Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Reinventing the Street Portrait with Kale Friesen in Chinatown Vancouver

Fujifilm X70 with EF-X20 flash. 1/4000th sec f/5.6 @ ISO 800 with fill flash
The most common question I get about street photography is how to get a good street portrait. First of all, what is a street portrait? For some, it's approaching a complete stranger and asking them to pose for a picture on the spot. For others, it's taking a portrait-like candid image of a stranger without permission. Still for others, a street portrait is a simply a portrait taken of someone outside on the street. I'm not dogmatic and can appreciate each approach, but sometimes I get bored. I get bored of taking portraits of strangers. I get bored of taking portraits of friends. Is there a way to merge the two? Can I take a street portrait that's both predictable and random? With the help of local fashion photographer Kale Friesen, I decided to give it a try.


To be honest, I've been working on this layered style street portrait for years. I'm often with family or friends while reviewing a camera or lens, and I want to incorporate them into an image. A standard portrait is fine, but I get bored very quickly after the same old same old. Yes, I do want a certain level of control in my images, but I also want to incorporate spontaneity and randomness. Most street portraits focus on the subject only, often blurring out the background or adding slight hints of surrounding people who are not part of the main subject(s). For me, not only do I want to see the subject in relation to their environment, but I also want to see other people in the image, not just blurry blobs in the background. The solution? Merge the standard portrait with street photography and the candid portrait. Here's how to do it in 5 easy steps:

Fujifilm X70 with EF-X20 flash. 1/4000th sec f/5.6 @ ISO 800 with fill flash
  1. First, find a willing model for the portrait session. Think about what type of portrait you want to take and then make sure to match your subject to that style. Or if you have the subject first, think of how to match them to a style you think you can create. Be authentic to your style and to your subject.
  2. Next, connect your subject with the environment. Will it be complementary or contrasting? Think about the relationship between the subject and the background, and then proceed to structure the image to exploit this relationship.
  3. Now position the subject and the background in a way that the flow of pedestrian traffic can be captured in an interesting way. Will the flow of people be across the frame, towards, or even moving away? How close will the candid subjects be from your main subject? Will they be in focus or slightly blurry? Will you need to use fill-flash, or is there enough ambient light? While thinking of the technical aspects of the image, make sure your main subject is engaged. Keep talking with them and make sure they are as natural as possible, which also puts the surrounding people at ease. It won't feel like they are interrupting a 'real' portrait session.
  4. Start shooting. Kindly direct your subject, but making sure you keep the conversation going. Your model should feel at ease and relaxed. If people stop moving because they think they're interrupting, tell them to keep moving because you're still adjusting your settings. It's best to shoot with your head up (not looking through the EVF) so you can see who's entering into the frame, especially if you are shooting with a non-wide angle lens. Even then, it's good to see people before they enter into the frame. 
  5. Keep shooting. With high pedestrian traffic, you never know what you're going to get. The combination between your main model and your candid pedestrian is constantly changing and the moment is spontaneous so don't stop shooting until you feel either your subject is getting bored or tired, or when you've worn your location out (people stop entering into your frame).
Fujifilm X70 with EF-X20 flash. 1/4000th sec f/5.6 @ ISO 800 with fill flash
That's pretty much it. Give it a try. It's enjoyable working with someone you know, someone who's willing to pose for you for an extended period of time, unlike most impromptu portraits with a complete stranger who may give you 30 seconds. It's also great getting random strangers into your photos without having to shoot from the hip or from hiding in some dark corner. Yes, the candid portion of my image was reasonably easy since my 'subjects' walked into my frame; I didn't have to go chasing after them. Kale and I had a great conversation while I was taking his picture, as if it wasn't even a portrait session. We had a good laugh as some people tried their best to avoid walking into our frame. This entire session was only about 2 minutes and I was able to get 4-5 decent images.

For this mini project I used the new Fujifilm X70 and the EF-X20 flash, although you can pretty much use any camera. I prefer small and compact to attract the least amount of attention.  I also recommend a wide angle lens as you can have many elements as points of interest (main subject, background, candid pedestrians). This also allows you to be close to your subject to keep the session more casual and the conversation natural. So the next time you're out with a friend and want to take more than a standard portrait, give this a try and let me know how it works out. Thanks for visiting and happy shooting.

BHT


15 comments:

  1. Thanks for this article. It offers a nice alternative to the type of street portraiture I'm accustomed to doing. I did the 100 Strangers Project on Flickr with a Canon 5D MK II and medium telephoto lens for the most part, though I did use a 50mm and 17-40mm with some of them.
    I got the Ricoh GR about 3 months ago, and I can see where this approach would work very well with this camera that is so similar to the X70. I look forward to trying some of this next time I get out to do some street shooting. Thanks again for sharing!

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    1. Yes the Ricoh GR is very similar to the Fujifilm X70 in terms of specs and shooting style. The 50mm lens is definitely the classic way to get a street portrait, but I find it crops out too much of the surrounding area and I don't like the physical distance between me and my subject. It's harder to shoot wider for a portrait, but not impossible. Have fun trying it with your Ricoh GR and let me know how it works out. Thanks for commenting!

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  2. Hello Take. So glad to read you again! It's been so loooong! Hopefully you write as well for fujilove 😁.
    I'm still waiting for your review of the X70! I went through a few one on the Web but I'd like to have your opinion on the x70. I'm still not sure if I have to wait for a ricoh GR III or grab the x70... The fuji seems awesome with the possibility to shoot either 28,35 or 50 with some kind of upscaling. How do they do that?

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    1. Hey Jeff, thanks for visiting my blog. I am currently waiting for all the accessories to come in: the hood, wide angle adapter, optical viewfinder. Once I have everything I will finish my final review. Thanks for your patience

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  3. I will have to try this method soon, it sounds like a great and fun alternative.

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    1. Thanks, yes I have a great time doing this. If you look at many of my street portraits, I typically incorporate this style. Good luck!

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  5. Hi Take,
    Thanks for more shooting sessions with Kale and the new X-70! I am currently debating this or the X-e2(s) as it is also lightweight, and can use the excellent primes 18/23/35 on it. I have borrowed an X-T10 and loved the Jpg output, but not the jpeg buffer. How is the X-70? Thank you, can't wait for your review, also how does it in your hand vs. X100s/xe2 etc? I am new to street and realize sharpness isn't as vital but for using it for family and travel is the x-70 lens sharp enough?
    Thank you! Great work as always -Shidan

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    1. Sorry meant to ask how is the feel in your hand compared to the others.

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  6. Hi Take San,

    Been a great follower of your you tube videos. I own both the Q and the current M-P. Being seeing your video about using the Fuji EF-X20 flash on both these LEICA bodies. I am having some problems on the tight fitment with the rubber foot on the left side of the flash rubbing into the body of the M and Q... I can see some slight burr marks and worried I will scratch the body. Did you have any problems on fitment

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    1. Thank you Take San and keep up the great reviews !

      Best
      Simon

      Hong Kong

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  7. What kind of camera strap is this? I have been looking for one like this style for awhile for my GR

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    1. I think Kale just used the standard Fujifilm strap

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