Street Photography with a Tripod

I’m a bit out of my element in an urban environment but as generalist photographer I do not shy away from such settings if I have the opportunity. Such was the case when I joined two friends for a street photography workshop in Central Havana with Dan Callis.

Malecón (officially Avenida de Maceo) Seawall with fishermen silhouetted against the Vedado neighbourhood. 1/15@f20

Malecón (officially Avenida de Maceo) Seawall with fishermen silhouetted against the Vedado neighbourhood. 1/15@f20

Street photogrphy in central Havana- Calle Escobar with dawn streetlights

Street photography in Central Havana- Calle Escobar with dawn streetlights. ½ s@f5 ISO 1600

Iglesia San Francisco de Paul - Stained glass interior

Iglesia San Francisco de Paul – Stained glass interior 1/30@f16 ISO 200

Street photogrphy in central Havana-

As morning progressed, doors opened to building interiors. 1 s@f16 ISO 400.

I was the only one in the group who used a tripod for the majority of the work that week but I thought I was able to acquire unique images that would not be easy or possible if I was handholding the camera. Certainly with image stabilization and better quality at higher ISOs handholding has become more the norm.

Street photogrphy in Old Havana- reflections in a water puddle

Street photography in Old Havana- reflections in a water puddle. 1/80@f18 ISO 400

Street photogrphy in central Havana- Painted wall detail

Painted wall detail 1/4s@f16 ISO 125

While having the camera mounted to my tripod (Gitzo carbon fiber) added some weight, reduced mobility when working a subject and made me more conspicuous in the street I still felt it was the right approach for me. I carried accessories and lenses in my trusty photo vest and felt pretty comfortable for the week in the streets of Havana. It was a fantastic experience, full of colour, atmosphere and friendly people.

Bicycle taxi and colourful building, panning with camera. ½ s@f16 ISO 100

Bicycle taxi and colourful building, panning with camera. ½ s@f16 ISO 100

Here are some of the advantages to using a tripod in the streets:

  1. Once I picked my spot for composition I could ‘fade into’ the background and wait for situations to develop. That could be as simple as waiting for someone to walk into the composition or wait for distracting elements like people or vehicles to move on. While I was initially conspicuous the local people quickly ignored my presence and I could photograph the scene using a cable release so I would remain inconspicuous.
  2. By precisely framing the composition I could make more than one exposure as people moved if I thought it would be better to be able to clone them out in a composite image.
  3. I was able to work at lower ISOs and at longer exposures, in the shadows, in interiors, at night and early morning.
  4. I could set up my composition and wait for peak moments of activity.
A lady peeking through a curtain and security fence. 0.6 s@f11 ISO 800

A lady peeking through a curtain and security fence. 0.6 s@f11 ISO 800

Trained dog on the Obispo promenade with passersby. 1.6 s@f22 ISO 100.

Trained dog on the Obispo promenade with passersby. 1.6 s@f22 ISO 100.

I waited for passersby with umbrellas to walk through this scene. 1/10 s@f16 ISO 800

I waited for passersby with umbrellas to walk through this scene. 1/10 s@f16 ISO 800

Revolutionary wall art with blurred pedestrian. 1/13 s@f18 ISO 640

Revolutionary wall art with blurred pedestrian. 1/13 s@f18 ISO 640

Wall mural on Calle Neptuno with pedestrians cloned out (composite of 3 exposures)

Wall mural on Calle Neptuno with pedestrians cloned out (composite of 2 exposures)

Maybe I missed some spontaneous shots but I think I got photos that fit my style that otherwise would not have been able to capture hand-held. The tripod is not just a useful tool for obtaining sharp images, it is also a useful compositional tool.

Don’t Trash It

Apologies for blogging hiatus, but as the old saying goes ‘Better late than never!”

Sometimes I hear people extolling the benefits of digital photography from the standpoint of being able to ‘just delete pictures you don’t like’. This cavalier statement always makes me cringe a bit worrying that photographers might be throwing away good images without taking the time to properly evaluate them.

A documentary image of the butterfly feeding on flowers

 

John Shaw and other pros consistently recommend photographers to be ruthless with their editing and generally I subscribe to that principle. Believe me I have become very ruthless with my editing, especially with wildlife. In a burst sequence of 10 frames there is likely just one winner, a single frame worth keeping, so why hang on to any of the others?

This is one of about 15 frames captured in a burst. For now, I have saved most of the others.

In the field I use my review screen three ways. First, I check the histogram to ascertain a proper exposure. Then I check the full frame, especially the edges for compositional issues. Finally I check at 100 % for sharpness. Usually there is time with landscapes to do those things without missing a change in the situation.

There are times though when one needs to reconsider the urge to hit ‘Delete’, especially in the field. I rarely delete in the field unless I am fine-tuning exposure. I usually save bracketed compositions until I am back home, preferring to review them with a larger monitor rather than using my in-camera review screen.

A dispassionate eye is needed when editing so it’s generally a good idea to let the captured images sit for a while to let go of some of the emotional baggage attached to the images, unless you are on assignment with a tight deadline.Here are some reasons I use to justify me keeping some second best images (as RAW files- the selects are retained as derivative TIFs): 1. I use a ranking system and process only my highest ranking images. 2. I have a pretty thorough system of keywording and archiving so I can easily filter and find images. 3. Storage media such as external hard drives are fairly inexpensive these days. 4. A re-visit, some time later might change my opinion of a near-miss and elevate it to ‘worth processing and submitting’ status. 5. When teaching, it sometimes makes sense to show mistakes to students, for comparison. 6. A portion of a lesser ranked image might work well as a composite with other images.

I check exposure, framing and sharpness before moving on.

Certainly, like anyone else, I am anxious to see what I captured so I do  a rough edit shortly after a photo excursion, I will sort and group similars and delete the obvious ‘howlers’. A quick review helps to identify whether the sensor needs cleaning or whether (rarely) there might be a technical issue with a certain lens or camera body. After an initial review it may be a few months before I return for a serious edit. I’m usually about six months to a year behind in my editing, and I don’t think I’m alone in that camp.

But what about those in-camera mistakes? Such as the inadvertent click of the shutter whilst moving the camera or an accidental multiple exposure (some examples are depicted below).

I had just acquired my D4 and was playing around with settings while photographing wildflowers and butterflies. I sometimes like to photograph wildflowers using multiple exposure techniques. In this situation it appeared at first glance that the process of setting multiple exposure in the D4 was the same as the D3x, but I learned later that there is a difference. I had to disengage the setting in the D4 in order to stop multiple exposing. This became apparent when I reviewed an informal portrait of the kids at the camp, and realized that I had made several combined exposures rather than several individual exposures. When I scrolled back through the captured images, I realized that several butterfly captures were also multiple exposures rather than single captures. Rather than deleting that afternoon I decided to keep them and review later.

I liked the way the inadvertent multiple exposure captured the flitting, unpredictable nature of a foraging butterfly.

I’m not sure whether these will be accepted by my agencies. Time will tell, but I liked the results enough to keep a few and send them off for agency approval. Next summer I might try a little harder to duplicate these results.