Henri Cartier-Bresson is the father of modern photojournalism and widely revered as the pioneer for the art of street photography. I was watching one of his documentaries and one of his quote struck me; referring to his timeless street photographs, he said “It’s always luck. It’s luck that matters. You just have to be receptive, that’s all.” Nothing can be more true about street photography. Of the 2 short years that I’ve shot in the streets of Singapore, I do not deny how luck dictates if I get a keeper or not. No matter how good a photographer you are, if lady luck is not on your side, you will end up capturing boringly normal street scenes that we can all see everyday anyway.
If it wasn’t for luck, Henri Cartier-Bresson wouldn’t have been at the right place and at the right time to capture that man leaping behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, or Trent Parke to photograph the white man walking into the light, or Matt Stuart to snap that pigeon walking along with men in black suits. Indeed, luck matters.. a lot.
Now before you run off to snatch a lock of hair from a clueless baby, there are more practical ways to increase your chances of getting lucky in the streets:
1) The first thing that comes into mind is, well, to be at the right place. Always choose a busy location that has good people traffic. Groups of people passing by in transit make good lambs to the slaughter.. I mean subjects to photography.
2) Look for good light.. the type and quality of available light usually dictates what kind of photograph you’ll be able to create, whether it’s hard harsh light that can result to a sinister photo, or soft evenly-distributed light for a more pleasant look.
So after spotting the perfect location with good light and good background, what’s next? Well… you wait. Look around, stay attentive,… and wait. One of the reasons why I prefer shooting alone is coz i get to concentrate on my surroundings and anticipate if there’s anything worth photographing. If you don’t see anything you like, walk around and start looking for other good spots. You’ll need to do a lot of walking and waiting actually. You’ll need the patience of a saint to catch the devil’s luck.
There’s this area in Orchard Road that used to have no shed in the whole stretch from block to block because of an ongoing construction of a mall. It was also located between 2 other malls so the foot traffic here was continuous. I figured that whenever it rains, it would increase my chances of capturing interesting scenes as people are forced to walk under the rain. It would be an opportunity waiting to happen… and it did. After waiting for quite a while during the heavy downpour, I was able to capture this shot. Oh yes, I got lucky.
However, luck is only the first thing that you need.. when lady luck shifts to your side and that photographic moment suddenly shows up in front of you, luck disappears so quick leaving you high and dry to your own devices. This is your defining moment, coz that part where you have to capture that moment… luck has nothing to do with that. That will be all you.