There are different ways to practice street photography. The two most popular approaches are described as hunting and fishing. Hunting describes a photographer who is constantly in motion, searching for a scene, subject, or moment that triggers the raising of the camera and the release of the shutter. People often imagine street photographers weaving through a crowded street. They’re creatures, sharks, constantly in motion.
Fishing describes a less hectic approach. Instead of scanning the urban landscape for a special moment, the photographer discovers a scene that offers the potential for a good composition. The allure could be lighting, lines, colors, or juxtapositions. This provides the photographer the luxury of refining a composition. He then waits for another element to complete the image, such as a person entering the frame.
I’m often asked which of these two types defines me as a street photographer. And though I favor fishing, hunting also informs how I see and make photographs. I don’t think that I must be either one or the other. Both approaches have their advantages, and it’s essential to master both. Each develops unique skills that are essential to making good images consistently.
Hunters need to always be ready. They’re in complete control of their cameras. They know how to quickly set and change their shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, and focus to address complex lighting and fast-changing scenes. They know that fumbling with the camera will likely cost them the shot. The difference between success and failure is measured in fractions of a second.
Fishermen rely less on fast reflexes; instead, they discover the potential of a setting and build a composition around that. Choices such as focal length, distance, exposure, and the relationship between foreground and background are carefully considered. This is the foundation on which a finished photograph can be built. The added fluid elements such as people, animals, vehicles, or shadows serve as an additional, but possibly important, element to the picture. Those elements provide the final gesture, contrast, or flourish needed to make the photograph into something special.
I led a workshop in Tokyo and was explaining this approach to one of my students. We walked through a tunnel, and I stopped, pointing to the contrast between light and shadow surrounding us. Though I was busy talking to him, I was still scanning the environment, hunting for something that piqued my interest.
I recognized this scene because I chose to stay aware. I practiced visual diligence; otherwise, I’d have obliviously walked past the very thing I hoped to discover. We stepped back and examined all that the scene offered us. The high-contrast light produced hard lines and deep shadows. There was an abundance of repeating shapes, lines, and textures. Yellow was the color that dominated the scene, but there were also small accents of green and blue. All of this combined to produce a graphic still life.
I applied my fishing skills to compose the scene. I used my Fujifilm X100F camera with its fixed 23mm f/2 lens, which offers the equivalent of a 35mm focal length on a full-frame camera. I carefully considered my camera position and the placement of elements at the far edges and corners of the frame. The composition was good, but I knew that I needed something else. It required a person to walk through the tunnel as we had. The human figure would provide a sense of scale and contrast to the hard and sharp lines.
Different people walked through the scene but didn’t provide what I needed. The person had to walk near the far wall to retain my composition. It was the only space where their body would be illuminated by the late afternoon sun. A person walking down the center of the pathway became more of a distraction and would force a change in my position, thus losing the composition.
I understood what I needed. I had to practice patience, which paid off after about 15 minutes with this older man carrying a shopping bag. All I needed to do was release the shutter as he walked out of the shadows and into the light. The resulting photograph is what I had envisioned. I would have preferred more expressive body language, but this would do.
The next thing was to bring the image into Adobe Lightroom Classic to build on the strengths of what I’d observed. (KelbyOne members can click here to download a smaller DNG version of this image for practice purposes only.)
STEP ONE: Open the RAW file in Lightroom Classic, go to the Develop module, and then go to the Basic panel. Click on the icon with four squares near the top right to open the Profile Browser, and select Adobe Neutral in the Adobe Raw set. This provides a flat rendering of the RAW file, revealing more shadow and highlight detail. Click Close to close the Profile Browser.
STEP TWO: Next, refine the contrast with some nuance. Go to Tone in the Basic panel and adjust Exposure to –0.10, Contrast to +24, Highlights to –20, Shadows to +17, Whites to +27, and Blacks to –6. Contrast is at the heart of this image, but you still want to retain some detail in the dark shadows.
STEP THREE: Though the midtone contrast is a less dramatic facet of this image, it is essential. Tweak these areas using the Presence control in the Basic panel. Set Texture to +19, Clarity to +15, and Dehaze to +13. Tweak the color slightly by setting Vibrance to +16. Pay careful attention to the man’s reflection on the surface above him. These settings provide a nice pop to this area.
STEP FOUR: The tunnel’s interior doesn’t provide anything of value besides an area of contrast. Darken this area while retaining some interior detail. Go to the Tone Curve module and choose the Parametric Curve control (the first icon to the right of Adjust). Set Lights to +13 and Darks to –11.
STEP FIVE: Yellow and orange serve as the dominant colors, but there are some accents of blue and green that can also be sweetened. Go to the HSL/Color module to make some changes. Click on the All tab at the top right so you can see all the sliders at once. Go to Saturation and set Red to –6, Orange to +9, Yellow to +13, and Aqua to +35. In Luminance, set Red to –18, Yellow to –17, Green to +9, and Blue to +3.
STEP SIX: The shadows possess a slightly bluish hue that produces a lovely warm/cool contrast between the highlights and the shadows when accentuated. In the Color Grading module, set the Shadows control to a Hue of 222 and a Saturation of 33. You can either drag the circle in the middle of the color wheel to change Hue and Saturation at the same time, or click on the word “Shadows” above the color wheel so you only see the Shadows settings with fields for Hue and Saturation. You can also use the icons to the right of Adjust at the top to view the different color wheels, or return to all three color wheels. Set the Highlights to a Hue of 62 and a Saturation of 62. Set the Blending control to 26 and Balance to –15.
STEP SEVEN: The image can benefit from a subtle vignette, so go to the Lens Correction panel, and click on the Manual tab at the top. In the Vignetting section at the bottom, set the Amount to –7 and Midpoint to 0.
STEP EIGHT: The culmination of these global adjustments improved the look and feel of the image; however, selective adjustments need to be made to make the man more prominent and reduce the distracting bright wall surface in the upper left-hand corner of the frame. Begin with the wall by clicking on the Masking icon (gray circle with dotted outline below the Histogram panel) and select the Brush tool (you can also press the letter K on your keyboard).
Select the Burn (Darken) preset from the Effect pull-down menu, which reduces the Exposure by –0.30. Turn on Auto Mask to help you restrict the effect to the wall, and then paint over that bright wall area. Press O on your keyboard to turn on Show Overlay to ensure you paint over this entire area (as shown in the image here). Tweak the result further by setting the Temp to 16, Exposure to –0.28, Shadows to –2, and the Saturation slider to –21.
STEP NINE: Next, let’s focus on the man. Click on Create New Mask in the Masks panel and choose the Select Subject option. Lightroom will automatically select the figure (again, use the Show Overlay option to see what’s selected). Reveal him more, especially his face, by setting Exposure to 0.41, Highlights to –32, Shadows to 48, Whites to –11, Blacks to –1, Texture to 19, Dehaze to –13, and Saturation to –6. Click the Masking icon again to close the masking tools.
I don’t think there’s a singular way to practice street photography. As with any other genre of photography, each person brings their sensibility and preferences to the mix. Rather than adhering to a predefined approach, you should learn what works best for you and build on those strengths. You’ll become a more consistent photographer, and reflect who you are and how you see.
ALL IMAGES BY IBARIONEX PERELLO