Getting High on ISO and Taking it to the Streets

6400 ISO brings a nice look to night time street-photographyTaking It To The Streets Image Gallery

One of my favorite kinds of photography to look at is "street" photography. Talk about gonzo photo... this is a different style of shooting all together. Break it down and it's more than photography... much more.

You have to be fast, you've got to have an eye and you'd better have a quick wit. And I'm betting if you're doing it in New York City, you'd better be thick skinned as well. No offense to any New Yorkers out there.

I've always wanted to try this style of shooting. But, it's one of those things that the only way you learn is to jump in and do it. When you're talking about confronting total strangers... with a camera... that's not the easiest thing to do.

On top of that, you need a location. Suburbia doesn't always offer the backdrop or stage you need to assemble the characters that will play in your scene. Let's face it... you need the "streets."

Eye contact and a quick smile will put some fun in the "gotcha" before you introduce the camera.I first started dabbling with street-style photography late last year. I was spending time at the pier learning the ins-and-outs of shooting with the Digilux 2. Street-style shooting just seemed like something I "should" be doing with with a Leica. The pier provides close quarters with lots of people strolling. I could go there and practice getting quicker with the camera's analog controls.

Slowly I became more comfortable with the idea. I'd just suck it up, and cop an attitude that said, "I'm taking your picture." Then one day, either reading an interview or watching a You Tube video, a famous street photographer (I don't remember who) made the statement... "Don't make your first contact with the camera. Make eye contact first, then take the picture." Well, of course... that makes a lot of sense. It's much more disarming. Looking someone in the eye creates communication. It's almost a dialogue where you're letting them know, "it's ok.... we're just having fun taking pictures." Eye contact and a quick smile will put some fun in the "gotcha" before you introduce the camera. In most cases, by time you've taken the picture, everyone's had a little moment. I rarely get a growl... and if I do, it screws up the photo and it's of no use anyway.

With temperatures in the 80's, people were out and about and having fun.This Thursday night in downtown Naples presented a great opportunity for some street shooting. The restaurants and merchants on 5th Avenue (south) were promoting live music with bands on the street. With lots of outdoor eating areas, Naples is a fantastic pedestrian friendly shopping and entertainment spot. With temperatures in the 80's, people were out and about and having fun.

The event was running from 7PM to 10PM. This was perfect. I wanted to take the Canon 5D MK11 out and put the high ISO settings through some real world shooting. I wanted to see how the higher settings would dig into the shadows and how well it could hold detail in extremely low light. With the sun setting around 8:20PM here, I knew I'd be able to shoot in complete darkness with the exception of the artificial light from street lamps, cars and store windows.

In most cases, by time you've taken the picture, everyone's had a little moment. I rarely get a growl...I also wanted to shoot in black and white. Not that I've never converted a color image to monochrome in post processing... I don't have a problem with that... but I like shooting black and white with the camera set to monochrome. I want to see, think and shoot in black and white. Black and white is all about the light. There are no distractions. You see exactly what the light is doing and how it's effecting the scene.

It was a great evening. Since it's the "off-season" in Southwest Florida, the streets were busy but not overly crowded. People were enjoying the music, chatting with friends and even breaking into a dance when they'd hear a classic oldie. The event covered about five blocks, maybe 15 restaurants and lots of places to sit in between.

The Canon EOS 5D MK11 performed flawlessly. I started with the Canon L Series 16mm-35mm f/2.8 lens but quickly switched over to the Canon L Series 24mm-105mm f/4. For the 5D's full frame sensor, the focal range was much better on the 24mm-105mm. It still gave me a nice wide view without distortion and allowed me to zoom in quickly if I wanted to get a tight head shot. And I did.

I started the evening shooting at 100 ISO and by 9PM I was shooting at 25600 ISO.Later in the evening, I'd have liked to have had the f/2.8 of the 16mm-35mm. The f/4 performed fine... but I'm finding to get the most from the high ISO, especially in the expanded H1 and H2 settings, you really need good solid exposures to keep the noise down. If you're underexposed, you're going to have trouble in post. I would say that with any of the settings after 1600 ISO, if you're underexposed, you'll struggle with the image later.

I started the evening shooting at 100 ISO and by 9PM I was shooting at 25600 ISO. I have to tell you, I think if I'd had the Canon 50 f/1.4, I could have shot all night long. At 25600 ISO, in black and white, if you can get a good solid exposure, you'll get a classic looking nighttime shot. I'm not so sure the shots would be as pleasing in color, but in black and white, and for nighttime street photography, there's something going on here. And I like it.

Take a look through the gallery... I think the fun shows through.

JT