In approaching this assignment, I was conscious that there are various means of freeing a picture of people which would not be compatible with the idea of choosing the “decisive moment” to take a shot. One of them would be to set a very long shutter speed with the camera on a tripod. Another would be to crop or clone out individuals. I made a conscious decision to avoid those in my process. I set to go out and take pictures during daytime at normal shutter speeds, and wait (sometimes for a long time) until there was a moment where no one was visible in the frame. In a way I was being faithful to my way of approaching street photography, but rather than waiting for a person to walk into the frame, I was waiting for all of them to walk out.
The pictures were taken with wide-angle to normal lenses (equivalent to 28mm, 35mm and 42mm in full frame) at a shutter priority setting with shutter speeds of between 1/60s and 1/500s, to ensure minimum camera shake and/or the freezing of movement in some scenes. The camera was set at medium ISO settings (between 400 and 800) to ensure aperture values remained in the mid-range (around f5.6 ~ f8) but also to maximize the dynamic range for the camera used. I completed a total of 9 photographic sessions for this assignment, with 174 pictures taken in total, all of them taken in central London at various times of the day. Post processing was primarily limited to lighting adjustments, corrections of the verticals and minor cropping.
Out of these, 30 pictures were initially selected and finally, cut down to 10. The final 10 were printed, out of which 7 were selected for submission. The final selection was made on the basis of how the print looked in terms of dynamic range, sharpness, and variety of locations. Most of the pictures selected also provide what I consider to be visual anchors, guiding the viewer’s attention towards certain parts of the images. The final selection in show below. Contact sheets marked to the initial selection can be found here. I have provided some brief notes on the shooting process for each picture in their caption.
Regent’s canal, Islington – This picture was one of the more difficult ones to take because this section of the canal is particularly busy during the day, and specially around lunchtime (when this was taken) when many people run along the path to the left of the picture. I only had about a 5 second window when to take the shot and had to wait approximately 10 to 15 minutes for the right moment to do that.
Cecil Court, City of Westminster – This was taken early on a Sunday when the shops in the court were mostly closed, which helped to have a clear foreground, but the thoroughfare at the far end is Charing Cross road, which is one of the busiest roads in central London, even on a Sunday. I did have to wait a while for people chatting on the pavement there to move along, as well as for the road to be cleared of buses and other traffic.
The Barbican estate, City of London – This was also taken on a Sunday, around 10 am. The sitting area in the foreground is usually quite busy during weekdays, but relatively quiet during weekends.The main challenge in this occasion was people constantly entering the church at the back, as this was taken just before the start of Sunday’s service.
Cheapside, City of London – Again taken on a Sunday, when crowds tend to be less subdued. In this one, I had to wait for people on the shop to the right to move out of the way (there was a smoker who removed himself by hiding behind one of the columns, although you can still see the smoke from his cigarettes if you look carefully). Surprisingly, the owner of the sweeper cart in the foreground did not enter the frame during the 5 minutes or so that I had to wait to take the picture. For this picture and the previous two, the shooting strategy primarily focused on selecting the right time of the day / week when places that would normally be full of people were less busy.
The Barbican estate – City of London. This was taken during lunchtime on a week day, but I did not have to wait long to take this picture, as these gardens are normally only open to residents of the state and consequently not very busy.
Moorgreen house, Islington. Like in the case of the picture above, I did not have to wait particularly long to take this picture because this road actually leads to the back of the estate and consequently not as busy as the main entrance. For this and the previous picture, the shooting strategy centered around finding locations that were urban and played into the expectation of being busy, but that in reality are never too busy, thus facilitating the shooting process.
Golden Lane estate, City of London – This picture, part of the last shooting session for this assignment, was taken during lunchtime, when the tennis courts are particularly busy. On that day, both courts (only one fully visible here) were being used for coaching, and at any given time balls were flying over the net, with players occasionally moving into the frame to hit the balls. In keeping with the theme of trying to use visual anchors for the pictures in this set, I waited until sufficient net balls were accumulated into the middle of the ground, in an arrangement that was both in diagonal and ending on a third, before taking the shot.