Whitby Goth Festival was my first foray into street photography and the bug had well and truly bitten. That said, I was nervous about going out and around my local towns with a camera. What if people recognised me; what if they wanted to know what I was doing; oh god, what if they wanted to – dare I say it – pose?
The answer was two-fold: go somewhere that wasn’t local and go on a market day.
Avoiding local places meant anonymity and going on a market day meant there would be plenty of people about and large crowds to hide in. Going to Ripon made even more sense because, with its cathedral, riverside walk and several museums, one more camera-toting pedestrain probably wasn’t going to catch anybody’s eye.
The big difference between my trip to Whitby and my trip to Ripon was the interaction with my subjects. Or, rather, the lack of it.
At Whitby Goth Festival I had been surrounded by people dressed in outrageous and ornate costumes who had no problem with posing for photos (and the goths didn’t mind being photographed, either). In Ripon I was out among ordinary people who had no idea I was taking their picture. This is, in fact, one of the big controversies surrounding street photography: at what point does it cease to be an art form and, instead, become an invasion of a person’s privacy?
I will admit that, walking around and between the market stalls with my camera in hand, I was ever-concious of the people around me and the sound of my shutter every time I took a photo, not to mention the beep of the autofocus that I kept forgetting to switch off.
It was in this situation that I was grateful for the zoom lens that came with my camera. It meant I could stand a little way back from my subject and avoid needing to get too close for the shot – this goes against the advice on countless YouTube videos stating that you should use a 35mm or 50mm lens for street photography and that the photos should be taken as close as possible to the subject.
I will admit that I simply wasn’t feeling brave enough to get in close, though with the photo of the gentleman considering his crossword above I think the extra space included in the photo helps to draw the eye to the subject. That and he looked like he was really concentrating on his clues and I didn’t want to interrupt his train of thought.
As I’ve stated in several previous posts, I love church architecture and Ripon Cathedral is a truly majestic building. Although my aim today had been to get out on the streets with my camera, I couldn’t resist stepping inside the cathedral’s cool confines (ooh, I love alliteration). There is also the bonus that Ripon Cathedral doesn’t charge an exhorbitant fee before you’re allowed inside. There is a box for donations and a little gift shop, but that is the limit of the cathedral staff’s commercial enterprise. Even for someone completely lacking in faith, such as myself, the building has a comforting feel to it when standing in the middle and looking up at the distant carvings of the roof or taking in the splendour of the great stained-glass windows.
The bonus for me on this day was that there were a few people admiring the cathedral and, as we were amidst some very photogenic architecture, I thought this was a great way to take photos without feeling self-concious.
Photographing inside a dimly lit cathedral was also a good learning experience. Trying to get a good exposure without using flash was very difficult and at one point I tried every trick I knew to take a photo of the 15th century stalls (I thought it made a nice composition), but even using flash I just couldn’t get it right.
The time came to move on, at least that’s what my grumbling stomach was thinking at this point. But as I walked down one of the side aisles, I caught sight of a gentleman sitting on his own looking thoughtful. I raised the camera without even thinking or checking the settings and took the shot just before he got up and walked away. I checked the photo on the monitor and was quite surprised that it had come out. My only change was to lighten it a little bit on the computer and convert it to black and white.
Another photographer might have gone in close, but I prefer street photos where the subject isn’t aware of the camera. Granted, there are some great photos that go against this and some where it simply wouldn’t have been the same if the person hadn’t turned at just the right moment.
The great thing about today was the fact that no one approached me at any point to protest my taking photographs. Apart from the lone busker I saw outside a cafe who said it was free to take his photo, but that he’d charge me a fiver if I wanted him to smile.
I didn’t stay much longer in the market place, thinking that it might be nice to wonder along the river and see what I could see. I took a few nice photos, but nothing that I felt was on par with the photos in the market. Whilst I still enjoy landscape photography, photographing a stretch of river in a town, albeit one of the prettiest I know, just didn’t excite me in the same way.
I came back to the market place and took another turn around the stalls, hoping to find more of the images I’d already shot. The problem, of course, is that these are the kind of photos that only happen once. I could not have planned to shoot that man sitting in the cathedral or the busker strumming his guitar – unlike other buskers I’ve seen, he refrained from playing Wonderwall or Wish You Were Here and I dropped a couple of coins in his case as a small thank you.
I didn’t find much more to photograph and the market looked like it was starting to wind down, so I wondered back to the cathedral and took a pleasant stroll round the oustide of the building, looking for any interesting gargoyles to photograph. There were plenty, but far too high for my lens.
I headed back to the car park, pausing only to take one last photo standing in Kirkgate with the sun beating down and a feeling of mission accomplished.