The answer is: to escape! Having just taken a picture of people about to cross the road, I don’t really want to hang around for objections, so I cross the road in the opposite direction and make a safe retreat.
The technique works best when you’re sporting a medium telephoto, such as a 50mm on a crop-frame camera (my old Fuji S5Pro) giving the full frame equivalence of 75mm. This is what I used for taking my featured image (above).
The seven people in the shot had been waiting patiently for a gap in the traffic and were not going to miss their opportunity. They all set off with speed and determination — and I was fortunate to record them at the precise moment when this happened.
I don’t often give all the technical details in a blog post, but I think they’re worth mentioning this time. I’d stopped down the lens from f/1.4 to f/4, ISO 400, 1/900th second. Because of the dark background I’d also set an exposure bias of -0.7 step (two thirds of a stop). This is the key to the success of the image because I’ve not had to tinker with the exposure in post-processing, which always results in a loss of tonality.
The Fuji colours really sing in this shot, helped by the pink car and other coloured objects in the background. By contrast the women and girls are dressed more soberly: five of them with white shirts or tee-shirts and one in brown.
I think the two central figures saw me raise my camera and they responded with a split-second “deer caught in the headlamps” reaction. It’s a good thing they did. The girl at the back has her eyes closed (someone in a large group often blinks, which is why group photographers take more than one shot). The contrast between “wide awake” and “a bit dozy” echoes that between the hesitation of the girl on the left and the full commitment of the girl with the black backpack, worn jauntily the wrong way round.
I took the picture because I liked the individual looks of the people — and they rewarded me by revealing their personalities in gesture and expression.
Same Idea, Different Everything
My second picture in this post is very different, although it’s the same subject: a group of people crossing the road. I took this one mainly because of the old tree in the background. Hong Kong has quite a few trees like this, sometimes, against all the odds, clinging to life on the side of an exposed rock face.
Yes, everything is different: my camera (Canon 5DIII), the country, the light, the climate, and the style and culture of the people in the shot. This time only my lens has a slight similarity — in its angle of view (85mm on full frame). These people are at an official crossing. They have a green light, so they can all walk without fear of being run over. One of them — the tourist holding hands with her partner — can even do a bit of sight-seeing on the way across.
Again, I think the central figure has spotted me (quite an achievement as I’d popped out from behind some street furniture at the last moment. The settings (FYI) were: f/1.8 lens stopped down to F/5, ISO 800, 1/800th second (not too dissimilar from those of the Bangkok photo).
I hesitate to show these two images together because the photographic styles simply don’t match, despite the subject being the same. Yet I think it’s been worthwhile. Comparing them has given me the idea of “Same Subject, Different Cultures” — a possible project for the future. If I had the wanderlust of, say, travel photographer Forrest Walker (fd walker), I could photograph people crossing the road in every country on Earth.
Or maybe I’ll just stick with these.