Setting the scene

Published on: 23rd Sep 2017
In Street Photography Tips

Street photography is not only about randomly photographing in the streets. Successful street photography is often the result of a well-planned outing and in some cases, you need a good dose of patience in order to get then one good photo.

One of the well-known spots for street photography in Johannesburg is underneath the N1 Highway in Newtown. This is mostly because of the great graffiti walls we found there. The graffiti also changes on a regular basis so one can visit this area on a regular basis and always find something new.

Note that although there are some security guards patrolling the area it is important to know that there are also homeless people sleeping in this area so please take the necessary steps to make it as safe as possible. I for one never take my cell phone or wallet with me, and I take only a small camera with one lens, this will at least remove some of the obvious temptation for people with no income and very little hope of an income in the near future. I will also never visit it on my own. (On one occasion I did take a tripod with me but that was only because I was part of a very large group.)

As I am a regular judge on photographic competitions I very often see photos from this area, and although most of these photos are well exposed and in focus, I very seldom see these graffiti walls used for setting the scene for a true street photo. Often these photos are only about the graffiti and it is almost as if the inclusion of people in the photo was not planned at all - they almost spoil the great graffiti.

The next time you visit this place, take some time to study the graffiti, then think of ways to use it in creating a photo and then wait for people to complete your scene - even if it means that you do not photograph any other scene during your visit.

Here are some of the themes I have tried to incorporate the graffiti walls in my photos.

Irony I called this photo "No Time for Romance". The graffiti wall is a parody of the well-known Michelangelo fresco painting "The Creation of Adam" but in this case, the spark is between a man and a woman and the woman is the stronger figure.

I saw this graffiti during an outing with the Vereeniging Photographic Society on a Sunday morning. There is a community church lower down the street so on a Sunday morning many people pass through this specific spot on their way to the church. When I saw this graffiti I immediately knew that I must use it in some way with a man and a woman in the photo. I positioned myself on the opposite side of the street and then wait for the people to pass in front of the wall.

For me, this specific photo captured some irony. The fact that the woman is walking in front of her husband checking the time while he is dragging behind with the child is showing a typical a real-life situation - the spark is gone, no romance at this moment...

Enhancing the photo Photo Taken at Newtown, Johannesburg [896]

In this case the "enhancing the photo" does not refer to the graffiti enhancing the photo, but rather the people enhancing the photo - the main subject is the graffiti.

The title of the photo is "You, Little People". I noticed this angry figure wearing a mask and it reminded me of the times we are living in. Times where bad news is the most important news to broadcast. We are almost on a daily basis bombarded with news about terrorists and the doings of terror organisations around the world. The tattoo on his arm looks like a bomb or a gas cylinder and even the tattoo on his fingers (NVS) further enhances his bad attitude.

I took several photos but had to wait a very long time to get a photo that I was happy with. I believe that luck is very much associated with patience and perseverance - and this photo proofed it again. Not only did the woman came from the right side (walking towards the graffiti) but just before she disappeared behind the wall, she stopped and looked at something behind the wall - exactly at the right place for my Graffiti man to point towards her.

Photo Taken at Newtown, Johannesburg [897]

Effective motion blur

I find it sometimes very difficult to add meaning to these graffiti walls. Over the years I have photographed many of these walls but shared only a handful - if so much. This specific piece of graffiti (called "Holy Smoke") was one of those very powerful ones that I really wanted to share. It rained the previous night so the reflection in the water was a big attraction. This pillar is at a very busy corner resulting in a constant flow of people, but none of them added value to the graffiti - in fact, adding people actually took the emphasis away from the graffiti.

After taking many photos I decided to try motion blur as a technique to add to the scene. I know many of you will say that it is unnatural to take a tripod on a street photography photo shoot, but I do do it from time-to-time. Luckily this spot was quite dark, so I managed to get a 1/20sec TV with F11 and ISO 200. With my camera set up on the tripod, I just had to wait for the correct character to walk into my frame. The second person did it - he was wearing a black hoody.

Bluring the figure and adding to that the fact that you cannot see his face makes this an anonymous figure which adds to the composition yet keep your attention at the graffiti.


(If you have read up to here and did not click on a photo yet, do so to see them in larger format and also to browse through the rest of this gallery)