I recently attended a street photography workshop led by Matt Stuart at The Photographers Gallery near Oxford Street in London so I thought I’d write a post about the experience. I’ve been a fan of Matt’s work for some time, I saw him speak at the Photography Show in Birmingham in March and met him briefly afterwards at the Leica booth, so when I saw that he was holding a workshop I immediately signed up.
I didn’t want to take loads of gear, I wanted to use just one camera and one lens. I took with me my Leica M6 TTL with Voigtlander 35mm Color Skopar f2.5, 5 rolls of Fujifilm Superia 400 and my Weston Euromaster lightmeter. I didn’t bother taking a bag, just loaded up my pockets.
The Street Photography Workshop
The workshop started at 10am with the talk that Matt gave at the Photography Show, despite having heard it already it was still interesting to hear again offering a refresher on Matt’s techniques. A lot of courses (not just photography) often spend a lot of time going over the basics this can be quite dull and usually unnecessary, luckily there was none of this. Beyond mentioning the need for fast shutter speeds, there weren’t any boring explanations of aperture, iso etc nor was there any talk of gear. Following the talk we were split into 2 groups there were about 20 of us in attendance so there were 10 in each group. There were 2 assignments, “following” and “fishing”, each group was given one of these assignments for the morning and would swap over for the afternoon.
The group I was in was given the “Following” assignment, for this we were each given a map with a route marked on it and told to go out separately and follow the route taking photographs as we go along. What I liked about this was that we weren’t all going to go out as a big group. Firstly big groups stick out like sore thumbs, which isn’t ideal for street photography and secondly groups of people tend to spend more time chatting than taking pictures.
I headed out at just after 11am and was told to be back by 1pm giving me just under 2 hours to walk the loop. The route took me along Oxford Street, down New Bond Street to Piccadilly, along to Regent Street back to Oxford Street. I tend to walk quite quickly so I walked the loop twice before heading back. I should try to walk a bit slower as I probably miss quite a lot while walking so fast. I shot roughly a roll and a half of film during that time. Back in the training room everybody was selecting 5 of their best images from the assignment and handing over their memory cards to have the images transferred for the review later in the day. I obviously couldn’t do this as I was the only one apart from Matt shooting film.
After lunch we headed out for the afternoon session my group were led out by Matt and each dropped off at various spots along Oxford Street to “Fish” for photos. This felt a bit unnatural to me I like to walk and keep moving, maybe stopping for a little while if I see a good background. Staying in one place for an extended amount of time was a new experience for me. I was placed at a busy junction with a lot of foot traffic, including some interesting characters. Interesting characters alone a good street photograph does not make though. I was getting plenty of photos, but because it was so busy it was difficult to isolate individuals and place them with interesting backgrounds. Matt would pop around to each of us offering tips, such as where to place ourselves, how to go unnoticed and even pointing out possibly interesting scenarios. I will definitely try fishing again, but in a different location maybe.
After the afternoon assignment had finished and we got back to base everyone gave in their memory cards again to have their selected images copied over for review. I could have brought my x100s for the workshop instead of the Leica, but the M6 is my street photography camera now and I didn’t want to use anything else so I chose to forgo the image review. Even though I couldn’t have my images reviewed it was still a very interesting part of the day. Matt showed each persons images on a projector, giving a brief critique of each image, what was good, what was bad etc. I actually learnt a lot from this despite not having my own images reviewed, Matt showed us why a perfectly acceptable image may not be a particularly good street photograph.
Unfortunately I didn’t get any good photos from the day, but this is to be expected, street photography is hard and you cannot expect good photos every time you go out. I also think that my notion of what makes a good street image has changed since the workshop. Images that I previously would have considered quite good I now realize aren’t so good after all. The only reason I have added any photos from the day at all is to show that I did take some, not that I think they are any good. I will not be sharing any of these images on social media at all.
Overall I found the street photography workshop to be excellent. If I have one criticism though it’s that I think there were too many participants meaning there wasn’t enough time for much one on one interaction with Matt. I think for a workshop such as this 10 would have been more appropriate. Matt is an excellent street photographer and a great teacher, I hope to take what I have learnt from him and put it into practice in my future street photography.