Street Photography. Is It Too Tough for Seniors?


The Japanese are discussing whether or not to raise the threshold of “elderly” from sixty-five to seventy-five. It will be a drastic leap but a highly popular one in a country where 7.3 million seniors are still in work.

Although I won’t qualify to be called “senior” under the new, eagerly-awaited Japanese definition, I cannot imagine giving up work even when I do actually cross the threshold into old age. I hope to find something to keep me fit and mentally alert, other than pumping iron and doing crossword puzzles.

Street photography springs to mind! I’ve done this part-time for many years (alongside other work) and I expect to continue well into the future.

On Friday last week I decided to test myself to see whether the demands of street photography would be too great in later life. Rather than stroll out in the afternoon, like the typical “flaneur,” I got up at six o’clock in the morning with the intention of taking an early train to London (50 minutes away) and spending the entire day on the street, followed by a brief visit to a photographic trade show.

Throwing open the curtains I couldn’t help but notice the first snow storm of the year, conveniently timed to arrive a few weeks after Christmas on the very day of my experiment.

Well, there’s no wussification over here, Mr. Rendell! (I refer to “The Wussification of America” by Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania, who lamented the cancellation of an NFL football match merely because of heavy snowfall).

By mid-morning I was busily tramping the streets of a damp and windswept Covent Garden, getting pictures of people huddled against the below-zero (centigrade) cold. For some reason unknown, they seemed to be more inclined than usual to accept a photographer in their midst. Maybe freezing cold sleet and snow have the effect of condemning everyone alike to a common discomfiture. I don’t know. It was different, and, I have to admit, rather enjoyable.

However, I didn’t get any good pictures until the light improved later in the day. The entire mood of the city changed. People who’d been in bed until late morning suddenly emerged to go shopping. Workers relaxed for a break and I attempted to pay for lunch in a fast-food cafĂ©, only to find that my right hand had become a frozen claw with only the forefinger (the one that presses the camera button) still working.

Do young people freeze? Yes, much more frequently — walking to school, on the sports field, messing around in the snow. It’s just a combination of experience and common sense that normally prevents older people from getting chilled to the bone.

Trying to manipulate camera settings while wearing gloves (even thin leather ones) is very frustrating. You really need one or two bare fingers to feel the position of each wheel and button. So if you’re thinking of taking street photos in very cold weather, I recommend using warm gloves with a finger-tip or two missing.

I took an umbrella because I’d seen the weather forecast and I knew it would get warmer later in the day. When snow turns to rain the camera gets wet. What’s more: it’s good to shoot from the cover of an umbrella. It makes you less conspicuous and helps protect the lens from the glare of the sky, enabling you to remove the lens hood.

By the time I was ready to grace the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers with my presence (I’m not actually a member, but I like their show) I’d taken a hundred shots, some of which I’ll show you over the coming weeks.

One of the better shots you see above. I walked past a couple of Deliveroo men loading up their trikes with pizzas, turned round, and took this shot in which the real subject is the guy in the middle. Sorry, Deliveroo. You became the supporting cast. That’s what what can happen in street photography.

Back home after a long day I had just enough remaining energy to watch an episode of “Hello, My Twenties,” a brilliant Korean drama series also called “Age of Youth” in some countries.

Did I prove that street photography under strenuous conditions is within the grasp of so-called “seniors”? I guess it all depends on the individual’s general health and levels of fitness and determination. You don’t need to be in peak condition but neither can you dodder or fumble your way to success.

If you’re in doubt, go for it! In Japan, “great old age” is being postponed to ninety-five. In Canada, Olga Kotelko took up athletics at seventy-seven (and has since won 750 gold medals). Even in the UK, one in five people are expected to live to see their 100th birthday. In fact, more people are living longer and remaining active than ever before.

I just hope they don’t all want to take up street photography.

Should We Pimp Our Street Portraits?

If you become a regular reader of this blog will know that I’m not a great fan of posed street portraits, the sort of picture you get when you say: “Wow, you’ve got such a great face! Do you mind if I take your photo?”

Yes, I take them sometimes when I can’t resist it, but I always think I’m wasting my time.

At the back of my mind is the feeling that maybe one day I’ll think of a use for this or that portrait of a grinning man, woman, or person in transition. Maybe I could build a collection? Men with green hair? Women with blue hair?

But alas, it just isn’t my style. I don’t want to go in that direction. I’ve given up arranging my photos into collections because there seem to be too many people doing it.

Given the right subject, perhaps there’s an alternative way. Perhaps I could take a single image, then slice and dice it various ways to make it more interesting. Let’s give that a try.

One day a friend and I exchanged pleasantries on the street with a man who was wearing a terrific, skull-patterned tee-shirt. He knew he looked good and because he’d cast an eye on my camera he seemed open to having his picture taken. Did I mention his beard? Well, you could scarcely miss it. The tee-shirt, the beard, and his fine set of pearly white teeth were likely to make a good photo, so I took a couple of quick shots.

At the height of summer in a cloudless sky the sun can be quite intense in England. For this reason I don’t really like the resulting photo, although the “model” looks fine. I wondered what would happen if I cropped it heavily, effectively deleting the man’s companion — who didn’t seem inclined to move out of the way — while leaving just the subject’s smile, beard and tee-shirt.

I like this version a lot better. But I think I can go a step further.

Why not process the images (there were two of them) to emphasise the effect of sun rather than attempt to hide it? Then, why not select certain parts of the image and crop/save accordingly? Finally, why not put the pieces back together again in a row, separated by thin dividers?

I would argue that the end result is visually more compelling than any standard street portrait, taken under similar conditions. (Please see the image at the top of this post).

What do you think? Is this a proper extension of street photography, or a wrong turning on the road to nowhere?

Personally I’m not worried either way. Today we have wonderful tools for manipulating images and it’s fun to take a vacation from purely kosher street photography once in a while. I don’t like messing with photos I think are fully achieved, but when they don’t come into this top category I’m willing to experiment.

“Hey! You’ve got such a great face! Do you mind if I snap you and chop you up in post-production?”

Please don’t tell anyone I’m doing this.