Urban environments are alive with chaos and discord, grabbing us by our senses and shaking them into a frenzy.
Car horns tooting, people and vehicles zigzagging around one another, colours flashing past our eyes it’s a miracle we can keep up, let alone capture it all on camera. However by using our cameras and lenses effectively we can begin to convey the energy and mayhem that the confusing and colourfully kaleidoscopic city portrays day and night.
By combining a long exposure with a fluid zoom, street photographers can infuse a sense of chaos, motion, and tension while generating a style that replicates the energy with which it was captured. Zoom bursts are easy to achieve and visually quite effective, encapsulating city-slickers on the go.
You’ll need a lens with a manual zoom and a camera that allows you to shoot manually. Start by setting the camera on something supportive, such as a wall or bench. Look for the light and choose an area that is evenly light and a scene that conveys an aspect of interest. Zoom in as close to your point of intrigue as you can and meter for that area, keep the ISO as low as possible, and dial in an exposure time of anything slower than 1/60 second. When all your settings are in place, fire the camera using the self-timer (or a remote release if you have one) and carefully, in one fluid motion, turn the zoom to pull out of the shot. The result should be an eye-catching zoom burst. Repeat the process with other subjects, continual checking the histogram after each take to judge how effective your exposure choice was. If the long shutter speed has meant that the image is overexposed, dial in a narrower aperture to compensate. You can vary the direction and extent you zoom, plus twisting the camera in the opposite direction to the way you zoom can also lend itself to catching creative compositions.
The idea of creative panning follows in the footsteps of the technique used for generating zoom bursts, but here rather than twisting the zoom we need to follow the subject in the direction they are traveling in, at the speed at which they are moving. So set the camera up on something rigid to avoid camera shake, but something that also has the ability to swivel—such as a bag, book, or a mini tripod on a wall or bench. Deactivate the IS, program for a long exposure, and focus on someone moving across your seen. As soon as you fire the shutter, follow in the direction they are moving, in time with their movements, until the exposure ends. A distinct coloured trail of motion should be captured in their wake. You can try this with cars and cyclists as well as pedestrians—just remember to swivel at a pace that catches their speed of movement.
If you are shooting at night and want the object in motion to be clearly defined, try using a slow-sync flash, whereby a flash is fired to illuminate the subject in the foreground while a long shutter speed is also used for its fluid trail of movement. This will also catch any ambient lighting that appears in the background. Some cameras will have the option of using a rear-curtain or front-curtain sync. This refers to when the flash is fired i.e. either at the start or end of the exposure. You can experiment with these to generate a variety of effects.
Michael Freeman’s Photo School: Street is Michael Freeman’s and Natalie Denton’s guide to street photography. From which kit you might need, to spotting compelling images, via shooting discreetly, and honing your technique, this book will take you from average snap to great great street photo.