Why ON1 Photo Raw may be for me.

In the list of photo management and editors, ON1 Photo Raw has been under my radar for a while. Although I disregarded it for years when it was still called Perfect photo suite because it lacked any kind of photo management (DAM) and raw processing, in 2017 the company released its first version of the Photo Raw software. There has been (and still is) a lot of publicity around the software, many reviewers criticised the bugs, the slow speed and the lack of features that left it clearly behind the industries standard editor which is Lightroom.

Fast forward a year and a half, I read that the Photo Raw 2018.5 was a usable piece of software so I gave it a try.

Testing these new programs has enabled me to think about was I need and expect from my photo editor. I have used Lightroom/Photoshop for years and have a nice workflow in place. I still can’t use photoshop very well, and to be honest I have very few ideas on what to do to transform my photos. I watch videos on youtube from time to time to learn and I see people take a drab landscape to a 500px winner in what seems to be a lot of time and a lot of steps… I couldn’t do that, I lack the imagination I think and anyway, all the landscapes on 500px look the same…

So what photography do I do and what do I need? I encourage you to think about this as well, it can help to simplify and streamline the processing and save time as well.

  •  I take street photography mainly but on my memory card I will also have some family photos and some other genres depending on my mood and the places I go to (architecture, macro, travel photography…). I want to import all my raw files and keep them together but export my family photos in a separate place from my personal photography.
  • My street photography is in black and white. The software I use needs to do that properly : I want to modify the colour response and contrast globally, manage the structure, dodge and burn locally, add a vignette and odd little things.
  • I need little for my family photos, some quick adjustments, straighten and crop.
  • I used the Nik Software/Google plugins from photoshop for a long period and that covered anything I needed for my landscapes, portraits and architecture : some precise contrast adjustments, adjusting colour contrast is fabulous etc… I never really learned how to do this in photoshop without plugins so I need to have some kind of equivalent if I want to replace photoshop/lightroom.
  • My street photos go on Flickr, Instagram and google+, I sometime publish to 500px as well.

That is it .
I don’t need much from my software then.
Lightroom/Photoshop with plugins cover my needs.
Photo raw 2018.5 is the first piece of software that can do this on its own.

Let’s edit a photo and I’ll make a few comments on my workflow, the things I like and the things that are missing in Photo Raw. All the images here are screenshots so the definition will not be that of the real files.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.19.11

The importing is simple enough and I can do the same as in Lightroom : I put all my photos in subfolders classed by year/month/date. I rename the files starting by the name of the camera then the capture date and time. Lightroom uses a more flexible editor and I can get a name like : Sony-A7r3-2018-08-16-10h01min51s.arw
The same file in ON1 will look like Sony-A7R3-20180816-100151.arw
The extra hyphens, min, h, s are missing and I don’t see that I can add them in.

Once the photos are imported, you can get to work pretty fast. Here is the original file I’m working on. The raw conversion is very good. Highlight and shadow recovery work very well.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.21.44

The picture was taken quickly as I was walking past, it is not straight. Lightroom will have an auto correct that works really well. In the develop module of Photo Raw, there is a transform module. I used the keystone feature.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.24.44

I clicked apply and cropped the result a little.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.30.02The result is pretty convincing. The niggle I have is on the crop tool. By default it is in “Freeform” but I like to keep a 3:2 ratio for 99% of my pictures. You have to select the “original” mode to keep the crop aspect.

In the develop panel there is lens correction module that recognises my FE 35mm f/2.8 lens (one of the first lenses ever created for the sony a7 line) but it does not have a profile to correct for the vignette, distortion and aberrations.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.43.01

How bizarre… lets carry on then. I did very little in the develop module : a slight boost in exposure, a small adjustment in the white/black points and a bit of sharpening.
The adjustments in the black and white points in Lightroom are great. Stay pressed on the option/alt key and the screen goes black to let you adjust with precision. In Photo Raw, you press option/alt J to see the underexposed pixels in blue and the overexposed pixels in red. Not fancy but it works.

The magic happens in the Effects panel, which for me replaces the round trip to Photoshop and its plugins.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.57.31

The black and white conversion tool is very good, you can control the colour response, add grain, control the overall exposure, shadows, highlights and contrast without going back to the develop module. You can also do split toning to change to sepia, cyanotype…

I added a vignette and a bit of contrast with the dynamic contrast tool.

There are local adjustments possible too like in Lightroom with very good masking tools and what they call a “perfect brush” which is the same as edge detection in LR. You can make gradients, ovals, and a luminosity mask.
In this photo, I just added a bit of exposure to the faces. It was quickly done.

The last thing to do is to export. I make a jpg copy of my edited pictures in the same folder as the raw files and a copy to another drive. There are lots of options for the export (file type,size, location, sharpening…) which you can save into a preset like LR.
I’d like to export quickly using the right mouse button but it doesn’t work.  Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 13.05.40

I can export to Flickr from Photo Raw which is cool but there is nothing for google+, 500px or Instagram. I now use the ifttt.com website (If this then that) to publish from flickr to 500px and Googe photos but I need to upload to instagram manually.
LR manages the publishing better because you can see all the photos you have already uploaded and you can put them in the appropriate service but publish them later.

The effects panel has quite a few additions. I haven’t used them all yet. To each his own!

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 13.11.01

There is one last Panel I’d like to mention. There is a layers panel where you can add layers that have different processing and merge them with masks. You can also merge different photos (like sky replacement). If my understanding is correct though the process is done in a tiff or psd format and you lose the non-destructive workflow. I think I need to watch a few tutorials before I try.

Conclusion : likes and niggles.

I could use this software!

  • It is fast enough (comparable to editing in Lightroom).
  • It is being improved regularly so features are being added and niggles are being improved.
  • The image quality is very good.
  • Using a single application is very comfortable and the effects added to the photos are in the non-destructive workflow. This is a big improvement on using photoshop plugins. No more tiff files hanging around!
  • I’d like a better import module that gives more flexible file renaming.
  • I’d like a better export module that gives a one-click export using several recipes (like in Capture one) and that keeps track of what photo I have uploaded to what service… and I need more social media services.
  • The masking features are very good, and complex enough to make me want to learn more to use them better.
  • There are blending options like in Photoshop for each effect and local adjustment. I feel I can learn how to use this software whereas photoshop seems too complex.
  • I don’t understand the pricing. I have seen offers at 49.99€ up to 129.99€ for a pro plus plan with free updates. On the site, they say it is a non subscription program but it is only written “perpetual licence” on the the pro plus plan. Yearly updates seem to cost about 70€. Adobe LR/Photoshop costs 11.48€ per month that is 137.76€ per year.
  • I have had a few crashes, it is annoying. LR has not crashed on me for a very long time.
  • I don’t understand the advantage of cataloging a folder under photo raw. I used the browser to edit my first photos then I catalogued my raw files folder. I can’t see the difference. If I take a photo in b&w on the camera, the embedded jpg is b&w. It therefore appears in b&w in Photo Raw. When I open the develop module, it turns into colour because it is reading the raw file. This takes about 5-10s (quite long then). I’d like an option to render my raw files when catalogued for them to open faster in the develop module. I could launch this at night maybe if it need to take a long time.

Weekly challenge: Waiting

I found out today that wordpress offers a weekly photo challenge here. This comes to me today as an idea for working on themes especially in street photography where inspiration comes sporadically.

These three photos come from my archives but I think I’ll try and give these challenges a go and try to publish at least one photo taken in the week.

Light and shadow
Fuji X100T @ 1/4000s + F/4 + ISO 200

This first photo was taken in London in the Canary Wharf area. I liked the contrast between the light of the sun and the shadows of the buildings around. I also liked the smiley bag. I took a first shot, the lady saw me so I went up to her to explain why I took the picture. She didn’t seem offended so I pushed my look and asked her if I could take another. I wasn’t sure the first one was framed properly because I took it so quickly. She accepted and you can see that she is smiling and relaxed.

Sitting around
X100T @ 1/640s + f/2.5 + ISO 200

This was taken in front of our local library. The dark box on the left hand side of the photo is a post box to return your books when the library is closed (which is most of the time in my opinion). I had the camera linked to my phone through the fuji app so this is a sneaky photo taken ninja style. The guy was looking peaceful and I thought the geometric lines would make a nice photo. When using the app, you have to stop to take the photo because there is quite a lag between pressing on the shutter in the app and the picture being taken. It is no good for moving subjects, they are out of the frame before the camera reacts… unless you can anticipate, which I’m trying to learn how to do.

Rest in the shade
Fuji XT-2 + XF90mmF2 @ 1/250s + f/2.8 + ISO 200

 

This third and last one is from Lumpini park in Bangkok (the one with the Komodo dragons). It was very hot that day and this lady was sitting in the shade. I love the shape on the table and benches with the lady making an asymmetrical composition.

The “waiting” theme is a great one for anybody starting out in street photography. Walk around any town, city or village and you will see plenty of people just hanging around. I often wonder what kind of life people I see in the streets live and that is what is great about street photography. When you go home and look and the photos you took, you can take the time to choose the best ones and erase the poor ones but when that is done, take the time to think about the people in the shots.

 

 

Willy Ronis : what I learned

Photo by Vercoquin on Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I visited an exhibition featuring the work of Willy Ronis yesterday.  It is not the exhibition that is featured on the above but I didn’t’t anticipate needing photos for a blog post (I’ll do better next time!) Willy Ronis is a French photographer (1910-2009) whose main body of work was street and documentary photography in and around Paris but also in the south of France. He also did some nude photography. He joint the Rapho photography agency just before the second world war with Brassaï, Robert Doisneau and Ergy Landau. As a left wing sympathiser, he photographed the strikes in the Citroën factory and focused on everyday life for the working classes.

There are no reproductions of photos by Willy Ronis in this article because they are not free of rights. I took a couple of photos to give you an idea of what I saw.

Walking around the exhibition, there were several comments on the photos made by the artist concerning the manner the photo was taken or how it should be printed. These comments can give us some insight and inspiration for our own work. There were three commentaries I took notice of particularly. They were written in French so I’ll give you a quick translation.

“Rue laurence-savart Menilmontant, Paris. 1948”

Have a look at the largest photo.

“A glazier was walking slowly up Rue Laurence Savart , backlit in this winter afternoons sun. His voice had made me leave Rue du retrait where I was looking for a subject and I ran towards him. When a photographer has time in his hunt, he searches for the best place to wait for the unexpected. In the same way, it is necessary, when something appears suddenly to look around the environment quickly to integrate into the frame the  elements that will best enhance the subject. Here it was the reflection of the puddle on the pavement and the stream which balances with the sky and the glass our man was carrying. The print is relatively easy. Don’t over compensate the top to keep a dazzling effect”.

Can you imagine yourself changing pace when you spot a good subject to catch the light ?
Do you take the time to look around the edges of the viewfinder to incorporate or take away some elements of the scene. In some ways a traditional rangefinder has an advantage over the electronic viewfinder or reflex viewfinder because it allows the eye to see out of the frame. If the viewfinder is on the left hand side of the camera and not in the centre, you can take photos with your two eyes open. The fuji x-pro 2 enables this as do the x100 series and also the Leica cameras. On the other hand, the electronic viewfinder gives the exposure and an idea of the contrasts in the photo in real time.

An exercice for the next time I’m out: Use my eyes before using the viewfinder to include interesting elements.

“Place Vendôme, Paris. 1947”

“Place Vendôme, Paris, on a rainy day, probably in the first months of 1947. I was hanging around. Maybe I was coming home from Rapho, the offices were very close. I must have seen a lady striding over the puddle and noticed the reflection of the Colonne Vendôme. By luck it was lunch hour and a group of young girls were leaving their work in the sewing houses nearby. I took several photos of strides and this one is the best. It is a good example of a previsualised photo. For the print, it is useful to keep the upper parts of the street quite light and to darken the blacks of the clothes.”

There is a myth in street photography about the “decisive moment”, a term coined by the American editors of Henri Cartier-Bresson. The original term though is “Images à la sauvette” : “Images on the fly”.  Many people would think that the only way to make street photography is to be in the right place at the right time and press on the shutter in an instant. Obviously, many photographers have practiced this technique with great success.  Willy Ronis shows us that a “decisive moment” may not be unique. He saw the possibility of a photo when he saw the lady step over the puddle but did not walk away. Instead, he waited and found a way to turn the opportunity into a photo. Maybe he tried this method many times and he probably went home empty handed most of the time. His legacy shows what he achieved, not the failures.

An exercice for the next time I’m out:  Look out for the interactions between people and the environment. If something can happen once, it can happen again. Then I can take some time to find the best light and composition before waiting for something to happen.

“Le Béguinage à Bruges, 1951”

www.nwinspeare.com
Look at the photo on the left.
323277739_eb8b15531b_o
Copyright Vercoquin. Licence creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic.

“It was a grey morning and we were going to the Béguinage of Bruges (it is  house for members of a lay sisterhood). All of a sudden I heard a light and continuous crunching sound. I turned around and it was the sound of a company of Béguines going home after church. I ran. They weren’t far from their house and I wanted to keep some space in front of the group. I even had time to include a tree in the foreground on the left to balance the values and suggest different planes of depth. Needless to say this type of decision is made without thinking.”

Some photos taken with a 35mm or longer lens have a tendency to be flat. The subject appears but there is often little to give a sense of depth unless you are in an open space or looking down a street. The inclusion of an element in the foreground can help achieve this even if it is out of focus.

Parting comments.

Many of the photos I saw were not street photography per say. He took many photos on assignment for news magazines (Life, Regards…). He was also employed for commercial shoots. He also photographed his family in a documentary fashion. I have tried to highlight in this article some insights concerning the days Willy Ronis roamed the streets with his camera as many aspiring street photographers do. It seems important then to underline how many photos he must have taken on a daily basis.

Take-away point : Practice and train your eye. Take photos as often as possible. The cost is next to nothing with digital cameras nowadays but don’t shoot blind. Be aware of composition (The framing and the elements you choose to include or exclude), light and contrasts.

Willy Ronis started with a Rolleiflex (medium format) camera but changed for a rangefinder Foca. The reason he invokes in an interview I saw was that he didn’t want to change film every 12 frames. By the way, what we call “full frame”, the 24×36 sensor, Willy Ronis calls “small format”. (That is for the full frame snobs!). In 1980, he chose a Pentax reflex camera with a zoom. In his life he only used 3 cameras. How many photographers nowadays change camera regularly expecting their photography to improve.

Take-away point : Know your camera! Use the same camera and same lens as often as possible. In that way, the framing of a scene will become more automatic and you can change the necessary settings in the flash. The time you save knowing your camera will be time saved to use your eyes before pressing the shutter button.

Fuji vs Leica : a street photographers dream.

This is a short article to address the question of what camera to choose for street photography without taking cost into consideration. I own and have used fuji cameras for street photography (I currently have the x-pro 2) and I recently tried a couple of leica rangefinders : the M240 and the new M10.

Many would say the comparison is unfair or that these two cameras and completely different beasts in philosophy and in use. I now disagree with this since the salesman at the leica store in Paris gave me the same arguments to buy the leica as those I gave to myself to get the x-pro2. I’ll be going through these arguments.

Argument number 1: The Leica M10 is compact.

Yes, it is a feat of engineering to get some much into such a little package. Here is a view from the site camerasize.com . I have on the left the fujifilm x-pro2 with the 23mm f/2 lens attached. I bought this lens because of its comact size compared to the 23mm f/1.4. The package weighs 675g. On the right is the leica M10 with the summilux 35mm f/1.4 On this view it looks about the same size but in reality the leica looks smaller. It weighs more though at 980g. Compact but heavy! The is quite a lot of brass in the leica body whereas the fuji has an magnesium shell. The construction of the fuji is very good but the leica is like a brick.

compare_xpro2_m10

If you sacrifice the f/1.4 aperture to go for the summicron 35mm f/2, the size difference is greater still.

compare2_xpro2-m10

In conclusion for this part, for the same focal length and same maximum aperture, the leica is more compact. The explanation is twofold. First of all the leica lenses are manual focus so there are no motors or focusing mecanisms in leica lenses. This makes them thinner. Secondly, the sensor in the leica is deeply recessed into the body whereas it is closer to the lens in the fuji. This makes the lens designs shorter for the leicas. I’ll get into comparing the sensors later. Bear with me!

Argument number 2: You can change/check the settings without switching on the camera.

Here is the second reason I like fuji cameras. The lenses have aperture rings, there is a shutter speed dial and an iso dial. (This is new on the leica m10 compared to the previous digital models.) The fuji has a small advantage here with the exposure compensation dial being on top a verifiable. The leica has a wheel for the exposure compensation on the top right hand side of the back of the body, easily accessible with the thumb.

Argument number 3: The image quality is sensationnal.

Well I tested both cameras and I have to agree. The fuji images a great, I love the colours and the x-trans sensor gives very acceptable photos up to 12800 iso. The pictures that come out of the leica are better. Many would argue that the lenses are very special that there is some leica magic. I do not dispute this although I find it difficult to test. The fact of the matter is that leica puts a larger sensor in a smaller camera and with a lens that has a larger aperture, the difference can become huge. Just think of it : f/2 on the crop sensor x-pro2 gives more or less the same depth of field as f/3 on a full frame (that is just over 1 stop). With a summilux f/1.4 lens, that is another stop. Where it is difficult to get a good background blur on the fuji 23mm for a subject at 5-10 metres away, the leica can manage. Lets look!

Fujiflm x-pro 2 with 23mm f/2 at f/2 at 1/950s at ISO 200.

fuji-x-pro2-2017-02-24-13h06min46s

Leica M10 with summilux 35mm f/1.4 at f/1.4 and 1/500s. ISO 100

leica-m10-2017-01-21-18h37min21s-2

Notice the better subject separation in the second photo, what they call the 3D pop?

Question number 1 : What about focusing?

I have used a manual rangefinder camera twice in my life for a total of 30 minutes. I find it great fun but difficult to nail exact focus. The two previous photos were taken out of a shop window with people walking across the frame.

With the fuji, I frame first, place a focus square where I want the passer-by to be and then wait and shoot. The advantage is that the fuji x-pro2 focusing very fast and accurately. The difficulty is choosing the focus point correctly. Although the little joystick is fast and easy to use to move the focus point, in the heat of the action it is not fast enough. Here is a 100% crop:

fuji-crop100

With the leica, I focused on a spot of the pavement at a distance I estimated a person would walk through. Then I composed the photo and waited. The difficulty is choosing the right distance to focus. The advantage is that you can take to person wherever you like in the frame, the focus is already correct. Here is a 100% crop.

leica-crop100

The focus is not bad but not spot on. The photo was taken at 1/500s, plenty fast enough to freeze rhe action.

The question is : does precise focus matter? The more I take photos, the more I feel that focus and noise are not important. The main factors that make a photo are the composition and the subject. Depth of field comes into the composition, colours do too. How many photos from the masters of photography like Henri Cartier Bresson do not have the exacting focus digital cameras give us now? What do we get out of pixel peeping? I think that good focus is important, exact focus is not. But I’m not a professional photographer and I don’t do fashion.

Question number 2 : What else ?

The leica doesn’t do video, I don’t either. The lens frames in the viewfinder go from 28mm to 135mm. I like the 24mm lens for landscapes and I use the 50-140 f/2.8 zoom occasionally (for concerts and portraits for example).  The x-pro2 has extensive menus enabling Multi / Spot / Average / Center Weighted exposure control. It has an hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, it has manual shutter up to 1/8000s and electronic shutter up to 1/32 000s which is great in bright light. It has dual SD slots, a very wide selection of focal lengths for the lenses you can mount with zoom lenses that leica does not provide. It is a complete package that works extremely well and provides the controls for a very varied number of situations. In street photography, I use a simple setup and few of these bells&whistles but I like keeping my options open.

The leica, although not a one-trick pony (you can mount a wide angle lens and use liveview), is an exercise in restrictions. But restrictions can be liberating can’t they? Is less more?

I tried out a summicron 50mm f/2 recently too and I’ll post a comparison with the fuji 35mm f/1.4. The results should be about the same shouldn’t they?

 

 

The 35mm in street photography Part 2

The 35mm point of view is very good at capturing people in their environment. In this case I was quite close to the newspaper kiosk but still managed to get some of the magasines. This photo was taken in Madrid.

fuji-x100t-2015-04-07-11h14min27s
Fuji X100T @ 1/125s + f/2.5 + ISO 1000

Light and shadow always make an interesting feature. The lady was holding her smiley bag and waiting for someone/something. I took a first photo and as she noticed me and looked at me, I went up to her and explained what I was doing. I told her I wanted to capture the light and showed her the photo on the back of my camera. She said it was nice so I asked her if I could take another shot with her looking at the camera. She accepted and this is the second shot. The photo was taken in London.

fuji-X100T-2016-03-30-13h16min14s.jpg
Fuji X100T @ 1/4000s + f/4 + ISO 200

This is a picture of a metro station in Paris. I am the other side of the tracks from the bench. The station was empty and I took the time to kneel down and frame through the viewfinder. Sometimes when I’m in a hurry or when some people are looking at me, I have a tendancy to shoot from the hip looking down at the screen. Good framing is paramount and I remind myself to use the viewfinder as much as possible!

fuji-x100t-2015-06-15-14h09min15s
Fuji X100T @ 1/30s + f/2.8 + ISO 1250

This is a scene from my home town, taken quite close up. In some situations I use the Fujifilm iphone app to connect to the camera. In this case I was holding my camera in my hand, loosely down at my waist while framing and shooting through the app… ninja style!

Taking the sun
Fuji X100T @ 1/210s + f/4 + iso 200

This is another photo taken in London. The man was oblivious to my presence so I took the time to kneel down and frame carefully. I think that shots taken at the right height are often so much better.

fuji-x100t-2016-03-30-18h11min46s
Fuji X100T @ 1/240s + f/2.8 + ISO 200

This was a quick spontaneous shot taken while walking along a street in Canary Wharf (London). The alignment of office workers at lunchtime caught my attention. I was noticed but not questioned by the man in the foreground.

Luch break
Fuji X100T @ 1/1600s + f/4 + ISO 200

This is Canary Wharf again. The archways make a good place for light and shadows. As no-one was around, I knelt down and framed the arches waiting for someone to appear. This is the hunting style of street photography : find a place and wait for something to happen. I took several photos as people came through the scene. This one shows best the play between the light and the shadows.

Silhouettes
Fuji X100T @ 1/420s + f/5.5 + ISO 200

This lady is in the Picasso museum in Paris. The place was full of tourists and visitors. I chanced upon the scene with this lady checking her make-up. I took a photo straight away with other people in the shot and then stayed in the same place waiting. Luckily I caught a fraction of a second where no-one was visible and took this shot. It has happened so many times that the subject moves away while I am waiting. On this occasion, I was lucky.

fuji-x100t-2015-06-16-17h27min02s
Fuji X100T @ 1/60s + f/2 + ISO 800

The 35mm in street photography.

The 35mm lens (23mm on apps-c and 17mm on micro four thirds) is the most used focal length for confirmed street photographers. The other popular lenses are the 50mm that has been used for decades and the 28mm. For information on the 50mm focal length, click here and here.

fuji-x100t-2015-06-12-21h16min29s
Fuji X100T @ 1/210s + f/3.2 + ISO 200

After lauding the qualities of the 50mm focal length, why am I now saying that the 35mm is better? Well, I’m not saying it is better, nor that you should ditch your new 50mm! There are certain qualities to the 35mm lens that you should take into consideration.

fuji-x100t-2015-04-09-19h06min44s
Fuji X100T @ 1/350s + f/2.8 + ISO 200

First off, 35mm are more difficult to make so they are more expensive. More often than not, a photographer will start out with a nifty fifty and I stand by the idea that it is a great lens whether you are a beginner or a confirmed photographer.

Elderly lady
Olympus omd-em5 + 17mm f/1.8 @ 1/320s + f/2.5 + ISO 200

The 35mm lens is wider than the 50mm so to capture the same scene, you need to get closer. Frank Capa famously said : “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”. He is telling us to get closer, and that is intimidating to a lot of us. The fact of the matter is that if you a close to your subject, the photograph will have a more dynamic quality. The viewer will get the impression that he is in the scene. This focal length sucks us into the scene.

fuji-x100t-2015-04-09-19h08min03s
Fuji X100T @ 1/125s + f/2.5 + ISO 1000

In in more crowded areas it is often difficult to get far enough away from a subject to capture it. I’m talking about crowded streets, buses, metros. You may find that a 50mm is too long and it is not always possible to move backwards. To remain discrete in the streets, your movements must be natural. Moving forwards is natural, stepping backwards is not and you will attract attention. If you notice someone you want a photo of, pick up some courage, take a few steps towards them, raise you camera and take the picture. You’ll be surprised how often the person won’t even notice or be bothered about it. If you are shy, don’t make eye contact and move away fast. If someone challenges you, say hello and explain what you are doing. If the person is offended then offer to erase the photo. Don’t get into an argument for a picture, it is not worth it and it is important to respect other people’s wishes.

Dancing in the rain
Fuji X100T @ 1/125s + f/4 + iso 400

The wider angle of a 35mm lens enables you to capture quite a lot of background. That means buildings and also other people. You’d be surprised how this enriches a photo it carries much more information.  I’m persuaded that this gives your photography a timeless quality. People will always be people but buildings and streets change over time. When looking at old street photos, I often look around at the background and wonder at how our urban environment has changed over the years. This is also true for clothes and style too.

fuji-x100t-2015-04-07-11h09min00s
Fuji x100T @ 1/1000s + f/2.5 + iso 200

The wider angle gives a perspective distortion that you can use to good effect. A close up portrait with a 35mm might not always be flattering (with a bit of care you can still get a good portrait) but for pets it can be amusing.

Cute!
Olympus omd-em5 with 17mm f/1.8 @ 1/80s + f/2.8 + iso 200

 

 

 

 

The 50mm in street photography.

Let’s start at the beginning. It is commonly accepted that a prime lens in preferable over a zoom in street photography. But why? There are several good reason:

  • First of all, a prime lens is smaller than a zoom and being inconspicuous is important. The camera is also smaller and fits into a smaller bag.
  • Prime lenses are lighter. You shoulder/neck/back will thank you.
  • Framing and shooting needs to be done quickly because in street photography a scene can be very fleeting. Sometimes you can find yourself moving your camera to your eye and before you can press on the shutter, the scene has changed, the moment is gone.
  • Prime lenses are reputed to have a better image quality than zooms, although IQ (image quality) is good to have, there a few bad lenses. More importantly, prime lenses are faster : ie. they let in more light. A good (expensive) professional zoom will open to f/2.8 but  a “nifty fifty” (cheap 50mm prime) opens to f/1.8. A better quality prime will open to f/1.4 and it will let in 4 times more light than more expensive f/2.8 lens at a lots more that the kit lenses usually sold with cameras.
  • Some prime lenses are very special in the way they “draw” the photo. Leica lenses have this reputation. I own the fuji x35f/1.4 and in my opinion, it has an extra something…

    fuji-x100t-2013-08-30-15h26min32s
    Fuji x-e1 + XF35mmF1.4R @ f/4 + 1/2700s + iso 200

As you see the 50mm lens is a great candidate to be the street photographers friend. It is also the cheapest prime lens.

The first difficulty when starting street photography is getting close enough. When you are close, people will see you. That makes it all the more difficult to raise your camera and take a photo. The 50mm is a “normal” lens, it is wide enough to let you capture a scene and at the same time it is “telephoto” enough to let you stay far enough so you are not noticed.

Marché des Jacobins
Fuji x-e1 + xf35mmF1.4R @ f/1.4 + 1/2000s + iso 200

The longer the focal length, the better bokeh you get when you are close to your subject. Bokeh is a Japanese word that means he visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image. It is noticeable especially in the highlights (the bright areas) of a photo. With a lens that has good bokeh, the subject is well separated from the background and stands out well. With a 50mm prime lens open at f/1.8 or f/1.4 it is relatively easy to get a good background separation. This is not the case with the standard kit zoom lens that is bundled with a lot of consumer grade cameras.

fuji-x100t-2015-03-15-09h43min44s
Fuji X-T1 + XF35mmF1.4R @ f/1.4 + 1/280s + iso 200

The 50mm focal length is great for portraits as well. Be it a head shot or a head & shoulders shot, this focal length gives great rendition of faces. Beware though, it is not the focal length studio photographers use for portraits usually : a small telephoto (90mm to 135mm) is often preferred because you can stay further away from your subject while keeping a good bokeh and getting much less distortion on the face.

fuji-x100t-2015-06-14-16h03min26s
Fuji X-T1 + XF35mmF1.4R @ f/2 + 1/1500s + iso 200

In conclusion, the 50mm prime lens is cheap and lightweight, versatile in the sense that you can capture a scene and grab a portrait, and you get fabulous image quality! If you are starting out in street, travel or documentary photography , you should seriously consider getting one.

fuji-x-t1-2015-02-17-11h07min43s-edit
Fuji X-T1 + XF35mmF1.4R @ f/1.4 + 1/40s + iso 200

A few words on equivalence…

Photographers speak in focal lengths when talking about lenses. When I talk about the 50mm lens, I am talking about a focal length on a 24×36 film camera or on a “full frame” digital camera. Most of us own a camera with a small sensor called apps-c, micro four thirds, 1 inch or even smaller. There is a “crop factor” to consider in these cases so that the apparent focal length stays the same. (That also goes for the aperture of the lens in the way it blurs the background). A smaller sensor give less blur.

  • On an aps-c sensor (Fuji x series, Nikon D3000, Nikon D5000, Nikon D7000 series, Sony 6000 series etc) the crop factor is 1.5 and 50/1.5 is roughly 35 so a 35mm lens on this sensor will give you the same field of view as a 50mm on a full frame. I own the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 and I say it is my 50mm lens.
  • Canon apps-c sensors have a crop factor of 1.6. Their crop sensors are smaller.
  • On a micro-four thirds sensor, the crop factor is 2 so you need a 25mm lens.
  • On smaller sensors there are no interchangeable lenses to my knowledge now that the Nikon 1 series is discontinued…(just a rumour so far…)
fuji-x-t1-2015-02-17-16h31min59s
Fuji X-T1 + XF35mmF1.4R @ f/1.8 + 1/1500s + iso 500

 

Why should I start street photography?

Why should I start Street Photography?
    This should be a fairly straightforward question for each reader to answer. If you have clicked on this link and are reading this then you already know. Either you feel the appeal or you don’t… and I do. I started photography in 2008 and my first street photo dates from 2013. It is a picture of a street musician in Paris in front of Montmartre. I had a D800 and a Zeiss makro planar 2/100, nice equipment indeed! Over the top even. Up to that point, my main focus was on portraits : my family, friends, their dogs… in colour and in black&whire. It felt natural one day to turn to the streets for photographic material…

Please ask for permission before publishing
Nikon D800 + Zeiss Makro Planar T*2/100ZF.2 @ 1/200s + f/4 + ISO 100

So if you like observing people and life around you, if you have a natural empathy for strangers or if you are curious about how other people live their lives, then I think that street photography can be fulfilling to you as a photographer.

Marché des Jacobins
Fuji x-e1 + 35mmf/1.4 @ 1/2000s+f/1.4 + ISO 200

Otherwise there is nothing wrong with enjoying other peoples work and carrying on doing your own think. Don’t think you have to “do” street just because a lot of other people are.

fuji-X100T-2014-03-05-14h26min11s
Sony A7R + 35mmf/2.8 @ 1/800s + f/2.8 + ISO 100

What equipment do I need?

If I say that the equipment doesn’t matter, I would be telling the straight hard truth… but then why does this question always crop up? The thing is, we photographers, and me included, put a lot of time and effort in learning and researching about equipment instead of taking and editing photos. My conclusion is that the equipment we choose is really important to us personally. If we don’t like what we have then we cannot be creative as photographers. It is natural to evolve, we all suffer from G.A.S (gear acquisition syndrome) and we all know new equipment won’t make us better photographers. Ah, but I’m certain that is does… not because the equipment is better (even if it is) but because it gives us the extra push to go out and enjoy our photography. So let’s give in to G.A.S !

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus OMD-EM5 + 45mm f/1.8 @ 1/250s + F/2 + ISO 200

For those who are curious about what I use, I’m afraid I have to own up to a number of cameras and lenses… Having tried a lot of combinations, I am certain that mirrorless is the way to go. Just look at the different cameras I have used and I dare anyone to say that one camera is better than the others!

However, in street photography, discretion is good. Having a small bag, with just one camera and one lens is ideal. Your back and shoulders will thank you after a day out. I’ll make a post soon to compare the cameras I’ve owned and used and what I recommend.

fuji-X100T-2015-01-17-13h54min00s
Fuji X-T1 with 23mmf/1.4 @ 1/1400s + f/2 + ISO 200

That over with, and a brand new camera in hand, just open your front door and get out!