Amna Yaseen’s image “Me & My” got selected and published in ‘Primary Color’ assignment of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC December, 2015
Street has a life of its own. Street photography is a way of documenting the diversity of humanity in an honest but very straight and uncommon way. Most street photographers of the world, occasionally ask for permission to take someone’s portrait. Some street photographers are very social. I myself take time for the shot. When I see some interesting character in the street, I say Asalam O Alaikum (greetings) and initiate small talk. It makes the subjects comfortable and friendly and when I ask them to be photographed they happily not only allow me to take the shot but also pose for multiple shots. Occasionally I take portraits in the street without prior knowledge of the subject. This adds a punch of candid mystery. It’s my way and it’s my style.
What is Candid Street Portraiture
Photograph of a person that displays the expression, personality and mood of the subject. A candid photograph is that which is made either without the subject’s knowledge or without their permission; hence they are captured un-posed. Since the whole thing is happening in a public place it falls into the vast category of street photography.
Which Camera to use
Normal DSLR is ideal for street portraits. We have hi-tech Point and Shoot cameras on the scene, which apparently do not give professional look but deliver desired result. In most places where security situation does not allow DSLRs; such Point and Shoot are handy. We have to keep in mind the current scenario of the street photography in Pakistan. And this development has become a growing concern around the globe. DSLR is a preferred gadget for the photo walks with the support of authorities, but even then it cannot fetch everything in a tightly scheduled event with so many places to visit during a short span of time. It’s more important that your camera has fast auto-focus and an even faster frame rate. Often you only have a fraction of a second to shoot a candid portrait of or speedy happenings all around on the streets. Big lenses on gaudy DSLRs can provoke unpredictable reaction from the public. So you have to be quick, shoot while they look at you and shoot as many frames as possible. Press the shutter and keep it pressed as long as it is needed. It’s very important that your camera is fast and not that important that it is small.
Which lens to use
Most popular lens for street photography in the world is 35 mm lens ideally on a full frame camera body. It gives not only fast focusing and good shutter speed in low light, but also gives enough space into viewfinder to capture your subject in the narrow streets. But you can also go for a 50mm prime lens to shoot all these photos. For me a prime lens is a success factor because it’s fast, sharp, small and affordable. If you are only focused on getting street portraits so there is no time to zoom in and out. With a prime lens, this distance is always the same. So the photographer leans to move about and explore best angles. Therefore you can focus on the person, the light and the position. So a 35mm or 50mm (even on APSC body) is pretty good. If you use a full frame camera, 85mm lens would be a good option too. Most important is to know your camera, lens and various short cuts to settings for optimum results.
Which settings to use
Most recommended setting is to shot Aperture Priority Mode. Choosing the aperture is essential to define the depth of field. Now it is important that shutter speed does not go slower than 1/200 to freeze the action. You cannot shoot a sharp candid photo with 1/50 of a second. This is simply not possible, if someone is not posing. Choose higher ISO until you get the ideal shutter speed. The reason for that is you do not want to have a blurred photo. You can hold the camera still, but subject may move. You need to re-check the shutter speed several times, especially when the light changes. Set the AF to ‘continuous’ to ensure it will refocus when something moves. Another important setting is the burst mode. Always shoot a series of frames in the highest rate possible. The rest of the settings are not that relevant and camera will set them to automatic.
10 Things Street Photographers Should Remember
- Candid Street Portraiture could be posed or candid.
- Get good command on your gear.
- Your eye decides on what you see and capture.
- A good composition can do much more than good technology.
- A good photo comes from the camera, not from the computer.
- You cannot start at the top. It is a long way practicing to get top class shots.
- It is very important how you approach and act while you shoot.
- Always get ready to take the shot as everything would be moving in the streets.
- You cannot learn everything. There must be some talent present.
- There is no right or wrong. It is your photo, your style, your way.
Photographs of MOHANA life and culture captured during last few years around Taunsa Barrage on Indus River. These Mohanas have boat colonies near Taunsa Barrage for last three decades. They migrated from Sindh. They biggest cluster comprises of around twenty five boat houses and keep moving for fishing within 10 km Taunsa Barrage. They live in these boat houses and seldom step on ground.
My odyssey through the world of art
I am a doctor, currently working as a professor of Medicine. For a student of science, an interest in arts looks odd. Some of my friends consider it weird, others use it as an evidence of being weak in mind or character (depending on the level of their relations with me) Some genuine well-wishers are seriously concerned about my salvation in the hereafter.
How it started? Let me think who pushed me in this deep abyss?
My introduction to photography occurred quite late. (I won’t mention my age, though by that time some impudent brats had started calling me ‘Uncle’— but that proves their poor family upbringing). In 2003 I realized the need to include pictures and graphs in my power point presentations. I planned to take pictures from books and incorporate in lectures. A point and shoot camera was bought through some one considered an ‘expert’ in these esoteric matters. That was the first time, I learned the basic anatomy of a camera.
The plan proved futile as it was quite cumbersome to take pictures and then add to my lectures. Downloading it from google looked much easier. Soon the camera was abandoned and forgotten.
Good riddance for bad rubbish
Few years passed. One day I rediscovered the camera in a cupboard as a symbol of a bygone folly. Oh! What a waste of money. But then I decided to use it and try to take pictures. After all that junk should serve some purpose.
Gradually I learned the basics from some online free courses. Downloaded few books from pirated sites, thus violating international intellectual rights and watched video tutorials. During those years, one of my connections mentioned about Mr. Umair Ghani, a Pakistani photographer whom she had met in some international conference and was quite impressed.
Through Google I was able to see his images on photo.net. After browsing through the collection I came to the conclusion,’ well! After all he is not that bad’. During this search I found his e-mail address and decided to write few lines of appreciation with a request to have a look at my images and guide.
To my surprise he not only answered, but had few words of praise for my work as well (Though I still doubt and consider them as proof of his courtesy). In the end, he advised me to concentrate on capturing our people and culture rather than still life, abstract or macrophotography
That was probably a major turning point in my approach to photography
Two other incidents had a great influence on my thinking. My father died in 2009. Then I realized that (apart from my pictures of him) we had only 3-4 pictures as a record of his more than 82 years of life. Luckily, through my snapshots, I am able to look and recall last few years of his life.
Meanwhile my mother handed a family archive of pictures. It was such a wonderful experience to know about my ancestors. Grandparents of my mother, soon after pilgrimage, with that familiar pious satisfied smile on their faces. Uncles of my parents in prime of their youth. An old brownish picture showing great-grandfather, with a falcon on his arm, standing with some British lord (trying to exude an air of importance) and a servant with a horse lurking in the background (both grinning foolishly). My own uncles, soon after their marriage, beside their petite shy brides (some of them later proved to be most ferocious aunties in the history of our family)
Then I realized the importance of photography, especially of people and cultural photography. The wisdom of Umair Ghani dawned on my personal horizon. Since then he has been my main inspiration.
So gradually photography has become a passion. All arts like literature, poetry, painting and sculpture and last but not the least, photography; are means of self-expression and self-actualization. I have learnt a lot, visited may different places. Met some unusual people. An altogether different sphere of life, and this has enriched my life. I am much wiser now (there was an urgent need for that in the first place).
I have been able to get out of the rut of patients, diseases and human misery all the time. Before that I used to feel that even a social evening would bring monotony of the same faces met in the morning with same topics discussed and fought over. Doctors ‘burn out’ rapidly but this hobby has helped a lot to remain fresh and focussed.
Art helps us to slow down, take a look around and appreciate the beauty of world. Portrait photography has helped me to detect subtle expressions of joy, misery, grief and grace under pressure. It has made me a keen observer, who is able to pay attention and decipher shades of emotions.
We are lucky to be in a phase of rapid evolution of art of photography both at national and international levels. It has become much easier to practice, learn and share this art. I have met wonderful people like Razaq Vance, Azhar Hafeez and Sami Ur Rehman who have been a source of encouragement and guidance for me. Have learnt about giants like OR Owaisi, Nayyer Reza, , Nadeem khawar, Atif Saeed and BK Bangish. I wish to see and learn from their wisdom and experience as well. Now I realize their greatness and contributions for the sake of art and for our country. There are probably many more unknown to me, as true artists tend to be shy of publicity.
This nation desperately needs heroes in every sphere of life.
They have emphasized the importance of a lifelong learning attitude. Taking photography as an art rather than just accumulation of gear.
I have not been able to visit exotic places and capture portraits of weird looking people. Basically it is due to my laziness, though I offer an excuse of professional commitments (with that look of importance on the face). As a result my photography is mostly limited to urban life around me.
Documentary/portrait photography is interesting as people respond differently to it. I have been approached many a times for a ‘glamorous photo shoot’. Despite a hidden desire, I have refrained from it as at this stage of my life I don’t want doors (and windows) of my house closed for me at the end of the day.
What irks me most is that people tend to see art through a haze of their own personal biases and convictions. Art just captures what is around us without taking sides. A picture of children sitting near a garbage dump is not an insult of Pakistan and does not need to be pushed under the carpet. Similarly capture of a ritual or festival does not threaten or ridicule a particular faith or a group.
Now few words about my failures and inferiority complex in this art. Despite all these efforts, somehow I have never been able give intellectual talk on photography. I feel lost when a learned talk about various camera models and lenses is going on. What is a photograph? How to take a good photograph? In fact I have realized that I am still as ignorant as I was on the day one
I have realized that I am just an average person, so have lowered my standards (though there was not much space for further lowering) and decided to be contended with some ordinary work. I can just envy the greats and wish………
Through this medium, I am writing my autobiography. After many years, my grandchildren or great- grandchildren might be able to know about ‘Life and times of Aamir Shahzad’. Some of them might shift to some other country and this pictorial record would help them to rediscover their roots. They would browse through all those albums, learn about their culture, traditions and festivals in early 21st century and exclaim with a joy
Oh! Those were the times.
To a viewer these images may appear disconnected, but for me they are part of my life. They remind me of times passed by- never to return- and of people– without whom life seemed impossible once– never to be seen again till eternity. Looking at these glimpses of my life makes me gloomy and depressed like gathering dusk in a wintry evening tends to make one melancholic.
When I am old and no longer able to take any more picture, turning the pages of these albums with a blurry vision would remind me of my life and of (by then) vanished culture.
It reminds me of verses of WB Yeats. He wrote these lines for his beloved, an Irish nationalist, Maud Gonne.
When you are old, grey and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire take down this book
And slowly read and dream of the soft looks
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep
To live is to make constant choices, day in, day out. You can see your life as an accumulation of choices, both good and bad, with full awareness or unconsciously. Sometimes one’s reason crumbles under the weight of choices but that’s another story.