Last weekend I was invited by Kilometre Zero to come along on a photography course. They’re a small events management company and are branching out from organising for others to running their own events. This one was street photography, I didn’t really know what that meant exactly, but as a lot of my blog pictures are taken in the street I thought it would be useful to learn more. And it was!
The three hour course was taught by the Bragdon Brothers Gareth and Gavin and started with about an hour of them talking about things to look out for and showing favourite photos from famous photographers. While obviously I do take millions photos all the time, I know very little about photography as an art form (and also have no proper training in using the camera at all), so this was really interesting. Then we went out to take pictures! Street photography is really just about taking pictures in an unstaged, natural environment, so it could be anything, but Gareth and Gavin take close up pictures of people, so that’s what the focus was really. It was absolutely nerve racking! I didn’t really appreciate it at the time but when I finally put my camera away I actually felt so relieved (though glad I’d done it!).
We went up the Royal Mile and around the Castle initially, which made it a bit easier, because everyone has cameras out and you can pretend to take pictures of the scenery, so it wasn’t so bad, but it was worse on Princes Street. It took me ages to get going actually, I walked a long time without taking any photos, what eventually got me started was focusing on children. I think because I take so many photos of Milo and Ellis it feels quite natural for me, and also children are much less self conscious and generally just go about doing their thing. Though of course it adds another layer of complexity to the ethics of this.
And I do have to talk about that, because I’ve thought about and talked about it a lot and I still don’t really know where I stand. Gareth and Gavin’s position was very much you’re in a public place, it’s legal to take pictures of anything in a public place, so you’re good to go. But I like to aim for a little more than ‘not illegal’! Maybe because I work in research, and have recently been involved in a project through which I know data protection and privacy legislation and rules really well, but there’s always shades of grey, not just legal/illegal. As a researcher you are always thinking about ethics, and making an assessment of risks and benefits, so lots of times you wouldn’t be doing things that would be perfectly legal under the data protection act, because you think about the potential long term consequences. G&G even said at one point that if someone asks you to delete their photo, you do that, and then restore it later. I mean, no, if someone asks me to delete it, you delete it and that’s that. I would never use an interview transcript if the interviewee had withdrawn their consent, no matter how useful the information, so I don’t think the end justifies the means at all!
However, I do love these kind of photos, G&G’s own work and the images they showed are amazing, and this is the only way of getting them, so I don’t know. I guess it depends on how you are positioned relative to your subjects too. We watched a documentary afterwards about the street photographer Dougie Wallace who takes pictures of the super rich out shopping in Knightsbridge and he obviously doesn’t feel he owes them anything.
Anyway, for my own pictures, I’m fairly sure no one noticed me taking them except the wee boy picking his nose, who I was walking behind for a little bit and actually only noticed because he looked at me. I’ve decided to share the pictures, because I’m pleased with them. I don’t think there’s anything potentially embarrassing in them, they are not linked to any information about people and I do think they are sympathetic to the subjects. But I’m still not sure how I feel about all of this.
Anyway, enough about ethics! I did also learn some new things about the camera settings. I usually take pictures with a shutter speed of about 200, and a lowing f stop, but they recommended a much faster shutter speed and higher f stop to be able to react quickly to things, so this is a new combo for me. Getting the setting right was actually really hard because the weather changed from bright sun to overcast constantly within minutes, but that’s always been a problem for me! They encouraged us to think about what happens in the background as a way of filling the frame, rather than relying on a shallow depth of field to make everything blurry and while I don’t think I did that very well, being too preoccupied with the actual people I was taking a picture of, that is definitely something I plan on thinking about more in future. They also encouraged us to stick to a 25 to 35mm focal length as that is a natural field of vision and just get closer in physically, but I couldn’t make myself do it and most of these are taken with the lens on full 55mm zoom. Though at least not all!
So yeah, I would recommend this course for any photographers fancying a challenge (or more willing to get in people’s faces anyway)! Kilometre Zero have a range of other events as well which you can see on their events page.
Sorry for overload of photos, I put these on FB to pick a favourite to submit to a competition among the participants, and these are all the ones mentioned by at least one person. This is the full flickr photoset.
Disclosure: I went on the course for free in return for an honest review