Walk Slower – Could It Get Any More Genius?

The Genius Realisation : Walking quickly reduces and compresses the timeline for going through the decision making process. 

There is a decision making process I go through every time a potential subject pops up on my radar as I am walking through the city. I am not sure if it is the same for most photographers? Let me share my process, and what I learned today.

“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

There are generally two kinds of image opportunities.

Camping – where you have found a great location and just need to wait for right combination of light, subjects etc to take the shot.

Opportunistic – where the right subject and frame presents momentarily for a finite period of time, usually short.

Let’s talk opportunistic today. You can read more about camping etc here and here.

Opportunistic shots are my preferred style. I like to keep moving. I get bored and fidgety if I remain in one spot for too long. The key reason why I have never considered photography as a career is a lack of attention to detail, combined with a lack of passion for patience! I am sure I would get some nicely lit, romantic shots of you and your new bride / groom but they are 150% more likely to have a powerline growing out of your head than a “proper” photographer…

My natural preference is to walk up and down the streets of a city, looking for opportunities to reveal themselves. I tend to walk fairly quickly. For the first time ever, I carefully thought about my walking style as a separate technique that contributes to the images. Recent Featured Street Photographer Jackson Thomas talked about it :

My best tip is a tip that I have gotten off Sebastian Salgado where he was asked the same question and he replied saying

“If you’re young and have the time, go and study. Study anthropology, sociology, economy, geopolitics. Study so that you’re actually able to understand what you’re photographing. What you can photograph and what you should photograph.”

I think people always get the tip of “just go shoot” or “shoot shoot shoot” but don’t actually stop to think that knowledge is power and having knowledge gives you different ideas creatively in my opinion.

His approach to photography – breaking it down into learnable components, and then studying each of them – is one that resonates with me. I am constantly dissecting my capability and technique. I had just never proactively taken the time to consider the manner in which I walk whilst photographing to be a significant factor!

Let me share the unconscious decision making process I go through each time an opportunistic image starts to reveal itself…

  1. Is this interesting?
  2. Is the light OK?
  3. Have I got the right lens and film in the camera?
  4. Where is the best spot to take the shot?
  5. Do I need to change either the vertical or horizontal angle to make the image more interesting?
  6. Am I walking the right intercept course to hit the spot at the right moment?
  7. How quickly are they moving, if at all?
  8. If I need to change direction will I still make the best spot?
  9. Risk assessment of the subject – are they drunk, drug affected, noticeably aggressively postured etc?
  10. Do I feel as though they will provide any resistance to being photographed?

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I am sure there are more considerations that my brain is working through that are simply not surfacing into my conscious thinking. At this point, I am approaching the intercept point to take the shot. What happens then as I am about to take the shot?

  1. Has the subject “made me” – ie. are they blissfully unaware that they are about to be photographed?
  2. Micro decisions around the right time to take the shot. I usually only bring the camera up to my eye at the moment I want to take the shot. I already have an idea about what will be in and out of frame. There is no focus delay as I normally use hyperfocal distance or zone focusing.
  3. Take the shot and quickly assess if I am happy with it. If yes, keep moving. If no, decide instantly if I am going to “get away” with taking a second shot.
  4. Look away and completely ignore the subject – leave them wondering if anything really just happened. Keep walking.
  5. Wind the film on to the next frame.

The “micro decisions” are those last second choices you have to make instantly – do I kneel down for the right perspective? do I jump up on a ledge? is the subject looking in the right direction (it is annoying when they suddenly look down or away unexpectedly!) how close do I want them in frame? are there any temporary distractions in the frame that will disappear if I wait a few seconds? etc.

It is quite exhausting thinking through all the considerations when it comes to taking a single image.

The Genius Realisation : Walking quickly reduces and compresses the timeline for going through the decision making process. 

Today, I made a conscious decision to walk at 50% of my normal pace. Everything seemed to slow down, and I was able to spot opportunities whilst having plenty of time to go through my normal decision making process prior to taking the shot.

In the past, I would still be processing information about a potential opportunity and walk past the subject, missing the chance. This often happens to me both with stationery subjects, and ones moving. One of my tips to be inconspicuous is to avoid “looping back” too often. Take your shot, maybe a second if you are quick, then keep moving.

Walking more slowly, with regular pauses, helped me scan ahead more effectively. I seemed to have plenty of time to process the environmental conditions and take the shots I wanted to.

Who would have thought something as simple as walking more slowly would have made such a big difference?

 

4 Responses to “Walk Slower – Could It Get Any More Genius?”

  1. Oh this is so spot on how I work when shooting. I tend to walk slow – make because I’m slower in processing the decisions. I tend to be more picky than before, perhaps that’s why I walk slow.

    Like

  2. Got to try the slow walk! I’m usually hurrying and find myself being too fast for proper decision taking just as you say.

    Nice write-up of the process of street photography!

    Like

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