Recently I wrote about how the character, nature and interests of a photographer impact upon the work they produce (The You-ness of You). I said that we should follow our instincts and impulses - listen to our stomachs. This brings out the You-ness of You!
All of this is well and good but in order to be able to produce what you want - the image you see in your head before you click the shutter - you need to have a basic understanding of your camera. Indeed, you need to choose your camera. Big or small?
The nature of street photography means that the photographer seeks to be as unobtrusive as possible in order to capture the natural course of events that are playing out before them. A small, compact camera then? Possibly.
Picture taking has become ubiquitous. Since phones evolved into cameras, with the advent of the iPhone ten years ago, you only need to take a stroll down your High Street to be presented with gaggles of posturing teens shooting selfies. If you visit a tourist area it's hard to duck the panoramic sweep of the arm's length pirouette as someone captures 180 degrees of memories on their phone. All of this does make it less unusual to be out taking photographs.
Take a look around though, and the number of people shooting with cameras is far outweighed by those who use their phones. Nothing wrong with that - the quality of phone cameras continues to improve and astound. Indeed, some street photographers simply use their phone and nothing else. After all, it's so easy to be discreet when you look like your texting your wife or ordering pizza, while actually capturing that silhouetted figure just clearing the puddle to reach the pavement on the other side.
Others, myself included, prefer to keep their phones as phones, games centres, notebooks, social media hubs etc. Call me old fashioned, I still carry a camera. Sometimes two.
It’s just that I’ve never fully resolved an ongoing debate with myself. Is it better to go small and discreet or large and bleedin' obvious?
Small and discreet is, well, less obvious. A small black camera against a black tee-shirt is almost unnoticeable. If you shoot from the hip, which I do a lot, it's quite likely to go unnoticed. When I bring it to my eye, it looks small and like the sort of thing a tourist would pack for the journey. No one thinks twice. I can also look like I'm fumbling with the controls, an idiot trying to make sense of this technological marvel in my hands, while actually I'm shooting anyone that comes near and registers on my street radar. All of these things help me pass off as some geek with a camera that's too complicated for him. "Apologies if you happen to end up in shot…"
On the other hand, I've also had days when I've taken the big guns out and shot with a DSLR, even with a 70-200mm lens attached on rare occasions. And I've got some really pleasing results. I'm not talking about differences in focal length (that can wait for another time). Carrying a large DSLR gives out a completely different message. It says "professional" or, at the very least, someone who knows what they're doing. By implication, it also says someone who is supposed to be there. People assume that you are taking photographs for "a reason" and that they just happen to be there, an innocent passer-by caught in the crossfire. Collateral damage if you like. Some even apologise for being in the way. Of course, what every street photographer really wants is to allow the scene to unfold as if they weren't there. But I do find that people usually just carry on and let you get on with "your job." In a strange way, you become a part of the street in a similar way to when you are shooting with your phone, or a small camera, simply because you look like you are meant to be there - much like the bench or that lamp post on the corner.
So, I still don’t know. Large, professional and at work or small, innocent and fumbling. It’s the results that count - not what you’re gazing down.
How about you? Let me know in the comments below...