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How to take better photos with a smartphone

The dispute about where the border between classic reportage and street photography lies has been going on for a long time. Just like the definition of street photography (is a photo taken at the beach or a restaurant still street?). The one closest to me is the one who says that a street is a story told with a single photograph, while a reportage is a series of shots that create a more complex story – of a place, character or event.

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Is (m) street photography different from reportage?

What is street photography? The definition of this species has been fought over for years. Therefore, to get even closer to the heart of the matter, we decided to ask the opinion of five photographers: Wojtek Wieteska, Damian Chrobak, Tomasz Lazar, Maciek Jeziorek and Marta Rybicka. [Czytaj więcej]

Street photography has no ambition to evoke a reflection in the viewer (although it can) – rather, it is a well-captured (decisive) moment, a beauty found in ordinary things, a stolen moment of truth. Street photography is, after all, an exercise in mindfulness – an exercise that requires effort and often worn out soles because, as street people say, “you have to go outside to photograph”.

In a new place, we often photograph everything and constantly. Many such moments can be combined into a larger whole – a portrait of a place or a thematic series of our favorite subjects (micro-projects). This is what it looks like in my case, and it is these images in this text that you will see most of.

The street hairdressers in Hanoi stole my heart, I photographed them passionately.

Always ready

We complete this cycle entirely with the OPPO Find X5 Pro smartphone, and we must honestly admit that a phone with an advanced photo module is a great ally for any travelogue fan. Besides the main advantage of always having it with us, there are also some smaller ones, also important. Especially for demanding users.

And especially in this field of photography where speed is key. When we see a situation with potential, there is no time to waste. To capture a fleeting moment, we need to be ready immediately. The great advantage of the Find X5 Pro is that the photo mode starts immediately thanks to the lock screen shortcut. In this respect, it performs better than many advanced cameras.

All the pictures in this article were taken with the best OPPO Find X5 Pro smartphone

I also really appreciated the ability to change the lens quickly. I prefer to shoot with a basic module with a focal length of 25mm, but I often switch quickly to a short 50mm telephoto to cut distracting elements from the frame or to capture a detail that adds to the story.

“Street photography is about showing everyday reality in a way that awakens and stimulates the imagination” – Martin Parr

Where to start? A great training ground for eye exercises is certainly any situation that attracts people and is colorful and expressive at the same time. There are various festivals, fairs, parties and local holidays. But instead of being at the center of the action, turn the lens towards the participants. As Chris Niedenthal, a very careful observer of reality, recently said on our podcast, “halfways are always more interesting.” The same principle is followed by the Martin Parr mentioned in the title, a real star of street photography, who has been taking portraits of his compatriots in Great Britain tongue in cheek for years.

Photograph people at work. Test different focal lengths. Body above and from a low perspective. Look for interesting details and fill the frame with them.

When visiting other countries, it’s always worth visiting the local market. But not the one with handicrafts and souvenirs, but the local one where the residents of the local communities buy supplies. These places are much more authentic and certainly more photogenic. Like this little fish market on the outskirts of Hoi An in central Vietnam. Also, remember that the “locals” don’t wait until you eat your hotel’s breakfast. Markets and street trading often end right after sunrise. At the biggest fish market in Tokyo at 7 o’clock I found almost no one…

Walking before breakfast is another way to take better pictures. The streets are not so crowded yet and the light is much softer. In London or New York I photograph white-collar workers on their way to the office, while in Asia I photograph delivery scooters, florists’ bicycles and street vendors’ carts getting ready for another long day at work.

Sometimes I shoot spontaneously, sometimes – when I first notice an interesting background – I wait for the subject to appear in the right place in the frame.

“If you can smell the street when you look at a picture, you’re dealing with street photography.” – Bruce Gilden

Bruce Gilden takes no prisoners. He wanders the streets of Upper Manhattan and attacks suddenly – a wide lens and a powerful flash directly in the eyes are his characteristic work style. It attracts a lot of controversy, but Gilden doesn’t care. I’m not a fan of that aggressive approach, which doesn’t mean I don’t want to be around on the street. Shooting with a smartphone is much easier – after all, you can shoot much more subtly and less invasively.

And like Bruce Gilden, I like taking these types of photos in black and white. Or rather convert them afterwards into a high-contrast monochrome version. This way they get a more classic look and don’t get distracted by the bright bright signs that are simply abundant on the streets of Hanoi.

“Street photography is a combination of sensitivity and technique that allows us to capture a moment that will never be repeated” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Bresson is considered the father of street photography and the creator of the concept of the “decisive moment”. It’s about the moment when all the elements of the frame create harmony and a unique composition. Bresson believed that photography should be spontaneous and capture reality in a way that is both artistic and authentic. Today we hear the phrase “perfect timing” more often, because there is no doubt that even those who have never heard of Bresson love photographs taken at the perfect moment.

Shooting against the light is a great way to simplify a scene and make it more graphic

We can capture the decisive moment spontaneously (this is what happens in an ideal world), or we can anticipate it or even “wait for it”. Seeing an employee walk across the stage towards me, I had time to take my phone out of my pocket, focus on an element at the same distance, and adjust the exposures hard to minus to get a black silhouette of the figure. I pulled the trigger when it was perfectly in front of the door.

“Street photography is a game where the only rule is not to play by the rules” – Boogie

Does street photography have to be done on the street? An absurd assumption. The term “street” I think means as much as “spontaneous” and done in a public place. Or in a space where we share strangers. So it might as well be the subway or the ferry! Over 2 hours on a former Chinese ship that connected the Malay Peninsula to the island of Koh Panghan was the perfect amount of time to explore. And tourists are also one of my favorite photography subjects. You can always count on them 😉

So I look for interesting reflections and color combinations. Funny coincidences and contrasting topics. And also the details, the patterns, the play of light and shadow. I turn on Finder mode and cruise through the decks. I’m shooting with a smartphone, like everyone else on the shared cruise. I’m not interested. I usually have a lot of fun.

“Street photography looks for harmony in chaos, it creates aesthetics from the everyday” – Constantine Manos

In the new place, I try to quickly capture characteristic motifs – visual patterns and recurring elements of public space. Sometimes we notice them right away because it is simply impossible not to notice them. Just like the images of the Thai king, whose popularity is not due to the universal worship of a benevolent ruler, but to a system – an oppressive regime. Because you should know that this tourist paradise is a military dictatorship and the king’s figure is just a nice facade that must not be offended. The portrait of the king is therefore a symbol of submission (I recommend Karol Grygoruk’s project dedicated to this topic “I love Your Dad”).

King Rama IX was also a big fan of photography

However, Thais are not an absolutely obedient nation. Looking a little further into the subject, we find that the image of the revered king Rama IX, who died in 2016, is still hanging. His son and successor, the hero of many scandals, the people of Thailand do not seem to notice.

Of course, your microdocument can be about anything. When I arrived in Hanoi, apart from the thick smoke, I was struck by the number of scooters used as the main means of transportation. It is estimated that this city of 4 million may have up to 8 million (!). Parking lots take up almost all of the common space. The lack of a sidewalk makes even a small shopping place easier to reach by scooter. And so the circle closes. Plans for the development of public transport have been abandoned for the time being. People simply wouldn’t be able to walk to the station.

Such a large number of scooters means that entire streets and even repair shop areas have sprung up.

“Street photography is a process of self-discovery” – Alex Webb

Shoot what you like. Which makes you instinctively reach for the phone. What attracts you visually and makes photography a pleasure. I’m not particularly original in this regard. I love photographing old cars. Their classic shapes, rusted frames and sun-bleached paint surfaces. When I travel, I stop all the way to take a picture of an old junk abandoned somewhere on the side of the road. Friends know that too well!

Often I just need a clip taken with a longer lens. But if the environment is interesting, I try to include them in the frame.

Today, I can boast a pretty good collection of cars in poor condition from around the world. An innocent snap, who knows when, turned into a long-term project. It’s a way of doing things that I really like. Collecting is fun!

To shoot or not?

Street photography is still a hotly debated topic. Many photographers believe that it is easy to cross the line and violate personal rights or the right to protect the image. However, many street photographers argue that their photos do not invade privacy because they focus on the context of a place, not on specific people. It is also a fact that in most countries street photography is simply legal and does not require anyone’s permission.

I happen to “join” in tourist pictures, which usually makes the people photographed laugh.

Whether and how we portray people we don’t know should therefore depend primarily on sensitivity and our own (high) moral standards. I don’t think you should post pictures of people who have made it clear they don’t want it. The hand extended towards the camera adds expression and tension, but it is a clear sign that we are violating the privacy of the person being filmed. In this year’s Leica Street Photo competition, where I was a judge, we unanimously removed such a photo. It was really strong though!

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