A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to take a photography masterclass in Soho and Chinatown, London, with photojournalist and adventurer Lee Thompson from The Flash Pack and what an amazing day it was!
I say lucky for two reasons… Firstly my friend Nina won the masterclass in a competition, the prize was for two, so she invited me along as another budding photographer! Secondly I was getting a masterclass with such a cool photographer….
An experienced photojournalist and true adventurer, Lee has travelled the world taking some exceptional photographs. From being one of the first people to photograph Colonel Gaddafi’s body during the Libyan Conflict, to taking one of the world’s coolest selfies, on top of Christ the Redeemer in Rio!
So I was both excited and nervous about what was going to happen next!
Our mission – Street Photography
Our task for the day was to photograph people. To find interesting scenes on the streets of Soho, looking for those natural moments and candid photos that show people for who they really are. These are my favourite kind of photos.
And then we took it to the next level… approaching people, talking to them, finding out their story and then taking their picture. This was completely out of my comfort zone, I love photography but this was the one area I’ve shied away from not feeling confident enough to go up to a stranger and say hey can I take your picture?
What if they say no?
We hit the streets and yes there were people who said no, infact one homeless guy gave us a good few minutes of verbal abuse for taking his picture without asking. That one incident aside, the most wonderful and surprising part of the day was actually how many people said yes! Some loved to pose, some loved to chat and tell us about their day, where they’d been or where they were heading.
At first I did feel awkward like I was getting in the way, attracting unwanted attention and actually felt like I was making other people feel awkward too! But as we got into the swing of things and built our confidence I felt that we began to blend in a little easier.
I’ve taken photography courses before where I’ve got so bogged down in the technical details that I’d spend more time fumbling around with the settings of my camera than actually getting the shot I wanted and then the moment would be gone. I wanted to know how a photographer really worked to see how they got those incredible shots. And that’s exactly what I learnt from Lee. He was able to give us some basic tips and settings to start from and build on without overcomplicating things. Allowing us to feel in control of the camera, then concentrate on getting that great shot.
So here are some of my best shots from the day, I’ve put them into little photo stories as thats how they come across to me….
“I was on a break, actually I don’t even work with these guys, I just came out for a smoke”
“I’m not in a rush. I’m just hanging out, waiting for my boyfriend.”
“Yes I love this hat too, I’m a student in London, can you send me my picture”
Street Photography Tips I learnt from the day
Just ask, whats the worst that could happen…
Don’t be nervous about asking to take someone’s photo. Just ask. The worst they can do is say no.
Have a good cover story…
When you’re taking photos of an everyday street scene people are bound to ask why. One thing I learned from Lee was to create a good cover story. Get creative or just be honest it makes people much more understanding and accepting of your weird photos.
“We’re students on a photography course,” we explained to the lady making dumplings in a shop window in Chinatown. She glanced at our cameras and then just carried on with her work. I think we made her feel interesting while also making her less suspicious of our photography, letting us get much closer.
I noticed that people warmed to Lee’s confidence and felt comfortable with him taking their picture. He would direct them straightaway and could convince people to pose a certain way, cross the street to get a better background, or even just to repeat the same movement over and over.
Make people feel good
If you’re taking a person’s photo you want them to feel happy and relaxed rather than stiff and awkward but this can be difficult with a complete stranger. The first trick is to be totally natural and confident yourself and this will put them at ease.
The second trick is to compliment them to make them feel good. Tell them that you love their outfit or they’re the most interesting person you’ve seen all day. Ask them questions and take their photo as you talk.
Show them the photo
If someone doesn’t seem happy about having their photo taken, show it to them afterwards to put them at ease.
You’re looking for great subjects but you’re also looking for great scenes. I was surprised at how much more aware I became of my surroundings on the day. I’ve walked down that same street many times and never noticed that lady making dumplings, the colourful flower stall or that amazing piece of street art on the corner. Sometimes you have to create your own scene, don’t be afraid to ask someone to move to a new location to give a better backdrop to the shot.
Frame your shot and try different angles
Different angles will give your photos a unique perspective so experiment! How you frame your shot can change the focus of the picture, so if you need to, get in close cut out unnecessary distractions.
I had so much fun during the street photography class. It was hands on from the start and I felt like I learned a lot. I’d recommend it to anyone with a love for street photography and wants to improve their portrait photos. It’s perfect for anyone who knows the basics of photography but they’d like to see how a real photographer actually works. Make sure you chat to your teacher as much as possible and ask lots of questions! Aswell as coming away with some really cool photos you would also have seen another side to the place you just explored…
Find out more about our photography day and Lee Thompson on The Flash Pack blog: