Me, Myself and I
My first love and introduction to photography started at a young age where my dad used Minolta film cameras for all our holidays where he enjoyed street scenes, especially in Asia. This carried on in to Art and design and my own first camera was a Lumix compact where I used to take pictures of derelict buildings and street shots of run down things – these I used for art projects at school on social challenges.
After leaving school and studying engineering the cameras were put to one side and it wasn’t until I turned 29 that I decided I wanted a new hobby of escapism. I felt my creative side was being diminished and starved which led me to feeling unfulfilled at times. I followed quite a few photographers on Instagram and my intrigue was fuelled.
I purchased a Nikon D7200 along with a Sigma 35mm 1.4 art lens (50mm cropped) without hesitation. On this, I practiced shooting portraits, landscapes, travel and of course street photography. The latter captured my imagination far more the I envisaged and I began to work upon this more and more.
An introduction to the X-system
At 30 years old I decided I needed a break away from my career and took a 3 month unpaid trip to Asia. 3 weeks each in Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. Although I enjoyed using the Nikon for the previous year, I knew how much of a pain having a large DSLR and hefty 35mm prime would be humping and bumping across these countries living out of a single duffel bag. This is where I turned my attention to the Fujifilm X100F with its fixed 23mm f2 lens. After reading excellent reviews I sold all of my old Nikon gear and turned to mirrorless and what would turn out to be an addiction to Fuji.
Before embarking to Asia, I spent a long weekend away in Marrakech. It was here I knew I’d made the right decision. The X100Fs ease of use, its silent leaf shutter and small compact body was a perfect street companion around the small bustling alleys of the souks. In this city stealth is key, many locals do not like their photos being taken and are happy to confront if they catch you pointing a camera at them so it’s small lightweight size made taking pictures undetected a dream.
On arriving in Bangkok in late January 2019 and on my first night out, I took my beloved X100F out around town. Unfortunately, I used a hip bag to transport it instead of a strap (I never do this normally!) and within hours at the beginning of my 3 month trip, it was stolen in a busy night market.
I swear down right now I took one of the best pictures of my trip before this of a Tuk Tuk speeding through the streets perfectly in focus with a beautifully dark grungy out of focus background. Thankfully, with my travel insurance covering costs for it, I went straight to the MBK shopping mall and purchased yet another X100F the very next day, I wasn’t to be deterred in my faith and love in this camera for my travels!
The X100F remained to have been the most versatile choice I could have picked for my time away, excellent handling on the street, decent landscape shots and great portraits. A fixed 35mm lens teaches you so much about framing and is the best travel focal length for a prime lens you can get.
It doesn’t come cheap for its size but it genuinely is the most beautifully designed camera, oozing style, practicality, and speed. Another great thing about this camera is its ability to be packed away in a large pocket. I literally take mine anywhere, to the shops, walks, family visits – it’s true to say the best camera is the one that’s with you and this lil’ beauty is one of the best in its class on the market.
My Current Gear
On returning to the UK, I was sold on Fujifilm cameras and felt I wanted something else with the option of interchangeable lenses that I could use for paid work and better low light performance. Here, I purchased the X-T3 with 3 lenses, the 23mm f1.4, 35mm f2 and the 56mm f1.2. It was at this point my photography began to change and my love for its use on the street became a fascination.
For me, I love the 50mm focal length. It’s what I used the most when learning photography, it’s not too tight yet allows some context of the area you’re shooting in. For travel, you need something versatile that you find with the X100F with its 35mm equivalent focal length. Perhaps my style has started to evolve more recently and I want just the little more intrigue and curiosity gaps when photographing people without getting right up in their face. If I could pick one lens on the X-T3 it would be this.
For night shots I do also love to use the 56mm f1.2, although traditionally a portrait focal length (85mm) its max aperture of f1.2 has helped me take images in very low light and maintain a shutter speed of 250 with some truly incredible results. This lens is a tank, a real weapon to have in your camera bag!
And of course, I still own my trusty X100F, this is used as a go-everywhere camera.
My street philosophy
My approach to street photography is simple, be fluid. It took a long time to harness this approach and I used to go out on a sunny day thinking I must find perfect shadows and highlights or I must find someone carrying an umbrella or wearing a special distinctive hat. This allows for frustrations when you do not find these items or set agendas.
Remembering why you took up photography in the first place is key, it was to have fun and experiment. It is easy to overthink finding that special something before you’ve even started. You can become so fixated trying to look for the perfect scenario you miss so much in front of you. Walk methodically and always keep your eyes open to the changes and environment around you. Look for those small details. Breath the city in.
I work in a meditative state these days, almost tranced. My top tip (and it may be an obvious one) is to shoot your memory cards full. I usually shoot a minimum of 500 photos when I go out for several hours. I use my time on the train journey home to look at what I have and delete if necessary. Honestly on most days out shooting there may only be 2 or 3 decent images that I will even think about editing and posting.
The more you shoot the more likelihood there is of getting that killer snap. My settings are generally used in aperture priority as with street photography you don’t always have enough time to get the perfect manual exposure, the X systems are so good in auto ISO I leave mine in just that, do not be afraid of the myth surrounding high ISO.
I do generally work with a rule of trying to achieve a shutter speed of 500 to freeze action but sometimes some longer exposures work lovely handheld at 1/8s. I shoot with zonal focusing and in continuous low, this gives you more chance of capturing a sharper shot or a slightly different position of the target.
I generally hunt taking shots of passers-by until I have found a good fishing spot from which I may remain at for a prolonged period until I’m happy the right character has entered the frame. Then I repeat the process! An example of this is of the image of the man in the Panama hat walking alone down a dark blue misty corridor which took me over 40 minutes to capture.
This was at an Olafur Eliasson exhibition at the Tate Modern in London where only 20 people were allowed to enter the hot chamber at a time to walk the path. Instead of leaving I remained plonked in the middle of the exhibit waiting for the right person to enter my frame. Find your killer spot and stay patient, something magical will eventually happen!
If you’re new to street photography and are afraid of rejection or being caught in the act try and pretend you’re using your camera as if shooting a video holding the camera out in front of you, do not make eye contact with your target. Almost shoot as if you’re looking beyond them or as if they have walked into your shot.
There will be times you are caught red-handed and to be honest, these sometimes make for the best pictures, that split moment they notice you is so natural and spontaneous. If challenged just be polite and explain ever so simply what it is you’re doing, honesty is key, maybe pay them a compliment in the process and walk on!
My editing approach is simple, I like to use high contrasts and a palette of interesting colours to give my images a depth of feeling. My future themes I hope to base on mystery with a cinematic and atmospherical approach.
Escapism is key
We all love to travel and some of us I’ll admit are more fortunate than others but I do believe being put out of your comfort zone is essential to good street photography. It doesn’t have to be abroad, it can be in a completely new town or city you’ve never been to before. This is where photography is so great, you never stop exploring! It keeps your workstream fresh and I definitely find I’m less shy somewhere I cannot speak the language fluently or have no idea where it is I’m going.
I find people are more warm towards you when they realise you’re foreign and polite, I then use that to my advantage and ask them for a portrait, 9 times out of 10 they oblige! The issue of shooting the same streets time and time again is you’ll find yourself stumbling into a creativity block, you become comfortable. You’ll find nothing of huge interest and you’ll come away from your session feeling deflated and uninspired.
I am always walking a different part of London as I was finding the usual haunts over photographed by myself and others. I am always setting goals to try new locations, my top 3 so far have to be Japan (I could live there!) Vietnam and Naples. I have a trip booked for Berlin soon, a visit to Cambridge and Oxford in spring and aspirations of making it to Havana or New York this year. For all of these trips, I’ll be again taking my lovely X100F alongside the excellent X-T3.
Jonathan White (b.1988) is a British street and travel photographer based in London, UK. Working in mostly colour photographing everyday life. When he’s not shooting in England or abroad his usual day to day job is a mobile HVAC engineer working all over the south-east of England. As opposed to just his love for photography he enjoys yoga, surfing, and good bottles of wine and cooking.