Sydney Street Photography – Some things I learnt shooting a compact digital!

Well, it turns out that Sydney is a pretty photogenic place! Who would have thought it?

I popped up to Sydney this week on a short break from work for 3 nights. I needed a fresh place to see and photograph. Travelling to new places is a powerful way to challenge your approach, thinking, and images. I come to Sydney quite regularly for work, but have never really spent a lot of time walking the streets.

What did I learn on this trip? Well, to start with, I decided to go waaaayyyy outside my comfort zone by shooting exclusively on a digital compact camera. Everyone who knows me or reads this blog suspects there is a hipster just under the surface skin, waiting to break free… I tend to talk a lot about film, film cameras, processing, and scanning. The guys at have got it right with the hashtag #enjoytheprocess. Film’s delayed gratification is something I love very much.

See? I am already distracted by film discussion!

Back to the digital compact. Forcing the issue by only taking a digi compact rather than a mix of cameras helped me to new places. When I went to Japan last November, I took both film and a digi compact – but the digi compact never got out of the bag. The seductive lure of winding on film won each and every day that I walked out the door!

My favourite film cameras for street photography tend to be rangefinders – based on their quiet operation, ability to easily use zone focusing and hyperfocal distance to get things right, and their relatively smaller size vs SLRs.

Things to love about digital compacts…

Tilting LCD screen.

Seriously, this was a complete revelation. My old Hasseldblad 500 met a rather undigified death 12 months or so ago. People are not as wary of someone looking down into a waist finder as they are someone having a camera up their face and pointing it towards them. For some reason, looking down into the finder doesn’t raise the “creep with a camera” alarm.


The digi compact has an EVF which I thought I would use consistently – nup. As soon as I got the hang of the tilting LCD screen, it stayed out! Holding the camera at waist level and tilting the LCD out at 90 degrees enabled me to use it in the same way as the Hasselblad. Instead of looking directly at subjects, I was looking down towards my waist at the LCD.

This one, single change enabled me to get so much closer to people.

It also changed the angle at which the camera lens was viewing the world. If you are unhappy with your photos, stop taking them from classic “head height” – you can read more here :

Start taking your images from a lower or higher perspective than what you normally see the world at. Seeing images from an unusual angle can get things moving creatively…

I love a lot of Vivian Maier’s work –

and believe some of her best images are influenced by using a waist level Rolleiflex.

Tilting the screen either way enables you to hold the camera up high, or down low, to get the perspective you want.



Compact is Compact

Yah, stating the obvious… But sometimes forgotten. A compact camera should fit in a pocket – maybe a large pocket, but small enough to take with you most places. The best camera to take a photo with is the one you have with you. I have sometimes lost sight of that over the journey, dabbling in medium format monsters, and SLRs.

A digital compact is a no brainer to pick up and take wherever you go. If things aren’t happening, it is not as if you are lugging around a bunch of heavy gear. It reminds me of when I was starting out, using a Nikon SLR – I used to take 3 or 4 lenses with me “just in case”. This made my bag heavy and often shortened my walks because of the uncomfortable weight.

Developing your style and craft requires a commitment of time. Most of my favourite street photographers take a camera with them every day, whether it be to school, work or something else. I wanted to do the same, but with a lower time investment – film can suck the life out of you when you know you have two hours of processing to do after a shoot…

Sensors Keep Getting Better

The low light conditions at the Vivid Festival in Sydney would have been very challenging to manage for me on film. I am not a great technical photographer, and suck at strobes, flash, and low light in general. Sensors just keep amazing me… I recently took a friend of a friend out for a Melbourne walk as he was only in town for a day on a work trip from the USA. The Fuji X100 he used was simply fantastic at shooting Melbourne at night. Here are some of my night shots to demonstrate the sensor performance in a non-techincal way!


Will probably have some more thoughts on Sydney soon. Big thanks to Kevin Fung who took the time to introduce me to the Mojo Records Bar in Sydney and had some great travel tips for my next trip to Japan!

Cheers Kevin!

Cheers Kevin!

3 Responses to “Sydney Street Photography – Some things I learnt shooting a compact digital!”

  1. you should have told me. we could have met for a coffee!! Some good photos here and good points you make as well. The tilting screen does give a whole new point of view for sure. Problem for me is I never seem to be able to hold the camera steady enough when it’s out…just need more practise I suppose. Glad you had an educational break! haha


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