The Street is a Stage
There are many ways to approach street photography. One of my favourites takes patience but almost always pays off with a great image. The trick is to find an interesting background and turn the street into a stage. A ray of light, a wall with unique graffiti, or a storefront with an unusual window display all work well. Now you are set, the street is a stage, and you are the director.
Once you find your stage, take some time to see how people move around and through it. Where in the scene should they stand for the most impact? What direction should they be traveling across the set? Although you won’t be able to direct your cast of characters like a real play, by observing, you will learn how people interact with your stage. This way, when the perfect character approaches, you will know when to release your shutter. To make sure you are ready, switch your camera to manual focus and focus on the imaginary mark where you want your subject to be when you create your image.
You have your stage, and you know where your subject needs to be in the scene, now you need to find an actor. Finding the right person to play the part is where patience is an asset. Do not settle for the first person that walks past. And there is no need to get trigger happy and photograph everyone that walks across your set! Be discerning. You want a character that fits the bill and is worthy of your story.
When you see your character begin to cross the stage, carefully watch their movement. Time your shutter release for the instant your subject hits his or her mark. You may need to time their gait to ensure you catch them in full stride. One, two, three, click. Using burst mode is another way to assure that your subject is captured in the right place, and in the right step.
Explore your stage, remember you are the “director”. Try capturing people in different locations and from different perspectives. Do not settle. You will know in your gut when all the pieces fall into place and you have captured a winning image.
The Curtain Opens.
On one of my photowalks in downtown Vancouver, I found this window display. I decided it would make a great stage if I could find the right character to walk across it.
Here is another scene from Vancouver, this time in Gastown. How could I resist a backdrop like this one? It was begging for someone to wear the hat!
This day I found a wonderful ray of light near the entrance to the library. As I watched people come and go, I noticed how the beam illuminated them. Depending on their location, the light created long shadows on the wall or the ground. Other times it created silhouettes and backlighting. I would have to wait here for a bit!
Here is an example of the script evolving as I shot. Originally it was my intent to use the bricks as foreground interest and capture a person, hopefully with interesting shoes, striding across the road. After taking several images and reviewing them, I realized that people on the other side of the street created interesting silhouettes as well. This is when the re-write for the play happened. What if I could capture a figure in the foreground stepping over a silhouette in the background? It took almost thirty minutes of kneeling on the ground and over 100 images to get one where all the elements aligned. My back was killing me! However, I was extremely happy that I persisted as this is one of my favourite images.
So why don’t you find your own stage? Choose a set, audition a cast, and direct your own Tony-winning production. Figuratively speaking of course! I will leave you with a few more images, all of which were captured “on a stage.” I hope you enjoy them.