#1045. Thoughts On The Street

By Ian Varkevisser | Opinion

Oct 05

I am not one to put much score by gear technicalities but hold that thought. As for GAS I am not sure I can stomach it either , if you excuse the pun.

A lot has be written about the advent, advancement and coming wave of the cellphone camera tsunami. I have tried taking photos with a cellphone on a couple of occasions. By the time I have managed to find the shutter button on the screen , and not press some other function, and waited for the inevitable lag between pressing the button and the image actually being taken ….. well it just doesn’t work for me on the street or anywhere for that matter.

When it comes to street photography, my ordinance of choice is a digital device that actually reacts to the push of a button, that can be fired from the hip but still remains discreet and quiet.

As a street photographer high ISO noise , megapixels, pin sharp focus and fancy computational algorithms are meaningless. After all the showcase for my work is nothing more than low resolution display technology. Even if I were to print my work, which I have done in the form of a tome, it is highly unlikely it would even be as large as A4.

All of which brings me to what is in my arsenal. Pocketable and often mistaken as an old film camera, with a mediocre 4 crop sensor of 12 MP it is the Fuji X20. Although 7 year old technology it is one of the most under rated cameras for this genre.

I prefer to shoot on the wide side, have depth to my images and a consistent level of sharpness throughout them. Due to the size of the sensor, at the sweet spot of F/5.6 and shooting mostly at 28 mm equivalent this can be achieved without noticeable distortion.

Skew horizons , human fragments , noise , lens flare , blown out highlights, soft focus are all things I am happy to embrace in my images.

There is one little trick it has up its sleeve that I wish Fuji included in all its cameras. It is Best Frame Capture mode. This can best be described as a burst mode which stores 8 images. From the time the shutter button is half pressed the camera starts recording images to a memory buffer. One sets the pre and post shutter press no of images. For instance 3 images pre the shutter button being pressed , the image at the time the button is pressed and 4 images after the button is pressed , all of which will be stored on the memory card.

This is particularly useful if you happen to be a touch late in pressing the shutter button and is just that little bit different and more useful than shooting in burst mode.

At one time street photography used to be the flavour of the year and we were bombarded with sterile advice on it.

Is it still relevant ?

Is it a visual urge or pure voyeurism ?

Is it formulaic or freestyle ?

Does anybody care about your photography ?

Does an image require a caption ?

Is it vain or brand wise to watermark your work ?

I still don’t know the answer to the questions posed above or whether my photography even matters.

I simply shoot what I see in front of me.

It is for others to find meaning in my work.

A nod to William Klein

“Be yourself. I much prefer seeing something, even it is clumsy, that doesn’t look like somebody else’s work.” -William Klein – ouch !

Gear matters – all images shot with a Fuji X20 – 7 year old technology – low tech 12MP crop factor 4 sensor. Would I change this pocketable super convenient miniature technological dinosaur for an Apple Iphone 11 – Give up passion for sterile technology – Hell no not even if you gave me the Iphone free of charge.

(1) Anti-Manual-on–Street-Photography – by Michail Moscholios – recommended reading.


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  • Sean says:

    Hi Ian,
    Super article and accompanying images. I have mentioned this previously that I gain an enormous amount of satisfaction from a 15 year old DSLR (Canon’s 5D Mk1) and Leica’s M8. Your own street photography style certainly expresses ‘your way’ of achieving ‘your aim’ in that genre. I also don’t title any image I’ve crafted as I don’t see that it adds any value and can be misleading. I often simply photograph what i react to and then move on, and so, I do like what you’ve written, and I quote you “I simply shoot what I see in front of me … It is for others to find meaning in my work … A nod to William Klein…” Well done Ian. I appreciate your post, here in DS, in particular because your images are in grey scale.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    “Hear, hear”. What else is there to say?

    I sometimes get cross with myself, with my photography. But really, like the man on the staircase said to Scarlet O’Hara, as his exit line -“Frankly, my dear – I don’t give a damn!” as to what anyone else thinks about my photographs.

    The same goes for gear. I shoot with what I like.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Pete, well if you say so who are we to argue 🙂 “Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back.”

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        “Tomorrow is another day.”
        Actually I was discussing this “what other people think” business earlier in the day, in the context of music. I’ve been playing the piano for close to 70 years, but I do it for my own amusement – and it upsets me, if I find other people listening. Some people enjoy the stage – I don’t. Being conspicuous is actually distressing – and I get something like stage fright out of it, instead of pleasure.

  • Lad Sessions says:


    I find these images compelling! Some are disturbing, others puzzling, but all are…interesting. B&W works perfectly, and I like the skew, composition, perspective, dynamic range (blowouts are fine), and much else. I’m glad to hear your camera isn’t confining because of technical antiquity but liberating because of familiarity. Thank you for this post.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Lad , Glad you took the time out to comment, I guess its what works for one at the end of the day that counts, even if it is a cellphone for some. I just happen to find such technology too fiddly. Like Wyatt Earp I prefer my gun well oiled and quick on the draw.

  • JohnW says:

    Ian – Love It!. Love It!. Love It!.You’ve struck two of my happy bones – street and B&W.

    In many ways your choice of gear mirrors my own. My first “street” camera was an Olympus XZ1; a pocketable little gem, but the lens was too short at the long end for a lot of my work. Michael Reichman of Luminous Landscape fame used to shoot street with a bridge camera for the long reach it gave him; and if he could … The lovely little XZ1 got replaced by a Nikon V3 with a 27-270mm (equivalent) lens. That’s been my go anywhere camera for the last 6 years and I don’t see a replacement anywhere in sight. It’s small, light, fast, unobtrusive, the lenses are sharp, sharp, sharp at any focal length and aperture, it doesn’t scream “professional” and 18mp is more than “good enough”. With that kit I can troll both sides of the street at the same time without risking death by traffic.

    As to your questions – who cares what the answers are. In the words of Mr. Klein – be yourself; and make up whatever answers please you. I watermark and often title my images and couldn’t care less who likes or doesn’t like them.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      John, in my case my preference is for wide angle and getting in close to the subject matter to inject depth and context into the story. If you haven’t yet tried it I can suggest a 15mm equiv wide angle for street, its a real education if you are happy to ignore the distortion it introduces to objects close up. In the street you can get so close no one would even think they were even in the frame. It is however a lens on the bulky side but you almost cannot miss focus with it.

      • JohnW says:

        Ian – I do use a wide angle but only in certain situations where i don’t have enough room to get the framing I want. The lens i use most of the time goes down to 27mm and i have used it at that focal length. I’ve also used a 14mm in some situations. The zoom lets me capture anything from in my face to across the street with a single lens.

        • Ian Varkevisser says:

          John, pleased to see another convert to the wide angle street church. Would be very interested to swap notes someday ( read as compare images ) of your wide angle street work. It does seem 24-28 is around the better focal length for street work, my opinion only. Maybe one day soon we can look forward to seeing yours in a blog here too.

  • Mike Ross says:

    I really enjoyed this post, especially the question: does anybody care about your photography? Maybe not or maybe so but does it really matter? As a somewhat obsessive photographer, I posted a photo today that was far from perfect but enjoyed the whole process instead of trying to make something perfect. Keep up the good work.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Mike, glad you enjoyed the post. You are right I guess if we all worried about what anyone thinks and whether we were obeying the rule of thirds etc etc .. we would never develop our own style and would end up stifling our own creativity. If one wished to do that I guess one should become a disciple of the local photographic society , with apologies to anyone who is a member of one. The suggested read at the end of the article is an interesting one.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Ian, your wonderful street photography tells a story of everyday people doing everyday things (some a bit disturbing!) which is so refreshing in this “look-at-me” world in which we live. You’ve caught them mid-activity, unaware that anyone is watching – in other words, you’re capturing the true essence of each individual, which is quite rare in our present time. B&W takes all the distractions away, forcing the viewers to determine what is happening in each photo, which is sometimes directed by the composition or angle of the shot. Kudos to you! Thanks for sharing.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Nancee, It is said that art disturbs and science reassures. That one is disturbed by an image is thought provoking and often the goal of the photographer. I make no apologies for my images , it is up to others to find meaning in them.

      I am also reminded often of the the quote by Ted Grant.
      “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!”

      It may or may not be noted that I go out of my way on the street to not include shots of the person on their ubiquitous phone. If on the rare occasion it does occur , as in one of the images above , it will never be of the main actor in the story. That and images of other photographers taking photographs are two things I cannot abide.

      • JohnW says:

        I met Ted Grant on a number of occasions and have his books. My favourite is “Real Photographers Shoot B&W … Sometimes Colour” (and drink single malt Scotch). He also said “Arrive early and leave late”. Delightful fellow.

  • Zelma van Wyk says:

    Ian, if we were still in the Wild West, you would have been the sheriff. You are the master of “fired from the hip, but still remains discreet and quiet’
    Great set of photos

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