For the first time in a long, long time. I had a holiday! Those who follow what I do would arguably say, that I am always on holiday as I am constantly travelling to photograph running races all over the world. However, I can honestly say that in the last six years, I have not been away without working. Admittedly, on one or two trips, work has maybe only been 20-30% of the actual trip. It’s still a holiday but the work element is there.
This August I booked a trip to Morocco, I put my email on auto-reply, I downloaded a couple of books on my Kindle app and I went way with the pure intention to do no work for a good 14-days.
As a photographer, you may be thinking or asking, but did you take a camera?
The answer is quite simply, yes!
When you do what I do in, day-in and day-out, it’s almost impossible to travel without a camera. I often consider a camera just an ‘essential’ item for what I do every day, be that a holiday or not.
The key thing with taking a camera on holiday is that I can take images for the pleasure of it. No brief, no deadlines, no clients – I can shoot what I want and when I want.
I started to post 10-12 B&W images a day whilst travelling, normally on my Instagram and on Facebook. What was interesting was the amount of feedback and direct messages I received. I guess most people know me as a sports/ running photographer, so, suddenly a series of gritty B&W street photographs appear, and it makes people curios.
So, I decided to write a brief post to answer the questions that was asked.
Street and people photography are something that I love. It’s raw, visceral, gritty and when done well should transport the viewer to the place and immerse them.
“Travelling, one accepts everything; indignation stays at home. One looks, one listens, one is roused by enthusiasm by the most dreadful things…” – Elias Canetti
Now there are many forms of street photography. And just to draw a comparison, I photographed in Nepal for many years, the street shots I have done there are very different to what I did in Morocco.
To clarify, I could photograph in Nepal the way I photographed in Morocco but not vice versa. The reason being, the people and the culture. The Nepali people love having their photographs taken, you can walk up to them, stick a camera in their face and take a shot. You can even ask them to move or look into a certain place. So, although it’s real, there can be an ‘element’ of set-up, however, I rarely go down that route.
In Morocco, the people are very different. They do not like having their photograph taken. Don’t agree with me? Take a camera in to the Souk in Marrakech and start pointing your camera at people – you will soon realise that it is not an option. Now of course, there are exceptions. Occasionally it is possible to do a ‘posed’ shot and I have found that my experience with 30-year’s in the business lets me know when that is an option.
Below, there are over 300-images captured in Marrakech and the coastal resort of Essaouira, I would say that approximately 10-12 images were taken with the subject knowing I was taking the photo and they didn’t mind.
The remainder of the images were taken with the subject not knowing that I was taking photographs.
If you look like a photographer, you will stick out and the people will already be wary of you. For street work and when travelling this way, I carry one camera and one lens.
I use a (approx £3200) which is a full-frame digital camera which produces a whopping image size of 42.4MP, when shooting in RAW, that file is over 80MP. I have found a large file allows me options to crop in to the image and still retain a high quality/ high resolution file. The camera is mirrorless and therefore considerably smaller than a DSLR, it also has Image Stabilization built into the body; super handy in low-light. The camera can also shoot at 10fps, at times, this can be super important for capturing that all-important moment.
I use a prime lens, the – The Sonnar T* FE 35mm F2.8 which is a Sony/ Zeiss lens. The optics are incredible, focus is fast and superb and F2.8 it is pin-sharp. There are several reasons why this lens is perfect for street work:
At 35mm, it is wide, but no so wide that you can’t take portraits. I would say that for most Pro photographers, a 35mm prime has replaced the traditional 50mm prime.
The lens has a lens hood which is flush to the front element keeping the lens neat.
Its size is extremely small.
Quality is off the scale, but it is not cheap, approx £850.
That is, it. I don’t use anything else. I don’t carry a camera bag and I have no accessories. The only two additional items I carry is a spare battery and spare SD cards.
This camera set up is also my favourite set up when running and photographing. The main reason being is that the camera and lens are light, the quality is the best you can get, and I can carry the camera in my hand while running. I broke up my time in Marrakech and Essaouira with a 2-day trip to climb Toubkal, the highest mountain in the Atlas range. Here are some of the shots from that trip:
Back to the streets…
I have learnt over time to view the scene with a 35mm eye. Basically, I can look at a scene/ scenario and view the scene with the viewpoint and angle of the camera. This is essential in Morocco.
Many of the shots I took, I would say 80% (with the exception of the Toubkal shots) were taken with me NOT looking into the camera. The moment you raise your camera to your eye, people stop, look, put their hands up and on many occasions will say, ‘no photo, no photo!’
The below is a classic example of the subject posing for the shot.
This shot I was looking through the camera, but the subject didn’t know I was taking the photo.
This shot I was looking through the camera.
This shot was composed and planned but the subject didn’t know.
This is why Nepal and Morocco are so different.
To shoot, I would survey a scene, view the angles and decide on the shot and then walk past with my camera at mid-chest height. With experience, I understand the field of view the camera sees and I capture the scene.
Now of course, this sounds easy.
- One has to consider focus and how one gets the ‘key’ element in the frame in focus.
- One also has to consider exposure.
- One has to consider if it is possible to make one or two attempts at a shot.
The above is actually what brings adrenaline into shooting in this way. One also has to accept that you will have a high failure rate, certainly early on. Failure rate becomes less with more experience.
There are no hard rules in capturing images when working a scene. The place, the people and the location will often decide what approach you need to take. The comparisons between Nepal and Morocco provide a perfect example.
The key is to enjoy the process, have fun and learn by taking many, many shots.
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