Walking The Talk

I was invited down to London on Thursday to talk about documentary and street photography at the Phototalks event in St Albans. Phototalks was started up by Phil Paine and Steve Shipman and has been running for a few years now. Thursdays event was split in two, with David Weightman doing a great talk in the first half and then me in the second half. Poor David almost had to fill my slot too as I was very close to missing my flight that morning.

Both talks went well and it was great to finally meet a lot of the people I had followed on-line over the years, including Neil James, Simon Atkins and Steve Shipman. Their system of pub, event and then back to the pub again was interesting and seems to work well for them :o)

I flew down early on the Thursday morning and then back late afternoon on Friday so I could get in a bit of street photography in London and even managed to do a bit in St Albans too. This selection of pictures are mostly from the X70, but there's also the odd one or two from the X-Pro2 and the X100F (I'm still using the pre-production one). The first five were shot in colour and converted to black and white using Nik's Silver Efex Pro. The last 5 were shot in colour using the Classic Chrome film simulation. I have another London street photography post from back in October 2016 HERE.

I know a couple of the guys tried to buy X70's the morning after the talk, but found they are now discontinued. Let's hope a new version with a 24mp sensor and Acros film simulation is on the horizon!

London Street Photography

I had the chance to shoot on the streets of London last week with the Fuji X70 and X-Pro2 with the 35mm f2. Thursday was a long and painful day, walking from 7am to 5pm with only a couple of 20 minute breaks for coffee. I paid the price with a sore hip and legs the following day, but it didn't stop me from going back to on the Friday. I've been putting up so much colour street stuff for a while, so I thought I would convert all of these to Black & White.

I paid a visit to Classic Camera (near The British Museum) while I was in London and bought a new street photography bag in the form of an ONA Bowery in the beautifully scuffle Dark Truffle Leather. I'll probably do a review on it soon as it's a great bag for street shooters.

Red

One of the games we play in street photography is to look for a certain colour. This helps us get in the zone and a focus mentally. So here is the first of seven posts based on the song 'I Can Sing A Rainbow'. 7 posts, 7 colours and 7 pictures of each colour.

Red and Yellow and Pink and Green, Purple and Orange and Blue. I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow.

How To Zone Focus For Street Photography

There are a few ways to shoot street photography, but probably one of the most interesting is shooting from the hip. We are so used to seeing everything from the viewpoint of our own two eyes that simply dropping the camera a foot or two can dramatically change our pictures and make them more interesting. Combine that with getting in closer and using a wider lens and the results can be quite dramatic. But shooting from the hip is not the easiest thing to do. The two main reasons for this is framing and focusing without looking through your viewfinder. The options when it comes to how you frame the shot are basically, guess where you think the lens should point, or use the LCD. The former takes a lot of practice and you really need to know your lens well. The latter can be difficult unless you have a camera with a tilting LCD screen. I use the Fuji X70 when shooting from the hip, which does have a tilting screen. Even just pulling the LCD out a little bit can make all the difference when framing a shot.

Zone focusing can be a great way to get in close to people on the street, but although it's best to use a really wide lens (for reasons that I'll go into later in this post), it's often easier to fill the frame with a person using a wide lens and shooting from the hip, than it is to use a narrower lens and shooting through the viewfinder.

WHAT IS ZONE FOCUSING?

Zone focusing is basically setting your camera to manual focus mode, adjusting your focus to the desired distance and then guessing when the subject is that distance from your lens and then shoot the picture. Obviously shooting at f1.4 wouldn't work for this because it would be impossible to be accurate enough at guessing the exact distance. So a smaller aperture is best for this

CAMERA SETTINGS

I prefer to set my Aperture and shutter speed manually, set my ISO to Auto. One of the reasons I like this setup is that the ISO is the only part of the exposure triangle that I want to be variable and it's easier to turn the Exposure Compensation Dial than it is to go into the menu. First off, here are my settings on the Fuji X70.

  • Shutter Speed: 1/500th Sec
  • Aperture: f8 or f11
  • ISO: Auto
  • Focus: Set to 6'

SHUTTER SPEED

I like my shutter speed to be 1/500 of a second to freeze the action if my subject is moving. This speed also let's me get away with not being completely still too. If the light is really poor I will drop this to anything between 1/500th and 1/250th. At a push I will go to 1/125th, but then I'm looking for still subjects.

APERTURE

Aperture should be set to f8 or above for zone focusing to work well. A lower f stop will result in a shallower depth of field and the chances of the subject being within that narrow slice of focus are slim, especially when you will be guessing the distance they are from your camera.

ISO

My Auto ISO settings are listed below. This is based on the way Fuji work Auto ISO, with most of the X-Series cameras having three custom ISO presets. Like I said, ISO is the variable one of my cameras three exposure settings (for the reasons listed above). Todays cameras are easily capable of producing great looking images at higher ISO's like 1600, 3200 and even 6400.

  • Base ISO: 200
  • Maximum ISO: 3200
  • Minimum Shutter Speed: 500th

LENSES

Zone focusing is best done with a wide lens. I'm speaking in full frame terms when I say that a 35mm lens is the largest focal length I would tend to use for zone focusing, but I would expect a lot of out of focus shots. 28mm and wider are ideal lenses for street! Using the manual focus distance scale on my X100T and switching between Normal (35mm) TCL (50mm) and WCL (28mm), I'll demonstrate the difference in the amount of depth of field available.

The blue line shows how much will be in focus. The dot in the middle of the blue line is the distance the focus is set (6' in all three cases here). I've chosen f8 here because it's a good average and shouldn't raise the ISO too much. If you move the aperture  to f11 or f16, the blue line will widen, and if you open the aperture to f56 or f4, the blue line will shorten and there will be less depth of field. So in the same way that shutter speed, aperture and ISO move in relation to each other, Aperture, Focal length and distance work together to determine the depth of field. Similarly. If you focus in closer from 6' to 4' the blue line will start to shorten too.

So what is this blue line telling us? Well in the case of the 50mm lens at these settings, everything between five and a half feet and six and a half feet will be in focus (1 foot of DOF). But with a 35mm lens, everything between five feet and seven feet will be in focus (2 feet of DOF). And with the 28mm that depth of field rises to three and a half feet. So the wider the lens used, the more depth of field available and the better our chances of the subject being in focus when we guess the distance they are to our camera.

CONCLUSION

To give us a fighting chance of getting a street shot that is in focus, we are looking to have a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, an aperture between f8 and f16 and a lens at least as wide as a 35mm (full frame). That is zone focusing (nothing to do with Fuji's Zone Focus Mode, which is an autofocus tracking mode). It can take a bit of practice to get it all coming together in a single frame, but when it clicks it really is the best method and actually takes a lot of the technical aspect away from shooting on the street and allow you to get into the (mental) zone and concentrate on pressing the shutter button at just the right time.

I hope this helps. Please share if it does.