Street Portraits versus Candid Portraits

Street portraits are a powerful way of capturing the stories of the city. It takes guts to stop a total stranger and ask to take their photo. We’ve been shooting lots of videos recently of how to shoot street portraits.

Asked Street Portrait

The posed portraits can be less authentic if the subject is uncomfortable. So you need to work hard to make them feel safe and open up a bit.

It’s great fun to get out and meet new people. It feels more like design research, urban anthropology or investigative journalism than photography. I am naturally a bit shy, so the exercise of approaching random strangers is a real adrenaline buzz.

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Inspiration / John Yager

John Yager did his 50 Faces Project in 50 days and used a 50mm lens. 50 Faces Project

I’ll probably take a bit longer than that but he’s given me a rev up to get out and shoot more. Also, for me the 50 Faces Project is a nice soft warm up where I can shoot friends and family and get myself comfortable with portraits before I take on shooting strangers.

Street Photography in Africa

When we travel, our eyes are a opened a little bit wider. This is the perfect time to shoot street photography. Good street photography is all about people. But, photographing people in a new culture isn’t always easy. I’ve just returned from shooting in Uganda and Tanzania. Africa is a wonderful place to shoot street photography but you need to keep your wits about you.

Street Photography in Africa

You can get close if you smile and put your subject at ease

So, how can use the techniques from street photography to make your travel photography better?

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Henri Cartier-Bresson Street Photography

The decisive moment: Top 5 street photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson is one of the original street photographers. I’ve picked out my top five favourite images. I’ll be referring back to these a lot so that we can look at the different things we can learn from them like geometry, cropping, contrast and timing.

Henri Cartier

Cartier Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier Bresson

Henri Cartier Bresson

The photos tell real human stories. For me, they are the benchmark for all street photography to aspire.

Do you do have a favourite Cartier-Bresson image?

Rescuing Highlights

How I learnt to stop worrying and embrace the blowout
I grew up shooting film and fell off the wagon when things moved to digital. I had a string of Canon Ixus point and shoots and only just got back into photography with a micro four thirds camera. You can tell a lot about my shooting style by knowing how far I want to escape the point and shoots.

One of the worst things that Canon point and shoots do is blow the highlights out to white. Even in good light you can end up with over exposed, burnt out and horrible photos. Whole areas of the image with lost detail because it’s just a sea of plain white pixels.

Everything is just grey
Using point and shoots gave me a taste for the ‘rescue highlights’ function in iPhoto, the curves tool in Photoshop and the ‘recovery’ function in Adobe Lightroom. But recently I’ve realised that I may have gone too far.

No photos please

The image above would be fine if I’d left the whites alone. As it is, look at how flat the photo appears. It’s actually quite contrasty but without the white pixels it’s just a sea of grey.

Embracing the highlights
To help ween me off my greyscale addiction I’ve been experimenting with presets and filters for Lightroom. The irrepressible Eric Kim has made his presets for Lightroom available for free at I’ve submitted a couple of my photos to his settings. Most just scared me back into my comfort zone but a couple have shown me why I’ve got to stop worrying and embrace the blown highlights.

Eric B's high contrast filter for Lightroom

As you can see, there are patches that are blown out, but the overall feel of the image is so much better. This is a RAW photo with only Eric’s presets and no other post-processing so it’s forcing me to get a feel for the contrasty vibe you get by leaving the extremes of an image intact.

As an experiment I took the original photo from the Frieze art fair last week in London back through Lightroom to see what it was like without the greyscale hammer. The result is much higher contrast. I’m not sure that it feels like “me”. Somehow it’s too hipster for my tastes. The high contrast style seems too much like it’s trying to be a LOMO or 1970’s pinhole camera. Even so, I can tell that this version of the image has something to teach me.

Fieze Art Fair Photography

The GF2, like the GF1 before it, seems to love being shot straight into the sun or in other tough light situations, so leaving in the highlights is going to allow me to get much richer images. Exciting times.

If you’ve ever struggled to get a black and white image right then leave a note in the comments about how you made it work. I’m keen to check out more examples of how post-processing changes the style of a B&W image.