alleyway in Bangkok to discover this little shop and café on the banks of the Chao Phraya. The perspective reminded me of early Renaissance works, painted just after people had figured out how to show recessional space on a flat canvas. There's visual interest in the first plane in the form of two faces looking at us from the awning. The man sitting with his back against the lamp-post occupies the second plane; the man fishing is in Plane Three; while everything else is in the background. That, too, contains visual information important to the picture. The pagoda stops the eye from wandering off to infinity: another useful feature to use when composing in layers. Much of the challenge in taking layered shots involves keeping the layers apart, keeping the various components firmly in their right place. I like to avoid too much overlapping of figures, wherever possible, although, if you

overdo it, you can end up with a disjointed image in which every figure occupies an island of space.

What Works Best in Layers? My personal preference is for locations where the background is not too far away. The layers technique demands a dynamic response from the viewer, getting the eye to move backwards and forwards between layers, not dwelling on distant things.

Fill the Frame Wherever possible I like to fill the frame from edge to edge and from corner to corner. That's the secret of a great layers shot. You can't do it if one corner has a chunk of sky in it because all the visual energy will simply leak through into the ether beyond.

Teasing the Squirrel My photo called Squirrel Tease fulfills most of the criteria for layers but its planes occupy a relatively shallow space. There are three planes: the flag, the boy plus the squirrel, then everyone else. Most notably all the other people fill the frame from edge to edge and may even be considered part of the main visual interest. The very fact that the most distant layer is an integral part of the subject means that the image has an intimacy normally missing from standard street photos and certainly from most layered photos. Personally I love this effect, but it works best when there's a focal point of interest near the middle of the frame with other supporting elements at the edges.

Luck Has to Visit If you're interested in layers, my final word of advice is to bear them in mind, but don't hunt for them. In dealing with them I think you really need to have a bit of luck, rather than go looking specifically for images to embody the technique. They're just too complex, too rare and too expensive in economical terms. Economists often speak of the "opportunity cost" (the cost of lost opportunities) when evaluating certain courses of action. I think this is true of chasing layers. If you go out searching for them you'll miss some wonderful opportunities to take simpler, but equally brilliant photos, because you're looking with layers in mind.


The recessional space in the above photo reminds me of the close attention paid to this subject by the artists of the Italian Renaissance. The camera always inserts perspective automatically, but we become aware of it only when photographing locations where it's clearly apparent.

Squirrel Tease

Leave the squirrel alone! But I don't think any harm is being done. It may be hard to see this as an example of layers because each layer is so shallow. However, they're certainly there, even though the distant background is almost completely concealed. I'm less sure about the squirrel.

Chapter Fifty-Four Getting the Flat Look

Getting the Flat Look If you're confused by the complexities of layers, the answer is to dispense with all of them except for two: the subject and the background. Yet even this simple approach to composition can pose challenges of its own. One of these challenges arises because, in order to take subjects in their environment, street photographers tend to use lenses in the range of 28mm-50mm. Furthermore, the lenses are rarely the fastest available, because heavy glass is such a pain to carry around. As a consequence, it's harder to defocus the background in order to emphasise the three dimensional qualities of the subject. When you stop down the aperture on a bright day — with any wide-angle lens — you can get most of the scene in focus, subject and background alike.

Find a Background That's Close You don't always have to put up with distant backgrounds. Personally I find them a constant problem, not only because of potentially ugly bokeh but also from the intrusion of bright sky and the danger of letting the onlooker's eye wander off into the distance. My solution is to find subjects who are standing or passing a background that's not too far away. The image at the head of this chapter is a good example. Two men are riding a scooter, weaving in and out of the traffic. They've got themselves rather hemmed in, forcing them to turn at a right angle to emerge from behind a bus. I like this photo because the subjects are modelled in three dimensions by the low sunlight, yet the overall composition is essentially flat, incorporating a diagonal shadow and the circular tail-lights of the bus. This would be impossible if the background were even a yard or two further away.

When It Just Looks Flat Sometimes a shot looks flat because of the lighting. At other times it seems that way because of the flat "feel" of the content. When it's both of the above, well, you have a really flat, but possibly intriguing image. My shot of a woman walking towards the camera in a fashion store, taken from the

doorway, fills the bill very neatly (see end of chapter). Here, the lighting is fairly even, coming from all directions, while the patterned, translucent background sets the tone of the picture. The screen has a flat pattern, like a Japanese print, against which the various shoppers blend seamlessly. The central figure stands out by virtue of her height and differing style, but even she looks slightly two dimensional in the flat light.

When It All Looks Good The depth of layers looks good, as does the 3D "stand-out" effect of subjects against nearby backgrounds, as indeed, do photos in which everything looks flat. We can take our pick! The depth appearance of street photographs is ours to control.

New Arrival

The woman in the centre, in a plain YSL tee-shirt, is so much more stylish than the others! She looks like a stranger in a strange land. The flatness of the image echoes the mood of the content.

Chapter Fifty-Five The Urge to Simplify

The Urge to Simplify The great physicists of history, struggling with the complexities of matter, spent a lot of their time looking for unification theories. Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein all sought to unify our understanding of the physical world by expressing our knowledge of it with less complex formulae. Physics aside, "Keep It Simple" is probably the best advice anyone ever gives or receives. Maybe that's why physicists keep trying to find a "theory of everything." Photographers have taken the idea of keeping it simple very much to heart. By reducing reality to a much cleaner and less cluttered set of shapes, often with a smaller range of colours or just black, white and grey, the photographer makes the world look more appealing to the eye. That, at any rate, is the theory. It's certainly the advice given by photography experts who urge everyone to: "Simplify! Simplify!" Is their advice sound in the specific context of street photography?

It's a Matter of Preference Even as a boy, when I was still developing reels of film in a makeshift darkroom, I was struck by the beauty of black & white compositions by Bill Brandt. I loved all those entwined limbs and body parts in close-up, taken with ultra-wide lenses or sometimes with a pinhole camera. Brandt simplified the subject by getting closer, using wide angles and reducing the number of tones in the image. A street photographer can do the same, if so inclined. But is it desirable? Or rather, is it truthful to our experience of reality? Brandt's pictures now strike me as being a bit theatrical; still beautiful but "over the top" and slightly camp. I still enjoy looking at simple, uncluttered images, but I really prefer to be given a sense of the extraordinary diversity of both the natural and built-up environment, rather than being presented with just a few beautiful fragments of it.

Back to Chaos In a sense, my argument is coming full circle, back to the concepts of order and chaos. Sometimes it's necessary to dive into chaos to upset the balance of all those selfsatisfied brain cells I mentioned in the discussion of "imbalance". You know: the quiet ones, enjoying their stability until the "excitatory neurons" stimulate the mind into action by rocking the mental boat. The process of creativity, in street photography as in other forms of art, takes place when we flirt with chaos and force ourselves to find new ways of restoring order.

A Plug for Eyediology It would be hard to plan a more cluttered reality than the scene in east London at the top of this chapter. There's the odd-shaped building with a crooked light above the sign; two streets run almost parallel but not quite; there's an abundance of scaffolding; two bikes rear up on their back wheels; people pass by, overlap, and one of them carries his jacket because it's a hot day. For all its clutter, the image gives me a greater sense of order than I get from Bill Brandt's photos despite their greater simplicity. That's because I've started with the chaos of reality and chosen a viewpoint and a moment when order (of a kind!) seems to be restored. Yes, by all means simplify, but don't avoid chaos altogether with preconceived ideology.


I liked the contrast between the horizontal and vertical lines of both grille and barrier, jointly contrasting with the spherical objects. With all that contrast I waited for someone who would harmonise with the scene, and luckily, a suitable subject came along.

Chapter Fifty-Six Tending Towards Abstraction

Tending Towards Abstraction In 1910, the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) walked into his studio at sunset and saw what he later described as an "indescribably beautiful picture, pervaded by an inner glow." At first, he didn't know what it was. All he saw was a composition of forms and colours without representational meaning, but abstract, like music. Kandinsky suddenly realised he was looking at one of his own paintings, turned on its side and illuminated by a shaft of light. It was an important moment in the history of art because it was, essentially, the moment that kickstarted the abstract art movement. Unlike those who succeeded him, Kandinsky made a clear separation between what he called "impressions," containing observations of the material world, and the expressionistic "improvisations" in which he expressed inner feeling. Deliberately, Kandinsky brought the two processes together in major compositions, where, amid all the abstract forms, we can still glimpse fragments of reality. These fragments, hints, suggestions — call them what you will — seemed to acquire symbolic power as a result of the artist's method.

The Abstract Tendency In all deliberate attempts at composition, including those in street photography, there is a tendency that leads the artist inexorably towards abstraction. Merely choosing to balance the image, or to declutter the background, are strongly indicative of this abstract tendency. Fortunately, the street photographer is held back from being lured into pure abstraction by the functionality of the camera and the stark reality of the streets. Without lots of post-processing it's almost impossible to eliminate real shapes and their meaning, even when you photograph reflections and turn them upside down.

Personal Experience I feel the abstract tendency in my own work, although I don't allow it to get out of control while I'm actually taking photos. When I return home and examine the shots I often take them apart and reassemble them into composite pictures. However, that's a different story to the one I'm telling here.

Hundreds of other street photographers have simplified their original image-taking to a point of semi-abstraction, but, alas, I have no such works to show you. At the top of the chapter is a photo I call Study in Pink and Green, and that's about as far as I go. You can see why I was drawn to the composition. The arrangement of rectangles at the top left looks like an abstract collage, and I love how the blue pipes enter the ground at an angle. The shaft of sunlight on the wall and the brightly lit stall enable pink and green to dominate, especially as they link up with each other and seem to interact. Yet aside from all the abstract elements of the shot, there's still plenty of realistic content in the attitudes and activities of the four human subjects. They're all concentrating! It's this separate, individual attention to what was then "the present moment" that gives the photo meaning. Reality? I'd be lost without it. Set adrift in a sea of shapes, forms and colours I doubt if I could navigate my way home.

Chapter Fifty-Seven Anchored by a Central Object

Anchored by a Central Object Given the complexity of the average street scene it's good if the photographer can find something to hold it all together. I often do so by anchoring the composition with a central object. It brings stability to a scene which otherwise looks disturbingly jumbled. In my roadside image Traffic Jam Two (above) I've anchored the composition with the dark rectangle made by the overhead grill. Everywhere else is chaos: people squeezing through the narrow gap between cars and stall, some eating hurriedly, others protecting themselves against the smoke. Only the black grill keeps it all together.

Stability Is Good Why do we like stability in art? Despite all the upside-down Christmas trees, inverted pyramids and our fascination with the Leaning Tower of Pisa, I think everyone secretly feels more comfortable with images of stability. Or at least, most people like to see an element of stability somewhere in the image, if only in the shape of the outer rectangle.

Even a Hint I'm not suggesting that a central, stable object always needs to be present in a street photo. That would be absurd. It's just one of many compositional options you can use to give the picture a sense of stability. The object can be substantial, with real weight, or it can be tiny, but sufficiently eyecatching to act as a pivot for the composition. It can even be a dynamic, complex shape, like the door handle in a shot I call Into Coffee... shown at the end of the chapter. This is a picture I took while eating lunch. (Yes, it's hard to switch off sometimes!) I couldn't help noticing this woman approaching the coffee shop while already holding a bright orange cup with the word "coffee" on it. I thought it would make a nice "coals to Newcastle" photo and I'm pleased with the result. The image is surprisingly dynamic, partly because of the woman's determined expression, but also for several other reasons. My tilted camera has created sloping

verticals which are crossed by the sloping horizontals. The stripe on the door links up with the laptop screen to the right, while the word "push" is dynamic in meaning. However, it's the woman's firm grip on the handle which gives the onlooker a sense of stability — that, and the reassuring solidity of the brick wall behind the door. It doesn't matter that the bricks are tilted. They have real weight and we automatically make allowances for the angle of view.

Subliminal Effect An object at the centre of the image can be inconspicuous, yet still perform the vital function of anchoring the composition. When an image looks right we "feel" it even when we can't pin-point the exact reason why. It's a good idea to think carefully about the photos which give you the most visual pleasure and try to discover what makes them so satisfying. I've done this with my own and other people's pictures because I write about photography. The reason is often connected with the presence of a unifying object.

Into Coffee

The object anchoring the above photo is not only the door handle in the centre, but also the woman's firm grip of it. Just as an image of a heavy object can stabilise a composition, so can a show of strength.

Chapter Fifty-Eight Using Visual Rhythms

Using Visual Rhythms Rhythm is a term associated with music, the art form towards which all the other arts are said to aspire. To get rhythm you first need duration, which is integral to music and literature, but not necessarily present in a painting or photograph, the entirety of which can be seen in a single glance. Being able to experience rhythm means spending time with the work in question, walking your eye around the image in much the same way as you walk around a building, absorbing the rhythms of its architecture.

Rhythms in Street Photography If you feel like exploring visual rhythms you first need to find them in the environment. There are plenty of colonnades in most major cities and hundreds of objects like windows, poles, and paving stones which are spaced at regular intervals. When they appear in a street photo they set up a natural rhythm that can be either slow or frenetic, depending on how you show them. My aerial view of the food hall at Old Siam Plaza (great for Thai desserts!) shows the unusual design of the suspended roofing above the stalls. It sets up a natural rhythm which stutters as it comes to the opening, through which we glimpse the people serving food. Incidentally, and with reference to the previous chapter, I've made the image revolve around the light at the centre.

Rhythm As Fanfare For my second example I've found an image I called Rhythm long before I decided to write this chapter. It's a kind of fanfare rhythm, like a roll of drums, with the regular spacing of the chairs leading up to the small group of people on the right. There, the girl's bent knee brings the drum roll to an end. In visual terms it stops the eye from drifting off the image altogether. I don't often encounter a scene with such a strong visual rhythm. Maybe I should say rhythms, plural, because there are four chairs, four people sitting — and four standing just beyond them — but the railing has eight vertical bars and eight clearly visible legs.

Finding Rhythms Once I start thinking about rhythms I want to go and find more of them in the city. But where to look? Cities boast many objects with regular spacing between them, but all too often the subject gets in the way. The other day I passed the Chinese Church on Shaftesbury Avenue in London and the railings were glinting in the late sun. With the red sign in the background it was a "must have" shot, especially when an elderly Chinese lady started walking towards me. I found the perfect angle, then a taxi entered the frame and ruined the shot. That's street photography in action, always confounding our best ideas!


There are too many rhythms in this photo to enumerate. Apart from those I've already mentioned in the chapter, there are also the distant railings near the wall and the cars in the traffic jam, forming repeated shapes, one on top of the other.

Chapter Fifty-Nine Wide Angle v. Short Telephoto

Wide Angle v. Short Telephoto Apart from any other consideration, selecting either a wide angle lens or a short telephoto is a compositional choice. The decision to use one or the other will have a big impact on both the way you work and on the pictures you take. But is it an "either/or" choice? A few street photographers go way beyond these focal lengths at both ends of the range. Some get great shots with ultra-wide angle (wider than 24mm) or with lenses longer than a short telephoto (beyond 85mm). There's no iron-clad rule. I do most of my street photography with a 40mm lens, so in this chapter I'm defining "wide angle" as 24mm-35mm and "short telephoto" as 50mm-85mm. 50mm (even on full frame cameras) always feels as if it has "a bit of reach," although it was once supposed to be the standard that corresponded most closely to the angle subtended by the human visual system. By comparison, 35mm delivers an image that seems greater than we see in reality because the image is sharp from corner to corner. In marketing terms, the cameras and lenses which manufacturers consider most suitable for street photographers are 28mm, 35mm and 50mm. Most of these focal lengths have a lightweight option and they don't protrude too much from the camera, even with a lens hood.

Changing Perspective As all experienced photographers will know, you can't change the effect of perspective by changing the focal length of the lens. You can do it only by walking towards, or away from, the subject. Changing focal length simply makes the subject larger or smaller. You can also achieve this by cropping the image, either with a photo editor or (with certain camera models) within the camera itself. For example, the Leica Q provides a facility for framing the fixed 28mm image as if it were 35mm or 50mm. The Q2 with its greater pixel count goes even further. It sounds ideal, but you're losing a lot of pixels in the process!

Practicalities on the Street Your distance to the average subject will govern your choice of focal length. If you're

confident about getting in close, go wide. If you feel more comfortable shooting from a distance, go long. I often carry an 85mm in addition to 40mm because I like to have a change. Having to see the world in a completely new way can sometimes inspire me to adopt a different approach to the compositions I'm making. With an 85mm I can pick out faces from the crowd more easily, and isolate them against an out-of-focus background. I took the shot at the head of this chapter (Black Hearts) with an 85mm lens then slightly cropped it to around 100mm.

Why Not Zoom? Along with most experienced street photographers I find zoom lenses too cumbersome to use in the context of the street. If I had to worry about the best focal length for every shot, I'd be thinking about the wrong thing. I want to think about everything else: the light, the angles, the movements of the subjects, and whether I'm about to be run over by a passing car (or bicycle, skateboarder, etc.) Zooms are heavy to carry around, and mostly redundant because you can use only one focal length per shot. I get superb quality from my 24mm-70mm zoom (as in the following image), but I use it rarely, for special events like carnivals and races. On those occasions, no one seems to worry about a guy with a camera and a big powerful lens.


Even after reducing the size of the image by 75%, and saving it in a lossy JPEG setting, the quality of the 24mm-70mm f/4 zoom is still apparent. Incidentally, having called this image "Peach" I thought I'd better check the colour name on I was right: the lady's blouse is too light for "Coral," and too orange for "Salmon."

Chapter Sixty From Above or Below

From Above or Below Looking up or looking down, varying the height of your vantage point, can make reality seem completely different and show the onlooker a new way of seeing it. I say "new way" a bit hopefully and it doesn't always hold true. For example, when I first saw this dog at our local carnival, I groaned and said, under my breath: "I'm sorry about this, Elliott Erwitt." In fact, I nearly didn't take the shot because I hate to steal other people's ideas or imitate their style. However, I'm glad I took the shot because it turned out so nicely. Getting down to a "dog's eye level" when you photograph a hound is always going to deliver a more sympathetic shot than one taken from above. Did I see the shot because I'd previously seen Elliott Erwitt's witty and original "take" on dogs and their owners? Yes, I think I did. Once other photographers have shown us how they see the world we start to see it in the same way. That's why I didn't start to look comprehensively at other people's work until I'd developed a style of my own.

Tilting the Camera When you get down to the eye level of a dog or a child you are no longer tilting the camera. This, primarily, is what makes the shot effective. It's as though it's been taken by another creature of similar height. By contrast, when you climb some stairs and point the camera at people below, or when these positions are reversed, you're tilting the camera and making vertical lines converge. Converging lines have a dramatic and sometimes malign effect on street photographs. They can spoil a composition by being very noticeable and sending a message which is the direct opposite of what you want to say. For example, converging lines may contradict the intended mood in a photo of a serene old lady resting by the side of the road. There are probably exceptions (there usually are!) but diagonals and serenity don't normally work well together. When I tilt the camera I'm always aware of the effect it may be having: and I avoid it as much as possible. Even when I took the photo of a man with a ChoCOOLate bag, climbing some steps somewhere near the Victory Monument in Bangkok, I kept the camera vertical.

Waist-Height Shots Many cameras offer the luxury of flip-up EVFs (electronic viewfinders) which enable you to view the scene when holding the camera at waist height. EVFs make "shooting from the hip" almost legitimate. No longer is this practice largely "hit-and-miss," but instead becomes a standard way of taking shots, just as it was when Vivian Maier looked into the viewfinder of her Rolleiflex. Whether you're looking up at the subject, or looking down, if you're not looking straight at the person in front of you then you're less likely to be noticed. It's one of the secrets of the trade.


If you look upwards you don't always have to suffer the consequences of converging lines. Somehow I avoided tilting the camera when I took this shot, so the vertical bar remains vertical.

Chapter Sixty-One Deliberately Confusing Images

Deliberately Confusing Images In street photography we flirt with chaos at our peril. After all, there seems to be quite enough chaos in reality without looking for it and showing it deliberately. Yet sometimes I, for one, like to make a playful reference to chaos, just to remind myself of its resilience against my determined efforts to extract order from it. When people view a confusing image they're more likely to linger for a while to make sense of it. The only alternative is for them to turn away with a sigh of impatience. Either way, it's an improvement. Confusing the onlooker is the artist's revenge on those who don't pay attention.

A Confusing Example In certain places it's possible to take a representational picture and still leave the onlooker in total confusion. But first you have to find somewhere that's visually disturbing on a grand scale. The photo at the beginning of this chapter is exactly this kind of place. Dimly lit, the Bookshop Bar (at the Ashton Building, Sukhumvit Soi 38) is a hangout where booklovers can be either delighted or appalled. Here, the designer Ashley Sutton, who is well-known in Bangkok for restaurant interiors such as Mr Jones Orphanage at Siam Square, Maggie Choo's, Iron Fairies and Fat Gut'z, has created the ultimate antibook environment. Like the cakes in Mr Jones Orphanage, the Bookshop Bar is a visual feast — and where better to take a confusing photo? Any picture of this café would be puzzling. There are one or two on the Internet that don't include a blurred waiter, as mine does, but they're still a jumble of nonsensical shapes. The Bookshop Bar is a surreal flight of fancy, a nightmarish vision of old, dusty volumes, twisted shelves, stairs that lead nowhere, feather quills on tables, and the pièce de résistance: books suspended from the ceiling on wires so they can be pulled up and down disconcertingly above customers' heads. In a still image, there's no way to show the books going up and down on their wires, but by blurring the waiter I thought I could introduce a little movement into the shot. Frankly, I didn't have much choice. I needed a long exposure in the dim light. Resting my elbows on a table I hand-held the camera, set it to ISO 1000 and took the shot at 1/20th second.

The Crazy Shop Window I suppose it's ironic that I don't venture into the wilderness to photograph volcanoes or waterfalls, preferring to find chaos in the work of modern designers. These guys flirt with chaos all the time, knowing it to be eye-catching and certain to attract attention. On London's Oxford Street you can find more chaos in the large display windows than among the shoppers on the sidewalk. If you put the two together you get, image that seems to make no sense at all. This time (see the next image) the designer is Issey Miyake, whose surrealistic clothes are visually striking even without the dramatic treatment they were given in the windows of Selfridges department store. I tried photographing the window directly, but as I was standing in sunlight (it was a July afternoon) my reflection was unavoidable. So I decided to take the window at an angle and capture someone else's reflection instead. I quite like the result. It looks as though the two female pedestrians are holding sunshades, but no, it's the work of Issey Miyake again. There are some ghost images, too, which even I can't quite fathom. Never mind. It's Oxford Street on a typical summer's afternoon. I'd just attended my son's graduation and I was still tipsy from a few glasses of wine. The subject seemed perfectly natural at the time.

Selfridges Reflection

Even I get disturbed by this image. I keep finding an annoying "nibble" effect which looks like it was created by misuse of the Photoshop clone tool. It wasn't. It's created by the shadow of Issey Miyake's crinkly fabric.

Chapter Sixty-Two Subject in the Centre: Simples!

Subject in the Centre: Simples! It's time to bring this section to a close by restoring some sanity and order. By far the most common compositional technique is to place the subject centre-frame, get sharp focus, include a bit of context, and take the shot. It's the obvious, sure-fire way to achieve a successful photo. Or is it really so simple? If, like William Eggleston, we're "at war with the obvious," then isn't this technique just too easy and too likely to produce the kind of work that's been seen before? Personally, I think it's a technique we shouldn't ignore altogether, but use sparingly, and only when the subject can live up to the attention. Great photographers use it when, for example, they want us to concentrate on the subtleties of a subject's expression.

Beach Portraits For her 2002 series Beach Portraits, Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra placed her subjects in the centre of the frame with the sea in the background. Although it's not candid street photography, as such, it's not far from it. Dijkstra's publisher compared these shots of adolescents with the work of Diane Arbus for having "something of the eccentric in them." Whatever magic ingredient they have, they seem to be amazingly insightful. Together they form a "collective portrait of the existential insecurity and awkward beauty of youth."

Street Portraits I'll have more to say about street portraits in the next section because they deserve some chapters of their own. Here, I just want to note how they exemplify the "one subject, centre stage" approach to candid photography. If you stop someone and ask if you can take a picture it's probably best if you then give them your undivided attention. That person, the individual, is the subject and you can't really start to introduce props or get them to move too far away to a better location. I take a "posed" street portrait only when the right conditions have already been met. Then I put the subject in the middle of the frame.

In Summary Even when I don't ask the subject, I place them in the centre, sometimes with a hint of regret about the lack of contrasts, juxtapositions, layers, or visual rhythms. Yet even a simple shot, like the one at the top of this chapter, has an element of symmetry. It's anchored by a central object and doesn't really need to be simplified any further. Compositional habits are integral to the way we see the world. By composing images we see it more clearly and with greater understanding. It's that simple.

Vivid Red Jumper

You can't really miss the subject of this picture, right there in the centre, wearing a vivid red jumper. However, the background is so full of interesting objects it's also prominent. On the left, there are collectors' toy cars and a large blow-up of the start of the Le Mans 24-hour race; on the right is a shop selling books on music and composers. Is the subject caught between two worlds of experience?

Section Four "Because It's a Very Democratic Art Form"

Section Four Intro

Street photography is an art form open to all. In that sense it's a very democratic activity: one camera, one potential artist. Equally, there's nothing elevated or unobtainable in the subject matter of street photography. You don't need an expensive model (although you might spot one in the street) and you mustn't buy props, because that would be cheating. You don't even need to travel, because there are bound to be plenty of opportunities in your local town or city for taking candid street shots. In this section I want to explore the accessible side of street photography and ask the question: Is it an art form at which anyone can excel?

Chapter Sixty-Three It Has a Low Cost of Entry

It Has a Low Cost of Entry Most people already have equipment to take photos, resulting in a zero cost of entry. So yes, it can be very inexpensive to get started on street photography. Although I took the shot of the man selecting items from his colour-coded stock of metalwork (above) with my usual camera, it's the kind of photo anyone could get with a mobile phone when passing the same store. In truth, all you need is a camera that's suitable for the job: ideally one that is light, easy to carry, comfortable to hold, and provides good quality output. Even such a camera need not be pricey, especially if purchased second-hand.

The Technical Miracle Let's face it: it's the camera that does the heavy lifting in all forms of photography. You don't need to go to art school or learn to paint and draw. Leonardo da Vinci would have gasped in awe if he could have seen an ordinary snapshot from one of today's digital cameras.

Painting v. Photography When I was younger, I painted. I would tie my easel to the back of my motorbike and head off into the Suffolk countryside in eastern England. I liked the flat landscapes around the River Alde, between Aldeburgh and Snape. A few years ago I returned there to take some pictures with my Fuji S5 Pro. Oddly enough, I found myself photographing the same scene as one I'd painted, looking in the same direction and featuring an identical (possibly the same) barge, anchored just offshore. Similar in composition, the end results of my attempts to show the disturbing beauty of the Suffolk countryside were different in execution. The painting was naive; the photo sufficiently accomplished to sell in a local gallery. I don't think there was much difference between the cost of entry to either activity: painting or photography. The most expensive piece of equipment was the motorcycle (and later, the car) to transport me to the River Alde.

The Only Real Cost

Yet even a vehicle is unnecessary in a modern city where public transport is by far the best way of getting around. The only real cost of street photography is the "opportunity cost," the phenomenon that leaves you out-of-pocket because you've chosen an activity which earns you less money. I've mentioned it before, in connection with hunting for those elusive "layers" that everyone likes. I have no solution for the problem, other than to suggest that you swap one loss-making activity (drinking? dining out? gambling?) for another. It's one way to balance the books.

Wood-Fired Stone-Baked Pizza

As we've seen, from the public street anyone could photograph the interior of the metal shop, and equally, anyone could take a picture of this pizza van at a local festival. But would they see the shots in the same way? In the festival photo, above, I like how everyone stands separately, whereas the figures in yellow in the far distance are all huddled together. It's great, too, that no one's actually eating or making a mess. The result is a clean, well-ordered photo where chaos is kept at bay.

Chapter Sixty-Four Easy to Start, Hard to Improve

Easy to Start, Hard to Improve If you've read the earlier sections of the book, you'll probably think I regard street photography as a challenging activity. I do. It's easy to get started; hard to improve; and very hard to master. In fact, I think you need to take quite a lot of street photographs before you can claim even to have "started." The real starting-point occurs when you take an image that makes you think "this is what I want to do." You may not be able to take another such pleasing image for a while, but eventually you can be taking them all the time.

The First One I remember the first time I took a street photograph that really pleased me. It's at the head of this chapter and I don't often show it because it's not one of my best. When I was still a "landscape and travel" photographer, one of our friends was driving us around the Bangkok area in the perennial search for great photo opportunities. We ended up at the Vimanmek Mansion, a magnificent structure where, alas, I had to stow my camera into a locker before we could enter. I insisted on leaving, which prompted the question: "What sort of shot do you really want to get?" That evening I looked through my recent photos and found one that jumped out at me. I'd taken it in a local market, just after the more experienced of two stallholders had snatched some flowers from the other one, as if to say: "Give 'em here! Let me show you how to do it!" The woman proceeded to arrange the flowers with great professionalism (and a smattering of self-satisfaction) into an attractive bunch. I showed this photo to my friend. He seemed a little disappointed, but smiled and said: "It's a lovely photo, but you can get that sort of shot anywhere. You won't be needing me to drive you to special places." As I thought about what he'd said I realised that I was getting closer to the spirit of Bangkok by taking pictures of ordinary people in pursuit of their daily lives, rather than by visiting spectacular locations. I had, in effect, stopped being a travel

photographer and become a street photographer.

Except I Hadn't No one becomes a street photographer overnight. Really, it takes years of application to develop a recognisable style: to reach a point where you can go out in the morning with a reasonable expectation of bringing home a dozen shots you wouldn't mind showing to others. However, at least I'd reached the starting-point. Take another look at your own pictures: you're probably there already!

It's a Bright and Sunny Day

Since photographing the two ladies and their disputed flower arrangement, my technique has improved. I took the above shot in London's financial district on a day that switched rapidly between rain and sun, a bit like the Stock Market going up and down. It's a completely candid shot and the subject didn't notice me taking it.

Chapter Sixty-Five Canals, Parks, Malls Are Streets

Canals, Parks, Malls Are Streets If you take up street photography it's a good idea to have as broad a concept of it as possible. Don't limit yourself to prowling dusty, crowded streets, although they're an excellent source of material. Remember: canals, parks, and shopping malls are streets, too.

On the Canals In cities where canals criss-cross the urban landscape, people use them in much the same way as dry-landers use the city street. They travel from A to B via the canals; they transport goods on them; and very often they set up shop right there in the middle of the water. There's only one major difference. The pace of life on the canals is necessarily a whole lot slower. Five miles an hour is considered fast; twenty miles an hour, while possible, is definitely frowned upon. I am fortunate in being able to visit one of the world's most popular canal systems, near Bangkok, not as a tourist but as a relative by marriage. My partner's aunt has a house right on the main canal at Damnoen Saduak, the most famous of Thailand's floating markets. There, it's great fun to snuggle under the mosquito net at night, listening to the water lapping beneath the polished teak floor (although maybe less fun to be woken at 5.00am by the deafening racket of long-tail boats revving up their engines). To get the best shots you need to be out on the water in a boat, like all the traders. Once there you have the huge advantage of reflected light from the water to illuminate people's faces from below. Don't expect to do what's commonly called "hardcore" street photography, either from a boat or from the canal's edge. The atmosphere is much too relaxed for that. People are happy and smiling; their movements slow and predictable. Their way of life fits them like a glove, without all the hassle and friction normally sought by the hardcore street photographer.

In the Park Although potentially a great source of street photos, the public park is not the easiest

place for taking them. People are relaxed but watchful. They notice you more easily and don't like their downtime interrupted. What's more: everything's green. It's usually best to wait for an organised event, when many other people are taking photos, if with a different purpose in mind. In my home town we have food fairs, "town and country fairs," medieval fairs ("fayres"), music fairs, Scottish marching band competitions, firework displays and 21-gun salutes to celebrate the monarch's birthday. Honestly, there are so many events in the park I sometimes wonder how the grass stays as green as it does. Recently, I made a flying visit to the Town and Country Fair, just before closing time when they let you in for free. It's by far the best time to get decent pictures. The sun is low in the sky, the participants are letting down their hair, and the donkeys are having a well deserved sh*t (see the image at the end of the chapter).

Same Strategies Apply When you're taking pictures in the park you can use the same strategies you normally use on the street. You can "work the scene" if you find something that demands it, such as some people engaged in breakdancing or playing "boules." Or you can try to remain invisible and get candid pictures, which I think is by far the better option.

In the Mall I'm drawn to shopping malls, like a moth to a flame. I didn't much care for them when I lived in the United States (Sears at one end; JC Penney at the other) and in Britain I prefer Oxford Street to the enclosed "shopping centres" that always seem to be miles away from anywhere interesting. In Bangkok, where I do much of my street photography, the malls are different. Many of them are clustered in the centre of the city where they attract millions of visitors. My dismay at the disappearance of the lovely old Siam Hotel gave way to joy when Siam Paragon rose from the ashes. In Singapore, too, the shopping mall is a vibrant environment, full of people enjoying the ever-changing theatre of sales and marketing. Never mind if half the products are beyond your price range (a McLaren F1 is not exactly an "impulse buy" for anyone but the super-rich), but there's always something for everyone in these far-eastern malls. For me, the "something" is usually a set of street photos, many of them taken from shop doorways, with one or two sneaky shots taken inside.

At its best, the shopping mall is a public forum where people can express themselves by association with the products they buy and the clothes they wear. It's a meeting place where people hang out, dine, do home or office work, or find entertainment. In short, the mall is one of the great democratic institutions of our time, accessible and enjoyed by everyone. I can't think of a better place to take pictures.


After a hard day's work, it's time for hay and poo. Although I took the photo in a park, it has many of the elements you find in the street: human action, deep shadow, and wording that signifies the obvious. The donkey seems to be saying: "Yep, that's me!"

Jimmy Choo

This is the nearest I get to a visual joke, but it seems quite serious. The man is simply going about his work in the normal way, despite being squatted upon by the huge model above him. You won't find this kind of shot anywhere except a mall.

Chapter Sixty-Six People Are Equal in the Street

People Are Equal in the Street When people venture out on to public streets they're placing themselves into a common pool of humanity. Sure, some of them have money to dress more expensively, but they all share a similar vulnerability in being at the mercy of the street photographer's camera. What is remarkable is the extraordinary mixture of people, jostling next to each other: from celebrities to beggars, and even some "celebrity beggars" like the man who travelled from one world capital to another to try his luck on a different sidewalk, cap in hand. In major cities there's a levelling effect that seems to make people more accepting of each other, at least, on the surface. Psychologically, they develop a hard, outer shell to enable them to cope with strangers who are totally unlike themselves. City people are streetwise and proud of it. They reveal little about themselves, except for such qualities as confidence, toughness, and impassiveness. It's no coincidence that these are qualities projected by fashion models on the catwalk. Public streets are the biggest catwalk of all.

Face Recognition Looking to the future I can predict a time when street photographers will have access to online databases of facial information, just as the security services already use. Maybe these databases won't be as comprehensive, but they'll provide us with nametags for people in the "public eye." Eventually, a database of street photos may itself be tied in with tags on social media, enabling us to identify the majority of people we photograph on the street. Tomorrow, everyone will be in the public eye. When all is revealed by face recognition technology I wouldn't be surprised if street photography were not outlawed altogether in many countries. Either that, or people will take to wearing masks and camouflage.

Who's Who? An obvious danger (or advantage) in being able to identify everyone by name and profession — and whether they're on a "Wanted" list of known criminals — is that

more people will worry about being snapped candidly. How many more? Official statistics indicate the existence of 4,600 serious and organised crime groups in the UK, with London having the lion's share. I would guess that every street photographer in London has photographed members of these groups now and again, maybe frequently.

Enjoy It While We Can At present, in the UK and USA we still enjoy the freedom to take images of anyone in a public place. Let's make use of it while we can: exploring every nook and cranny...and photographing (as the comedian said) every "crook and nanny".

High-Viz Sikh

This Sikh road engineer is "in the street" quite literally. Looking at him I'm struck by the thought that, in different clothes, he could be seen as a doctor, author, or politician. The street has a way of levelling people while allowing them to retain their individuality, even those two on the right, with their matching ties.

Chapter Sixty-Seven Celebrating the Ordinary

Celebrating the Ordinary No one is ordinary. Human beings are bundles of contradictions, driven this way and that by conflicting desires, thoughts and motivations. If you see someone you think is "ordinary," think again. Everyone can be unpredictable. My personal preference is for street photography that celebrates what is commonly supposed to be ordinary rather than the style which always seeks bizarre and exceptional subjects. I try to practice what I preach. In my blog I showed a series of candid, close-up portraits of random strangers taken from inside a coffee shop. One reader didn't rate them very highly. "Well, they're not very good photos, are they? They're just shots of ordinary people walking past." I guess I should be cross with this persistent troll (his comments are always negative) but I rather like the phrase he's given me. "Ordinary People Walking Past" is a great title for a project, or even a book, and I stake my claim to it! (It's better than "Not Very Good Photos," but even that has a certain charm).

In Other Art Forms The arts are full of works which celebrate ordinary people. In literature there's Balzac, Dickens, Tanizaki, and dozens of other great writers whose characters are both typical and untypical; ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. In music, Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man is a salute to the "ordinary" person; and do you remember that song Common People, by Pulp? It even has its own Wikipedia entry.

On the Street In a sense, everyone looks ordinary out on the street. One day I spotted a young man with a gigantic Mohican haircut walking towards Trafalgar Square. For once, I thought: "Well, why not?" So I quickened my step and took a picture. Looking at the shot (see the end of the chapter) I can see that he's a normal looking guy with stick-on hair and sideburns. If he removes the fake hair no one will notice him. I can only suppose he wears it to attract gullible street photographers into taking his picture. If I see him in the same outfit again I'll smile and show him how my

camera points elsewhere.

The Symbolic Power of Ordinariness Comic actors often create a persona of the "ordinary man" in order to comment on society at large. I'm thinking of Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Tati, Woody Allen, Rowan Atkinson and others who've elevated this technique to an art form in itself. Their creations have a symbolic power which strikes home because the character each of them creates, so apparently ordinary, is nothing of the sort. He is typically a bundle of quirks and neuroses, battling against superior forces. In the absence of scripts and actors I think we can sometimes capture, in certain individuals, a symbolic quality which gives the street photo a deeper meaning. After nearly three million years of human evolution it would be a shame if we were still "ordinary."

The Last of the Mohicans

You don't often see this hairstyle, what with all the kerfuffle over cultural appropriation, so I've called it The Last of the Mohicans, with a nod towards the American novelist James Fenimore Cooper. I doubt if his Mohican scout hero Natty Bumppo (aka "Hawkeye," "Straight-Tongue," or "Lap-Ear") looked at all like this. Too easily spotted!

Chapter Sixty-Eight A Cat Can Look at a King

A Cat Can Look at a King Street photography enables us to view people at our leisure, rather than by just glancing at them as they pass us on the street. If you place their images on the Internet where everyone can scrutinise them, you're putting your subjects on public display, possibly to their disadvantage. I doubt if much harm is done in most circumstances, but clearly we all like to be seen at our best. Only occasionally will a photographer get a brilliant but totally misleading image: like the famous photo Child with a Toy Hand Grenade taken by Diane Arbus (1923-71) in 1963. Did the boy ever live it down? Speaking later as a grown man, Colin Wood says Arbus caught him at a "moment of exasperation." Troubled by his parent's divorce he felt abandoned and wanted nothing more than to communicate his grief with anyone would pay attention. Well, the chattering classes of the photographic world paid attention: they thought he was the embodiment of human evil!

Seek the Truth I don't think Diane Arbus looked for truth. She had an agenda that capitalised on traces of the grotesque; these she would then magnify though extreme compositional tricks. She set a poor example for other photographers. My policy is to "tell it like it is." I have no agenda to impose on my subjects. I like them to reveal themselves ever so slightly, but not to the extent of becoming embarrassed or upset when chancing upon the image in a public exhibition. There's nothing wrong in looking at people. My mother had a saying: "A cat can look at a king." I took this to mean that, whatever your status, you were still entitled to certain freedoms, such as being permitted to look at the most important person in the land, even though you might not be allowed to speak with him or touch him. I'm still not sure whether a cat can photograph a king. Mother didn't tell me.

Wedding Day

This couple were waiting for a photographer to take their picture, but he was busy so I took a quick shot instead. Were they getting married or taking part in a carnival? I'm not sure. Either way, it's an image I really like and I'm glad I took it. To me it proves that "a cat can look at a queen" and get away with it.

Chapter Sixty-Nine Dancing in the Streets

Dancing in the Streets Here's an anecdote that sounds like the genesis of a great street photograph. On a hot summer's day a man is passing through a rough area of the city. Suddenly he sees some kids dancing joyously in and out of water gushing from an open fire hydrant. The scene inspires the man to create a memorable work of art. The city was Detroit, the man was songwriter William "Mickey" Stevenson, and the work of art was the much-loved Motown song Dancing In The Street. It became a hit as soon as Martha and the Vandellas recorded it in 1964. Since then, the song has reappeared time and again, in cover versions by other artists, culminating in the famous double-act by David Bowie and Mick Jagger. It's been a hit nearly every time. So what's makes the song so popular? Is it the words, the music or the subject? I think it's all three, but the subject should take a lot of the credit.

Literally, Symbolically Cool Think about it: what could be more cool? The song was inspired by underprivileged city kids doing something harmless and joyful but nonetheless rebellious and illegal, literally keeping cool as well as being cool. Now, on hearing the song, the posh kids in the suburbs — playing in their parents' swimming pools — want to do the same. They want to dance in the street.

Great Subject, Whenever Whenever it happens, dancing in the street is a great subject for the street photographer. Normally a place of trade, passage, or quiet reflection, the street comes alive when people start dancing in it. For this to occur, some degree of organisation is necessary, as only rarely do people dance spontaneously in places where no one else is even thinking about it. Opportunities to photograph "dancing in the streets" come thick and fast at open-air parties, carnivals, and public holidays like Thailand's Songkran, or "water throwing" festival. Because water splashing seems to provoke people into dancing, maybe city planners should provide fountains designed specifically for this purpose.

Organised Dancing It may not be as evocative as spontaneous outbreaks of street dancing, but even organised dance events held in familiar city locations can yield attractive images. I took the image at the top of this chapter during an exhibition of salsa dancing in our local park. I was expecting to get at least a dozen good shots, but the subject proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. Why? It was because many of the dancers were beginners, the background cluttered, and the light too strong. However, two of the dancers were terrific — and seemed to retain a spontaneity which is so easily lost when performers are trying to impress an audience. I hope my picture caught some of their grace and informality. Now, whenever I see people dancing in the street, even if it's just a quick pirouette, I take a picture of them. One day I'll get a good one to show you.

Dancing in the Street

It's just a snap compared to the previous picture, but I think it shows the potential for taking shots of people dancing spontaneously in the street. The outbreak occurred in London's Leicester Square, where filmgoers are still in the fantasy land of a dance movie. It probably happens there all the time. I should go more often.

Chapter Seventy Street Eats and Drinks

Street Eats and Drinks What could be more democratic than takeaway fast-food, designed to be eaten on the street without the expense of chairs, tables, overheads or tips? People vote for it with their loose change. They even enjoy eating it despite the discomfort of doing so. The fast-food takeaway feeds the majority of people on low budgets. Students, lowpaid office workers (and street photographers saving up for a Leica) will tend to patronise the takeaway. It's a great and commercially successful idea, but the problem is: where do you take your food away TO?

4 Girls, 4 Pigeons The girls in my photo at the top of the chapter have decided to park themselves on the kerbside in Covent Garden's famous square. I like this picture because the subjects look as if they're having fun. They may not be comfortably seated or having a "fine dining" experience, but at least they're getting in touch with nature. I've called the picture "4 Girls, 4 Pigeons," in recognition of the similarity between the two groups. One pigeon has scored a complete takeaway meal of his own.

Uncomfortable Cafés If you go up one grade to a proper café where it's just about possible to sit down, you can sometimes grab a shot without causing the diners any further discomfort. London is full of uncomfortable cafés. Look at the next image at the end of the chapter, for example. I was walking past this venue in central London when I was suddenly struck by what seems to be a "design anomaly." Yes, that's another table right there in middle, but I have no idea how anyone could occupy it. This is definitely not a restaurant where you could take someone on a first date.

Why Do I Mention It? I don't go around the city looking specifically for rough dining experiences. Far from it! I mention it here because noticing a detail, like the equal number of pigeons and girls, or the inaccessible table for two, is the initial insight that draws me into taking

the shot. It doesn't always work. Once you've been inspired to take the picture you still have to find a good composition — and that's not always possible. Fortunately, if you have a wide repertoire of compositions to draw upon, it works more often than not.

Go with the Atmosphere Sometimes there's just something about the atmosphere of a scene that tells me: this can be a photo. For example, I was making my way home on a Friday evening, walking past London pubs where people were overspilling into the street. The area seemed promising, but it's hard to get a good composition when people are milling around, often in deep shade. The convivial group you see in the picture had started the evening early, before the light faded. Everything about the scene suggested eager anticipation for the night ahead, except perhaps for the pensive expression of the woman in the background (but that's the contrast I like!) Entirely by chance, everyone is in the right position. There's variation in heights, which makes the shot more interesting. None of the heads overlaps another, nor, surprisingly, do most of the hands. The framed "Live Music" poster next to the window helps to pull the image together, counteracting a drift to the right. If there were no eating and drinking in the street, my portfolio would shrink by several percentage points. So when I get a decent shot from this popular activity I feel like saying: "The drinks are on me!"

Uncomfortable Café

There are plenty of cheap places to eat in London, but you have to pay for comfort. Looking at this scene it took me a second or two to appreciate the design of the tables. Here, you won't rub shoulders with the rich and famous, but you'll certainly rub them against somebody.

Friday Night

On Friday nights the pubs in London are especially crowded, but they're often in side streets where the light is poor. Here the light was great, so I could scarcely pass up the opportunity of taking a shot.

Chapter Seventy-One Using Posters

Using Posters Posters help to create the prevailing atmosphere, the zeitgeist, of the street. We see each poster in multiple places, on station walls and the sides of buses, sometimes with variations to fit the site. Then suddenly every version disappears, to be found only in the archives of advertising history. It's not just permissible, it's essential to include posters in some of your street photos if you want to give an accurate impression of life in the city. You won't be infringing any copyright. The sponsors of the adverts are only too happy to see them reproduced in additional media.

Adding Value The golden rule in using advertising posters as a component of a street photo is this: don't just nick the advertising image without adding value of your own. That's cheating, and it's not fair to the photographer who took the original shot. For example, I see plenty of so-called street photos that feature a great poster, simply with a random stranger walking in front of it. That's not a real street photograph: it's a poor reproduction of an advert. It's more advisable to wait for better opportunities, even when the poster keeps calling for your attention. At the top of this chapter I've placed an image, the message of which is something like: "I'm bored with seeing so many people staring at their phones." On its own, the poster doesn't say it, but my photograph says it with the addition of the figures in the foreground. One of them even looks away, suggesting there's something more interesting in the real world.

The Eternal Triangle In my next image, the "meaning" of the photo is a little more elusive. I can't quite put into words any precise explanation of it, other than to analyse the composition. At the time of taking the shot, I saw the image as a whole and composed it deliberately to achieve the effect you see. There are several elements playing their separate roles in the shot I call In the Fashion (end of chapter) and the Kurt Geiger poster is just one of them. Huge columns

separate the two real-life figures, a workman in overalls who's just bought a sandwich and a pregnant woman who's taking a distant photo into the bright sun. When I saw that the model in the poster was wearing sunglasses and appeared to be looking directly at me (and my camera) I was naturally interested. I had to wait for the two figures to move into position and they duly obliged. I had in mind the idea of contrasting real-life people with the image of the glamorous model, but I think the picture has turned out differently. It's really about photography itself. The glamorous model, the pregnant photographer in pink, and me (or you the onlooker) form a triangle that almost encloses the worker and the two huge columns. The whole composition hinges on the man who is closest to the centre of the image. In particular, the whitest and brightest feature is the man's outfit which identifies him with the workers who built and now maintain the magnificent setting. In other words, the workman is actually part of the background, despite his visual prominence. The real subject is the photographic triangle: us, the model and the woman in pink. At least, that's one way of seeing it. Posters add a delicious complexity to a street photo, inserting ideas that may complement or contradict our original intentions. I love them. They help to make our photos look good on the wall.

In the Fashion

This is how I prefer to use a poster, as an integral part of a real composition in which it plays an important role, but not the main role. The rest of the picture is clearly dominant, despite the spectacular fashion poster on the left.

Chapter Seventy-Two Using Graffiti

Using Graffiti Much of what I've said about using posters in street photography applies also to graffiti. Of the two, graffiti are probably the harder to incorporate into a composition because they tend to introduce chaos instead of order. In other words, they are working against you rather than in your favour. Graffiti play their natural, subversive role in a street photo. They thumb their nose at the normal conventions of polite society and turn a neat, tidy street into one that looks forbidding and dangerous. I confess: I don't like graffiti and if I could wave a wand to make them all disappear I'd do so immediately. Huge swathes of the modern city are oppressed by them: along railway lines leading into stations, under arches, on walls of underpasses, and so on.

Street Art v. Graffiti In designated places, street art reaches a more sophisticated level than the average set of graffiti. It's not really the same thing, although some street artists began as graffiti vandals before acquiring the skills to create art. Certain areas of London, like Camden Town and Brick Lane, are rife with a heady mixture of street art and graffiti. As a result, these places are magnets for street photographers who are assured of spectacular backgrounds for their shots. The problem is: all the lines, shapes and lettering of both street art and graffiti can make a terrible background for passing figures, unless other factors come into play. For example, the foreground figure could be in shadow, perhaps dark enough to form a silhouette. Alternatively, you could use contrasting colours where either the background or the figure is chiefly monochrome. I've taken my fair share of photos containing graffiti or street art in the background, although my "hit rate" goes down whenever I use this approach.

The Illustrations The photo at the top of the chapter shows one of those rare instances when graffiti seems actually to improve rather than spoil the building it adorns. The shed-like structure of this restaurant is falling apart. I doubt if it will exist for

much longer, being on a prestigious thoroughfare of Bangkok. That's all the more reason for taking its picture, even without the lovely blue hydrant which seems to have become one of my signature motifs. Thank heavens the passing man was wearing a plain black tee-shirt. Quite different is a shot I call El Paso, Texas (end of chapter) after the lettering on the back of the central figure. The looping graffiti in the background don't interfere greatly with the human subjects, each of whom has a strong presence. In fact, the apron straps of the lady in red (which remind me of a soldier's kit from the eighteenth century) are a louder and straighter version of the graffiti. One more: another shot of graffiti, plus blue hydrant, plus figures. This time there are two figures, in step with each other. Again, the flowing line of the graffiti actually improves the wall, although I also like the pattern made by the badly pointed bricks. I took it because I liked the combination of sunlight, shadows, forms and textures. Looking at these pictures again, after an interval of a year or so, my heart is softening towards graffiti. They're a form of expression, and, like tattoos, can look good before being filled in with block colour. However, I'm not swapping my Canon for a spraycan any time soon.

El Paso, Texas

Towering above the women, the figure in the El Paso tee-shirt looks a little threatening. He's a street warrior of some kind: not a photographer but probably a motorcycle taxi rider. The background of graffiti adds to the atmosphere.

Hydrant Steps

Here are some gentle, free-flowing graffiti, past which two young men walk in step in the afternoon sun. In this image the graffiti-covered wall is really the main subject. It's brighter and more interesting visually than the passers-by. I just hope no one tries to fill in the lettering, thereby blocking out the slapdash pattern of the bricks.

Chapter Seventy-Three Street Portraits: Candid

Street Portraits: Candid All street portraits are "impromptu" in the sense of not being planned or rehearsed. I completely discount images of people known to the photographer, or those featuring a model who has been hired for fake street photography purposes. Neither of these should masquerade as true street photos, although they do, frequently. So let's dismiss the fakes and see what's left. There are two types of street portrait: candid and posed. In my view, purely candid pictures are more true, more revealing and far superior to posed portraits. They may not be as technically perfect, but their other qualities far outweigh their faults.

Why Candid Is Better If you've read this far in the book you'll know I take a broad and inclusive view of street photography, but also that I much prefer the genre to be candid. Ideally, people should be looking away from the camera, not directly at it. When they look you in the eye, you start to wonder: Are they thinking about the consequences of having their picture taken? Are they worrying about the photographer? Or their appearance? The onlooker may even think: Why am I looking at a photo of someone being worried? Were they like this a moment ago? Or has my desire to view street photos prompted someone to disturb this person who's now looking at me with discomfort in their eyes? None of these disturbing, but largely meaningless expressions, appears in well-taken candid pictures. In those, the subjects are completely unaware of the camera. They go about their business, interacting among themselves, or, if shown on their own, lost in their own private thoughts.

Practical Difficulties Henri Cartier-Bresson espoused the ideal of the "invisible street photographer," putting it into practice by using a small camera, working quickly, and keeping his distance so as not to be noticed. Times have changed, with many photographers now moving in close and getting great pictures as a result. Sure, the subject often sees them, but by this time the

photographer may already have taken the shot. When this technique fails, it seems as though the image is of a person who is dimly aware of being watched, but reluctant to respond. It's very hard to take a candid portrait because you not only need to be close but you also need to be in front of the subject. The chances of being seen are almost a hundred percent. Is there a solution?

The Face in the Crowd There are several ways to solve the problem, two of which are fairly easy to do. You can shoot from a slightly concealed position, such as waiting for people to emerge from behind a corner or a piece of street furniture. Alternatively, you can mingle with the crowd and pick out faces of people by shooting between them. I like "face in the crowd" shots because they fulfill most of my criteria for a good street photo. You can isolate the subject with a fast 85mm lens; you can remain completely unnoticed; and you can include enough of the surroundings to give the image a bit of context. What you won't get is a full "symphonic" picture containing layers of visual interest or any meaningful content aside from the appearance and expression of the subject.

Battle of Britain The final technique I'll mention is one I've borrowed from World War Two fighter pilots. It's simply this: get the sun behind you, you're less likely to be spotted. When the sun is low in the sky it's quite hard to see anything if you're walking towards it. A photographer facing away from the sun has a big advantage over the subject. Suddenly, it's possible to be almost invisible! You can take pictures without being noticed. You can even lower the camera afterwards when you pass the subject and keep your invisibility intact. I took my shot called Are You Winking at Me? (next page) in this way. I think the subject is actually squinting against the sun, but I could be wrong. For once, I hoped I'd been noticed, caught in the act, with approval.

Are You Winking at Me?

There's more going on in this photo than the woman winking (OK, squinting). The man behind her is looking into the far distance; flashes of red from the buses, road sign and barriers enliven the image; and the people on either side with their backs turned create a natural frame. With its edge-to-edge content it's the kind of shot I'm always seeking.

Chapter Seventy-Four Street Portraits: Posed

Street Portraits: Posed After all I've said about the virtue of taking candid pictures you may be surprised to find posed portraits among those I show. In nearly every example the reason is the same. I've failed! I've attempted to take a candid shot but it hasn't worked out because the subject has noticed me. My solution? I admit to taking a shot, then I explain why ("You look great in that outfit," etc.) and I ask if I can take another one. The second image is always better technically, but I don't normally rate it as highly as one I've "stolen."

Not So Candid As It Seems The photo at the top of this chapter is good example. I saw this man smoking a cigarette while I was hastening to meet with a friend at an art gallery. I took a quick shot, but because he was looking directly at the camera I felt I had to say something. He proved to be an obliging subject so I asked him to look away from the camera. The resulting image (shown above) is very close, super-sharp, and technically more accurate than most street photos. I could pass it off as a candid shot if so inclined.

How Posed? A moment's reflection will tell you there's "posed" and "really posed." In other words, after asking for the shot you may want to spend some of your subject's valuable time (and your own) setting it up. How much trouble you actually take depends on the circumstances. Personally, I think it would be outrageous to suggest anything more than a quick change of background, or moving a yard or two into better light. I don't think many subjects would be overjoyed to hear: "Why don't we go to the other side of the road, where it's quieter." A photographer friend of mine says he likes to "work with the subject," but I fear that's going a bit too far. It may be OK, even essential, in the portrait studio, but outside on the street, people are rarely in the mood to work as an unpaid model for a random guy with a camera.

The exception (there's always an exception, isn't there?) is the fashionista who likes to be seen and photographed. You can get great shots by hanging around key venues during London Fashion Week (or New York or Paris Fashion Week, etc.) when people are looking their best.

Two Impromptu Portraits These (at the end of the chapter) have nothing to do with fashion, but I took them simply because the light, the setting and the subject came together to say: "Take me!" I've called the first shot, of a brown man wearing brown clothes in a brown environment, Study in Brown, because I can't think of another title. He saw me coming, so I asked for the shot. He smiled. I said: "Thank you." That's how it goes, sometimes. I doubt if the subject of the last picture in this chapter remembers me, but I've visited his bar a few times. It's right on the Chao Phraya, in Bangkok, a place where I can enjoy an evening beer, watch the boats and continue taking pictures in the rapidly disappearing sunlight. I think this man may be a fan of the South American revolutionary Che Guevara, so I included a little bit of the poster on the wall when I took his portrait. He seemed accustomed to casual posing and just carried on talking while I took the shot, without a glance at the camera. My kinda subject!

Study in Brown, & Che

If I'd hired a model, equipped him with a brown bag and hunted for the right location, I couldn't have hoped for a better shot in natural light than Study in Brown (left). Does Che (right) see himself as Che Guevara? I took the photo in natural light, reflected from the water.

Chapter Seventy-Five Finding a Personal Style

Finding a Personal Style The best way to develop a personal style as a street photographer is to allow it to emerge naturally. Take lots of pictures, examine them carefully, develop themes and ideas, choose your best pictures and ask: "Can I improve on this approach?" Very soon you'll find yourself with a set of photos that have something important in common: your personal vision of the streets. Your photos will no longer be a motley collection of images that could have been taken by anyone. They're yours alone.

Identifiable Characteristics What makes a photo look like it's the work of one photographer rather than another? Is it the subject? The theme? The location? The light? The treatment? Maybe the camera and processing? It's all these factors and more. For example, if you always shoot in London your pictures will end up with a "London look" however you take them. That's a good start. If you have some favourite themes, or if you like to include certain objects or gestures, you are taking the next step to giving your images an imprint of your artistic personality. To reach a point where most onlookers can say: "Oh, that's by...(your name here)" takes confidence and comes only with maturity of style.

The Wrong Trousers There's certainly a wrong way of acquiring a personal photographic style. It happens when you impose a technologically generated style on the image. This can be almost as disastrous as "the wrong trousers" which decide for themselves where and how to walk in the second Wallace and Gromit movie. Photographers often get suckered in to using "presets," groups of settings designed to impart a certain look to the picture. Like drug abuse, it all starts innocently with a quick puff at a preset that transforms a dull image into lively one, with a seemingly unique distribution of tones and colours. After using the preset again, and again, with similar results, it's easy to be deluded into thinking you have a personal style. You don't. You have a preset!

If you carry on using the same preset you'll end up with thousands of images that look very repetitive, whatever their content. I'm constantly surprised by how many photographers fall into this trap.

Style and Reality It's far better to allow your style to grow out of your interaction with reality. It will come naturally from your selection of subjects, from how sympathetic you are to them, from your distance or closeness to them, and from whether you can find a little bit of originality in the way you portray them. I think originality in art is vastly overrated and has led to all kinds of unnecessary and ultimately sterile disruptions. The "little bit of originality" of which I speak is to be glimpsed in your personal style. It's what comes from the photographer in response to reality, rather than from anywhere else.

Copy Cats Finding originality from subject matter has become improbable at best. Photographers have photographed people of every race and every facial type and have scoured most major cities for great locations, leaving few places unexplored. Equally, we have to face the fact that good ideas become copied almost as soon as they're made public. People will say to themselves: "Oh, that's how it's done" — and attempt to copy your personal style. Don't let them put you off. Every true street photograph represents a unique occurrence, captured in a moment of time that can never be repeated. You were its witness; and your photo, however ill composed or badly taken, will have intrinsic value of its own.

Orange Jacket

It's hard to single out examples of my personal style, as any of the pictures in this book could serve the purpose. I prefer the images to be fairly complex, but stable, balanced and well organised. They must seen to be making a point, but not an obvious one. This image fulfills the criteria. Incidentally, the lady advancing towards the camera takes a similar approach in her personal style of dress.

Section Five "Because It's a Tough and Potentially Perilous Activity"

Section Five Intro

This, the final section of Street Photography Is Cool, contains practical advice about the rigours and dangers of conducting street photography in major cities. However, it's not all about the physical difficulties, although these are quite real. The section also addresses the psychological challenges of taking candid shots on the street. Compared to photographers who work in the closed environment of a studio, street photographers are buffeted by forces beyond their control. You can read about some of the remedies here. Ultimately, the street photographer may reach "The Zone" where good pictures come in rapid succession. This book is all about getting there.

Chapter Seventy-Six How Perilous Can It Be?

How Perilous Can It Be? Street photography can be as perilous or as safe as you care to make it. The choice is yours, but you need to base it on good information about the areas you visit. If you never go beyond your comfort zone you'll certainly miss a lot of shots that would give your work greater depth and deeper insight into life in the modern city. Yet even if you stay away from discomfort and danger you can still get plenty of great shots. It's really your choice. I've lived in several major cities, including New York (before Mayor Giuliani cleaned it up), Los Angeles (where armed robbers held me and friend at gunpoint and stole all my camera gear), London (two burglaries, one mugging) and Bangkok (occasional threats), all of which have their posh, up-market areas, and their dangerous, no-go areas. My experiences of city streets in days long before I became a street photographer alerted me to some of the dangers. Let me give you an example.

Peril in New York I'd already encountered violent situations in New York, including an incident with a gunman holed up in a building on West 43rd Street. On another occasion, my aforementioned friend, a novelist, suggested we take shots for the cover of his latest book: 209 Thriller Road. We set out from my apartment in Brooklyn Heights with the aim of spray-painting the title on a disused warehouse in the shadow of the bridge and taking a picture of it. It seemed to be a good idea at the time, but as we neared our destination we came across a gang of a dozen men armed with broken bottles. They were attacking someone, very viciously. For a moment I wondered whether they were rehearsing a scene from West Side Story, but no, this was real — and an everyday occurrence in the city. Not having a mobile phone with us (it would be a few years before their invention) there was nothing we could do, except flee or run the risk of uniting the gang and getting ourselves murdered. We fled.

When Demonstrations Turn Ugly

So I guess the first lesson in tough situations is to be sensible, but I try not to let it deter me from venturing into places where I know I'll get some great shots. I was in Bangkok in 2014 when protesters were holding huge demonstrations against the government (see: photo at top of chapter). Basically, the Red shirts (Pheu Thai Party) were in power and the Yellow shirts (Thai Patriots Network) were voicing their opposition in public. So effective was this opposition that certain Red extremists turned violent, lobbing the occasional grenade into the crowd and killing a few people. I spent hours making my way through the demonstrations, taking photos of the Yellow supporters, their stalls and sideshows, all the time struck by the good humour and enthusiasm of the crowd. On the surface the entire, colourful event seemed to be just like a popular street festival, but here and there I detected a hint of menace which, I'm glad to say, found its way into my pictures. Only once did anyone stop me. A guy who seemed to be one of the strong-arm "protectors" demanded to see what sort of pictures I was taking. I explained I was a street photographer from England, taking shots of general interest. He didn't accept this explanation, so I showed him a selection on the electronic viewfinder, skipping those I'd taken of him personally. He was polite, but hostile, and it was several minutes before he let me proceed. At around this time, veteran war photographer James Nachtwey was taking pictures of his own a few streets away. He wasn't so lucky. He came under gunfire from Red extremists and took a bullet in the leg. Fortunately, it wasn't too serious, but it was undoubtedly unpleasant and could have been fatal.

When People Complain Many people I've seen in the street have strongly objected to having their picture taken. Nearly always it's because they're engaged in some kind of nefarious activity which they don't want publicised. For example, men were unloading scrap metal from the back of a truck in Bangkok — a scene which looked like it would yield a few good action shots — when one of them started shouting and waved me away. I'd already taken the shot I wanted, so I waved back, and left. If no one ever complains to you while you're taking pictures on the street, then you're probably not doing it right. In the next chapter I'm going to suggest ways in which you can defuse a situation that threatens to turn ugly. It's good to be prepared.

Chapter Seventy-Seven Defusing a Confrontation

Defusing a Confrontation You've probably tried all the tricks: * Pretending to photograph something in the background. * Looking away just after taking the shot. * Taking a waist-level photo with your thumb on the button. * Making a pretence of adjusting the camera but actually taking a picture. The person in front of you still doesn't believe you. He or she thinks you may (or may not) have caught them on camera. "Did you take my picture just now? I don't want my picture taken." It's what you've been dreading: being taken to task by a stranger who's now objecting strongly to the very activity you've grown to love. This is an emergency and you need to have a number of options available to you.

The Options Keep cool! There are several possible responses you can make. If you didn't take a photo, say so! You could add that you were thinking of doing so, but changed your mind. This response will reassure the subject about being right, or at least right to be suspicious. If you took a picture you can simply deny it and give the same response as above. Unfortunately, being a truth-seeker I'm not a natural liar, so personally I prefer to avoid this dishonest tactic. The alternative is to admit you took the picture, then explain to the subject how street photographers like yourself gather material for a record of life in the city. You can offer to delete the image or show it to the complainant and ask them to give their permission to use it. "Please delete it!" Now you're getting desperate. Maybe it's time to get tough! Take a look at the image to see if it's any good. If it's rubbish, I would delete it, apologise and move on. The trouble is: if it's brilliant there's no way I'm going to delete it. My solution would be to fiddle with the buttons on the back of the camera, wind it back a few frames, and say: "There all gone! Pity, but I do understand your concern." Remember, you don't have to put the image on to Instagram immediately. You can keep it for a few years if necessary, until the subject has long forgotten the encounter.

Law-Abiding Citizen Remember, too, that if you've abided by all the local laws and you know you're allowed to take photos of people in a public place, in that particular city, there's no reason why you have to delete the picture just because the subject demands it. It's a crime against art to delete a photograph of portfolio quality. I'd rather have a fight. No, on reflection, maybe it's better to avoid a fight. An alternative strategy is to "sweet talk" the subject by telling them how you were struck by their splendid appearance, their looks, their dress (whatever) and how you thought they'd make a great photograph. Oddly, this tactic really works! How could the subject fail to agree?! It would tantamount to admitting they were dull, uninteresting and ugly: scarcely a good subject for a photo.

One More Tactic There is yet another tactic that can work: you can say: "No, I was thinking about taking your picture because..." (insert something about their appearance) " are you sure you don't want me to take it?" At this point the subject may relent, put on a brave face and let you take the shot. Meanwhile, if you've been following my advice, you've already got the original, candid shot "in the can," as they say in the movies. Armed with all these possible replies to "Don't Take My Photo!" you should be able to defuse the occasional confrontation with an angry stranger. The golden rule is this: "Don't Be Discourteous! Ever!" It's a rule that applies all the time when you're taking street photos, not just during confrontations. I'll discuss it in the next chapter.

BNE Was Here

When I took this shot, the man in the background stopped and scowled at the camera. I don't know if he was connected with the two people in the foreground, but if he was the driver of the pick-up he was certainly getting into the wrong side of it. Fortunately, I was able to indicate that this was just one of many shots I was taking in the area, so there were no complaints. Confrontations with strangers on the street are best avoided.

Chapter Seventy-Eight Don't Be Discourteous! Ever!

Don't Be Discourteous! Ever! After taking the above shot I smiled reassuringly and made it clear that I was photographing many passers-by, not just those in the current photo. Although the man on the poster seems to be urging me to "walk towards" the subjects, I kept a reasonable distance from them. There was no objection, despite the concerned expressions of both women. Courtesy goes a long way towards defusing a confrontation, but that's not its only purpose. There's a concept called "common courtesy" that identifies a civilised mode of behaviour in all social interactions. People often set this ethical guideline to one side when they want to get a bargain in a sale, or make a political point in a demonstration, or, I'm sorry to say, get a great street photo. But believe me, there's nothing cool about being discourteous. Alas, some street photographers base their entire style on being discourteous. I think it all starts when love turns to hatred.

Question Your Motivation For example, a photographer may have an emotional reaction to people in the street, addressing subjects ranging from the homeless in doorways to billionaires shopping in Harrods. The homeless are passive, completely unable to defend themselves against intrusive picture-taking. The rich are imprisoned in their Lamborghinis and equally unable to fight back when a street photographer blasts them with a flashgun. The motivation for both practices is fear and hatred. People who ignore common courtesy and thrust cameras into the faces of others without any respect for their feelings are doing more than being boorish and uncool. They are implicating us, the viewers, in their crime. I say this because the street photographer is more than a messenger. He or she is the protagonist acting on behalf of whoever is going to see the photograph. Once you start to add unfair and discourteous practices to your armoury of techniques, you've surrendered the ethical high ground and stepped right into the gutter.

Messenger or Protagonist? So which is it to be: messenger or protagonist? Are you going to bring back images from the street, taken with discretion and respect for people who are simply going

about their own business, or are you going to bully them into submission with inyour-face techniques and high intensity flash? Personally I've opted to be as invisible as possible, a decision prompted partly because I don't want to upset the subjects of my photography but also for aesthetic considerations.

Expressions of Alarm I think the image looks wrong when the subject sees the camera and expresses alarm. You've probably seen the type of picture I mean. It might be an elderly lady on Fifth Avenue in New York, holding up her hand to prevent us from seeing her face. It might be someone scowling into the camera, someone who, a moment later, may have raised an objection. Worse, it may be someone who sees the camera then makes one of those V-signs that were cool when Winston Churchill used them, but are now the ultimate uncool gesture, along with "devil's horns" (see next photo). OK, I admit to the occasional lapse. Sometimes my compulsion to grab a shot is so strong I get too close and the subject probably feels uncomfortable, but I try to avoid it out of common courtesy. If the other person feels bad, I feel bad: and that's not good.

Passenger's Comment

I'm beginning to think it would be a good idea if the subject as well as the photographer could conform to the "don't be discourteous" rule. When I took the photo, above, the bus was speeding past but one passenger decided she wanted to say hi! to everyone with a grimace and a V-sign. I hope she buys a copy of the book. What are the chances?

Chapter Seventy-Nine Is Anything Off-Limits?

Is Anything Off-Limits? I'm not a great fan of censorship, but participation in society demands a modicum of self-censorship from time to time. For a start, surely it's better to keep offensiveness off the menu wherever possible? After all, what's the point of it? Do you remember the children's story of the Wind and the Sun having a bet to see which of them could make a man take off his overcoat? The Wind took its usual aggressive approach and tried to blow the man's coat off, but the victim only buttoned it up closer. In contrast, the Sun simply shone, and shone, and very soon the man removed his coat quite willingly. Gentle persuasion is usually a better strategy than outright offensiveness.

Calculated Offence There are plenty of practising artists, especially comedians and cartoonists, who believe they have to offend someone in order to maintain credibility with their public. I don't think there's any need for street photographers to follow suit. While it's OK to show people being offensive (that's factual reporting) it's not OK to become part of some hate-filled echo chamber to magnify ill-founded opinions and give them undeserved validity. My picture at the top of this chapter is deliberately ironic and ambiguous. In demonstrations against a visiting head of state from overseas, London protesters carried placards expressing their disgust at his political stance and character. Some of them, like the couple in the photo, didn't even bother to mention the person they were lambasting. They relied on the context of the occasion to fill the gap. Now, some while later, we can read their placard completely out of context. What does it mean? Are they against the distinguished visitor, or are they against his critics? Surely they're not telling the man in front of them that he's "shit"? Perhaps they're telling me the photographer that I'm shit! And by implication, they're intending to say the same thing to the viewer of my photo: you! It's just possible that these two were aware of the potential for ambiguity and confusion. I wondered at the time: could they be performance artists taking advantage of the demonstration to highlight its absurdity? If so, I should have congratulated them for being so clever in delivering a fake "tongue-in-cheek" message. However, if they were really aiming this hate-filled message at an individual I'd be reluctant to forgive them.

Chapter Eighty Is Anything Else Off-Limits?

Is Anything Else Off-Limits? Hate-filled messages aside, is anything else off-limits to the street photographer? A few years back, an enterprising student posted a blog that went viral on the Internet: Shit My Photography Professor Says. It had such gems in it as: "Don't take pictures in graveyards. What are you even doing there?" and "Ugh. Just by looking around, I think none of you should procreate." Part of the joy of reading the blog was in trying to figure out the professor. He sometimes seemed inspired, at other times crazy. I didn't always agree with him (I profoundly disagree with his idea that the photographer has to "hurt" the viewer) but I was certainly struck by his list of off-limit subjects. "Didn't I say no bums? This is someone who does not seem to share your white supremacist views." And my No.1 favourite: "Don't you dare go to Chinatown. Leave the f*****g Chinese alone." The professor said his students could photograph "EVERYTHING," except for homeless people, fire hydrants, old people, Chinese people, children, African Americans, street performers, Italians — and nudity." His advice is delightfully absurd. Surely it's perfectly acceptable to photograph homeless people as long as you don't demean them or make them feel uncomfortable. How else could you draw attention to this persistent social problem? Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) took an iconic photograph of a homeless man slumped against a lamppost in New York ("Bowery Bum," c.1932). Was she right to do so? Absolutely. Equally, street photography would be all the poorer if no one recorded the vibrant activity taking place in the various Chinatowns around the world. In fact, venturing into an environment where everything may be unfamiliar (the people, the signs, even the vegetables!) may open the eyes of a student photographer for the first time.

Chinatown? I Love It! I love taking pictures in Chinatown, even though it's become the favourite haunt of too many other photographers. I'm also building a collection of images in which fire hydrants play a major role. To tell you the truth, I'm appalled the professor could bring himself to place all the people he lists into one, off-limits ghetto, especially old people, African Americans and Italians.

When I see a stylish old person (younger or older than myself) I very often take a picture, an example of which is at the head of this chapter. And if you go to Hong Kong and try to avoid all the fire hydrants and Chinese people, well, good luck. In my view, nothing is off-limits, except something that might cause acute embarrassment to the subject. For example, a woman breast-feeding a baby could be upset by the intrusion. Most women who breast-feed in public are proud to be seen (and rightly so) but many would consider a photograph, over which they have no control, to be giving too close a view of such an intimate activity.

Photojournalism Lite Ideally, street photography should show an accurate, truthful and balanced picture of the world. In a sense, it's "photojournalism lite," the "lite" part being the proviso which signifies a different type of subject matter and a greater emphasis on aesthetics. Unfortunately, the presence of the aesthetic element leads photographers to make images that "look right" within the prevailing norms of street photography. Hence there is far too much repetition of visual ideas, a fact which creates clusters of images around certain themes and subjects. It's almost as though the photographer gets caught in a trap, Elvis-style, beyond which is a psychological no-go area.

Inside the Chalk Circle I'm reminded of a TV programme I made when I was at art school. The subject was "Children's Art," for which I imported some small children accompanied by their primary school teacher. To keep one boy in the right position my floor manager drew a chalk circle around his feet. Even when we'd finishing recording the show, the little boy was reluctant to step outside the circle. Grown-up photographers are the same. When you stay within the chalk circle, restricting yourself to subjects and compositions that have won awards, you get approval from your peers. Venture beyond it at your peril. Recently there was a street photography competition online (one of many). To anyone with an appreciation of this genre, the winning shot was inferior to many other entries. The judge, a person who normally adjudicates on portraiture, said it reminded her of a shot by Martin Parr. In other words, she was familiar with Parr's work and had absorbed the aesthetic he presents to us. Such a view is wrong on so many levels! I'm not jumping into Martin Parr's chalk circle: and nor should you (accomplished photographer though he is).

Chapter Eighty-One Right Place, Right Time

Right Place, Right Time Every photographer wants to be in the "right place at the right time." This desire has given rise to the adage: "the best camera is the one you have with you." Personally, I don't fully subscribe to either of these ideas because I'm searching for great compositions rather than unusual content. Yet I do understand the sentiment behind them. There's nothing like a spectacular "photo opportunity" for grabbing shots that are guaranteed to be popular among people who didn't see the event.

Shifting Sheep Recently, one of my Instagram friends lamented missing out on being present when, earlier in the day, a TV personality had driven a herd of sheep across London Bridge. I commiserate. I missed it too. The urban sheep drive is a privilege accorded to Freeman of the City of London and dates back to the 12th century. The Lord Mayor accompanies hundreds of Freemen as they gently coax a very small herd of animals across the bridge. I rather suspect that press photographers get the best pictures on these occasions. They, too, are accorded certain privileges, like being allowed into places where others can't go. Street photographers have to use their own initiative and ingenuity to devise ways of beating the crowds and getting a good position from which to take shots.

Mixed Feelings You can see why I have mixed feelings about photo ops. They're staged and carefully stage-managed. Frankly, I prefer the chaos of a political demonstration (see the image at the top of the chapter) where I can mingle with the crowds, get close-ups and wideangle shots, and take an objective view of the proceedings. I'm writing this on World Zombie Day which will undoubtedly be celebrated in London, so that's another one I've missed! I don't care. This time I knew it was happening but I didn't go because horror is not my subject. Sheep, zombies, political demonstrations: they have much in common. It's the herd instinct in operation — always a temptation for the lone photographer.

To find out when organised photo-ops are going to happen you need to keep an eye on the calender. There are all kinds of carnivals and festivals around the world that can give you insights into history and human behaviour, perhaps inspiring you to take some great pictures. My advice is the check out the What's On guides to cities you've always wanted to visit and then to plan your trip around the event.

Events You Stumble Across There are pop-up events happening all the time in major capitals, so you don't necessarily have to plan in advance. Our cities have become theatrical stages where companies use both public and private spaces to promote their products. So if you hear a noise in the distance, it's probably the launch of a new drink/car/perfume, staged so that thousands of people will share their photos of it on social media. I'm a sucker for this type of thing. For a start, I like the colour coordination! Where else could you find a group of people with such an assortment of green and yellow clothes and objects as in the shot Photo Op, at the end of the chapter. This event was just a tiny gathering that I passed early one morning on my way into the centre of Bangkok. I liked the informality it. Other passers-by seemed interested in what was happening, so the event was clearly working.

Militia Maid Here's another example (last image in this chapter). This time, I was attending a ceremony to celebrate the 90th birthday of a friend's mother and on leaving the temple came across a platoon of volunteers belonging to a local militia. (I hasten to add: the location is quite a long way from Bangkok!) The all-women volunteers were dressed in normal clothes, overseen by a male instructor wearing uniform and big army boots. No one had a real weapon: just guns nicely-crafted from wood. With no commercial intent behind the display of military might outside the temple, the scene was charming with perhaps just a touch of menace from the boots in the distance (the kind of shot I like to get). Because I'd been taking both portrait and wide-angle shots a few moments previously I had a quality zoom attached to the camera, rather than my usual 40mm street lens. The out-of-focus areas have benefited as a result.

Keeping It Casual When you stumble across staged events you're closer to the ethos of candid street photography than if you attend official photo opportunities. However you get to them,

they are part of daily life, part of the warp and weft of society: and they're easier to photograph when they're not attended by crowds of eager onlookers. Ultimately, street photography is really about extracting images from the normal life of the streets rather than taking pictures of quasi-theatrical productions. I'm not saying you can't get some great photos from festivals and fairs, advertising promotions and "fun runs." You can. But they represent only a small part of everyday life. If an alien visited Earth and checked out your street photos only to find they consist mainly of people rolling cheeses down hillsides or men engaged in wife-carrying races he'd get the wrong impression of life on our planet. Give the alien a balanced selection!

Photo Op

This was my first shot of the day. Walking towards the main road one morning I came across this sales promotion in the local market. I felt I was definitely in the right place at the right time.


I suppose this is one of the least threatening military units I've seen: all except for the man in the boots, top right, who seemed to be in charge.

Chapter Eighty-Two Hardcore Street: Too Tough to Do?

Hardcore Street: Too Tough to Do? I was going to call this chapter: "Is It Too Tough for Women and Seniors?" but I didn't want to be misunderstood. For a start, the reference to "it" was supposed to refer to street photography in general, but clearly it would be absurd to suggest that taking photographs under normal circumstances is any more demanding than, say, shopping. Women and seniors put a lot of effort into shopping and there are countless numbers of both who are competent street photographers. However, the sub-genre called "hardcore street photography" can certainly be physically demanding. It may be not up there with war photography or mountaineering, but it's often uncomfortable, tiring, and extremely unhealthy on polluted streets.

Dual Mode I'm not totally hardcore in my own work, as you can see from my portfolio, but I do sometimes switch into that mode of operation: choosing a rough, busy part of the city where people are dodging traffic, stumbling over broken paving stones and generally trying to stay alive. I have to say: it's very rewarding photographically, but it's a pain to do. For example, I'd often seen the "fake traffic cop" outside the coach station at Ekkamai, in Bangkok. He stands at one of the busiest intersections in the city, splattered with pigeon poo, but still managing to look quite realistic. I decided to spend the entire afternoon at this location, where, quite apart from "fake cop" there seemed to be all kinds of other opportunities for visually interesting street shots. I was right because the afternoon proved to be successful. However, I couldn't help wondering at my choice of activity. The traffic fumes were truly poisonous; the tropical heat was at cauldron intensity with maximum humidity; the sidewalks dirty and dangerous. I could have spent the time luxuriating in one of those lovely holiday resorts for which Thailand is so famous, but no, I was getting a sore throat, aching legs and tired eyes, all for the off-chance of a great photo.

Payday Did I get a great photo? That's not for me to say, but I did get several that I don't mind showing to others, including one of a heavily tattooed couple enjoying a quick bite in a roadside café (see the end of the chapter). The afternoon's haul included many close-

ups of pedestrians, even though I usually prefer to set them within the wider context of the street. What prompted my change of tactic? It was the location itself. When you plunge into hardcore street photography you become emboldened by the toughness of the environment. If you have to fight to survive it, then so do your subjects, even though they may be passing through the area as quickly as possible, eager to find somewhere more congenial. For a reason that still evades me, people seem to accept "in your face" photography in busy, uncomfortable environments. Perhaps they're just amazed that anyone would voluntarily hang out in such a place. If you're sufficiently fit, alert, and steady on your feet, you can certainly undertake hardcore street photography, whatever your sex or age (late teens to late seventies). It's not a relaxing activity, but personally I love it. I feel close to the beating heart of the city when I track the movements of people entering and leaving the frame of my viewfinder. Back home, looking at the images on the screen, all the discomfort has disappeared. It has been replaced, magically, by clean, pure, visual pleasure. That's cool!

Tattoos and Graffiti

I was standing outside this café, taking pictures in the opposite direction, occasionally glancing over my shoulder at this alternative composition. Eventually I turned round and took this very calculated shot in a casual way. No one noticed. I think I'd become part of the scenery.

Chapter Eighty-Three Bad Weather Street Photography

Bad Weather Street Photography I've already written about taking pictures on rainy days, but, as you know, there's rain and there's RAIN. This time I'm talking about downpours, cloudbursts, thunder and lightning. You have to be slightly mad to do street photography in these conditions, but I can tell you: it's one way to get great pictures. The dangers of taking shots in a thunderstorm are fairly obvious. There's always a slight chance of getting struck by lightning, especially in open spaces like city squares where tall trees tower above the surrounding buildings. I avoid those areas when the thunder is overhead.

The Huddled Masses, Yearning To Be in Starbucks In London, it's surprising how many pedestrians venture out in a storm, although most of them tend to remain huddled in doorways or under the awnings. There are always one or two who scurry across the road at the height of the cloudburst, desperate to catch a bus or reach the comfort of a restaurant. It's the job of the street photographer to move around and take pictures rather than huddle with the crowd, so you need to brave the storm as best you can. Your greatest problem will be to compensate for the reduced light level, especially as some of the subjects (like those in the photo at the end of the chapter) are likely to be running as fast as they can. Storms in the late afternoon are best. The street lights have already come on and motorists are using their headlamps. You get reflections from the water in the road, together with scattered light from the raindrops. There's always going to be an element of luck creeping into the shot, not least because you need to be in a promising location when the storm breaks. I was lucky when I took the following photo on a stormy day in London because I was in an exposed area near Holborn where there was still sufficient light to take pictures without flash.

Making Your Own Luck However, there was less luck involved in taking the shot at the top of this chapter. I spotted the A Lady from afar when I was on the other side of the street. I'd been taking

photos of people sheltering from the rain, but was keeping an eye open for other opportunities. Crossing the road I had time to check the camera settings and take up a position. I didn't care whether the subject saw me or not, but in the event she gazed at the pavement, modestly, somewhat in contrast to her raunchy style of dress.


In London I nearly always carry a large umbrella, hooked over my arm, even on days which are pretending to be sunny. This was a sunny day, earlier.

Chapter Eighty-Four It's OK to be Anxious

It's OK to be Anxious Once you become serious about street photography you start to make it your mission to spend the day doing nothing else. If, previously, you've been carrying a camera with you at all times, taking shots whenever you see an opportunity, you are now in a completely different mode of operation. You're no longer stumbling across your shots, you're actively going out to find them. From part-time forager you've turned into The Hunter, looking for prey. So what's the difference? Surely, on a shopping expedition, what's wrong with pausing outside a shop to take pictures when you see an incident with photographic potential? No, there's nothing wrong in seizing an opportunity, but you won't be sharp enough or in the right state of mind to get the best result. The casual approach simply doesn't work very well. Street photography is an activity that demands one hundred percent alertness and concentration.

What You Need to Sell Along with "total alertness" — the state of readiness needed on the street when you're shooting — comes anxiety. It's part of the Faustian bargain you make with the devil (so to speak) when you take up this occupation of street photography. You sell part of your soul, or at least your peace of mind, in order to get decent pictures. It's not just me who feels anxiety on the street. The anxiety of the street photographer dates right back to a time when the occupation first began to be taken seriously. Henri Cartier-Bresson said in an interview (you can find it on YouTube): "It develops a great anxiety, this profession, because you're always waiting: what's going to happen? What, what, what?" That's it precisely! You become worried about what's going to happen next. Or rather, you start to worry that nothing whatsoever is going to happen for the rest of the day. You'll just be stuck in limbo, wandering aimlessly around the streets, feeling — knowing — that all the action is going on elsewhere. You start to wonder: "Why am I doing this? Couldn't I be sitting at home reading a novel, or having a drink with a friend? Why do I feel compelled to tramp the streets of this goddam city when it would be so easy to get a flight to Peru and take some great photos of people wearing peculiar hats. A trip like that would yield sure-fire results."

Only the voice of experience can calm your fears.

Good Days, Bad Days The fact is: there are good days and bad days on the street. Some days I've gone out in my home town when the light has been great, only to find nothing to inspire me whatsoever. I return with a few desultory images that are barely worth loading on to my computer. By contrast, I popped into London recently, with the lowest possible expectations, and returned with around thirty shots that I wouldn't mind showing. Perhaps I respond more readily to life in the big city, but I think the more likely explanation is my preparedness. I'm not just looking for pictures, I'm ready to see them wherever they occur.

The Best Tip of All I don't subscribe to the view that anxiety is negative. It's quite the opposite. It's what induces that state of "total alertness," when you're able to take in everything that's going on around you and respond to it quickly. Getting some potentially good pictures reduces your anxiety; failing to get them increases it. Fortunately, I do have a tip that may help you keep your anxiety level down to manageable proportions. It's simple: just move to a busier area where there are more opportunities. While it's true that you may get some of your best images in the quieter streets, especially when the light is good, you'll find it frustrating to work in these areas for long periods. As Cartier-Bresson says, "you're always waiting" — and it's the waiting that causes frustration and anxiety to build. So when that happens, give yourself a break (and if necessary change your style) and move to where there's more action.

Changing Tack Here's an example. I was taking shots in the Seven Dials area of Covent Garden. It's a great spot: a confluence of streets with attractive buildings such as pubs, restaurants and vendors of theatre tickets. However, there's only a trickle of passers-by, making it difficult to compose meaningful shots in which people play the major role. Exasperated, I tried to find an alternative. My solution was to walk the short distance to Tottenham Court Road, a major artery heading north, where I found building works causing chaos on the pavement. Pedestrians were having to walk around the trucks

that were pulling out on to the main road into the path of oncoming buses. (See the shot at the end of the chapter). Once I secured a few good shots I was able to head back towards the quieter areas and continue the day's shooting. Curiously, the quiet streets began to yield some decent images. Alternating between backstreets and main thoroughfares is a good way to engineer a positive outcome. The build-up of anxiety in quiet areas makes me bolder in the busy areas, resulting in better pictures; and once I begin to see the right shots I can find them anywhere. My message is this: don't worry about anxiety. Just use it to your advantage.

City Living

Just looking at this shot makes me feel anxious. I keep worrying if everyone is in the right place, but, of course, there's no "right place" in reality when you have to step into Charing Cross Road to avoid a parked truck. My feeling of it being "nearly right" is actually the response I hope it gives. If the composition were perfect it would be, in a sense, wrong.

Chapter Eighty-Five Limbering Up

Limbering Up Frequently in this book I've talked about being in the right frame of mind to take street photos. That's because you need to be able to see beyond the obvious, to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, and to anticipate the next few moments almost as though you can see into the future. It's a big ask, isn't it? It's like saying you should have a heightened awareness: the psychological state which comes from taking drugs or getting drunk on alcohol or religion. Yet many artists have this heightened awareness quite naturally, without external aids or influences. When Vincent van Gogh looked at a chair or a church he saw it with great intensity and painted "what he saw." The result may not have corresponded to a photographic reality, but it had a power that still reaches us today. I think there are steps you can take to reach a heightened state of mind, starting with my psychological concept of "limbering up." This may sound a little odd in the context of street photography but athletes do the physical version of limbering up before they participate in earnest. It's based on the idea that you can't go immediately from zero activity to maximum output. You need to warm up. Bear in mind that for many people skill is even more important than strength and fitness. Snooker players and golfers fine-tune their coordination in a practice area before a tournament. I'm intrigued when great players go "off form," but gladdened when they rediscover their superpowers as a result of consulting a sports psychologist. I think we can use some of those same psychological techniques, beginning with the process of limbering up.

Starting the Day When I arrive at the location I've chosen to start a day's street photography I get out my camera and take my first shot within a couple of minutes. I've found this first step to be really important. It helps me make the transition from one state of mind to another: from being a civilian to becoming a warrior! That's right! At this point I've gone over to the Other Side. Instead of being one of the crowd I'm now the outsider observing the crowd, looking for combinations of forms, colours and content which stimulate an emotional reaction, first in me, then, hopefully, in others if I can communicate the experience.

I'm not talking about raw emotion, but rather what the critic Herbert Read once called "art emotion." It's the sensory, intellectual, and emotional feeling you get from art, not what you feel when your pet greets you, or when grandma dies.

But Don't Be Random It's no good taking a shot at random. As with every shot, the first shot of the day needs to have a point to it. The reason the technique works is because it forces you to wake up into street-shooting mode. Do "limbering up" pictures have any quality? No, not usually, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that you, the street photographer, are up and running and well on the way to extracting great shots from the chaos of the streets. I rarely show my first shots of the day, but at the head and tail of this chapter are two of them.

Devil in the Detail

This was my first shot of the day, taken after emerging from London Bridge tube station and walking across the road to Borough Market. It kickstarted a great day's photography, although the next twenty shots were not as good as the first.

Chapter Eighty-Six Working The Scene

Working The Scene "The Scene" is what every street photographer loves to find. Let's say you're walking down the street when you notice that there's something going on, just a bit further ahead. It may be a disturbance, a kerfuffle, a police arrest, a bunch of roadies shifting equipment into a theatre, or simply someone shouting and attracting attention. What do you do? You "work the scene." Working the scene involves taking in all the possibilities, finding the right angles and getting great photos that won't have you kicking yourself later, saying "Why didn't I take more?" Attracted by the noise of a construction site in London's Leicester Square I took several shots of onlookers and participants. The man leaning up against the barrier (at the top of the chapter) was seeing trucks move safely in and out of the site. At that moment our roles were reversed: he was watching me work.

Three Steps Here's my advice. The first thing to do is to fire off a couple of opening shots, just to get an initial record of whatever's happening. Sometimes these sudden flare-ups on the street can die down as rapidly as they arise. You can easily miss out altogether by not reacting immediately. The second step is to sum up the situation and try to figure out what's going to happen next. Making the correct prediction can enable you to take up the best vantage point and get better shots than anyone else who happens to have a camera to hand (just about everyone these days!) Thirdly, take plenty of shots. Digital pictures are free, apart from the cost of the camera, and you'll regret not having a wider choice when you see the results. Consider changing the exposure compensation if there's any imbalance between light and dark areas. Lengthen exposure if there's a very bright background; shorten it for a dark background. (It's counter-intuitive; but think what you normally do with a snowy scene to make the snow look white!)

Moving Around One thing to remember is that the action you're witnessing could move to another,

more photogenic location. Here's an example, for which you need to see the three pictures at the end of the chapter. A little while ago I was taking photos at The Stables in north London and I noticed two guys unloading gilded chairs for some kind of event, possibly a wedding reception or a banquet. The van was parked outside and several stacks of chairs needed to be carried into the venue by hand. I took an initial shot from across the road then another (next photo) from the open entrance gates. You can see one of the men in the centre, looking like a huge turtle as he carries a tall stack of chairs on his back. Noticing that there were a lot more chairs to be moved (and wanting to get both men in the shot) I decided to investigate further. The men were carrying each load through the market and up a narrow alleyway to the venue. With stalls on the right and a building to the left, there would be a natural composition if I could get a clear shot. I took up the best position and after a few minutes the men returned with another load. Alas, two girls moved in front, upsetting the composition because they were too close to the camera. On the next attempt I got the shot I wanted and an even better one after that. The two "turtles" were crawling towards the alleyway and a stallholder in vintage clothes was looking in my direction. I had a chat with her afterwards. "You should have been here earlier," she said. "They carried in some huge round tables. It was amazing!" Ah, time travel: that would be useful.

Chair Delivery One

This was one of my first shots in a brief episode of "Working the Scene." An earlier shot from across the road hadn't worked out because of parked cars in front of the gate, so I hurried across and took this shot which isn't too bad. However, there's only one man carrying chairs because the other one had disappeared round the corner. I felt I could do better.

Chair Delivery Two

Having noticed that there were plenty of chairs remaining to be carried in, I scouted the location for the best position. It seemed to be right here. However, I had to wait for a third load because a couple of tourists had wandered into the shot at the critical moment. Finally, I got the shot you see here....but again, could I do better?

Chair Delivery Three

This is the shot I really wanted. Deep inside the market the two men carried the chairs up the narrow alleyway you saw in the background of the previous image. The feeling of this photo is completely different. It has a more surreal, even a more timeless quality to it. I think it's the best shot from this episode of "working the scene."

Chapter Eighty-Seven 10 Strategies for Success

10 Strategies for Success I've already mentioned lots of strategies in this book, but if you're looking for a checklist, here it is. 1. Go where people are. For getting great street photos that's probably the best tip you'll ever read. It may seem obvious, but you're making life difficult if you restrict yourself to deserted streets. 2. Find a composition, wait for a subject. It doesn't always work (esp. in quiet areas!) but it's the best-known strategy and possibly the most over-used. 3. Follow your subject. This can get a bit creepy, but paparazzi do it all the time. In the previous chapter I've described how I tracked people moving chairs into a market, with a good result. 4. Work the scene. When you find visual potential in something spontaneous that's happening on the street, find the best angles, take lots of shots, i.e., "work the scene." 5. Jump out of your comfort zone. It you've fallen into a habit of always photographing people at a distance, trying getting in closer. Whatever the habit, change it. 6. Change your preferred subject. If you've been "keeping an eye out" for certain subjects (for example: interesting faces), stop it temporarily. Look for wider compositions. 7. Don't wait for a decisive moment. This sounds like bad advice, but take a quick, initial shot as soon as you've seen potential, then get the decisive moment (if one comes along). 8. Concentrate one hundred percent. Deliberately look for shots or else opportunities will come and go before you can react. 9. Have a work mode and a non-work mode. Don't mix business and pleasure. Take imaginary photos when out shopping, or meeting friends. Take your camera (and hold it in readiness!) when you're in street photo mode. 10. Let a personal style emerge naturally.

Look at your pictures, find which one appeals to you most, then develop your own strategies to secure more, and better, images like it.

On Oxford Street

For this shot I was definitely following my own advice. I went where people were (Oxford Street is the busiest in London). I found a composition, so I waited for a while. Although I didn't follow anyone I did work the scene, in and around a bus shelter. I was certainly in work mode, concentrating hard. My reward was getting two well-lit subjects, framed by a silhouette of a woman and the lower half of a poster. The woman appears to be looking at the man, but the girls are in the way.

Chapter Eighty-Eight Developing a Sixth Sense

Developing a Sixth Sense I was reluctant to add "Develop a Sixth Sense" to my list of "10 Strategies for Success," mainly because it needs more explanation. Yet it is one of the keys to obtaining a great street photo. You know your sixth sense is kicking-in when your anxiety level goes through the roof and you feel you're on the brink of getting the shot you want. Everything is almost there in front of you. The light is great, there's movement and life and colour. You've framed the composition and there are lots of potential subjects drifting in and out of frame.

When It Comes I felt the "sixth sense" very strongly just before I took the shot at the head of this chapter. I was on Charoen Krung Road in Bangkok, looking towards a busy spot where the light was excellent. I had an 85mm lens on my camera, a focal length better suited to portraits than street photography, but ideal for more distant subjects. It was a Sunday and my partner was with me that day. I'd already kept her waiting for a few minutes. "I know there's a shot here somewhere," I said. Suddenly, a girl with a "Sunday, Funday" tee-shirt paused and gazed vaguely into the distance. A tall man entered the frame from the right and I took the shot. I was sure everything would be in focus because all the people were equidistant from the camera, which was part of my initial plan.

When It All Comes Together Yet there was still an element of luck involved because the actual composition came together so quickly. I checked the image on the EVF and felt an enormous sense of relief. I hadn't been mistaken. That mysterious feeling which visits from time to time, telling me there's a great photo in the offing, was validated once again. Can anyone develop a sixth sense deliberately? I have no idea. I certainly haven't done so, but it comes naturally when external circumstances are right and when I'm beginning to see all the possibilities held by the scene in front of me. A sports psychologist would probably call this "Reaching The Zone." I'll make it the subject of

the next chapter.

Chapter Eighty-Nine Reaching "The Zone"

Reaching "The Zone" In Aldous Huxley's futuristic novel Island (more optimistic than Brave New World) the Reminder Birds chant a mantra that goes: "Here and now, boys, here and now." The birds, actually mynah birds, have been trained to do this as a form of encouragement to get the population to live in the present moment. Today, the idea of "mindfulness" has quite a following, and for good reasons. It's a technique that helps us achieve our potential by focusing our attention on what's happening to us in the present moment, heightening our awareness of existence. It's a useful antidote to living vicariously in other-worldly, sometimes deathly cyberspace. When athletes are in The Zone their attention is wholly on the present moment, ready to execute the series of moves they'll be making immediately afterwards. They have a game plan and they know how to react to every eventuality. Being in The Zone means they'll be able to maximise the speed of their reactions. Does this sound familiar? It's exactly what you need to be doing in street photography.

Cool Benefits Reaching The Zone gives a street photographer some very cool benefits. It gives you confidence; it banishes fear and doubt; and it enables you to see the composition more clearly and to take the vital shot at the right moment. I saw and took the shot at the top of the chapter in a split second. What did I see? I saw an attractive woman, pausing for a moment to give a man directions. (Was he heading for The Zone?) I also glimpsed the magnificent door to the Liberty department store, with its colourful reflections. The whole scene was bathed in clear, soft light. Putting these impressions together created the categorical imperative: the photo must be taken! It's possible to lose track of time, momentarily, when you're in The Zone. Your concentration is at its highest and you're totally absorbed in your task. My only warning about it would be: watch out for the traffic! Make sure you don't step into the road. "Here and now" is about the real world and the whole process of taking pictures takes place right here and right now, not just in the camera with its promise of a photo to be viewed later.

Afterword "Because It's a Challenge"

Afterword If you've read the whole book: thank you! It's been quite a long journey, starting with the contradictions of street photography, analysing the finer points of composition, and finally reaching The Zone. I hope you picked up some ideas and inspiration along the way. I've tried to give some insights into this unique and still flourishing art form, but I recognise that I've used only my own photos to illustrate the various topics. Although restricting the book in this way probably gives it stylistic coherence, it doesn't acknowledge the rich variety of approaches taken by contemporary photographers. Maybe one day I'll write about other people's pictures, but in the meantime you'll have to consult a different book, like Jackie Higgins' admirable volume: The World Atlas of Street Photography.

Final Thoughts I see many images by photographers who are just beginning to take candid street shots and I congratulate them for accepting the challenge. They make me aware of just how many people have a genuine desire to create art, using a camera in the urban environment. It's quite a crowd! Some are very talented, with a natural eye for a great photo, others need to think more carefully about what they're doing. If there is one final piece of advice I can give them, it's this. Always have something in mind when you take a photo. Each street shot must be able to justify its existence. It (not you) has to say: "This picture is unique, just look at... this... and this."

Final Word If I've encouraged anyone to look at street photos more carefully, that in itself will be an achievement. Perhaps I've even awoken some interest in practical street photography where none existed previously. So if you are about to go out for the first time to take pictures in the city, I think that's a really cool thing to do.

The End

About the Author

John Lewell is a street photographer, author, and web directory developer. As a street

photographer he works mainly in London and Bangkok, with occasional trips to other cities in the Far East. He graduated from Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he studied Fine Art, later spending a year in the film/TV department of what is now the University for the Creative Arts, in Surrey. After working in the film industry as a researcher and writer he moved to the United States, where he became a freelance journalist, specialising in animation and computer graphics. He is author of the biographical encyclopaedia Modern Japanese Novelists (Kodansha) and has written many other books, including two on computer graphics and two more on digital photography. He often collaborates with his partner, Thai cookery writer Oi Cheepchaiissara, recently producing the Amazon Kindle ebook Oi's Ultimate Guide to Pad Thai. John Lewell created (and still edits) the popular web directory — the most convenient way to find top photography sites on the Internet.

Other Information Copyright © 2019 by John Lewell All rights reserved Published in the UK First Edition For permission to reproduce sections of this book: please contact the author at [email protected] Street Photography Is Cool is published by Grey Lady Publishing, 30 Parkside Quarter, Colchester, CO1 1EA, United Kingdom.

Table of Contents Street Photography Is Cool Preface and Introduction Preface Introduction Section One - Because It's Contradictory, Like the Human Condition Section One Intro 1. It's All About People 2. Yet People Can Be Absent 3. It Can Be Tough & Gritty 4. Or Shamelessly Picturesque 5. Fun to Do on Sunny Days 6. Get Cooler Shots on Rainy Days 7. It's Difficult to Do Well 8. But Is Sometimes Quite Easy 9. Street Photography: Superficial? 10. But It Can Also Be Profound 11. It Has An Emotional Side 12. But It's Often Deadpan 13. It's Becoming More Colourful 14. Yet Once Was Only Monochromatic 15. Sometimes Precisely Meaningful 16. Often Apparently Meaningless 17. It's All About Light 18. It's All About Shadows 19. It Captures a Moment in Time 20. Or Creates a Timeless Moment 21. It Can Be Glamourous 22. It Can Be Seedy 23. There's Beauty In It 24. And Ugliness, Too 25. Funny? Lighthearted? Amusing? 26. Or Solemn, Serious & Earnest? Section Two - Because It Helps Us View the World As It Is Section Two Intro 27. Recording the Chaos of the Street 28. Bringing Order from Chaos 29. Looking and Seeing 30. Getting a Balanced View 31. Awareness of Change 32. You're Shooting for History 33. More Than Just Surfaces 34. Chasing Down Details

35. Form v. Content, Form Wins 36. Content v. Form, Content Wins 37. Words Are Mostly Content 38. The Viewer's Imagination 39. Dramatise, Undramatise 40. It's a Colourful World 41. Getting Up Close & Personal 42. Taking the Longer View 43. The Extended Moment 44. Multiple Moments in One Shot Section Three - Because It Can Tolerate Many Compositional Structures Section Three Intro 45. It Depends How You See It 46. The Cinematic Style 47. The Beauty of Symmetry 48. The Beauty of Asymmetry 49. The Joy of Juxtaposition 50. All Kinds of Contrast 51. Achieving Balance 52. Deliberate Imbalance 53. The Complexity of Layers 54. Getting the Flat Look 55. The Urge to Simplify 56. Tending Towards Abstraction 57. Anchored by a Central Object 58. Using Visual Rhythms 59. Wide Angle v. Short Telephoto 60. From Above or Below 61. Deliberately Confusing Images 62. Subject in the Centre: Simples! Section Four - Because It's a Very Democratic Art Form Section Four Intro 63. It Has a Low Cost of Entry 64. Easy to Start, Hard to Improve 65. Canals, Parks, Malls Are Streets 66. People Are Equal in the Street 67. Celebrating the Ordinary 68. A Cat Can Look at a King 69. Dancing in the Streets 70. Street Eats and Drinks 71. Using Posters 72. Using Graffiti 73. Street Portraits: Candid 74. Street Portraits: Posed 75. Finding a Personal Style

Section Five - Because It's a Tough and Potentially Perilous Activity Section Five Intro 76. How Perilous Can It Be? 77. Defusing a Confrontation 78. Don't Be Discourteous! Ever! 79. Is Anything Off-Limits? 80. Is Anything Else Off-Limits? 81. Right Place, Right Time 82. Hardcore Street: Too Tough to Do? 83. Bad Weather Street Photography 84. It's OK to be Anxious 85. Limbering Up 86. Working The Scene 87. 10 Strategies for Success 88. Developing a Sixth Sense 89. Reaching "The Zone" Afterword About the Author