Beaches Jazz Festival 2012

One of my favourite events of the year is the Beaches Jazz Festival.

The street festival is a photographer’s dream especially on Thursday night and still great on Friday night. By Saturday night the crowds are just too large around each act and clog the streets to the point that photography becomes difficult.

Where else can you sit with a wide angle lens five feet from a performer who camps it up for the camera. It’s wonderful.

I shoot almost 100 per cent available light so that means shooting from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at ISOs from 400 up to 1600 as the light levels fall. Sometimes the less experienced performers will remain in the shade of their tents making shooting really tough. Occasionally they can be convinced, by gestures, to come out into the brighter light of dusk as it falls but sometimes the speedlight on the camera actually comes in handy to bang a little light into their faces.

Again I dress in black and when I walk in front of the crowd I do my very best not to talk in front of someone’s video camera and if possible I sit down on the roadway so as not to impede the view of the listeners who arrived me. I will move if there’s a better view a few feet away but often I can guess the best spot to shoot from as I walk into the scene.

On Thursday night I carried just the D-90 with battery grip and a bag full of lenses. On Friday night I brought the D-300 with battery grip and the f1.8 35mm lens and the D-90 with the f1.8 85mm and that was it. 

Carrying two cameras and no camera bag was a lot easier and allowed me to be much more mobile than carrying the camera bag (It was a shoulder Think Tank ShapeShifter bag and beautifully balanced and easy to wear but boy it sure does hold a lot of equipment.)

Summer is a great time for outdoor festivals. Take your camera and have fun. I sure did.

The Ethics of Street Photography

I wrote and published a post about the ethics of street photography over the weekend but the guy whose site I linked to objected to the manner in which I linked and credited his photo which I used on site so I deleted the post and he’s lost the free publicity my site was providing to him. It’s not a complaint I would have made but as this is my site, he’s out and I’ve redrafted the ethics post because I think you deserve to see it.

So the blog is about the ethics of shooting strangers in the street with your camera.

So what is street photography?

It’s often considered real-life photography of street scenes and people. The concepts of freedom adopted in western society allow street photographers to photograph subjects on public property without permission or approval.

This is of course the basis of news photography. If news photographers had to ask permission of everyone they shot, there wouldn’t be any photos of people (okay few photos) in our newspapers and on TV.

Here’s how it works: Western law presupposes that there is no assumption of privacy when you’re in a public place. This applies equally to you and me and Madonna and all celebrities (and even politicians and criminals).

Now if you’re in a private place like a shopping mall in Canada you’re likely to asked to leave if you’re shooting with what looks like a professional camera. Point and shooters taking photos of family and friends aren’t likely to be bothered by security.

Same thing applies when you go to a rock concert. Everybody takes photos with their cellphones but don’t whip out a pro- or semi-pro camera as you’re likely to get shown the door. The Olympics in Britain has all sort of weird rules about who can shoot with what kind of camera. Also the rules change based on which buffoon in security you’re dealing with. A buddy of mine was shooting all day at a rib fest without issue and got hassled the next day.

Now notice I said above “Canadian” mall. Rules in the U.S. of A. are more on the side of photographer but this is a moving target.

Same moving target concept applies to what you can shoot from a public place if your subject is in a private place. You might get a hassle but no enforcement if you’re shooting someone on a patio bar from the street. You wouldn’t want to test the law if you shot your neighbour inside their own house from the sidewalk. This is especially true if whatever you shot was considered an invasion of privacy.

And the laws governing (or allowing) street photography are different in Quebec (with laws based on the Napoleonic code) and you can find yourself sued if your photo holds the subject up to unreasonable ridicule or public derision.

When it comes to news photography you can photograph anything you can see from a public place (and private when you can away with it) including shooting photos of juvenile offenders or people in the act of breaking the law. Having said that you’ll get hassled by cops who don’t understand the law (nobody can force you to delete your images especially in this day of instant WiFi uploads) and so long as you don’t enter into a big argument you can usually walk away with your images intact.

Notice I said you can photograph juvenile offenders. You can shoot them but you can’t publish the images. News photographers have no idea how old or young of the people they shoot at the time of the event. The newsroom figures that out later. Also, if the kid just shot the mayor his photos is going to get published regardless of his age. Illegal yes but newsworthy and worth the risk? It’s a tough call by the editor.

So let’s get back to the concepts of ethics.

Ethics are the moral philosophy that according to Wikipedia involves systemizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong behaviour. So when it comes to the ethics of street photography I humbly offer:

There is no such thing.

What one person finds offensive, another finds artful. Where one person finds the photographer to be intrusive, someone else may deem the interaction appropriate and in the service of the higher good.

It’s like the old argument around the paparazzi. Many people think these photographers go too far but I bet all or most of the complainers watch “Entertainment Tonight” and read “People” magazine at the hair dressers.

Now special event photography is street photography with a purpose 🙂 (These are some of my shots from Midnite Madness which took place on Friday night here in Oakville. Over 50,000 people showed up. Now that’s street photography.

I shoot a lot of special event photography and some of it looks like street photography and I love it.

Why don’t you get out and see how it goes for you?

Travelling Light…Again

I keep coming back to this topic every time I do a job with the Nikons.

Back when I was a kid (20 something) it was nothing to carry two Nikons (F2 and FM2) with a bag of lenses and a Metz 403 potato-masher flash with wet-cell over-the-shoulder battery pack. I could do this for days on end. Somedays I also packed a 35mm rangefinder camera and lenses as well.

Now, over 40 years later…not so much.

It seems I’m not alone. One of the sites I have subscribed to in my Google Reader (250 sites and growing) is Tewfic El-Sawy’s amazing The Travel Photographer. Based in New York City Tewfic mixes travel and documentary photography and you should spend some time looking at his images. It will make you a better photographer.

Of course so will attending a photographic workshop where we will find Tewfic at the 2012 Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Thailand from July 29-Aug. 4. If I was really serious about becoming a world-class photojournalist this would be on my list if I was a younger person. (As it was I just went out and did it and while I may never have worked overseas I had a great time working here in Ontario and don’t regret a moment of it.)

But back to travelling light. Tewfic in his blog post here (and this is the accompanying photo to the right) decided to travel light so he’s taking a Leica M9 with an Elmarit f2.4 28 mm and Voitlander f1.4 40 mm lenses plus a FujiFilm X Pro-1 with a Fujinon 18mm and a Tascam DR-40 digital recorder all in a Domke F3X bag.

(Here’s the image he used of the equipment.)

Now let’s get over the fact that the Leica M9 is a $7,000 rangefinder camera and the Elmarit sells used for $1400 or so and the Voitlander goes for around $700. It’s nice stuff if you can afford it and yes there is something special about Leica cameras. (I once owned an M4 with a 28, 35, 50 and 90mm lenses. I have always regretted selling the kit for mere cash. Dumb.)

But in the right hands any hand-held camera with a fast lens can at least approach the quality of the images that pros take with their high-end stuff.

Honestly I love my Nikons and the f2.8 105 Nikon macro lens plus the lesser but equally capable f1.8 35 mm lenses make for a pretty good street photography kit. Of course I can’t keep to that minimal kit. I load up the bag with a 12-24mm super wide and a f1.8 85 mm lens and maybe even the lowly f1.8 50mm lens plus a flash and maybe a monopod and I’m ready for the next jazz festival (like the one coming to the Beaches area of Toronto on the weekend). I’ll likely pack the superheavy f2.8 17-55mm as well.

But dress me in black (This is a trick I learned from Jay Masel who is my age and is one of the best street photographers in the world (There’s hope yet!). He also holds classes and this is on my list of things to do.) and it’s true you do blend into the background visual noise and as far as the crowd is concerned you’re just not there and on a hot day carrying all that equipment I’m beat in an hour.

If I take my Olympus Pens with me I can carry the EP-1 I got at a sell-off price and the EPL-2 which my wife loves plus a bag of fast lenses and maybe a flash and I’m done.

So why not take the Pens? For street photography they’re terrific. This is the system I take on vacation and I’ve used it for shooting parties and some special events. Everything fits into the one bag and I can carry it all day through airports and city streets. But…

But and it’s a big but, the Pens can’t keep up with the Nikons when push comes to shove.

At last week’s Midnite Madness I only carried the D-90 with the f1.8 35mm lens and I had a ball. Plus I wasn’t banging into everybody in the crowd of 50,000 with the camera bag.

So what am I taking to shoot the Beaches Jazz Festival this coming weekend in Toronto? My body says Olympus but my head says Nikon. I think I’ll pack both in the car.

If a jazz festival was just a shot here and a shot there, then it would be the Olympus Pens for sure. The image quality is amazingly good and rivals the Nikons despite the bigger sensors in the Nikons but a jazz festival is all about the feeling of the night. It’s about capturing facial expressions in fading dusk or stage lights. It’s about pushing the shutter button and hearing the camera firing 5+ frame a second in short bursts or one shot at a time instantly recording what you’re seeing. The Pens aren’t quite so quick (although the new OM-5D looks amazing but this isn’t about equipment and if I bought it my wife would kill me.)

So if you wanted a purchase a reasonably priced camera that could shoot like the pros what would I suggest?

First stay away from most point-and-shoots as the sensors are too tiny plus their built-in zoom lenses are too slow (in other words they can’t create shots with really shallow depth of field. Yes the higher priced ones take great shots but they don’t shoot fast enough and the lenses are usually too slow.

Second look at the Sony NEX-3 or 5 series of cameras. A lot of folks like them a lot and they take interchangeable lenses including some fast primes.

Consider just about anything in the micro 4/5ths format such as the Pens or Panasonic G5 or the new Canon EOS-M.

BTW you can find the EP-1 discounted to as little as $200. Add a f2.8 17mm pancake lens for $300 and you’d be set to shoot street photography IMHO.

FujiFilm is offering some amazing new rangefinder cameras with the X100 with a non-interchangeable but very fast f2 35mm lens or X-Pro 1 which isn’t cheap at $1,700 and that’s just for the body but cheaper than a $7K Leica.

If I can only carry one camera with a fast lens which one would it be?

I’d want to pick a camera that would take interchangeable lenses. Who knows, perhaps I’ll attract more cash and a second lens would then be viable. And as much as I’d love it, I’m not paying $7K for a Leica. I’d be scared to carry it on the street.

So that leaves me with two choices: I’d keep my Olympus Pen (either one would do the job) with the f2.8 17mm pancake lens (I love this lens. It’s contrasty and focusing speed is pretty much instant.) or I’d be really tempted to look at the FujiFilm X-pro 1 with either the f2 18mm or preferably the f1.4 35mm lenses (or maybe both!).

But before I bought any new camera I’d want to go to the camera store and see if it fits in my hands. If it doesn’t feel right, then I won’t buy it.

And one last point, Tewfic uses a digital audio recorder and you should too. More on that later.

40 Online Photo Editing Tools

Actually the entire title for this post is 40 Online Photo Editing Tools For Dummies but I don’t think you’re dummies at all.

This list of tools was forwarded to me by a buddy in South America (small world) and if you’re looking to have some fun this weekend editing some of your images this is a great list to have.

It comes off the speckyboy site and all the tools are free. Have fun.

Ordinary Shooting For Extraordinary Results

Last weekend it was my pleasure to shoot a family gathering of close friends of mine. I had volunteered to shoot the event as I wanted to present the images to them as my gift.

I had packed two camera bags. In the first were my Nikon lenses and a whole whack of accessories including a light meter, Expo (white balance) disk, light modifiers and a bunch of other stuff. In the other smaller camera bag I packed my Olympus Pens and seven lens plus an old Nikon SB-28 flash that works on manual with the cameras.

When I got to the party which was held out in the countryside with about 50 guests or more I was pretty disappointed in myself for forgetting to bring the actual Nikon cameras which I hadn’t bagged and left sitting on a desk at home. I could have gone home and picked them up and probably wouldn’t have missed much but I thought “It is what it is” so let’s get shooting with the Pens.

Now you wouldn’t think a summer party was anything special and a lot of my images are just of friends sharing time together. As a photographer you can read that to mean people sitting in lawn chairs drinking beer and wine. After a few shots, there’s not much else to shoot. The swimming pool helped and I got some great shots of kids jumping in. Dinner was hit and I got the flash to fire on manual and the cameras to work with it and the inside shots are pretty good. So are the family setup shots which I purposely allowed to be more casual than formal.

I like documentary form when it comes to shooting. I like, where possible, to crop in the camera and to hit my exposures correctly as I’m shooting. Having said that I love presets and filters and external editors which make my Lightroom 4 works beautiful IMHO.

But nothing works like chance and chance comes along when you shoot a lot.

And so as I’m going through 850 images and getting them down to 350 images and then down to 150 images there was one image that jumped out at me.

It was of three young people (I’m not going to publish here as I was shooting a private event and there is no expectation that these images would go online.). The three are sitting on a swinging chair that seats three across.

The older girl who is about 17, tall and really really pretty is wearing white shorts and lovely multi-coloured top tied below her shoulders. She is looking quite grown up and she’s a happy young woman.

In the photo she is looking down at her smart phone. Her look is one of expectation. She is almost biting the side of her lip as a thought passes in her mind. It’s an interesting expression.

The boy on the right is maybe 12  and he’s just wearing a bathing suit, his hair tossed across this forehead and he is smiling easily just past the camera position. He is a very beautiful boy and at that magical age between childhood and becoming a young man.

But it’s the little girl in the black rose dappled sun dress who is maybe 11 and looks, to my eye, a lot like Drew Barrymore did at that age that makes the image.

She is standing between the other two with her back partially to the camera looking over her left shoulder. Her mouth is pulled tight into almost pout. Her eyes are big and she stares unselfconsciously into the camera. Her eyebrows are raised just a touch. And what is that look? It’s one that will break hearts in a few short years. It’s startling and a bit indescribable.

A sun hat sits on the seat next to them. They are in the shade and behind them the  background is bright and out of focus. Chains hold the swinging chair and there is a metal bird feeder behind them.

It is one of the best images I’ve ever shot.

So am I alone in this practice of casual documentary photography?

No not at all. Photography is not about the equipment. It is about the image. It is about telling stories. We still photographers do this one image at a time.

Here’s a video about a very very accomplished documentary photographer Anthony Suau who is featured in a Lieca sponsored video called Facing Change: Documenting America.

Once you’ve finished watching the 3 minute video check out Suau’s photos of a street party that he shot this June in Brooklyn, New York.

You could do the same shots with just about any point and shoot.

What A Strange Trip It Has Been

On the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones, the photos of Jim Marshall (who was THE rock and roll photographer of the time) have been published in a book called The Rolling Stones 1972.

Marshall, who died of natural causes in New York City on March 24, 2010 after a 50-year career saw and shot it all. he was one of the original rock and roll photographers who got unlimited access to his subjects who he shot with a rangefinder Leica camera. Marshall was known for never cropping his images and his photos of the day have a stark black and white reality to them that is rarely seen in today’s digital world. Here’s a link to his iconic images many of which are embedded in our collective memories of the good old days of rock and roll.

Worth the 6:47 video, here’s Jim Marshall talking about those days.