London street photography: the SideStory snappers
Those of you that keep up to date with SideStory on a regular basis, either through social media or as a newsletter subscriber, will know that London street photography is something we are passionate about. This is partly because it’s an aspect of modern culture that we simply can’t get enough of, and partly because one of our photography Insiders is one of the best known snappers working in the medium today. (For more information on how you can spend some time shooting with him, check out Antonio Olmos’s profile here.)
The London street photography that we display on our Instagram page is largely the work of two members of our staff, Michael Drummond and Jon Wilks, both of whom were inspired by the chance to spend time with our photography Insiders, Antonio and Stuart Freedman. While Michael was already a jobbing photographer, Jon was little more than a chap with a camera.
“It was actually after spending a morning with Stuart on the East End Revival Experience that I realised I might have a bit of talent for this,” he recalls. “Stuart gave me the confidence to put myself forward as a SideStory snapper, and I’ve since gone on to take photography for a number of clients. In fact, the New York Times recently used one of my pictures, so I have these guys to thank for that.”
With that in mind, we thought it might be interesting to dedicate a blog post to the SideStory snappers – finding out how they’ve developed their London street photography skills, and how they go about shooting for our channels.
Can you pick out two pieces of London street photography that you’re most proud of and tell us a bit about the situation you were in when you took them?
Michael Drummond: Sure. The first one you can find here, on my own Instagram account – a picture of a lady on the Underground, holding her dog.
I’ll often jump on the tube, and go for a walk around the city with my phone in hand – sometimes with the aim of being unassuming should the opportunity to arise for a great photo, or simply to avoid being lost while out and about in London. This time around I was on the underground loitering by the carriage doors and I noticed the lady holding her tiny dog. I thought it was a great image – her expression was quite severe and the dog appeared slightly helpless floating above the rest of the carriage’s occupants. It was shot from the hip, so as to avoid my appearance with a camera affecting the scene’s natural direction, or influence the subject anymore so than I might anyway. I mix my techniques up depending on how I read the scene. I will often raise the camera knowing how I want the scene to look before clicking the shutter, and on other occasions I will fire from the hip, partly for the difference in perspective and partly to remain as invisible as possible.
This second photo was actually shot while taking part in one of Antonio’s photography experiences, focusing on people on the street and observing the nuances in different characters around the area we started in. The ladies in the picture were walking past Charing Cross Station, heading towards Trafalgar Square, and as you can see from their appearance, it was a windy day with a chill in the air.
They were both dressed incredibly well, something that really draws me in while shooting on the street, and alongside this it was apparent that they weren’t enjoying the gusts, forever correcting their hats and scarves. I took a few exposures of them while they made their way alongside the buses lined up on the road. Being fairly close with a 20mm is always a little invasive, so I tried not to be overbearing for too long, and then I went on my way.
How about you, Jon?
Jon Wilks: Actually, like Mike, my first choice is something that I took on a SideStory Experience, which means it’s from the first session that I was ever involved with as a street photographer. There’s nothing very clever about it at all – I was simply following Stuart Freedman’s suggestions and trying to catch someone in the foreground to give the picture some depth.
However, as I was lining things up in my viewfinder, I noticed the fly-poster on the left – the guy holding the gun – and a split-second later this chap walked into my frame. The two things snapped together really quickly, and it was almost as if I’d shot him! Isn’t it always the way, though, that you do your best work first and then spend the rest of your time just trying to equal it?
The second image is featured on my own Instagram account. I shot it on my phone using one of those cheap fisheye lenses that you can get for mobiles. I think it cost a tenner.
I was outside the office on the street they call More London (such a strange name), and I was playing around with the reflections in the rain. The chap in the picture happened to be in front of me in the queue at Pret a Manger, and as I walked out of the shop and up the street, he sat down in front of me and smiled, almost as though he was ready to pose. It’s quite lucky I got the shot I wanted, actually, because my phone is a proper dud these days. It takes about five seconds to trigger the shutter.
Which begs the question: what equipment are you using?
Michael: I use a Canon 5dmk3 with a 20mm 2.8 Canon Prime lens. My phone is a Samsung Galaxy S6.
Jon: I’m not the professional that Mike is – I use a Sony A6000 with the lenses that came as part of the package! The dud phone I mentioned earlier is an LG G3, although it’s only dud because it’s so old. The make and camera are usually fine.
Why does street photography appeal to you?
Michael: The appeal for me really revolves around the study of people. It’s often the way they dress or carry themselves, or simply their faces that will influence my decisions to make pictures on the street. That, and the places I encounter them. The scene is always just as important as the subject – interesting architecture to juxtapose the person’s style, or a hard shard of light illuminating just a sliver of an individual.
So many elements have to come together to create a great street photo in my opinion, but the overarching factor is patience and being open to everything unfolding around you, like the Italian couple struggling with a map, or a man staring straight up, captivated by something just above, or even the lady on the Tube clutching on to her dog for fear of the underground crush.
Jon: It’s more elemental for me, I think. I’m always in the process of creating something, whether it’s writing, recording music, or – these days – taking photographs. Street photography appeals to me because it is simply a moment frozen in time. Nobody else will ever freeze that moment quite the same way, and I find that both awe-inspiring and humbling. The other thing that I love about street photography is that, as someone who doesn’t find it easy to talk to people I don’t already know, it offers me a way in. Initially, I was terribly shy about asking someone for their picture, but I got over that quite quickly. I almost look forward to that part now. Then again, as Mike said earlier, sometimes you break the scene by stepping out from the invisible, and it’s true that I love those moments when someone looks directly into your lens quite suddenly and a little light goes off in their eyes, and you realise that you’ve made a happy connection. The picture below is an example of that.
As people who have spent time with the SideStory photographers, Antonio Olmos and Stuart Freedman, what have you picked up from them? Have they influenced you in any way?
Michael: Having met both Antonio and Stuart it is obvious they are both passionate about their careers and have invested a lot of time developing their style, technique, and their eye for a great photo. One thing that has become hugely apparent is their dedication to stories and projects, spending vast amounts of time building up a rapport, a great knowledge and understanding of their subjects. It’s admirable, and the effort that they pour into each one of their pictures is right there in the results. Without a doubt, this is something that I will surely take into my own work and ongoing projects that are yet to be completed.
Jon: Unlike Mike, photography is unlikely to become a major part of my career – I’m a lucky hobbyist, at best. However, spending time with Stuart certainly helped me to appreciate my own abilities a bit more, and reading and editing the interviews we’ve done on this site with Antonio has prompted me to go out and learn a bit more about street photography as an art-form. I think we’ve barely met, Antonio and I, but he’s partially responsible for the growing number of photography books that are littering my bookshelf these days. Meeting these guys, who live and breathe their art everyday – well, it has been nothing short of inspirational.
For more information on Michael Drummond, whose image ‘Leicester Square Cigar Smoker’ is featured at the top of this page, see Michael Drummond Photography. Stuart Freedman and Antonio Olmos are both award-winning photo journalists. You can spend time with them by booking one of their SideStory Experiences here. The image of the priest in Aldgate was taken by Jon Wilks.