If you have read my street photography and social documentary page and looked at those images you will know that I am primarily interested in documenting daily life in a way that tells a story. I would say that is my core competency and specialist genre as a photographer at this point in time.
I am also interested in dynamic street photography and exploring the extra impact you can add to your images by breaking the established and conservative “rules” of photographic composition. I have instinctively used these techniques in the past but decided I wanted to learn more.
To learn more about this expressive form of street photography some friends and I attended a workshop by Jerry Webb in Brighton at the end of January 2020. It was an informative and enjoyable day. I think a successful photographer will always be learning and thinking about new ideas.
Abstraction, Distortion, Angles and Motion Blur
First of all Jerry gave us a presentation featuring both his own work and iconic images by famous street photographers from over the years. We discussed the various techniques used to add dynamism to the images presented. I am competent with these techniques but it was very informative to learn more about incorporating them into your street photographs.
Some of the main (but far from exhaustive list of) techniques we covered are as follows:
In a nutshell abstraction is an image that distorts reality, it really is as simple as that! If done well such images will invite the viewer to ponder the meaning and content of the image.
A simple way to distort an image is to use an ultra wide angle lens and get in close, real close! This breaks so many rules when photographing people. Conventional wisdom states that wide angle lenses deliver unflattering results for shots of people compared to the pleasing results that longer lenses deliver. But, done well, I love it!
This one is simple, vary your angles! Shoot high or shoot low and consider shooting from the hip. If all your images are taken from the same standing upright position with the camera at eye level they can lack impact and risk becoming “samey”. Mix it up and get funky with your angles!
This is already a favourite technique of mine, incorporating motion blur by using a slow shutter speed. If you are in control of your camera you can have motion blurred and sharp elements within your image, or you can blur the whole image as an abstraction technique.
The One Hour Challenge
After Jerry’s presentation and a lunch break it was time to get hands on and practical. We were given just over an hour to wander around Brighton city centre with our cameras and put everything we had just learnt into practice.
Jerry gave us a list of subjects to target and it was down to us to employ the techniques we had been discussing on those subjects. The target subjects I recall were street performers, dogs, abstraction and motion blur (there were more but I have mislaid my notes).
It was quite a challenge to get “in the zone” in an hour, but I do like a challenge and I enjoyed the photo walk.
Five Images and a Critique
Jerry invited each of us to submit five images to him for a written critique after we had processed our “keepers” from the day. I think critiquing is an important part of photography, both in terms of receiving feedback from others and in learning how to objectively critique our own work. This is how we evolve and improve as photographers after all! I have known Jerry for a few months now and I regard him to be a first rate photographer and a constructive and insightful critic.
MY Five Images and Jerry’s Critique
Here are my five “keeper” images from the photo walk, Jerry’s critique and my thoughts on each one:
1. Howler and the Docs
“What’s not to like, great dynamics, energy and composition with lines running from the centre to the edges, dog is in mid-howl you can almost hear it. It really works looking downwards with the bloke (I think) with his head cropped out – it’s all about the dog and the Docs. Other people are good for context but relatively unimportant. Works well in mono as well because of the strong shapes and line of legs in the centre of the image, but in the end colour sits better. Good palette, browns and reds emphasising the importance of those polished docs…Great picture.“
I think it is my favourite image of the session and I also prefer the colour version because of those polished Dr Martens. (Mono version excluded from this post). I got down at street level with an ultra wide angle lens for this one.
2. The Old Joanna
“Good mono pic, really works well – shades of 1960’s with old piano and hat contrasted with phone on the piano and the clearly modern women and girls. The bright white sky would ruin the colour version. Perfect composition, with the piano player so dominant, isolated against the paler background with his dark jacket and head nestled in the centre of the 4 leading lines. Also like that the piano player is not looking at the camera.”
Firstly, in how many cities will you see a bloke playing a full size piano in the middle of the road? I love Brighton for this sort of stuff! Secondly, it is the use of an ultra wide angle lens, shot up close, that helps to make this a successful image.
3. Dogs Life
“Dog completely filling the frame works, there is no doubt who is the star of the show and there is something comedic about it’s expression. Probably been better if the dog was in focus and not the woman, her expression is not as interesting but it still works well and was probably a snatched shot.”
I agree with you Jerry, the dog is the star of the show and there is definitely a comedic element to this image. This was shot at 14mm with the dogs nose about an inch from the lens. The lens is incapable of focussing this close, but it still seems to work, despite not being sharp. I also learnt that if you ask to take a picture of somebodies dog they almost always say yes!
4. No Entry
“I do like this. For me the confusion and the chaos of the window is what works. Those in the shop interwoven with the street crowd outside provides an image that needs to be digested. Street pics are too often about impact and laughs. Works well in mono. I would crop in or preferably have moved closer in as the exterior is not really necessary for context. There are lots of smaller elements that also work within the image.”
Jerry critiqued this image exactly as I submitted it to him in monochrome. I have since cropped it in MUCH tighter (he was right) and changed it back to colour. You would now never know that this is a window reflection without an accompanying explanation. In hindsight colour works best for this image as it better draws out and highlights the multiple and strange layers within the image. As an abstraction I think it works much better now.
5. Street Busker
“To be honest, doesn’t do too much for me. The ‘Pay In’ typography is relevant but a little distracting without seeing his collection pot on the ground. There is nothing that says anything about him really as a street portrait, the POV emphasises his stature but you feel you want to see his face.”
I tend to agree, it is the weakest image of my keepers from this session. I still quite like the angle of the shot taken whilst sat on the ground using a wide angle lens. I could do better though!
Jerry Webbs’s Brighton Workshops
I hope you enjoyed reading my take on exploring dynamic street photography. I certainly recommend Jerry Webb’s workshops to anyone local to Brighton who wants to learn more about this fascinating and creative approach to street photography. Jerry is a very talented photographer and teacher.
I think his workshops are suitable for all levels of photographer from the beginner through to the very experienced.
Criticisms of the workshop? None really. Just an observation. I would have liked a couple hours or more on the streets taking pictures. Don’t we all? One hour seemed a little rushed, but it did add a certain focus and urgency to obtaining our images. Maybe that was a good thing?
MY Brighton Street Photography
If you have enjoyed this post you might also be interested in my Brighton Street Photography gallery which includes full sized versions of the photos featured on this post. I hope you enjoy my images!