Post lockdown street photography
As a street photographer I feel a sense of duty to document the world as I see it and how it constantly evolves by the day. However, what I never expected to see in my lifetime was a global pandemic that changed the world as we know it, in a blink of an eye.
My knee jerk reaction when Covid-19 news appeared was to head straight out and photograph everything – not really taking into consideration the health and safety of the people around me. However, as the seriousness of the situation unfolded I refrained from doing this and decided to adhere to government regulations and isolate at home till further notice.
With most of my paid photography work coming to a standstill I found a welcomed chance to take a mental break and reset. Don’t get me wrong, being a professional photographer is an amazing privilege. But it’s certainly a challenging job that has your mind working at 200 percent, 100 percent of the time! However, lockdown gave me an opportunity to slow down and reflect on my work as a photographer and really think about why I do this.
With the enforced “break” from normality, I found myself actually thinking about street photography more and more, so the urge to get out and shoot grew by the week. As they say “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. However, this also got me thinking about how street photography might change with “social distancing” regulations in place.
My go-to focal length for street photography has always been 23mm, which is conveniently found on the X100F, my favourite little workhorse. I have also shot street with the XT2 + 23mm f2 in the past, but the X100F lends itself to the way I shoot street more by being so compact and inconspicuous. For me 23mm is the perfect all round focal length; it gives me the chance to switch from street portraits to landscape scenes quickly, lending itself to an uncomplicated setup which allows me to concentrate on staying perceptive to the moments around me.
My approach to street photography is to get in close to my subjects and maximise on the wide field of view that the 23mm has to offer, allowing me to become almost enveloped in the scene. However, the idea of getting in close to subjects at this time didn’t seem like the wisest thing to be doing. I also don’t want to be selfish and make other people around feel uncomfortable or put them at risk. So I decided to reach for my 35mm f1.4 for a change, which would give me a longer focal length and allow me to get back out and shoot street from a safer distance.
The location I decided on heading to was Covent Garden in London. The reason for this was because not only have I enjoyed this location on numerous occasions, socially with friends, but I was intrigued to see how the area would look without the floods of tourists that are usually found exploring the vicinity. As expected the streets were empty and there was very little happening in the famous Covent Garden Market. However, this slower pace did give me time to re-adjust to shooting with the 35mm.
In truth, I’ve always loved the Fuji 35mm f1.4; it’s beautifully sharp with bags of character, however, the slow focus has continually put me off using it for street photography. But when I set out on my post lockdown project, with my 35mm in hand, I decided that I’d have no expectations of what I might capture. This made me feel a little less anxious and gave me the headspace to just enjoy capturing photos.
The main thing I found with the 35mm is that I needed to shoot at much higher apertures than I’d usually default to. This caught me off guard, and as mentioned earlier, the slower focus of the 35mm 1.4 meant that I missed some frames that I was confident I would have usually captured. However, once I got into the swing of things I really enjoyed the new perspective this lens had to offer, meaning I could continue with my street photography and at the same time avoid close contact with people.
Going forward, I’d like to revert back to using the 23mm for my street photography, as I really enjoy the buzz I get from whizzing in and out of a scene, like a ninja with a camera. But with the restrictions as they are at the moment, I’m confident the 35mm will give me the freedom to go out and shoot whilst also adhering to the social distance measures.
At this point you might suggest that I consider using the 56mm? After all, it’s tack sharp and gives even more reach right? Well as much as I love the 56mm, I think the results of using this lens would be too far removed from what I default to with the 23mm and also achieve creatively. Therefore the 35mm, in theory, could become my new normal and if things continue as they are, then maybe I’d consider the 35mm f2 to overcome the focus speed issue. Or perhaps I’ll just slow down and enjoy working a little bit harder with the 35mm 1.4.
“Hi, I’m Tarik Ahmet, a London based documentary portrait photographer. I photograph people mainly because they amaze me. The way people react and interact with one another is fascinating and I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of trying to understand what people are thinking at any given time. A photograph gives you that split second to look deep into their eyes and intercept their expression to create a story of what may or may not be. It’s a privilege to capture a moment or a person to have that moment linger for as long as you want it to. A smile, a tear, a hug, all moments that mean so much.”