When Candid Street Photography becomes Covid-19 Tough

Street photography, call it Candid Photography if you like, or simply, Photography, is a bit stressy as it is, but with the Covid-19 Virus problems of Lockdowns and stay at home orders, it can be worse than ever to find a decent human subject on the streets of your city.

Street Photography & the Decisive Moment
Damp ground can make a shot interesting. Using the damp ground as a line of perspective and the small figures helps to add a little drama.

I went out today, January the 11th 2021, looking for something juicy and curious to photograph. I was really hoping to find people out and about, shopping, coming from work, or just doing stuff on the street would be an easy task. But it turned out to be tough.

Ostbahnhof group of people waiting for a train in the evening light. Copyright; Sean P. Durham, Berlin, 2022

I find myself more, and more, photographing architecture and compositions around the streets. That’s okay, but when your passion is to find that special drama in a street photo, it leaves you feeling a little stumped for ideas.

The drama in street photography really needs human interaction. It’s hard to categorize street photography as anything more than taking photos around the streets, normally a city or town – urban photography, and often without the subjects’ knowledge of being photographed. These days in Europe we have tough laws that sound as if they say you can’t take shots with people in them without their permission. That’s not accurate, though.

Basically, you can take shots with strangers in them. So long as those strangers are not your central subjects, as in a portrait.

If the composition is clearly an artistic photograph, and street photography, if anything, is an artistic pursuit, then it’s okay.

Street Photographers like to use a camera of their own choice with a 50 mm lens or 35 mm lens attached. Some are experimenting with mobile phone cameras, but a good DSLR, or Mirrorless camera offers more quality.

If a person’s face is fairly close and can be clearly defined, then that person may well have an good court room argument about why they demand that you as a street photographer destroy the digital data.

Don’t forget, film photography is not part of the digital law. You can freely take photos of people in the street and keep them, show them, etc. But once you transfer the paper image into a digital format, you need to be sure you’re not breaking the laws, or anybody’s heart.

Copyright; Sean P. Durham, Berlin, 2021
This bench caught my attention as I walked along by the River Spree. It just sort of jumped out from everything else. Normally, when that feeling arises, it’s because it’s the perfect time of day, the light is just right, and you’ve got to work quickly and accurately to get the photo you see. Ten minutes later, the light had faded dramatically. The bench was a dark log, and the bushes behind it were simple dark blotches with no sheen on the leaves.

The drama that I mention in street photography is like the everyday human interaction that creates small sparks of life. The grinning man on the corner, stamping his feet in the cold weather. The group of tourists who have just alighted a bus and stand gawping.

They can often appear like small children on the first day of school. I leave it up to you to imagine the type of facial expressions that you can find outside a newly arrived bus.

The guy at the street cafe, out in the cold, has a thousand problems flowing through his brain, he’s trying to solve one of those problems with food bought on the street. His hands will shake as he takes his first bite into that steaming mess of a Donor Kebab, and his wet tongue will suddenly dart all over the place to lap up the garlic sauce dripping over his lips. Great shots.

Those type of moments only last for a few seconds. Each second that passes is like a rising feeling of drama, you don’t know when it’ll peak, and you have to be quick about catching what you decide the right moment is, take the shot, then another. Intuition and experience work well together. The street photographer who loves the work, gets a massive thrill out of these special moments on the street.

Walking, looking, digesting everything around you to catch a feeling of mood in the street. Practise, practise, and more practise, and those great shots will come when photographer and scene collide in the hustle and bustle of the city.

Copyright; Sean P. Durham, Berlin, 2021

After tonight’s jaunt into the cold streets I started to think about how people tend to be very obedient these days. In the past, if I wanted to go out and get a shot of people who were arguing, fighting, or a drunk smashing his fists around a bar-room, it wasn’t that difficult. Those moments were there to find, somewhere out there in the city, somebody bumped into another person who they hate. So they took a swing at them. The old days of bar-room fights and so on have gone. Good thing, too.

Walking through a city park at night is a bit dodgy, you meet any number of scenarios to deal with, hopefully to photograph, too.

The big parks in Berlin, or the small “dark corners”, under the bridge type places where a photographer could observe some fascinating flows of light and people movements, can be dangerous. If it’s dark, rainy, and cold, nobody else about, chances are you’ll be propositioned for a ten-minute party behind the railway sidings, or mugged for your camera and wallet.

Copyright; Sean P. Durham, Berlin, 2021

This whole Covid-19, Virus society, think, is becoming tedious in some ways. It’s blocking everyday activities. And, there lots more of the Lockdown to come – depends on where you live, but here in Berlin things are going nuts with infection rates. And the new, improved version of Covid-19 is rampaging its way through Europe like an army of rats with a vengeance.

Street photography goes on. It’s up to the photographer to take up the challenge and get creative.

Creativity has a weird way of showing us that we just need to push the envelope a little more, and then we discover things about what we do that we couldn’t see happening before.

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