Just as with wildlife photography it is the shots that show behaviour, rather than the pure record pictures, that work best in street photography. To show that behaviour clearly, so that the viewer can recognise what is going on, you have to pick your moment carefully. You have to show the moment in which the action happens.
This moment is often called ‘the decisive moment’, but the phrase is so over burdened with history and expectation that I prefer to just call it ‘the right moment’.
In this scene of a couple of office workers having a smoke break I spotted the potential from a way off, as the pair made an interesting shape that broke the pattern of the straight lines of the pillars and windows. As they had only just lit-up I knew I had a while to get the shot I wanted. I noticed the guy on the left had a particular way of blowing out his smoke in an over dramatic fashion. He turned his head, blowing the smoke away from his friend and in the process propelling it across the dark lines of the concrete. As the smoke got caught in the light of the overcast day it became illuminated, and created just the contrast I needed.
I shot a few frames to get a feel for the composition, and to watch the behaviour before everything lined up and I got the picture I wanted. Going back over those other frames, it’s obvious that it is the small detail of the smoke blowing that makes this moment stand out from the others. The alternative frames have the same pattern and the human shapes that break it, and they have the interest of two humans chatting. But they lack that extra something that separates the ordinary picture from the interesting.
Using a shallow depth of field
To help the subjects stand out from the background I used a really wide aperture to introduce a really shallow depth of field. Using a long lens helped too, as longer focal lengths make it easier to reduce the amount of the scene that is in focus. I was lucky that I had an exceptional lens – a 135mm f/1.4 which I was using on an APS-C sensor camera, so it was acting more like a 200mm. But even if you don’t have a long lens that’s not quite as ‘fast’ as this one you can still get the effect. A 200mm zoom will give a similar effect at f/4.5 on an APS-C camera.
Making the crop
The last thing I did to this picture was crop it to the 16×9 format. I did this for two reasons, firstly there is quite a bit of spare space at the top and bottom of the picture, as you can see from the full frame examples below. The second reason is that I love the movie feel this cropping ratio lends an image, and this picture suits that look. It could be a frame from a film, and the ratio of the format just enhances the sense of the moment.
Taken in Warsaw, Poland.
Not quite the right moment
This one’s nearly there, but it could be more interesting
Ahh, that’s a bit better