If it’s warm outside, and the shadows are cool and jaggered, then I have to grab my camera, and stroll out into the city streets. Spring is here.
The irresistible streets of Berlin where crowds flow along, jam and stop-start every few seconds. People strolling, cars edging at slow speeds.
Along Friedrichstrasse, the main street in Berlin, drivers like to show off their yellow and red paint jobs. Spring beckons everybody to enjoy the warmth of the street.
I can walk along Friedrichstrasse on a Saturday afternoon and watch a pimped-up car pass, I stop and gawk for a moment, but cars don’t make good passing shots for a street photographer. I’m looking for people, shadows and lines. Compositions that stop me in my tracks.
It always takes time to get into the swing of street photography. Walking, looking, seeing; but my mind is lazy with too much reading and repetitive TV shows. Too much winter.
So I keep looking. It’ll happen, something forces its shapes and shadows onto my mind, it reminds me of what I like, and get the first shot.
A simple shot of two people walking among the hedgerows close to the Reichstag building. It’s the photographer’s ability to frame a shot that allows us to see things as we need to, and manipulate a scene to have a meaning. I like the idea of photographing people who appear to be alone, or lost for a moment. Frame it correctly, according to your own interpretation, and you have an interesting shot, albeit a simple shot.
Spring sunshine reminds us of hope and health. The feeling that all is well again, and that we can plan to be outside, it allows us to make plans to spend free hours wandering the streets to enjoy the heat.
At this time of year, you can walk along a Berlin street, and if there are patches of grass with bushes, guaranteed, you will see rabbits. They are always basking in the sunshine.
This applies to the Berlin Hells Angles too.
Walk along the asphalt areas of Berlin in spring time, and after a while you’ll see Hells Angels coming out of side streets, kicked back on their cycles, paintwork glistening under the deep polish, leather waistcoats, and panniers packed with tools. Those sleek lines along the bike’s framework beg for a photo. If you are lucky, you can come across large packs of Angels on their spring Run. Testing machines, showing off to the crowds as they roar through the traffic, passing stopped cars as they sparkle and gleam in pride.
There are many opportunities to take photos in street photography. But they are not all open to us. We have to be careful, and respectful of other people and their desire for privacy.
Some street photographers act as if it’s a game of bravery. Who can get a shot so close, a person’s face, that there’s a sense of shock at how close and invading the photographer was? Bravery, foolishness, and invading other people’s lives isn’t the point of photography. You can’t claim to be a decent fellow human being, but also claim that, somehow, when you’ve got a camera in your hand you can take time-out from being attentive towards others, and shove a camera in their face. Just to get a close-up shot of a total stranger.
Getting up close is important, but I can’t buy the idea of, “the closer, the better”, better is a thoughtful and well composed shot.
The challenge that causes the mind to stir is developed through practice. Skills that require a wide awake mind. To look and see, to recognize a motif, a composition that is forming — and to know that it will be fleeting, so it’ll form and disappear quickly. To take photos of moments in life that concern all of us, somehow.
I love to watch the flow of people. Total strangers exiting a public doorway form into a funnel of shadow and light. It’s moving, so it’s always changing. So of course, it’s spring time and the light is bright. Feet in shorts steps, shiny boots, and white shirts that create beautiful folds catch the light in crisp streaks.
Each shot is an experiment. That creates a challenge for the mind to search and find constantly.
Each shot is different. Processing each shot after the fact, is also an individual experience. I only use basic controls of light and shadow adjustment, colour control to tone it down when it’s a good composition, but too garish in colours.
The above photo is at a favourite spot of mine; I pass it often, but always stop to look properly, deeply, and to consider what I can do with it. Big wide angles of space offer fantastic opportunities for street photographers. In some cities, it’s rare to find a space that is big and broad. Often it means that you’re looking at a pit in the ground, sand, and building materials that are being used to build another block of flats, or offices.
Berlin is good at utilizing space for its residents. You can walk along a street, take photos of people, but then come across a patch of ground between a main road full of traffic, and a housing area full of parked cars. The patch of ground can often look like a natural park, bending trees, pathways worn by people using the same routes, and grass that is overgrown. A little oasis of nature.
Photography, art, writing, all these things help us to create a meaning in life. We look, and listen, then record something.
As time passes with practice, we begin to understand more of what it is that we are trying to get at, why it’s important to us.
Street photography is a fascinating practice. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it just needs time and thought, self-understanding about motivations. Street photography is a great way to practice art on the hoof.
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