This is a series in which I’ll post and critique my own photographs as I learn street photography and zone focusing. Below is the story of why I decided to do this. I hope you enjoy it, but be warned, I’m pretty new at this. It’s entirely possible I’m doin’ it wrong. 

If you’re a TL;DR sort of person, feel free to use the links above to get right into it. If you’d prefer just see the photos, you can find them on Flickr, here.

December 8, 2013

I hadn’t visited Engadget in about 4 years, but when I saw “A Guide to Street Photography” on Twitter receiving praise, I decided to check it out. The series is very good, and I recommend checking it out, but I lean heavily towards Antonio Olmos’ dark art of manual exposure, and Matt Stuart’s manners and autofocus

Matt talks about hyperfocal distance and how he uses it for street photography. I loved how simple it sounded (to implement, not become proficient at) so I thought I would give it a shot. A few days ago, I set out on the streets of Toronto and spent a good 6+ hours wandering and a lot of shooting. A lot.

Unlike Matt, I’m not a Leica shooter. I don’t expect I ever will be. That’s probably because I’ve never actually touched a Leica camera, but I can’t even come close to justifying that sort of price when excellent and relatively tiny cameras like the Fuji X100S are available. The only trouble I had with this camera is people actually did notice it, some even stopped me to ask if I was shooting 35mm film. I’m convinced the more retro-looking silver has a lot to do with that, and it’s something I hope to remedy next year after the rumoured black X100S is announced at CES, but I’m getting way off course here.

I’m relatively new to street photography.

I’m relatively new to street photography. In fact, by almost every measure, I’m a total novice. I’ve really only been shooting street since July when I got the X100S. Zone focusing is also foreign territory for me. The kind of shooting I’d done to date simply didn’t require it. With candid street photography, every half second counts so anything that promises I don’t have to focus (as much), I’m going to try.

In his video, Matt suggests setting focus to around 12 feet, ƒ/8 or 11, and that should get you around 1/500th of a second on a sunny day, using ISO 400 film (hipster). Since it was my first time, I decided to play it safe and shot most of the day at ƒ/11. I set Auto ISO on with a minimum shutter speed of 1/125th of a second. I set my focal distance to somewhere between 2 and 3 metres, and off I went.

My biggest mistake was to start second-guessing. I started switching to the EVF with focus-peaking turned on to gauge where I was actually focused. It looked as though I was focused much too closely. Looking back through my photos, there are more than a few that are back-focused. I think that if I hadn’t mucked about with the focus ring so much, and trusted the approximation, I’d have had more success. But this day was all about learning, so no matter.

I shot 212 images throughout the course of the day. What was interesting to me is how my photos evolved just in the span of 6 hours. In the morning, I was getting close to people, trying to nab candid shots of those who looked interesting. I started out stealthy, but became more and more brazen as the day went on. In the early afternoon, I started getting a little bored of my own photos. It felt as though I was taking the same shot over and over again. Then I decided to try something new. I slowed down a bit more, and worked harder at telling a story with the image, getting more clever with my timing, framing, and minding the background. I almost always failed in at least one area, often in all 3, but each time I did was a lesson in what to watch out for next time.

I have 65 images I’m pleased with in one way or another. It could be composition, timing, colour, or even just an interesting person. Sometimes, I think I even managed to tell a story. Many are technically flawed, but overall I’m pretty pleased with my first adventure into zone focusing. I thought it might be of interest if I posted a series in which I critique each image, and comment on what I think I got right and where I think I missed. Sharing and writing things up like this has always helped me look at my photos more critically and learn. You’re welcome to join in on the critique on Twitter or Flickr.

I have a ton to learn, and I’m really excited about that. Get started with the first 10 photos.