My journey into street photography

Up until about three years ago, I would never have considered doing street photography, my innate dislike of large crowds in confined spaces was one of the contributing factors, any weekend errands I needed to do, were done at around opening time, to facilitate a quick escape back home.

My first fujifilm 100 series changed that, a used X100s was coming with me wherever I went, the  dynamic had changed, I was about to embrace a whole new genre.

I’m not saying that I embraced street photography overnight but I was beginning to see the possibilities open up for the days I could not get to the moor or coast.

It was a steep learning curve, I was very conscious of the fact that I was dipping my toes into unknown territory, my style at first was very much point and hope, I had not yet realised the importance of the exposure triangle but we all need to start somewhere.

It began to click on one particularly wet day, I thought it may be good to try and get some water reflections on the pavements, I was stood under a shop awning waiting for a shot of a person in a brightly coloured raincoat, or somebody carrying an unusual umbrella, I was learning to bide my time.

How times have changed, these days, I think nothing of asking people for a photo, if I find them interesting, involving the potential subject makes for a much more natural shot but I do get a buzz from the candid shots that hopefully  tell a story.

 

Most of my street photography is done in my home town of Exeter, in a matter of a few minutes, I can be in town and back home again after just a couple hours but I like to venture further whenever I can.

I had such an opportunity just this week, a trip to the bustling market town of Totnes, well known for its ‘alternative’ lifestyle, it is a great place to capture the essence of street photography.
My time here would be brief, so instead of my usual walk by the riverside, I headed straight for the town centre, where with a combination of the summer visitors and the local market, I was bound to get something.

My first point of call would be ‘Narnia’, a store selling retro merchandise that has a bright yellow facade and a feast of treasures on display, a chance for some window shoppers here.
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The local  market was also in full swing, a myriad of colours, and an array of smells wafting on the breeze from the food vendors.

Totnes is one of those towns with hidden alleys and side roads, slowly but surely, I am finding new ones, in the pursuit of new subject matter.

 

 

In just over an hour, I got some shots I was very happy with, for me, ‘street’ is not necessarily about photographing people, it is about trying to tell a story of the places I visit, attempting to convey the atmosphere I felt as I walk with camera always at the ready.

The early bird

A 4am alarm call and just for a few seconds, a reluctance to get out of bed but after a few days of rain and wind, the forecast today is good for the chance of a sun rise.

Walking to the train station after a hurried first cuppa of the day, it is noticeable that darkness is slowly extending its territory once more, a sure sign that autumn is not that far away.

My arrival time at Teignmouth is just over 10 minutes before the sunrise, so without delay, set up the tripod and camera, ready for sun’s appearance over the horizon.
With a part of the sky already showing some warm fiery hues, there is still a thick layer of cloud that may yet spoil the show but with a strong wind, there will also be the chance of some long exposure cloud movement.

The sun makes the briefest of appearances before being masked by more cloud but the subtle light gives the pier a lovely ambient glow, while I take the first shots of the morning.

I have always found this time of the day something special, the feeling of having a place pretty much to yourself, feeling privileged to watch the day awaken is worth the early start.

Before I know it, 2 hours have been spent watching the changing light and taking a selection of photos, my next mission is to find a place for breakfast and a more leisurely cuppa than the morning’s first one, before embarking on a walk along the sea wall to Dawlish.

I find a cafe that has opened early and order the house special full English, the manager explains there may be a wait as she has still yet to fully set up, but with a mug of tea already served, I am happy to sit and watch the town awaken, I am in no hurry.
I sit happily browsing through the images I have taken so far.

It has been a while since I last walked the stretch between Teignmouth and Dawlish, the sea wall takes me as far as a railway tunnel, where it takes me under the railway and onto a steep path leading out of Teignmouth.

The majority of my chosen route has taken me along the main road, so not many photos taken here, but the view looking down into Dawlish on a path leading into the town is stunning, as it is bathed in a little morning sunshine.

Sitting on the sea wall near to Dawlish station, I check the train times, the earliest one is just 10 minutes away, so decide to take this one back home, saving Dawlish for another day.

One focal length – the story so far

When I decided at the end of 2018 that I intended to shoot with a single focal length in 2019 for my personal photography, I was initially unsure if I could keep to my self made rules, given that I still have other camera gear I use for the occasional paid work, being left behind.

Eight months into the project, far from becoming jaded with the idea, I am enjoying the concept more and more, as I feel I have learned so much in a short space of time, in terms of the way I shoot now, compared to last year.

I would spend an hour or so, the night before a photo outing, performing the usual ritual of battery charging and lens cleaning, then packing, unpacking and repacking the lenses I thought I may want for the outing, then packing an extra one ‘just in case’.
The battery charging remains but packing just a single camera makes the perpetual lens decision redundant.

I have become more selective in the shots I take, more concentrated in picking the best composition instead of simply shooting for the sake of it, I take probably a third less shots than I did but end up with a lot more keepers.

Using a small form factor camera allows better access to shots I may not have considered in the past, potential subjects are not intimidated by a camera that does not have a huge lens on the front and I am more confident to ask for shots than I have ever been, the affirmatives have outweighed the rejections and often the subsequent engagement has made for a more natural final shot.

Ultimately, this project has made me want to go out and take photos, admittedly, this is not hard, as I am very fortunate to live in close proximity to both coast and moorland but even on the dullest days, it is possible to find inspiration if you take your camera with you.

The photos above, are a random selection of a recent steam event, the others a selection of favourite shots from the last eight months.

The two tor tour

During the course of the working week, I like to spend spend a little time making tentative arrangements for a camera walk for the following weekend but this week the pages on the notepad were still empty by the time Friday evening came.

Saturday morning dawned bright, with blue skies and a gentle breeze, it felt like a Dartmoor day, with the promise of sunshine for most of the day, the holiday crowds would be more likely to head for the beaches.

After a pit stop at a favourite cafe for a cooked breakfast and an intake of caffeine, Dartmoor is indeed the destination, initially to the Merrievale area, to seek out one of the many stone crosses on the moor but as we head to the car park, the well of ideas, so drought ridden during the week, is now a mains burst as 3 or four possible walks come to mind.

From the car park, the route is uphill all the way, over a stile and up the hill leading to Little Mis Tor, it is the various rock formations on the way up that are of interest in photographic terms. Large and small rock formations jutting out at various angles, giving some superb foreground interest in the view surrounding area.

Little Mis Tor can be seen in the photo above (just) the apparently small mound at the centre of the image, Great Mis Tor, the larger of the two is to the left.

Making steady progress to the tors, the views are just breathtaking, there are several very convenient rocks to sit on, to admire the scenery.

Dartmoor has this way of rewarding the walker for their efforts, today, mine was the majestic sight of the Dartmoor ponies congregating for their equine meeting at Little Mis Tor.

Finding a place to sit and admire the view, I take a well earned drink, while the horses get used to my presence, seemingly unperturbed, they carry on grazing as though I am not there, time for a few shots.

The tor on its own is photogenic enough but to have the native ponies to seemingly pose for me is priceless, as is one the foals, curious enough to come and make his acquaintance before having a sniff round my camera bag.

Twenty minutes and a heap of horse related photos later, I meander to great Mis Tor, where the summit has already be claimed by a couple of hikers, with pleasantries exchanged, we go our separate ways.


The descent back to the car park is much easier, a well used track leads to the main road but the views are simply not as good as those of the earlier climb, regardless of this, I think I have a new second favourite place on Dartmoor.

Classic cars & steam

With the summer calendar of events now in full swing, an opportunity for me to visit a local classic car and steam rally in the grounds of Powderham Castle was too good to miss.
Arriving slightly before the 10am opening, there were already a few early birds waiting to purchase tickets and and the now mandatory wrist band.

The exhibition area is huge but well organised, a large ring roped off in preparation for the various vehicle displays throughout the day.
With so many exhibits to look at, it will be a slow and deliberate approach to the day, patience is key in attempting composition without too many inadvertent photo bombs as onlookers come into shot.

Where possible, I like to chat with the vehicle owners, their enthusiasm is evident as they talk with a smile on their face and no small amount of passion about the history of their vehicle and the work they have done.
It is from these conversations that the spontaneous photos can be inspired by, the proud owner of a Bugatti, seeing my interest in his various props inside the car, took out a bottle of vintage Bugatti labelled champagne for me to photograph.

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The owner of my favourite car of the day, a vintage Volvo rally car took so much joy in telling me he still uses his car for rally events, the most used tool in the back of the car is a crowbar to pull out any dents from any collisions with walls or trees!
The car did not gleam as so many, it showed battle scars aplenty and character in spades!

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The display of cars, motor bikes, trucks and buses are so varied and interesting, but I will always have a soft spot for the traction engines and steam trucks, the traction engines have a certain majesty as they steam sedately by…. and that smell! The mixture of burning coal, oil and steam pervades through the air.

Seeing youngsters around these engines is so good to see, the family ritual of cleaning and polishing the engines before the main parade in the arena, each family member seems to have a designated part to clean, all seemingly done without the usual teenage angst.

In past years, I have always been very concentrated on taking photos of the exhibits, without really taking in the atmosphere of the rest of the event arena, this year, I found myself wanting to capture more of the wider picture, perhaps in part because up to a  couple of years ago, I did not like taking ‘people’ shots but with a small mirrorless camera, I feel less obtrusive than when I had the mandatory DSLR and its howitzer of a lens!

By the end of my multitude of laps of the display area, I had taken a good number of photos, the selected ones above are a few of my favourites, the rest will revisited later in the year when I need a reminder of another super day out.

A trip to Fishtown

Brixham is one of those towns that I visit for photo outings on a regular basis, it is just one of those places that maintains a sense of community and always offers a warm welcome to its visitors.

Known as Briseham in the Domesday book, Brixham was also the landing place of William of Orange during the glorious revolution in 1688, some of the street names still bear the names of its Dutch history.

Famous for the design of the Brixham trawler, the design was adopted by boat builders throughout the UK, this boat design helped form the fishing fleets of Hull, Grimsby and Lowestoft.

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To the left, the modern Brixham trawler, on the right, one of those lovingly restored.

Brixham was featured in a fascinating documentary called Fishtown, on the Discovery channel a few years ago, an insight into the workings of a busy fishing town and its residents.

Typical of any seaside town, the shops around the quay side are dotted with the usual cafes, bars and eateries but more notably, the number of small shacks, selling the fresh fish and shellfish, cockles, prawns and crabmeat from the fish market just around the corner.

From the photography perspective, it is just such a picturesque town, the brightly coloured houses on the hill, the fishing paraphernalia and those beautifully restored iconic fishing trawlers of yesteryear will keep me coming back for more.

Six months of 35mm

I do not normally set myself any new years resolutions, I know that by the end of January, the promise to eat no more sweets and biscuits will have been broken but I did think I could achieve something relevant to photography.

My GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) had taken a hold, it was time reduce the amount of gear and challenge my photographic ability and not my bank account.

By the first week in January, I had made the first of many social media posts declaring my intentions, there, it was out, I was committed, I was to spend the next 12 months shooting only 35mm.

The camera I had chosen is the Fujifilm X100F, a rangefinder style camera that has style in abundance and can be carried around all day with no issues.
With a much lighter camera bag and no worries about which lenses to pack for any given shoot, as long as I have a couple of spare batteries charged I am good to go at an instant.

I have discussed in previous blogs how I feel that I am at my creative best with prime focal lengths but since embarking upon this challenge, I have become more open minded with my photography ethos, I will explain.

Until this year, I had always shot RAW images exclusively, it’s the law, everyone says you have to….
Hands up, I will admit to being one of those who would sneer at the thought of anyone shooting JPEG’s, even with my previous Fuji cameras (xpro-1 xe-1), I had never thought to even try.
I may be late to the JPEG party but at least I have now arrived, with the many film simulations offered within the camera’s custom settings, I am happy to experiment with various set ups, a part of my previous fuji cameras I had missed out on through my own stubbornness.

I liked the analogy given by Fuji ambassador Kevin Mullins, wedding and documentary photographer, when he says ‘do you not trust your camera to produce good images?’

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I still shoot RAW for paid assignments but for my personal use, I am having fun trying new recipes, some have been good, others consigned to digital dustbin.
I find myself using the aspect ratio settings more as well for the Jpegs, deciding to shoot 1:1 images for an entire shoot can be fun.

The biggest and most enjoyable part of the project, is that I am using a camera long enough to get to know its quirks and foibles.
Many of my fellow 100F users have such things as a touch screen or tilting screen on their wish list, I have one, please can we remove the drive option from the D-pad and allow it to become a custom button or menu item, I am frequently going from single shot to other shooting modes because of where my thumb rests on the camera, other than that, I simply love using this little beaut of a camera.

In much the same way that I was inspired to do this challenge, a few of my fellow photographers have expressed an interest in doing  a self imposed project themselves, it is good to think we can share ideas in our own development and  creativity.

I am always eager to read about other peoples challenges, I am already thinking about what I will do next year.