Category Archives: Dérive Challenges

During walking exercises or Dérives, it is sometimes helpful to have a challenge or exercise in order to get unstuck.

Low Light Challenge

No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition, Claude Monet

It is an illusion that photos are made with a camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.Henri Cartier Bresson

One of the best ways to get some interesting images and, at the same time, get a better idea of how your camera works is to take some images with a slow shutter. This usually involves operating your camera in manual mode, where you, rather than the camera, set the ISO, aperture and speed. The challenge here would be to try one of the types of image-making illustrated below.

Tripod, Night Photography and Long Exposure

Examples of Different Exposures

The following are examples of different night photography types from my archive. I have included the camera settings to see how I adjusted the exposure to get each image. 

f 1.4, 1/80, ISO 3200 24mm equivalent, handheld
Super Moon Over English Bay, f2, 2 seconds, ISO 200 and 16mm (24mm eq.) on a tripod
f5.6, 15 seconds, ISO 200, and 24mm equivalent on a tripod
f2.8, 15sec, ISO 3200 lens 24mm equivalent on tripod
f-14, 60 seconds, ISO 100, 40mm equivalent, on a tripod

Night Photography and Tripods

Tripods are often essential to shooting deep into the night and especially in astrophotography. Still, there are other reasons you may want to include a tripod as one of your basic photographic tools:

  • Provided not much is moving, in the scene, you are shooting, it can be used to prevent camera shake at low speeds, thus avoiding the need to increase your ISO setting which would introduce more noise into the image.
  • When using a telephoto lens with a long barrel that might be quite heavy it will help prevent camera shake and take the weight off of your body.
  • It may depend on your skill level, allowing you to be much more accurate in how you frame your capture.
  • It will allow you to facilitate this process when you paint with light at night.
  • Self or group portraits when you use your timer.
  • It helps a great deal with shooting macro shots.
  • It can be used to hold off-camera flashes.
  • It will increase the accuracy of your exposure or focus bracketing shots

There are four components you need to consider on every tripod:

  1. The Legs of the tripod, how long they are and therefore, how high the tripod goes, how quickly they can be extended and collapsed and how compact they can become.
  2. The Head that is attached to the tripod suits your style of photography the two main types are a ball head and a pan-tilt head. My preference is for the pan-tilt head, I found the ball head more difficult to maneuver accurately.
  3. The Centre Post is the shaft that can be extended up through the middle to raise the camera higher. I only use this feature as a last resort as it can introduce a less stable platform.
  4. The Feet may have rubber bottoms for indoor use or spikes for outdoor use and various options.
  5. Height is also an issue. As a landscape photographer, you may want to invest in a tripod that brings the camera to eye level without deploying the centre post. The centre post can introduce motion into your images in some situations. 
  6. You may want to have a lightweight tripod for travel, but I have found these are not great for day-to-day photography. I prefer a tripod that does not have to have a weight added to it to become stable. 

Problems with Tripods:

  • Keep in mind they are heavy and bulky, so they can be quite cumbersome. 
  • If you do not set the tripod up correctly, it can tip over and damage your camera and lens.
  • They take time to set up properly, even the more expensive ones.
  • They are often banned in high-volume tourist areas such as historic churches for safety reasons.
  • They are difficult to set up in crowded areas and can cause injury to distracted pedestrians or your equipment when the pedestrian collides with the tripod legs.
  • It is difficult to get into suitcases when you are travelling.
  • If the tripod is cheap, it is likely to be unstable, which is bad for your photography and a danger to your equipment.

Stops of Light

To understand how exposures vary in different light, the following table may help. Keep in mind that a camera can only see 12 to 15 stops depending on the camera. To understand the stops of light on the camera, the second diagram should help.

Courtesy of Ander
Each full stop of light is either a doubling or halving of the light

Self Timers

When you are on a tripod, you do not what to be pushing the shutter button; in the film days, we used to use a cable release which also could, if not used properly, create motion blur in your image. Digital cameras have solved this problem by adding timers for the exposure in the camera. This allows you to press the shutter, and the camera counts down, usually with a blinking light, before the shutter is triggered. This allows the tripod and camera to stabilize from whatever movement you introduce into it by pressing the shutter. Keep in mind that if you are on a wooden platform or any surface that may have some flex in it, you will also need to remain still.

Slow Shutter on Tripod

Using a slow shutter setting in your camera while on a tripod during the day can create some interesting effects on water, clouds and even busy streets. You will need a method of keeping your camera still; a tripod would be best to do this. However, you could use a ledge or table to keep it still when you depress the shutter. The process is similar to what has been described above, except during the day, there is a lot more light, which means you may need to use a Neutral Density filter to slow the speed of your camera. The two images illustrate the difference slowing the shutter speed can make.

1/15 sec, f3.6, ISO 100, 63mm
4 sec, f32, ISO 100, 63mm

Night Photography

When shooting at night, you will need to do the following, set your camera on a tripod, use a remote trigger or your timer, and the ISO should be set at its lowest ISO with the Auto ISO turned off. Then choose your desired Aperture setting and turn the speed down until the camera metering system tells you the exposure is correct. If you have a camera with IBIS (five-axis stabilization) and a very fast lens, you may be able to handhold some evening shots before needing a tripod. The alternative might be to increase your ISO, provided your camera is not too noisy.

At some point, as it gets darker, the camera’s metering system may not be able to register a correct exposure. Depending on the camera, the live view may help you see if the exposure is correct. If it does not, you may have to experiment by taking a shot and checking the photograph you just took on the back of your camera. You may have to repeat this until the exposure is correct.


Astrophotography can be a lot of fun and should get you out in the country where light pollution is minimal. If you take this up, you will find yourself in the fresh air surrounded by nature. Here is the equipment you will need: a tripod; a fast wide-angle prime lens, preferably 24mm equivalent with an aperture of f2.8 or less; and “apps.”

Milky Way at Porteau Cove, 20,” f1.4, ISO 800 and 16mm

Where the Dark sky can be found in British Columbia is an important thing to consider, as the visibility of stars is influenced by the light from the moon and cloudy sky and how close you are to city lights.

Where the Dark Sky’s are in BC

Smartphone “apps” are needed for planning purposes, but these are also available for the computer. The first step is to find a location where the stars are fully visible at night, Dark Sky Finder is one of many tools that helps with this task. Second, you will need an accurate weather program to find a cloudless night; some recommend consulting at least three sources before setting out. Third, you will need a milky way finder which should also be able to tell you when there is a new moon. It is important to know where the milky way will rise in the sky and at what time, and you do not want the light from the moon obscuring the stars. Finally, you will need to calculate when nighttime is in your location, this is especially important the further north you live during summertime when pure darkness may only be a few hours.

Edward Peck

Common Mistakes with Night Photography

Ole Skjelstad has written an article about some of the mistakes he made as he experimented with night photography; his article highlights a few mistakes that helped him develop better results:

  • Severe under-exposure due to not watching your histogram can spoil a good capture.
  • Autofocus often does not work in the dark, and if you don’t know where your lens has its hyperfocal distance, you can have out-of-focus problems. You may need a flashlight to highlight a feature beyond your lens’s infinity point to check your focus in the dark. 
  • Using a telephoto lens instead of a wide-angle lens teaches you the 500 rule. If you take 500 and divide it by your focal length ( 500/50 mm=10 seconds) gives you your shutter speed. However, if you have a high-resolution camera of 36mp or greater, you may need to use either 200 or 300 for better results.
  • If you are going to merge images, make sure you shoot your foreground before it gets dark. If you are doing astrophotography, arrive before dark for safety reasons.
  • Always shoot RAW in low-light situations.
  • Make sure you are using a sturdy tripod.

The 360 Exercise and the Stage Zones

In theatre, a stage is a frame in which actors and sets create a fictitious reality into which the audience is plunged. When deciding where things should be placed on the stage to engage the audience or support the action on the stage, they talk of three basic zones. From the rear of the stage to the audience, there are three zones: upstage, center stage, and downstage. These are each divided into three or five sections, depending on the size. If just three sections, there will be a center, left, and right in each. When in the center stage zone, right or left may be referred to simply as stage right and stage left, with only the very middle of the stage being referred to as centre stage.

I think this is a useful analogy when it comes to framing a scene with your camera. When you instinctively feel there is a photograph in front of you and you are considering how to compose it, you do not have the luxury a director has to place people or sets in the frame. You have to think about what is in upstage, middle stage and downstage, or in photographic terms foreground, middle ground and background. In order to get objects in these three areas to harmonize correctly it is useful, before you make any images, to move about the scene from left to right, and perhaps look from high to low angles, to see how these three areas interrelate. I suggest doing a 360 or 180-degree look using your feet, or as much as is physically possible within the scene.

Rotating in place talking one minute at least per rotation looking for specific things such as colour or shapes vertical and horizontal. Then do a 360 around, or how much of a 360 is possible, around the elements that drew you to the spot. Pay attention changing relationship of the elements in the frame. In other words, as you move the foreground, middle ground and background will change at a different rate, this can make very large changes in the composition that might not have been apparent while you were standing in one spot. For example, by moving right you could cause a secondary element in the foreground closer or further away from the main subject in the middle ground.

Elliott Erwitt, a Magnum photographer, has a famous image (above) called the Chihuahua New York. Looking at his Contact Sheet Print: gives you some idea of his process of creating this composition. Please note that often street photographers are forced to crop as they are working quickly and often have limited lenses on the street. 

The following are examples how much different an image can be depending on how high or low you place the camera:

The camera above the head
The Camera at Ground Level
The camera at Eye Level

The following is an illustration of moving around the subject, in this case, the rotted-out trunk, and trying to decide how to place it in the image.

The following is an example of a situation where I was able to move around the subject and study it from many angles.

Narrative Exercise

While out walking with your camera look for images that might have a narrative quality to them.

The Queen died is a description, but to say the Queen died and the King greaves is a narrative. In photography, an image can be a record or description of a place or person; or elements in the image might imply a narrative.

There are four types of literature: simple narrative, complex narrative, argumentative, description, and exposition. The first is a simple narrative that recites a chronology of events; the second complex narrative has a less chronological plot arranged to present the plot. Argumentative compositions attempt to convince by establishing the truth or falsity of a proposition. Descriptive compositions attempt to give a picture of a scene or setting. Finally, an exposition attempts to explain something through identification, definition, classification, illustration, comparison or analysis. In literature, you may find more than one type used in a composition.

This literature taxonomy may help you develop a narrative in a series of images or develop a typology. In photography, a series can create these compositional types through the juxtaposition of a series of images. Keep in mind that it is possible to create a narrative within a single image, such as the following image by Scott Olsen, which he calls Fargo Cafe. 

Typology or Series Exercise

A typology can be explored more in-depth by reading through Paul Davis’s article Can the Photographic Typology be Defined? However, for our purposes, I would suggest a typology establishes a relationship between several images that share no apparent connection. The images, when presented, should have a similar look and feel, perhaps in their background, method of composition or environment. There should be a consistency of lighting or framing.
The images with links give you four examples of a typology series. They are presented in several ways, some in a fixed grid, others in series one after another. Other times in galleries, they are framed separately but hung in a grid. There are no hard or fast rules on how you would present a typology or series.

Some photographers often come to rest on a theme that they use to create a series. One such artist is Andrew Ward who is working on a series called Sofas of LA.

The following are a few examples, the first one is in fact a series but I have taken the liberty of showing it as a typology:

100 Abandoned Houses
Typologies of Anonymous Snapshots Observe,
Translate, and Reinterpret Mid-Century America
By Amanda Gorence on April 4, 2013


Getting Started with Street Photography

Street photography, according to Eric Kim, is …the joy of walking, being in public places, a love of fresh air, a love of being around other people, the joy of thinking, and the joy of making photographs. It is many things to many people, but most practitioners, whether deliberate or not, record a kind of people’s history and the fabric of society around them. The process of street photography for me starts with a journey, often into the familiar. Still, as I photograph, I become engaged by the unfamiliar and discover a greater understanding of my surroundings. In other words, I am “seeing” more, and my photography eye is engaged, and my style is beginning to emerge in the images I am making.

Photographing strangers can be difficult, and there are times you want them to be aware of you as a photographer and times when you do not want them to be aware of your presence. Every photographer has a preference for how and whether they approach people and how they make candid or uncandid photographs. I have attached five videos of individuals who take different approaches to photograph people.

Street Photography Styles

In this first video, there is a variety of street photography styles. It is a quick illustration of many different photographers and how they approach street photography.

Eric Kim a well-known street photographer, in the video below, gives a great example of a more active style of street photography. One in which he engages actively with his subject. This means the images he is getting will also reflect how the person interacts with him, rather than interacting with other elements or other people. It is more of a portrait technique

How to interact with the scene, Eric Kim

Zack Arias, in the next video, is more interested in capturing people engaged in their activities and does not really want them interacting with him. At the beginning of the video, he demonstrates how to allow the subject to lose interest in your presence so he can make an image of an artisan engaged in his craft.

How to capture photographs without disturbing the scene.
Mystical Marrakech | Street Photography with Zack Arias

Garry Winogrand tends to be more obvious unless he attracts unwanted attention. The seven-minute video starts with him being interviewed and at minute 1:25 as his photographing attracts unwanted attention. To avoid problems with the individual, he then begins to fumble with his camera looking out into space and behaving in a manner that appears like he might not be quite all there. You can see it again at the minute 2:30.

Robert Frank’s book The Americans was a seminal work of photography with a foreword by Jack Kerouac, an important 20th-century photographer. The one-minute and seventeen-second video below shows him on a bus making a photograph in a way that does not alarm anyone on the bus. You can see when people look to see what he is doing. He fiddles absentmindedly with his camera.

Joel Meyerowitz talks about the framing process and how it creates meaning within the photograph you choose to frame and make. He implies that it is important to put into your frame the unspoken relationship or impending relationship between things when taking street photography rather than making copies of objects.

Fred Hertzog

Huge Brownstone

You will notice in this video the unique way he holds his camera behind his back, hiding it from view then when he sees something he seems to dance into the scene with his camera. If you are interested in his M3 works click here.

Hunter Creates

Hunter summarizes several stealth methods.

Thoughts on How to Approach Street Photography Locally

There are several ways of interacting with the street, and some people are uncomfortable doing what Eric Kim does and directly engaging with the individuals. Zach Arias’s methods might be easier to start with; here are a few ideas of where you might practice his approach:

  • Find a local coffee shop with sidewalk tables and sit with your coffee.
  • Find an intersection where lots of individuals are changing buses or shopping, locate a piece of street furniture you can sit on or an alcove in a building you can lean against.
  • Subway entrances may also be a good source.
  • Locate yourself near a bike commuting path.
  • Locate yourself across the street from a busy bus stop.
  • A busy bridge pedestrian path may also be a good source.
  • Often cities have open markets or farmers’ markets, which will have a lot of good opportunities.
  • Outside concerts or sports events.
  • Check your local papers for street events that might work.

These locations may be easier to start with, and unlike Kim’s approach, where he is engaging and getting images that reflect his interaction with the subject, here you will be getting images of people interacting with each other or engaged in getting through their day.

How to Blend In

Before you set out, give some thought to what you might wear that will make you appear part of the general scene you are going to go into. If it is a commuting scene, wear something that will make you look like a typical commuter or wear what those hanging about in the area might wear. Try and minimize your gear or make sure it is in a packsack that does not scream professional photographer. Perhaps bring something with you, like a newspaper, notepad or book that you can use as a prop.

Once you have come to rest in the area you have picked, either sitting on street furniture or leaning against a building or at a café table, take your time getting settled in, perhaps placing your bag, books, shopping or coffee, so you appear to be staying for a while. Spend some time watching the movement in the street and thinking about how people generally move past you and how this engages with the background. Consider whether you want to have a sharp background or diffused background. Consider how close you may be to the individuals who walk past you and what f/stop will you need to keep them completely in focus. If you choose a lower f-stop to blur the background make sure it is so low that some of the bodies are out of focus unless that is what you intended. Think about how fast the speed has to be so they do not blur unless that is your intention.

After a while, take your camera out, check your exposure settings and fiddle with it for a while; this will allow time for you to blend into the location and feel comfortable having your camera in view. Take a few practice images, and spend some time looking at your images. Once you feel comfortable, start composing an image that people may walk into. In these situations, it may be possible to set the camera down on a table and operate it from your phone. This way, when an interesting situation walks into your scene, you can trigger the camera from your phone, and this will not disturb those you are trying to photograph.

Relocate yourself once you have exhausted the possibilities to a different vantage point and repeat the process. If anyone approaches you and questions what you are doing, you can tell them you are taking a course or learning how to use your camera. Usually, this gets a smile and solves the problem.