First 3 Skills to Acquire as a Street Photographer

typewriter chris wessells royal el dorado street photography OG Writing

How to properly expose a photograph in manual mode.

When conditions permit I shoot in aperture priority mode with my Leica M240. This may get me cast out of the Leica fan club, “Why have a Leica if you use the auto mode? The appeal of a Leica are the accessibility of the manual controls.” Yes, I agree the manual controls of the Leica M digital cameras, in my opinion, are the bar to which all other cameras are judged. I do not take photos so I can fiddle with dials and settings on my camera. My purpose for taking photos is to capture the image and in street photography, the scene will change in a millisecond and gone forever.

My photography improved when I understood the relationship of holy trinity of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. During an Eric Kim workshop, I met Achiem Soelter. He helped Eric wrangle the streetogs.  There were too many of us for him to give us much one on one or small group time. He took us under h is wing by giving another perspective in street photography. During one outing Achiem taught us to judge the light by eye. I am still not as good as he is at being a human light meter. I can get my settings close enough to set my camera, snap a photo, and fall within the dynamic range of my camera to post process a great image.

I learned how far I like to push the ISO on all my cameras. I learned the minimum shutter speed for my cameras. Mostly I learned how to make sure I have the shot even if it is not a good shot. I learned the limits of my taste when capturing photos. First learn to capture images in many different settings with the proper exposure.

How to accurately estimate distance visually.

I shoot with rangefinder cameras. I have a film SLR and DSLR I shoot with sometimes. My primary cameras are a Ricoh GRII and a Leica M240. This skill contains a bit of bias. The Ricoh has a 28mm equivalent lens and my Leica has 35mm. I shoot with one lens. I know my framing intuitively. A wide lens requires you to be close to the subject. Often the subjects I photograph are within an arms length. When I find a particularly good background I will shoot subjects further away. The skill of accurately estimating distance is related to the first skill of properly exposing an image when shooting in aperture priority mode.

Aperture priority emphasizes the depth of focus in the image. Depth of focus is the distance in front and behind the subject in focus that is also in focus. The higher the aperture number the greater the depth of focus.  When shooting one can prefocus to 3m and have a depth of focus that is 2m. This means anything from 2m to 4m are in focus. If the subject is framed in that distance it will be in focus.

The purpose of photography is to capture your vision of beauty. The less time you think about settings leaves more time for your brain to process the surroundings and frame a great image.

How to quickly change settings with your camera.

I have some shots taken indoors. Some taken outdoors. My favorite shots were taken in many different settings. Even when shooting outside all day the lighting changes all the time. Clouds may cover the sun so you have diffused light, or you turn a corner and now you are in the shadow of a building. To capture the image you need to change your settings fast.

I shoot with 1600 ISO in both cameras. I may change the ISO if it is a really bright day but that doesn’t happen often. Most cameras allow a custom button that can be set to adjust ISO. Fiddling through menus to get the settings correct for a good exposure can cost a shot. Learn how to change ISO, shutter speed, and aperture without taking the camera down from your eye.

These three skills may not make you the next Cartier-Bresson but they will free up mental energy. Teaching your body to detect light and adjust your camera for the environment will allow your mind to focus on framing your shots. That is the next stage in photography, framing your shots. First master your tool. Learn to use your camera.

Until next time,
Chris