Can This Technically Challenged Blogger Get to Grips With Street Photography in Spitalfields?

I’ve had my second hand Nikon D40 digital SLR for a good few months now, with the aim to learn the basics of photography, get better shots on my travels and hopefully better pics for this blog and the @middlesaxons Facebook page.  However, despite purchasing two camera books and watching numerous You Tube photography tutorials, the journey to understanding the workings of the holy grail of the exposure triangle of camera aperture, shutter and ISO has not been easy.  So it’s just as well that I’ve discovered Photo Coach Paul Hames.  Having recently attended his Beginners Workshop, I’ve gained the confidence to finally venture into the world manual photography and, whilst I am still learning and trying to get to grips with this, I am eager to increase my knowledge whenever I can.  So when I learnt that Paul was running a Street Photography Workshop, I decided that now was as good a time as any to dip my toe in the water.

The morning of the workshop dawned cold, wet and drizzly in Shoreditch but this didn’t dampen Paul’s enthusiasm. As he explained to our group over a relaxed cup of pre-shooting coffee, street photography is all about capturing a slice of life or in the words of the photography genius Henri Cartier Bresson – ‘That Decisive Moment’. Inclement weather just presents different photographic opportunities such as people struggling with umbrellas or jumping over puddles.  Our job as photographers is becoming attuned to anticipating these moments and being ready with the camera to capture them.  Street photography is as much about being mentally prepared to capture an unusual or interesting image when the opportunity presents itself as it is about camera settings.

For portrait shots, it’s also about being brave enough to request to take someone’s photo on the street.  A daunting task for someone like myself who is more used to hiding behind a lap-top than to risk rejection or even possibly ridicule in this activity.

Fortunately, Paul has a way of equipping DSLR newbies such as myself with enough confidence to just get started.  Breaking street photography down to the basics, we spent time covering exposure settings, composition tactics, how to approach people and even a useful tip to capture photos inconspicuously by holding the camera by the strap (at the hip) rather than round your neck.  Having had plenty of opportunity to ask as many questions as we wanted (and in my case some fairly basic beginners queries) to the unfailingly patient Paul, our small group was finally ready to take to the street for some photographic action.

Upon leaving the coffee shop, a likely image soon zoomed into focus in the form of two motorcyclists who had stopped mid-road for a quick chat on their bikes.  Pulling the camera view finder quickly to my eyes, despite catching a couple of photos, I had the feeling that I had already missed the opportunity of a good shot by being a bit too relaxed about what was going on around me.


Resolving to do better, I made my way to the next challenge which came in the form of a common enough piece of street furniture – a bike rack.  Pools of water glistened on the metallic structure of the rack and the bikes stacked up against it.  Paul advised us to focus on an interesting section rather than trying to capture the whole thing.


Middlesex Explorer in action

Our group then moved onto nearby Spitalfields Market – a place with some excellent scope for street photography – the surrounding areas are well known for street art and home to a range of quirky shops and trendy bars as well as colourful stalls selling all sorts of world foods.  We had half an hour to explore and photograph – with the challenge set by Paul (who is always there to help with our queries) to come away from some Portrait shots.


After wandering around for a while capturing a few candid shots then bottling out a couple of times, I decide to bite the bullet and ask if I could take someone’s portrait. My first subjects are a father and son out for lunch at one of the noodle stalls who seem happy enough to be photographed.  So far, so good.  Suddenly feeling enboldened, I determined to photograph whoever I thought looked interesting and was of course happy to have their photo taken.  Several more photos followed, including one gentleman with a spectacular beard (perhaps not so uncommon in the popular hipster haunt of Spitalfields) and two friendly smiling ladies before I finally – perhaps more by luck than judgement – landed upon what I thought is a reasonably good attempt for a novice like me – of course, more than likely helped by the naturally beautiful face of the subject.


We then continued with a walk through the surrounding streets.  Here I began to learn just how much patience is involved in capturing these images as I waited on a wet steamy street for a suitable subject with an umbrella to pass by only to capture groups of people who had left home without their brollies and this gentleman walking by with his case.


The final part of the workshop was spent capturing some of the fascinating street art which always seems to be in a constant state of evolution in this area.  All in all, it had been a really interesting and fun few hours during which I began to feel the confidence to make a start with street photography.  I’m aware that there’s still a very long way for me to go before I can say that I’m a reasonably competent photographer, but with people like Paul to support me I’m hopeful that I stand a better chance of getting there and enjoying the learning process along the way.



Paul Hames (the Photo Coach)



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