The walk-on part
One way to have something happen is to choose a frame that’s just waiting for an unwitting actor to enter and complete the image
As scenarios for street photography go, finding an interesting frame that’s just waiting for an actor is one of the most common. And it has as much to do with what goes on in the photographer’s mind as it does with what happens in the real-life scene. Actually it probably has more to do with your mind, because it begins with imagining a completed picture from the point of seeing something that attracted your eye.
Typically, there’s a partial scene with maybe one interesting or useful element, and it ‘needs’ a passer-by to complete it. To a large extent, street photographers have this sense of needing someone of the right type to walk by, partly because people do tend to walk by, and more so because the essence of this kind of shooting is life and action. That’s what happens in city streets, and it’s reasonable to expect that you might have that choice.
Nor is it confined to street photography. If you broaden your range to anything that focuses on a medium-to-large-scale scene, like a landscape, there’s the basic choice of whether or not you want to animate it. If you do, having a passer-by walk into the scene is often the natural solution.
Anticipate the position
In these roti stand and beach hut photos, the content of the setting was the initial subject. For the roti stall in Port Louis, Mauritius, I was hunting for surviving street traditions, so content ruled the shot, and given the setting and the shade, a flat-on view looked to have the best of the limited graphic possibilities. Here there was a constant flow of passers-by, and the problem was how to separate them neatly. Having people moving is more interesting than having them standing still, so the key moment here was when the two men had just walked past each other, and everything lined up. As the illustrations below show, a fraction of a second before or after and it would have been messy. If you remember last month’s creative path, Make it Fit (Issue 67, page 78) there was a strong element of positioning. One image can often use more than one creative path.
For the row of colourful, traditional beach cabins near Torquay, one possible treatment would have been geometric, architectural without people. In fact, as most of the cabins were closed up, this would have been the easiest type of shot. I tried this, but it didn’t seem to be a strong enough idea, so plan B was to include some action. Step one was to find a workable viewpoint, and because almost the only foot traffic was through a gap between two
cabins to the beach, this diagonal view looked the best. Step two was to anticipate where exactly to outline any passing figure, and as the illustration shows, there were very narrow windows of opportunity. Having the figure cross over any graphic line would have been clumsy, so catching the girl in a white space was important. This was the only successful shot in a quarter of an hour of waiting.
It’s as well not to get too carried away with being clever in these shots, because this is a widely practised type of shooting, and it’s nearly always too obvious if the photographer hangs around for his or her preferred passing figure. This is a partly planned kind of image, even though it’s not actually set up, and because of that, the stakes are raised. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of anticipation, but just doing it isn’t by itself very special. It’s a matter of doing it well. Walk-in shots, in other words, have to be quite a lot better than average to be worth shooting.
A roti stall in downtown Port Louis, Mauritius, timed for the neatest, most orderly moment. Too early and too late are also shown; just one moment sees everything click into place.
A girl runs past a row of bright, old-fashioned beach cabins. Because of the strong graphic structure and colours, getting the figure precisely in a blank space was important – a fraction too early would not have been as clean – and the two white spaces arrowed were the best positions.