Shooting without a camera

Thanks to the tiny yet powerful Ricoh GR and the size and convenience of my mirrorless ILC kit, times that I am caught without my camera are becoming few and far between.

Even so, it is sometimes not practical to stop to take a photo. Whether focusing in on a conversation, cycling along to work and running late, in a crowded bus full of people, hands full of groceries, or being tugged along by a puppy (that’s me), sometimes you just see the moments slip by, or they slip by without you seeing them at all.

Regardless, I am still observing everywhere I go. I look at the light and shadow. I watch people interact and gesture. I make mental notes on location and time of day. I get inspiration from movement, colours and moments.

I think about how to frame the things that I observe and I imagine what the photograph would look like if all the elements came together. I have found this to be a powerful and productive practice because it allows pre-visualisation of an image.  When you pre-visualise you often are able to process ideas and variations and execute these when it comes time to shoot. You can also identify issues and troubleshoot these so you are ready to go when it is show time. Pre-visualising also allows your to continually train the eye, even when not actually shooting. This builds up a mental shot list so that when you do venture out, with time with the camera, you have ideas and places to go. This has also helped with my portrait photography in that I have locations and looks that i can draw on when constructing a setting with a sitter.

I usually like make mental notes of all of these things usually, because of course I don’t have hands free, and I think this is a good thing as there is no barrier to the process, but sometimes I do write things down after the fact. However the main benefit I see is just from the process of making the mental image or simply observing. I think that having done this consistently over time has sharpened my instincts and allows me to see the shot about to unfold before my eyes. This is such a powerful thing.

Recently I have been thinking about extending this idea of observing by relating to what I see in popular culture, movies, art, other peoples work, etc..The sky is the limit once you get into the habit of pre-visualising and always composing the shot, even in your head.  Remember that these observations may not immediately yield results but they are percolating away in the back of your mind, sub-consciously cultivating  a source of inspiration over time and becoming part of your photography process without you even knowing.

Build it into your street photography practice and see how you go. If you have any other tips for improving your photographic eye “off-camera” please let me know in the comments below.