As interested as I’ve become in street photography recently, I’m not very good at it. I like the concept, but I haven’t developed the eye for it, and I’m still reluctant to get too close to people or to be seen overtly taking their picture. Then there’s the fact that street photography sort of relies by definition on getting out on the streets where there are people; Your Humble Filmosaur doesn’t care for crowds, cities, noise, and all the other things that are sort of necessary for this sort of photography. Taking pictures of the cows up the road doesn’t really qualify.
The idea of doing street photography hadn’t really occurred to me until I got back into shooting film. While I suppose it’s entirely possible to take the sort of candid pictures that street photography is known for with the latest digital equipment, it seems somehow more appropriate to do it with film. The classic street photographs seem to have a sort of grittiness that you just can’t get with digital (well, not without a lot of post-processing effort anyway). Sure, you can blast away with digital and then pick through your thousands of images later to find a few decent ones, but it’s just not the same as trying to see the image, compose it, and take it, all before the moment is gone, yet all the while knowing that you have to be deliberate, make sure your settings are correct (more on that in a moment), and that you’re only going to get one shot (assuming an old, non-auto-wind camera).
Street photographers have a bunch of tricks to make it a little easier to get their shots. (I should note that everything I’m writing about here has been culled from reading about street photography; I did not come up with any of this stuff on my own. I’m not that clever.) Using 400 ISO film like Kodak Tri-X gives some flexibility in decent light, but shooting it at 1600 ISO and pushing two stops in development makes it much easier to maintain the shutter speeds necessary to capture motion without too much blurring in dimmer lighting conditions. Rather than setting the exposure for each shot, street photographers will often simply focus at a given distance – say 8-10 feet – and set a fixed aperture – something in where the lens will perform well and give enough depth-of-field to be useful, maybe f/8 or so – and use that as a baseline for their shots. Removing the need to focus and presetting the aperture makes getting the shot off quickly much more likely.
Knowing a few tricks doesn’t make you a street photographer, and I’m not one. I hack around with it on occasion, but I’m not very good. I need practice. A lot of practice. And even then I will probably never be more than passable. Still, it’s an interesting and very different sort of photography, and I figure the more variations I try, the better I’ll get overall. Pushing boundaries and all, you know.