Street photography can be challenging even in good conditions. As a West Coast based Canadian Photographer I deal with some of the darkest and wettest conditions encountered by anyone. In addition, as I write this there is snow on the ground in Vancouver. We haven’t had a winter as snowy as this for 30 years but that’s a whole other article.
On Jan 29 I covered the Vancouver Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown. As both our provincial Premier and our Prime Minister was in attendance security was very high. This brings us to Tip 1.
Tip 1: Shoot with a group and have some credentials or business card
Entering the parade setup and marshalling area involved passing through a police and military barricade. Doing this with a group of 5 or 6 other photographers lends street cred to your presence there. Once we got into the secure area we were able to split up and seek out our shots on our own. When approached a few times when I was on the street by the security or military guys I was able to hand out my business card which has my web blog address on it and I told the person that “I am a web Journalist” This was enough to have them wander off and deal with some other interloper even though I was not wearing a legit “press pass”. This allowed me to get very close to the parade participants as they were setting up and I got candid shots that are different from all the other Parade in progress shots. Click the link below to view or purchase one of the gems I got.
In addition it was cold, windy, and raining like hell. Which brings us to tip 2.
Tip 2: Shoot with a backup Camera body
Although Not always easy to find, an old Canon 5D classic is well sealed against the weather. These things are built like tanks, are full frame and have a resolution above 12 mega pixels. You can find them on ebay for 400-600$ range depending on condition. I was lucky enough to find an old Chinese guy right in my local area who sold me his for 450$. It is in decent shape with low shutter count although it needed a serious cleaning at a camera shop. As this was my “backup” I decided to clean it myself. I had to clean the mirror, focus lens and yes I even opened the sensor and swabbed it with a qtip and cleaning solution. So far can’t find any dust in my images after cleaning. I shot the parade over a 3 hour period with the 5D getting absolutely soaked. It just kept clicking in low light conditions. I kept my newer camera safe and dry in a water tight pack. I highly recommend using a backup body in harsh conditions. You may be surprised at the results you get while other Photogs are hiding in cafe’s with their 3000$ Camera bodies. In fact, I have grown to like the old 5D so much I shot it exclusively yesterday at an indoor boudoir shoot (that article coming soon). I hammered off 245 shots with a 70-200mm lens This brings us to tip 3.
Tip 3: Shoot with a 70-200 fast fixed aperture “work horse” lens.
As this was my “backup” camera body I opted for the cheaper non image stabilized Tamron F/2.8 fixed aperture 70-200mm lens. By fixed aperture I mean the aperture doesn’t change when you change the focal zoom length. At 700$ range this lens is 1/3rd the price of the Canon or Sigma versions. This lens was awesome to get close in shots without the need of me sticking my camera right in someone’s face as I would have to do with a 50mm or wide angle lens. As with most street photography all the parade subjects are moving and being able to pan and zoom in quickly on some interesting detail or expression was very helpful. I would however recommend spending the extra 400$ for the image stabilized version if you can afford it. I lost a few images as my shutter speed just dropped to low in the low light condition’s. Having a fast lens wide open at 2.8 helps but in some cases I needed the extra depth of field of a smaller aperture at f/8. Overall, Shooting a single “work horse” lens was more adaptable than trying to switch lenses in the pouring rain. The Tamron also ships with a massive lens hood which kept the glass dry and prevented me from bashing it on anything. Here is an example of a shot I wouldn’t have got without the reach of the 70-200mm. You may view, purchase prints or download.
Tip 4: Watch that Shutter speed.
In gloomy low light shoot in Aperture Priority mode and use a higher ISO to keep your shutter speed 1/60 sec or higher. On occasion I can get fancy and hold steady for a 1/30 sec exposure, however for sharper images on handheld shots you really need to get that shutter speed up a bit. This is a challenge in natural light without using any flash or speed lights. Dealing with flash, tripods and lens changes at a street photography event like this in the pouring rain would be a nightmare. Getting up to ISO 400 or even 800 is not the end of the world. The image quality and noise level even on the old 5D is still pretty decent. Here is a shot where I was able to freeze the raindrops mid air even though it was pretty dark lighting. The Image below was shot at ISO 800 shutter speed 1/200sec Aperture 3.2 focal length 108mm Camera in aperture priority mode with spot metering. Feel free to view or purchase this lovely shot.
Tip 5: Nail your “must have” shot.
In any street event and street photography in general there are usually a few characteristic shots that people will expect to see when you tell them you “covered” the event as a photographer or web/print journalist. For example Even if there is no event anyone going to Gas Town area in Vancouver with a camera will take a photo of the steam clock. In the Case of a Chinese New Year Parade it’s all about the Dragon. The Dragon dancers when moving really move. For the shot below I had to be running backwards in front of the Dragon and quickly kneeling down and composing and focusing the shot before the Dragon ran into me. This would be embarrassing as there are a few thousand people watching. I did several attempts at this trying to get the shot I wanted. Carefully jostling other photog’s and regular people. Below is the result You may of course view and even purchase the image below. Enter.. the Dragon indeed.