Position and Timing

“There are the two basic controls at the photographer’s command – position and timing – all others are extensions, peripheral ones, compared to them.”

David Hurn

Allan Jeans once said Aussie Rules footy is simple. Either they have the ball, we have the ball, or the ball is in dispute. Both Hurn and Jeans have a skill in distilling a situation into a simple framework for making a decision. The only things a photographer can control for certain in a street photography situation are position and timing.

Position.

There are many posts already about finding the right position. Let’s talk more philosophically about position.

Whilst you cannot control the sun and the clouds, you can choose your position from which to shoot to maximise the light conditions. In urban settings, keep an eye on the Sun and the direction that it is travelling in. Are you better shooting on streets that are running east west, or north south? Try and see how the light is changing over the time you are out shooting, and thinking ahead.

Consider the position from which you take the photo and how the light might look different from these various perspectives. Take the time to think it through, and maybe walk around a bit to start “seeing” the opportunities. If you move position, will light hitting a different part of the subject reveal itself?

Position is part patience and part clairvoyance. Be prepared to sit it out when you find a great spot. Think ahead and imagine the shots that may happen ahead of time. Often, it is a two part process.

1. Find the conext.

Look for the right background, environment, framing etc. – identifying the potential of the scene. The process can end here if the shot is an urban landscape.

Timing

2. Wait for the right subject.

A human subject can add interest to an image, so “camp” out and wait for the right person to enter the frame, in the right spot.

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For the image above, I had spotted the background from across the road. I only had an 80mm lens on a medium format camera, so had to spend a bit of time working out the right framing – 80mm is not very wide, so it took a while until I was happy. I framed up the image, set the focus, and then waited.

The spot was next to a telegraph pole, which helped distract from my presence when observed by potential subjects. I was also at a 90 degree angle to their field of view, which helped my inconspicuosity. I smoothly pulled up the camera as they entered my prepared frame, clicked the shutter button, and then put the camera back down.

It all happened so quickly, without jerky movements, that the subject didn’t let on that they had noticed me. A tip at this point is to let any other people nearby pass through the frame – they have probably seen you take the shot and may be a little self conscious. Wait until new potential subjects come by that haven’t seen you take a shot.

I took three or four shots with varying success over a ten minute period. Patience and clairvoyance.

There is more about position and inconspicuosity here.

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