Everyday adventure. Scouting the streets with a camera
Back in Greece, when I was a kid, my family used to go on little weekend trips around where we lived. In these areas, mountains, beaches, lakes and woods dominated the landscape. So, every trip I used the family camera to photograph every single detail that I found interesting. The camera was a simple compact film camera without any controls, so the photos looked nothing like those in the National Geographic magazines that I had in mind. So, in every processed negative, there was always something weird or out of focus thing in the family shots. And that is how I got into photography. I really enjoyed finding something to photograph so that I could keep a closer eye on the world by inspecting it in more detail. The end result was not important at that time.
“... keep a closer eye on the world by inspecting it in more detail”
Later on, when I got more serious about photography, I started studying the work of photography masters and I was really impressed by some of their work. I was particularly struck by the work of Robert Frank and Trent Parke, whose somewhat unusual approach to photography allowed technicalities to be overridden, making the photos more about emotion rather than a raw depiction of reality.
How would you describe your photography style?
I am not sure I have a distinctive style, and I am not trying to have one. I just shoot by instinct. That being said, I can see some patterns in my images appearing over and over again. These are elements of my experiences and memories. Of course, the sun is a very important factor for me; it’s in most of my pictures creating soft lighting or shadows. Subtle human gestures or expressions, as well as the occasional interaction with animals, are also apparent in my work.
Do you approach work in series, or rather as individual images? Can you tell us more about this challenge?
I only work on projects where single images are what I’m looking to achieve, but then I try to edit the pictures in a way that makes sense as a whole. The pictures in this series - that I call "urban Impulse"- were shot over a period of two years in London. As I said before, I like to explore my surroundings by trying to find interesting situations to photograph. I focused on intricate details of everyday life that would fit perfectly into my own interpretation of the world, but when put against the London background, it seemed a bit odd and out of place. I guess a big city dictates our lives to be moulded around its own behaviour and "rules". So, in a way, this project enabled me to get to know London better and blend in more quickly and easily.
For me, the biggest challenge in a project that focuses on big city streets is the scale of the city, it has so much to offer that it’s easy to get carried away and shoot everything. Even the times where you don’t shoot your best shots can add to your project. Now, this works if you’re not bothered about a series of images; but if you are then editing them becomes a nightmare. I know because I've been there myself and it's a real challenge to not shoot everything in the digital era.
“I focus on intricate details of everyday life [...] it's a real challenge to not shoot everything in the digital era.”
Of course, there are other things you have to overcome on the streets, like what if someone confronts me about taking their picture. But if you are polite and show good intentions that shouldn’t happen; it hasn’t happened to me at least.
How much time does it take to you to create one image? What techniques do you use to perfect the image?
It depends on what inspired me to take the picture. If it’s a gesture then it could happen in a split second. If it’s a place then I will set up the composition and just wait until something happens in the frame. That could be as long as an hour; after an hour I move on. So, composing and waiting is one way I take pictures and another way is the exact opposite; that is, when I don't even look through the viewfinder, I just estimate the composition in my mind and shoot the moment. To be able to do that I use a manual focus lens and the hyperfocal distance. Basically on my camera, which is a full frame Canon DSLR paired with a 35mm lens, I set it at f8 and the focus ring at about 5 metres, and that gives me a huge depth of field. That way I am able to just snap a photo when a chance arises. In fact, I use this technique all the time whether I use a digital or a film camera, and I always get great results.
For example, there was this one time when I was wandering around Chinatown trying to figure out how I could get a picture out of a scene with beautiful lighting, and a random guy approached me and asked me what I was photographing. As I was explaining , all of a sudden I saw a guy on a skateboard coming towards us really quickly, he was wearing this loose Hawaiian shirt and a hat. And I thought it could be a great image against the Chinese signs in the background, you know, to show how multicultural London is. At that point, I just raised my camera and took the photo. Everything happened so quickly, so using this technique worked great and I had a nice, sharp image, whereas if I was on autofocus I might have missed the picture.
Have you got a couple of tips for your fellow photographers?
“Patience, determination and persistence…”
Remove all the filters from your mind and then just shoot what you like. Shoot as much as you can. Patience, determination and persistence is what it takes to shoot good photos. And, of course, learn your equipment inside out so that it becomes a tool to unleash your creativity. You can't just go out and shoot on auto or semi auto and expect your images to be perfect. I mean you can, but that is not always the case. In street photography where everything moves and changes so fast, you have to be able to quickly adjust to a situation, because when the moment comes you have to grab it and if you don't master your equipment then you'll miss tons of good shots. By quickly changing your settings you’ll minimize the number of failed shots.
Use the manual mode more often; after all, it’s not that difficult. On a sunny day, I always go out when the light gets softer. I use f8, ISO 400 and a shutter speed of around 1000th of a second. I prefer to use Manual over Aperture Priority on sunny days because I often shoot high contrast scenes and I like to have my shadows dark, so the Aperture Priority has a huge disadvantage over full manual. It will try to even out the dark areas if your metering point is on those dark areas. This forces me to either change my composition or lower the exposure compensation. I find it that Manual is the most suitable and fast option for me; so know your camera and make your own decisions.
Copyright by: Kostas Arapidis