Then and Now

Some years ago I wrote about the first Street photograph I ever took In that post I mentioned that, while I like the image, the composition and content was pretty much luck. In other words almost nothing that I like about the image was down to me. The key word here is “took”. As a wise person once said “good photographers takes photographs, great photographers makes photographs”.

For me that means that anyone can take a good or even great photograph if you give them  a camera…. but probably won’t know how they did (what makes it good) and would be unable duplicate it. A great photographer is one who makes a photograph by thinking about it before they even set out to take it. They know the type of photograph they want, the subject, the type of processing they will use. They will deliberately put themselves in a position to capture the photograph they want and they will think about what they want to include in the image before pressing the shutter. Now I doubt I will ever be a great photographer but I do think that it is worth making some effort to think about your work, to strive to make photographs rather than take them and to hopefully improve over time. To that end I thought it would be interesting to look at the first Street photo I made and compare it to one of my more recent images in a Then & Now comparison.

Note: The word make doesn’t feel right when talking about capturing a photograph. Take is the commonly used verb and so hence forth I will use the word take, even though I mean make.


Back in 2011 I attended a photography course given by photojournalist and documentary photographer Michael Coyne. I didn’t take any interesting or worthwhile shots during the course but I did learn a lot that helped me develop as a photographer over the coming months and years.


Upon leaving the course venue on the last day I took a walk around the local area and decided to take some photographs of the trams. As I was crouching down to shoot an approaching tram, a young woman walked up and stood in front of me. Instead of moving to avoid the obstruction I made the decision to photograph her. My thinking at the time was that she looked somewhat preoccupied or unhappy at the content of the phone call and that this was reinforced by the fact that she appeared to be staring off into the distance. I also felt that the low angle reinforced that slight uncomfortable feel so I stayed crouched.

As for the composition I shot in portrait (don’t do that any more) because it was, I guess, a street portrait. The framing was more deliberate. I specifically placed her on the left of the frame and left space in front of her for her to stare into in order to try and enhance that aspect of the image. Cropping off part of her back was also deliberate. I was practising something that Michael had said during the course that an image should contain only those things that are necessary/enhance it. We know she has a back; it doesn’t add to the photo so I excluded it. In hindsight I don’t think that crop entirely succeeded but it was a good first try. As for post processing I don’t think I did much at all. I almost certainly posted the image to some photography site pretty much as is.

So, if I was taking this image today what would I do differently? First off, I wouldn’t press the shutter button. There simply isn’t anything interesting happening in the image. A person talking on their mobile phone is boring and mundane and not really worth photographing. However, if I did take the image I would probably do a few things differently. I would keep the crop but not as close to her elbow, it feels a little cramped. I’d shoot in landscape mode – simply a personal choice. I find Portrait orientation feels too narrow and restrictive. I would also have waited until the tram that is behind her pulled forward into view, giving the image a little more context. Lastly it would be in black and white. Colour shows beauty, black and white shows energy. I’m more interested in energy than beauty.


For my more recent image I have selected an image entitled Elgin Street. I selected it, in part, because it is similar in style to my first photograph mentioned above – and very different from the woman holding the phone. It’s a wider shot of a street scene rather than my more usual shots of individuals/small groups.

Elgin Street, Central District, Hong Kong
Elgin Street, Central District, Hong Kong

I don’t normally shoot street scenes like this because, for me, Street Photography is about events, not places. It is about people acting, interacting or reacting with their environment or other people. Most of the time a street shot will contain very little in the way of actual human interaction and a much greater % of place. This street scene was different as there were a number of different groups and individuals spread throughout the scene, but it didn’t start out that way.

While on a photowalk in Central I arrived at the end of Elgin Street. I think it’s a visually interesting street with the little booth on the right, the patchwork tarmac and the way the road curves uphill, leading the eye upwards. When I arrived there were just the two gentlemen left of frame standing and talking, while in the distance a couple were sorting what looked like recyclables.

My initial thought was to move closer and capture the two men in conversation, which would be a more normal shot for me. But instead I waited. I like that booth on the right of frame and wanted an image that included the men and the booth. But there was just too much dead space in-between. As I waited a young couple arrived and the man commenced to take photographs. Other people were filtering down the road, filling in the middle distance. I believe I took a shot at this point but I knew it wasn’t right as the foreground was still empty and unappealing.  I was worried that the young couple would move on or the two men, who appeared to be on a break, would return to work but the image still wasn’t right so I had no option but to wait. Finally a group, probably tourists, arrived along Hollywood Road and paused to look up Elgin Street. Now the image was complete. The viewer gets to look over the shoulders of the foreground group, to look with them up the street at the variety of different social interactions playing out in front of them.

What do I like about this image – it’s a street scene that is filled with a variety of interactions and that each of them encourages you to ask what is going on. I also like that it is a shared experience as we look over the shoulder of the group in the foreground who are also looking at the same scene. What don’t I like – not a lot. I wish the foreground group didn’t overlap the woman who was posing for the camera. I did try a step to the right but that didn’t work and the various groups started moving on so there was no opportunity to explore further.

Maybe in another 5 years I will hate this image but as I type this it is one of my favourite Street Photos. I have tried, and will continue to try, capturing similar images but so far all attempts have fallen short. Guess I will just have to keep trying.

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