When serendipitous moments happen in street photography, it pays to let your camera do the work for you.
I was descending the escalators at central station in Sydney. As usual I had my camera out and ready - this has become a habit for me and I feel uneasy if I am walking around the city without it over my shoulder. As I approached the platform I heard the platform announcer say that my train was not too far away. I put my bag down on the seat near the escalators, when the two yellow bags carried by a fellow commuter in front of me caught my eye. A trigger for a potentially interesting photograph. I made an instant association with the matching colours that I know would be on the approaching train and that I could also see on the platform safety strip. The street gods were smiling - happy co-incidence ready to be captured in a slither of a second.
Making compositional decisions is something I have been practicing alot lately, with or without a camera. I frame, compose, make visual connections and imagine photographs. I think that the ability to pre-visiualise a shot is key in photography, besides understanding how your camera works and how to get it to do what you want it to do.
Modern cameras are amazing, and I had all the confidence in the world that my little Fujifilm X-T2 would deliver. What I wanted was to slow down the shutter and find the balance between allowing the blurring of the moving train with the sharpness of the subject with the yellow bags. I flipped the camera into shutter priority. On the X-T2 that involves twisting the aperture ring to A and then selecting a shutter speed and ISO to suit. I always use auto ISO for street shooting, so I let the camera decide, and then dialled in a shutter speed of 1/8 of a second. On a standard camera with a PASM dial, you simply turn the dial to S or Tv and you will get the same result, as long as your auto ISO is also set up accordingly.
I could hear the train coming now, and I wondered if my subject would stay put and stay parallel with the tracks so that the two yellow bags she was holding would be clearly visible when the train arrived. No time for too much wondering though, I needed to position myself somewhere to get the correct framing, and I also needed to think about how to stabilise the camera - at this slow a shutter speed that was going to be important. I sat on the bench opposite the scene and stabilise the little camera between my knees, just as the train came through the station, and I flipped up the lcd to frame.
Shooting consistently with a fixed focal length is one of the best things I have ever done for my photography and I would recommend it to anyone. When you look through your finder and there is always a consistent field of view, you learn to pre-visualise a scene and understand exactly where you need to stand to get everything in the shot that you want that is needed to tell your story. For me, a 35mm focal length (full frame equivalent) just makes sense to my brain becuase I have been looking through the camera with that focal length for a few years quite consistently. This morning I had the Fujifilm xf 23mm f/2 on the camera - it is fast and silent and so tiny - I love it and it is perfect for street shooting when you don’t need much subject isolation from wider apertures.
I was so so lucky that the woman stayed perfectly still as she waited for the train to stop. I fired of a few shots to make sure that I got the train doors where I wanted them - with the shutter speed so slow there was a risk that my timing would be off so I took a few just to be sure. I have to say I was really happy that the subject stayed reasonably sharp considering.
For me this is a reminder of a few things that are important in street photography:
- Being prepared by always having a camera with you
- Being able to spot a 'trigger' and watching how a scene unfolds
- Understanding that certain situations may present certain photo opportunities and being attuned to them
- Knowing your camera well enough to be able to make adjustments and framing quickly and under relative pressure
I had to stop shooting because I needed to get on that train. Sometimes when I make images like these I like to approach the people in the shot and show them the back of the camera even if they have not noticed that I had taken an image that they were a part of (Their reaction is often a gauge of how successful the image is) but unfortunately in this instance the woman moved through the crowded train and at that point we went our seperate ways. That's the busy city for you.
The final part of making this image was the processing back at the computer. Obviously, I chose colour over black and white because this image is all about the yellow popping out of the grey steel subway underground. I shot in both RAW and jpeg in Fuji’s classic chrome film simulation, however I used the RAW file on this occasion to make sure I got the colours to really stand out. I did minimal straightening on this photo and no cropping. I used some selective vignetting with a very light touch on the radial filter in Lightroom, and brought up the shadows a touch to finish off the image. Effectively drawing the eye to the subject as much as possible without making it look fake.
The final result for me tells the story of a busy city that still offers up a bit of colour and personality, where serendipity strikes even in the most ordinary of locations.