Is the beach a better opportunity for street photography than the street itself? Reader Steffen Kamprath provides a compelling answer, following our call to contributions : A Force for Positive Change. Beyond the great photographs, I love the arguments and references. Thanks Steffen.
Hello fellow photo enthusiast,
my name is Steffen Kamprath. I’m an amateur travel photographer from Berlin, Germany. This is my first guest post for DearSusan in a series of more to come. As I grew as a photographer over 20 years, I constantly challenged myself with ideas on how to evolve. Pascal is kind enough to let me share my thoughts with you, dear reader, as an opportunity to grow together.
In my first article, I want to write about photography at the beach and the fun it brings to me. If you like what you read and saw, you’re welcome to drop a line in the comments here and explore my Flickr page.
Street photography is everybody’s darling. Everybody admires the grand masters of the genre, whole camera systems are dedicated to it, as well as companies and brands. Every day millions of photographers hunt for random chance encounters, little gestures, interesting characters, and their perfect framing — on the street, in cities.
Now let me change your perspective on this genre a little bit. When you cut the street out of Street Photography, the most common grounds are candid human interactions, raw human emotions, and human characters. In my opinion, the beach is a better place for all this to happen. Now, Beach Photography (if that term really exists) is very often associated with dads snapping their family shots on holidays or photos of the actual beach. But why not approach the beach as you would the street?
Well … to be honest, Beach Photography — or Photography at the beach or Street photography at the beach — is nothing I invented. Martin Parr and his famous book The last resort should be on everybody’s mind (and shelf). Tony Ray-Jones did it even prior to him. Bruce Gilden’s and Robert Frank’s portraits of Coney Island are also general knowledge. But for some reasons, it’s not a common theme for today’s street photographers. I personally think it’s a missed opportunity and so much more fun than cerebral street photography.
Why “cerebral”? Why “fun”? In my opinion, street photographers spend too much time, defining their personal scope and code of practice. To a certain degree, this focus is necessary for progress (and a personal branding too). On the other hand, this limitation is restraining and cerebral.
What really captures me about these afore-mentioned photographs, though, is the humor, the situations, the stories shown, to which most of us can light-heartedly relate. Just compare Bruce Gilden’s work from Coney Island with his other work: same artist, similar technique — completely different reactions and emotions! Martin Parr could have photographed *The last resort* completely grimy, cynical, and hopeless (it was the 80’s after all). But he didn’t. They’re comical, droll … maybe ironical … always gentle, never negative, always positive — Maybe because he’s British …
… or maybe because you can’t do otherwise on a beach. It’s that positive attitude and feeling photography on the beach sparks inside the photographer and ultimately transmits to the viewer. People say, whenever you’re afraid in a presentation, imagine the audience to be naked (though, I never tried it). How can a bold man with back hair in swim trunks be frightening? How can the muscular, tattooed guy building sand castles with his daughter make you feel uncomfortable? This is the magic of beach photography: You have all these characters, doing things in a relaxed environment. Absolutely photo-worthy situations non-stop.
As with all kinds of documentary photography, it’s best to blend in. Swim shorts-only do the job here. A small camera is also beneficial. And I prefer a one-lens setup, like a 21 or 35 mm eqv. FF lens. With that, I can go in very close and still show context. And I can go very wide and create those marvelous wimmelpictures where things happen here and there and everybody is doing things.
In street photography, you often have to take control over colors by removing them at all. In that regard, colors on the beach are much more controlled but bold and lively. They mostly only come from swim suits, sun shades and towels. The rest is white (sand) and blue (water, sky) and a little bit of green (vegetation beyond dunes). To me, beach photography is all about the colors and — due to mid-summer and high-noon — high contrast. It can be challenging but, in general, the quality of light is much better than in a sunny city of the northern hemisphere.
The good thing about beaches is, they exist everywhere, in all different shapes and manners, temperatures and climate zones — and all at the same time. There’s always summer somewhere on the planet and a beach’s waiting for you. And remember: Beaches are not only located at the sea, but also on almost any lake or river near by.
Beaches are also not only interesting in midsummer but also in winter, frozen, in autumn/spring with huge waves, during fog, storm, flood, cold summers, warm winters, at golden hour, blue hour, mid-night or noon … Beaches are extremely versatile in that regard.
Furthermore, the beach is often not only the beach-only. Think about beach bars, lounge areas, hawkers, coastguard stations, sports fields, water sport rentals, harbors, backwater lakes … Many new opportunities for motifs, locations and backdrops.
For now, I’ll leave you with some random beach inspirations. Summer is coming to a place near you. I hoped I could inspire some of our dear readers to join the sunny side of beach photography soon.
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