Category Archives: Street Photography
TO THE HEART OF HURLING
A photographic journey discovering what hurling means to us
It’s that time of year again. The All-Ireland hurling championship begins in Tullamore this Saturday, as Offaly and Galway face up. It is time again to allow yourself dream. To dream that this year is going to be the year that sees that Liam McCarthy trophy come home. The year that your beloved hurlers will conquer all-comers and emerge triumphant in August.
This year I am dreaming it a little differently. Sure, with all my heart I want to see Cork win it outright, but I also have this passion project of mine. Two of my biggest loves in life are hurling and photography. Over the years, I have always brought my camera along to matches with me, capturing the craic with the lads and family, as well as scenes of the games.
This year I want to do something special. I have been to big sporting events around the world and while they are spectacles to behold and have great atmosphere, they lack a certain something that the GAA has.
What is it? It’s what our games give us: an identity, a uniqueness, something which is ours and ours to be proud of. It is what we do, what we do together. It brings us together, building bonds, giving us memories that live on and ones we live off as we continue to hope and dream that this will be our year. Hurling is alive in us, in our hearts and I want to get to heart of it with my camera.
I am very happy to announce that Bord Gais are supporting this project and very grateful to them for it.
How can you say you love photography if it is 99% frustration? Do you even enjoy it?
These were some of the questions put to me after my last blog post. Not questions which got me thinking or made me feel anxious about how to answer.
No, I fully know why I continue to shoot and why I truly love everything to do with photography. But, how can you make photography fun? Well…
SEE IT AS FUN
I do it because there are few things in life which satisfy my soul like photography. When I get in the zone, when I am on the street and lost in the moment, it electrifies me. I come alive and whatever worries or problems I may be carrying lighten in load.
It is exhilarating. It is life-affirming. It is fun. And fun is something I believe is so neglected in photography. I believe fun is something which is so neglected in adult life. Ask an adult what they do for fun and you will embarrass them. The word fun seems to become loaded when we pass from childhood. Fun seems like something illicit; something we ought to be ashamed of. Ask a child what they do for fun and watch how excited they get when they tell you. If you have a hobby, you should have that childlike excitement and passion for it. If not, abandon it.
YOU ARE MAKING MEMORIES
In August of last year, I gave a talk at at Zafigo X travel conference about photography and how it is all about moments, all about creating memories. Photographs are visual entries in your diary which become powerful in their capacity to catapult you back in time.
When I open up iPhoto (I use it to categorise events) and look through old images, it can launch me back to when and where I was and land me softly in the emotion of that moment. It is magical. It becomes something beautiful when I do it with my two kids. The dynamic of they discovering how they were when they were little babies or toddlers and my reminiscing of days that are now long gone is a gift that just gives and gives.
YOU CREATE, YOU EXPRESS YOURSELF
I need to create. Why? Because it puts me on a path of discovery and understanding. Photography is about picking up a camera, pointing it at something or someone because your instinct tells you you need to capture that instant; to claim it and keep it for later examination. This in turn may lead to later learning and with some luck lead to subsequent experimentation. When I look back now at what I was shooting in and around 2012/2103, I see I was much more experimental. I shot much more blur; particularly on the iPhone. Why? Because of the limitations of the device. It performed poorly in low light, had no image stabilisation and working my way through this I discovered that these limitations allowed me to create beautiful blur imagery. Funny how these days I sometimes feel I have lost that freedom to create.
CONFORM TO ROUTINE
Conform to routine and routine will conform. I am a very ill-disciplined person. My life’s maxim is to not do today what you can do tomorrow, because tomorrow you might not need to do it. I leave things go forever and ever, discovering new excuses to put things off with graceful ease. I have wasted so much time. Photography changed things for me. Flickr found me wanting to share my photography on a regular basis. This meant I had to photograph on a regular basis. I began on Flickr in 2007. By 2009 I was posting photographs there on an almost daily basis. By 2012, I was posting to two accounts almost every day.
I committed to photography. I conformed to the routine and the routine conformed. This calms and soothes my soul. It gives me discipline. There is not a day goes by that I do not spend time taking/making photographs, looking at those of others, reading about photography, or hatching plans for my photography. It has been the most beautiful learning experience and has been so rewarding for me. I can say I have become a better person because of photography, because of the commitment to it.
IT IS THE FRIENDSHIPS YOU MAKE
Want to become a better photographer? Here’s how. Spend time with other photographers. You have to. You need to spend time with like-minded people who get you. People who won’t find it strange or rude that you have the concentration powers of a puppy dog when you are walking down a street with them. Spend time with people who inspire you, people who push you to experiment, push you to achieve. People you can learn from. When I look back at the past few years, I see I have been so lucky in this respect. I have met some wonderfully creative people; wonderfully kind people. People whose work can stop me in my tracks and make me want to improve; to get to their level. And those few you might meet along the way who are insecure, jealous and negative. Cut them loose. There is truth in the saying to surround yourself with positive people.
IT IS THE STRANGERS YOU GET TO KNOW
But they are all just photographs of strangers. People you do not know. What is it about random people that interests you? This is what a friend asked me once about my photography. Ya, I don’t know them, but there is something in every one of them that I recognise. Something that resonates with me. I may not be able to immediately (or ever) say what exactly it is, but I photograph them because something attracts my attention to them. It can be a look, a gesture, a posture. It can be because they looked at me. It can be because I want to look at them. They are characters in my story. I can construct or deconstruct their reality to suit my perception; to build my interpretation.
And then there are those strangers who I get to know a little. Those who I stop and ask if I can take their photograph. Those who I continue to ask questions as I shoot them. Those who I tell little things about myself as I try to get them to reveal who they are. I love these connections. This opportunity to get to know people a little. It can be amazing what they tell you, and it can be beautiful what their portraits can reveal.
We all want to be seen; we all want to be heard. Photography can allow this.
IT GIVES VALIDATION TO WHAT YOU DO
I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a buzz from winning competitions or being selected for big global ad campaigns. The first time I won a competition (Mira Mobile Prize) I cried. It was a dream of mine to win a competition and truthfully I never believed I would. When it came, I was overwhelmed and felt so relieved. It was a form of validation. Any artistic pursuit is framed in doubt. We can never be sure if it is right; if it is worth anything. Competitions provide some validation. But you know, it is bullshit too. Photography should not be a competitive pursuit.
IT IS ALL ABOUT LEARNING
What is life about if it is not about learning? It never stops. There is nothing which enriches life more than learning. Granted I could spend my time learning more about the technical aspect of photography or learning about photography gear, but that does not excite me. What does excite me is that with every photograph I take, I learn. Learn about myself, learn about life. See mistakes and ya, get frustrated. But that frustration is positive. It is what drives me to learn and improve.
STORIES; SO MANY STORIES
So many. Stories that are immediately evident and others that slowly reveal themselves.
IT DRIVES YOU ON
I have often talked about how viewing the photographs of my friends has inspired me and pushed me forward in wanting to improve in my own photography. It is so true. Seeing friends posts photos on a regular basis keeps me wanting to do the same. Seeing them shoot something new excites me to get back out and get shooting. I try to spend some time each week looking through photo books of established, renowned photographers. This is a different type of inspiration because these are not photographers I get to engage with. Their work is polished and presented as the finished article. Yet, there is so much to learn as you explore the connections in the photographs they showcase in a coherent and cohesive presentation in book form.
YOU DISCOVER HOW TO SEE
What is photography about for me? It is trying to see what can be seen and how to see it.
As Dorothea Lange said: The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. On every photo walk I have been on, one thing always strikes me. While we all walk the same route and can see the same things, how we observe and interpret them can be so different. It is what makes photography exciting, it is what gives it endless possibilities. When you are working with fractions of seconds when the shutter opens and closes, you are also working with slight shifts in centimetres, angles and aspects which can dramatically alter images.
Photography doesn’t allow me to see, it pushes me to see; to construct, deconstruct and create. It elevates beyond seeing. It allows me to begin to understand. To be part of my surroundings and to be an external observer of it too.
So is it really 99% frustration?
Of course it is not. It can feel like that at times, for sure. But it definitely isn’t. It is what I do for fun. And whenever I experience that ongoing frustration, I keep coming back to why I photograph. And the answer is always the same. I do it for fun. I do it for me.
99% frustration. So often I arrive at this spot and ask myself why do I do this. I never seem to be satisfied with what I shoot. I am constantly looking at the work of others and thinking mine is pale and lacking in comparison. I scour my photos and rarely find what I thought I had shot, or what I want to capture. Flaws surface to overshadow and silence elements I had thought were strong.
And this is only after the act. The real frustration is out shooting.
Street photography has to got to be the most frustrating of photography genres. You can control nothing. You see it, it’s too late. You can’t stop people. You can’t ask them to move back, to make that gesture again, to not smile. You can’t will the gods to part those clouds to let that light shine in. You become manic, like a lunatic trying to locate where that noise is coming from in the dead of night. You shoot more. You move, thinking the action will be around the next corner. As you’re moving on you look back and see it happening – see that moment you had imagined appear in the very spot you have just left. But you have distanced yourself from it. You think, will I go back? You find yourself stopped in the middle of the footpath. Pedestrians frustrated as they navigate around you. You’re looking up the street, down the street, all the time muttering expletives under your breath – you hope – under your breath. You realise by people’s quizzical looks that these expletives are escaping and are audible. You are talking to yourself out loud. Next you realise the looks you’re getting from the people sidestepping to avoid you would actually make good shots. You raise the camera, but soon realise it is pointless. That moment has also passed you by. Oh, fuck it! What’s the point. You find a doorstep to sit on and bemoan your lot and then notice an interesting crack in the concrete which gets your attention and you delight in this for a moment.
Then images of photographs you have seen, photographs you admire and aspire to get start to populate your thoughts and the frustration returns. Why can’t you get shots like that? How can others find and see and construct those shots? Why does it seem so easy for them and so damn hard for you?
You stop to do the numbers and you realise that almost everything you shoot is shit. On a given day you can shoot hundreds of images. At best they are mediocre. The subsequent swipe through can be swift. The flaws reveal themselves loudly. It’s crazy to calculate but when you are dealing in what can be a 1/250 of a second and you notice that you missed the shot, and had you reacted more quickly you might have gotten it – what are you estimating? – another 1/250 of a second? Is it really that narrow? Really just fractions of a second? Add those fractions up and what do you get? Frustration, that’s what. Disappointment.
But you persevere. That old maxim – leave your photos marinate – comes to mind, and you begin to put faith, or hope, in it. Ya, better to leave them be and see what difference time can make. But you cannot resist it. They are burning and smouldering on your Camera Roll. You give in and begin to work on some images. Editing is the cure-all, no? How about converting this shot to black and white? Perhaps then the flaws won’t be as loud. What if you add a filter? Maybe a crop, a flip? Never! No matter how bad things get don’t crop; never flip. Except for the times you do. Oh, how you regret those!
Ya, you know what is coming next. Sharing. Social media. Instagram! That beast that must be fed. You need that dopamine hit. And you need it daily. Don’t post for a few days and you begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. But how to choose? You find yourself second guessing your followers; hoping that this shot you will post will be one they will flock to and shower you with faves and comments. You post it and you are like a parent watching a child walk to school for the first time alone. What if no-one likes it? You wait? Those dreaded moments just after you have posted. You’re thinking – will I delete it? I shouldn’t have posted that. What was I thinking? But then the likes trickle in and the reward system cycle calms you with a warm feeling of knowing that your photo may be OK. Maybe it can walk to school by itself. How long does this feeling last? Probably until you begin to scroll through the photos of others’. Then you land on the images of people you admire and you start to compare. Start to become self-critical.
The more I think of all that is associated with photography, the more I wonder why I actually do it. At every stage you are going to encounter frustration, and probably none more than the so-called photography help articles. You know the ones: Ten top tips to up your Instagram game. The top twenty mistakes you keep making and how to stop them. How to teach literally anyone to take amazing, high quality photos.
Well, here’s the thing. You read all these, particularly the Instagram ones. You may not be not much of a gear head, but you are like everyone else. You would love to have a K after the number of Instagram followers you have. How do you get it? What’s the secret? There is none. It is a lottery. OK, you guess if you are going to have selfies showing your killer cleavage, or put your cute cat in a stream of sunset shots you might find favour with the algorithm and be pushed up and out on Instagram’s Explore page. But if you are trying to showcase quality images on Instagram and build an audience, you better have patience. Want a killer Instagram tip? Here’s one. Write out all your tags. You know those ones you spend so damn long on for every Instagram post hoping the hub will feature your shot. Ya, those. Now go to Settings, Keyboard, Text Replacement, +, and paste in those tags to Phrase. Underneath in Shortcut write, for example, tagsbnw. Now the next time you are writing your tags for an Instagram post, just type tagsbnw and click space. Hey Presto! There are your 30 tags all there. Done in a second.
99% frustration. But what about that other 1%?
There is of course that remaining 1% when things fall into place; when you hit the sweet spot and slide into auto-pilot and you get that gift that gives and gives and gives. But that is a photography post for another day. For now, let’s acknowledge the frustration, indulge in the constant challenge. You know, like most things in life, if it was easy, if there was no torment or obstacle, you would probably lose interest. Don’t! It’s all about the next photo.
Kiss the future…
February and photography and finding favourites. Ya, why not?
Cyprus. I had never been before. My good buddy Dan Berman asked me to go to represent him and the Mobile Photography Awards in the opening of the exhibition in Limassol.
This was nice. Some sunshine, some good food and the chance to hit the streets of Limassol and make some frames.
I guess it was here that I began to change my approach to street photography. Not sure why or how, but I began to engage more with people on the street as I shot their portraits. Much like candid photography, people’s first reaction when you ask can you take their photo is one of curiosity. What is it that I can see about them that makes me want to photograph them? Self-consciousness smothers that initial curiosity and the task then is to engage with them to get them to relax. I tend to tell people about myself, revealing myself a little, as I shoot. I ask them questions. I am polite and respectful. I shoot a lot in these moments.
This guy here had no English. I smiled a lot. He stared at me. He smiled when I showed him the photo.
Truth is that in the month of February this year I did not shoot anything that was not on the iPhone. My real cameras lived an unloved life in a dark drawer. So, I need to go and choose a shot which I posted to Flickr in February, but one which was taken in Delhi the previous July. Is that allowed? Of course it is. This is my blog. I can do whatever I want. (insert smiley face)
This shot is in some way similar to the one above from Cyprus. Neither of the two characters in the frame could speak English and neither seemed too bothered that I wanted to photograph them. I like that the guy on the left posed for me and the guy on the right didn’t. The funny thing is that when I showed them the shot, the guy on the right reacted more excitedly than the other.
March coming up. Check out January here.
Hitting Haeundae Beach, Busan with the iPhone to shoot some frames. What could be better?
Here goes the first of two posts from Busan shot on iPhone. The first in colour, the second all black and white shooting using the Provoke camera app.
Korea’s second city – a city of almost 4 million people – is located in the south east of the country. It’s a city I love. Every time I go there I try to stay in the Haeundae area. Why? Because I love the sea and Haeundae is probably Korea’s most famous beach. I am sure you’ve seen shots of it in summer crowded with Koreans. No? Check this so. I had wanted to see this for myself. Did it actually get that crowded? To be honest, when I was there it wasn’t that crowded. Sure there were lots of people, but it wasn’t so bad.
I got there at the start of August. I had booked an Air BnB for an overnight stay that promised the beach was only a few minutes from the beach and it was. August in Korea is hot, and I love it. Coming from a country where the sun is an unpredictable visitor I just love being in places where sunshine and heat are almost always guaranteed. Of course, one of the main reasons I love the sun is because of the light it brings. And what is photography if it is not about the light.
I was saying in my Daegu post about older people in Korea. I love them! They’ve got attitude. On the far end of the beach there is this walkway you can take which will bring you out along the coast. I take this walk every time I am in Busan, but this was the first time I was here in summer, only having been here before in early spring when it is not usual for people to be swimming in the sea. Just as I was heading out on the walk I got sight of these elderly gentlemen bathing in these little pools that formed among the rocks. There was this one guy siting with his arms outstretched as the waves splashed in and around him. I stood there for a while just taking it in. How cool I thought. To the left of him were three other guys sitting in a little pool, all chilling in the sea on this hot August summer’s day. I had intended to head out on coastal walk but this was too good a photo opportunity to pass up. Taking great care in my flip-flops I descended the rocks to get closer to them to get some photographs. They were curious at first as to what it was I found interesting, but then they just ignored me and let me shoot a few frames. I spent a good 15 minutes there shooting in colour and also using the Provoke app to get some black and white images.
How often do you see a cutout cop perched on top of a public toilet and changing area? Not very often. This was just too cool to pass by. I spent quite a bit of time there trying to get the shot I imagined in my head when I first saw it, and like so many times the mental picture is much more vivid that what you can capture.
Part of my ongoing series of images – Photographic Punctuation Photo Booth – I have been stoping and engaging with people on the street and taking/making their portrait. Haeundae was a brilliant location for this and I had a lot of fun with the people I met. One of the funny things was to see the shift in things people immediately associate with Ireland when they learn I am Irish. Usually it is Guinness, U2, Roy Keane, maybe an Irish writer, and the odd person who might mention the IRA. I was a little taken aback when one guy started excitedly exclaiming Conor McGregor. I am not sure what to make of that guy, to be honest.
8 guys gathering for a late-evening picnic.
Not usually a sunset photographer – but could not resist this.
Busan in black and white coming up. Stay tuned…
Daegu? Where’s that? South Korea.
It’s Korea’s third biggest city and also known as the oven of Korea as when it is hot in Korea, it is hotter in Daegu. It is a colourful city and Korea’s quirkiness is very much in evidence. It has good restaurants and like most places in Korea it has an an abundance of cafes and food stalls.
I love shooting in Daegu. I have this series of images going on of elderly gentlemen in Daegu. I just find them to be so cool. They are snappy dressers and ooze class and attitude. These guys have lived through a lot. I imagine a lot of these men might have seen active service in the Korean war. I love how some of them shout – “Hey, buddy!” or some other American-style greeting to me when they see me. I wish our exchange could extend beyond this and allow me to get to know them a little more.
Young Koreans have their own style. Put one young Korean guy in a room of other Asians and the Korean will stand out. Their fashion style can be unique and geeky. Got to admire that.
Another series of images I have going on from Korea is one focussing on couple culture. I am always struck at how many couples you encounter on the streets in Korea. Very often they will be sporting a ‘couple look’ where both will be dressed in identical clothes. These two are cooler than that though.
As I said – it gets hot in Daegu and Koreans will do everything to keep themselves protected from the sun. Just wait until you see the beach fashion when I do my blog post from Busan. This guy was cool. He just loved getting his photo taken. His reaction when he saw his image was just too cool.
Cafe culture in Korea is big. There are just so many cafes and while the coffee is good, it sure is not cheap. Anyway, the big glass fronts of these cafes make for good photo opportunities.
My shooting style changed over the past 12 months. Now, I really enjoy engaging with people on the street. This guy just could not understand what I wanted to do when I asked if I could take his photo. He kept reaching for my phone – thinking I wanted him to take my photo. It was a little battle to get him not to hide the cigarette also. Ya, smoking kills, but they look good in photos.
Recently read an article about street photography cliches. This shot below fell into the category. But hey, I cliche, you cliche, we all cliche.
And leaving Daegu…
Next up is Busan. Korea’s second city. Expect lots of beach shots!
Continuing my blog posts of cities I visited this summer. Seoul is a great walking city and fantastic for shooting street photography. In putting together this blog post I am going to cheat a little and put up photos of shots I got in a short visit I had there in April of this year too. But a little different from the Hong Kong post – this time I am grouping together reflection shots.
Being there two times this year did allow me to get back and try to improve on shots I had got the first time in April. However, I was not able to improve on the photograph above I got on iPhone in the Myeondong area of Seoul I got the first time around in April. When I got back there in July I tried to replicate this shot on the iPhone but found it really hard to control the light of the reflections of the neon advertisements and at the same time to get the taxi driver’s face exposed.
On both trips, I stayed in Myeondong, which is one of Seoul’s main tourist and shopping areas. At the end of its pedestrian shopping area you can find the taxi rank. Directly opposite this you have a huge advertising screen throwing these wonderful reflections on to the taxis parked on the other side of the street. When I first noticed this I came alive and excited and the beautiful light show this created. On both nights, I stayed there for about a half hour trying to get the best shots I could on the iPhone. I got to say the taxi drivers were great fun and I loved seeing their surprise when they realised what it was I was photographing. Funny how people don’t see what is right in front of them, though.
A little further up from the taxi rank are the bus stops. I love how the neon light and colour reflects on the bus windows at night and how it creates these lovely layered and distorted effects. Seoul (Shot on iPhone)
There is something I love about shooting through glass and the effect it creates.
I like finding myself in these shots.
In some shots, I am easier to find.
Next stop – DAEGU…
Five weeks in Asia. Five different countries. Five weeks shooting. Result: I have thousands of images to sort through. While away I was mainly shooting with the iPhone, but I also had the Fuji X100T and Nikon D7000 with me. So, my way of dealing with the images this time is a little different than before. My plan is to go back and organise the images from each location and put together blog posts on each place. This should allow me to work my way through the process of selecting (and more difficultly – deselecting) my favourite images. So, here goes.
Where better to start than Hong Kong. Oh to be a street photographer living in Hong Kong. What an exhilarating place it is. I really would love to live there and get the chance to work more of the series of images I have shot on iPhone there.
I had two short stays there in the summer. The second was extended when a typhoon hit and resulted in a long day spent in the airport. I was never so happy to leave when I did, but now I am longing to get back and hit the streets of Hong Kong again.
I love the vibrancy of street life in Hong Kong. It is a noisy, colourful and fragrant place. What I like most about it is that you can find a location and work it, or if the mood takes you and you do not mind dealing with the heat and humidity you can keep on the move. Both work just as effectively. Also, in Central, the architecture is just amazing. I came across this wonderful yellow facade in Central and spent some time trying to get a shot which might match what I envisaged once I saw this yellow.
I spent about 20 minutes or more trying to get the shot below. You can’t have it both ways. I love that Hong Kong is so crowded and there is a constant flow of people, but when I was trying to get this shot I was driven mad by the people walking into my frame. For me, when I am shooting I create an image of the shot I want to get in my head before I shoot. This one I had envisaged to have more of a division between the yellow wall and the passing red taxi and yellow of the bus.
This one, which lacks the red of the taxi, worked a little better. Still, it is not perfect. Is any shot ever?
Moving up the road from here I found a wonderful entrance to McDonalds – another yellow wall. Another chance to create some fun images. This time I pushed the iPhone up against the wall and hit burst mode to get these split screen reflection shots. Again, in getting this shot I was hindered by the fact that the white van opposite was parked and for the duration I was there shooting did not budge. I had hoped to add more colour to the shot but alas no. Photography is 99% frustration. 99% of the time, or even more, I do not get the shot I imagine in my head.
That’s me in the corner standing in front of a bus stopped in traffic trying to get these layered reflection shots you get when you shoot into glass. I like the result here with the guy’s eyes framed in the way they are here.
I just love the colours you find in Hong Kong. This intersection in Central is one of my favourite locations. The bright yellow painted markings of the crossing are so vibrant and when you throw in the colours of the traffic and the pedestrians it all adds up to great photo opportunities.
And more yellow.
And who can resist the cliche shots when you come to Hong Kong? You can’t pass them up really.
But you can blur it up a little.
I have been saying how shooting with the portrait mode on the iPhone has changed how I shoot on the street. In Hong Kong, I met some characters, none quite as animated or as colourful as this guy.
Or these friendly guys.
If you see it, it’s too late. How true this so often is on the streets. The image below appeared to me as I was walking along checking the shots I had just made. Someone using a paper clip as a cigarette holder. How cool. I had to quickly get things lined up to get the shot. Again, it could have been better – crisper, more in focus. But still I like it.
Look up, look up. Hong Kong has great architecture.
One of the fun things I did this summer with the iPhone was to shoot with the Provoke App. I just love the black and white images it produces. Here are number of those shot in and around Central.
See you next year, Hong Kong!
Next up Seoul!
iPhone photography is all about the apps, isn’t it?
That is one of the things that gets thrown at me quite a bit. What app did you use for that? My stock response is: “I shoot with the native camera app and do a little editing with Snapseed.”
As a photographer I am very much on the side of those who think photography is about photographs – not about cameras. I tune out when photographers begin to talk about the technical side of things, but conversely I tune in when the topic of new apps pops up. I would tend to download a lot of new photography apps and experiment with them. Truth be told, I have never found a camera app that works better than the native one on the iPhone, and the with all the editing apps I have downloaded there are only two that I use regularly: Snapseed and RNI Films. The other apps live a lonely life in my Photography folder on my iPhone. Things changed a little when I came across Provoke Camera App. From the start I knew there was something different about this one. It was developed by Glyn Evans [the founder of iPhoneography], and as it says on its download page – it was inspired by Japanese photographers of the late 1960’s like Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira and Yutaka Takanashi.
I came across the app at an opportune moment. I was embarking on a 5-week tour of 5 countries in Asia. Heading out to do photo talks and walks in Malaysia, Singapore, Bali and Hong Kong. But it was on the beach in Busan, South Korea where I first began to play with my new camera app. The lighting conditions – strong, bright and harsh sunlight were perfect to shoot with the app. There are nine different filters you can use but I let it on HPAN High Contrast for the entire trip. I had found a look I liked and I did not want to stray from this. The app itself is simple to use and allows you to shoot in TIFF format, separate focus and exposure, and shoot with or without flash. Clicking on the ? sign provides an easy to follow guide.
Shooting on a crowded Haeundae beach on a hot summer’s day was fun. I had never shot with flash before, but once I fired the first blast and saw the results I knew this is what I wanted to do on this trip. Very quickly I learned that using the flash results in shots being missed. It slows things down. This I loved. Why? Because street photography is not about snapshots. Because I was missing shots, I had to become more alert. It becomes about anticipation; sensing the scene before it occurs; timing people’s movements and reactions. It’s funny in real life I am not a patient person at all. Just ask my wife. But in photography I am. With each little failure – shot missed – it pushed me to get the next one better.
In the past few months how I shoot on the streets has changed. Why? It’s all down to Portrait Mode on the iPhone. I’ve mixed things up a lot and now will approach interesting characters I encounter on the street and ask can I take their photo (should I say make your photo!?). Invariably, everyone says OK. Like always their reaction initially is one of surprise. But with a smile, a few questions and little telling them of who I am and where I am from, the ice breaks and as I am shooting all through this exchange I sometimes can get good shots.
Over the course of the trip I was working like this: Interesting characters would get my attention on the street (or beach) and I would approach them telling them I was a photographer and could I take their photo. I would try to explain what it is about them that got my interest – their hat, sunglasses, shirt, tattoos, the fact they were smoking, or that they just looked cool. This led to the ice being broken and we were off. I would start with portrait mode, then power up Provoke and fire off a few shots with flash (works so well for cliche smoke shots), and then whip up the Fuji X100T to round things off. Another thing I did was to shoot extra shots when I felt I was done. This is a little trick I learned from my buddy Eric Kim.
Being summer in Asia it was hot. Being a pale Irishman not used to the heat I quickly learned that it was perhaps better to get out wandering the streets when the sun had gone down. So, a lot of the time the shots I got with the Provoke App was at night, and the results can be quite good. Sure, the quality is not going to match a DSLR or mirrorless camera, but still, I do like the shots I got at night in places like Kuala Lumpur, Bali and Korea.
I was lucky enough to be brought to Kuta beach in Bali with Bali’s best moped drive (and a Fuji X photographer) Gathoe Subroto. He may be Bali’s best moped driver, but I sure was Bali’s worst pillion passenger. I had vowed never to get on the back of a two-wheeled vehicle again in my life years back, but I could not refuse Gathoe. But seriously, never again! However, it was worth it for the shots I got with him in Kuta. Where this app using the H-Pan filter works best is shooting into direct sunlight. I like harsh light and shooting contra luz, especially when you get silhouettes like these.
On my travels, when I was meeting up with friends, each and every one I showed shots this app produced all had the same response. “What’s it called?” they asked as they began to search for it and download it on the App Store. My Android friends were not too happy, though. For now it is only available on IOS.
How could it be improved?
Speed. This is probably the main issue. It is slow. Slower when you shoot with flash. As Rinzi Ruiz says: If you see it, it is too late.” I missed a lot of shots with it. But I always miss a lot of shots. That is street. The other thing that needs addressing is editing. When you want to edit an image from your camera roll it is impossible to locate because for some reason the images appear in a random order. With some closing and opening of the app you can correct it, but honestly I gave up. It needs to be fixed. How? Just allow a copy and paste function. Copy from Camera Roll and paste into app. Also, it would be cool if they allowed access to the dual lens system on iPhone.
All in all this is a killer app. The very best I have worked with as a native camera replacement, and most definitely the most fun. And that is what it is all about: fun.
So, is iPhone photography all about the apps? No, it’s about the moments you encounter and try to create memories of through photographs. This app, Provoke, does that and it can produce stunning shots.