How Becoming Blinder Taught Me to Shoot Street Photography Faster

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“Slow down!” said a videographer to me one day when I was shooting a video for Cosyspeed in Berlin about my street photography.

“What? Why?” I retorted.

“You’re moving too fast!”

And that’s when I realized that I’ve finally learned how to shoot street photography very, very fast. There’s a major problem though: I’m going blind. My left eye is legally blind and barely usable even with my glasses and my right eye does most of the work. With that said, I needed to train myself to capture images without even looking sometimes. But it’s tough to do and requires you to have a completely clear mind, lock onto moving subjects with your eyes, feel emotions and moments, and use zone focusing methods in addition to Sunny 16 methods. When combined together, I learned how to shoot street photography faster.

Zone Focusing

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The first method that you should do is learn to zone focus. Zone focusing is when you use your lens’s aperture and the depth of field scale together to get a better sense of what will be in focus at a certain distance. There is a great explanation of it here on our site. This is best done with a fully manual focusing lens or a lens that is 50mm or wider. Modern autofocus lenses don’t have effective and working depth of field scales with the exceptions of some from Fujifilm and Olympus.

When you start to zone focus, you start to look specifically at certain areas and distances from you. As you walk around, that distance moves with you as if ti’s a specific person that you’re following and that needs to stay at a parallel distance away from you. If something steps into that area, then it will be focus.

Zone focusing helped me to get more images in focus and accurate because it didn’t always require me to fiddle with a viewfinder, focusing to a distance, and then clicking the shutter. Instead, it was all instinctive and all that I had to do was react. Many other zone focusing shootings also feed the same way.

Sunny 16

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The Sunny 16 rule is one that photographers have been following for years and years. Basically, it states that at f16 in bright sunlight, your shutter speed will be the reciprocal of your ISO. That means that in bright sunlight, I would be shooting at f16, ISO 100 and 1/100th. As you move from one area to another, the lighting is bound to change due to shadows from buildings and clouds. As this changes, you should keep in mind how the light shifts and adjust your shutter speed accordingly. Here’s another explanation of what we mean. If you’re shooting digital, there is no reason why you can’t shoot at ISO 1600 during the day time to ensure that you get an image with a fast enough shutter speed.

The reason why this worked so well for me is because even though I couldn’t always see everything out of my left eye, I could surely tell the quality of the light. So this helps me to get a fast enough shutter speed and a narrow enough aperture when combining it with the zone focusing method. Together, they help me get the images I want.

Clarity of Mind

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In order to go out and shoot, you need to clear your mind of whatever may be bothering you at that time. In fact, walking around and shooting is a great way to get something off of your mind like a rough time that you may be going through. When you have a clear mind, then you can focus on just shooting. And as someone getting even more blind, focusing on the task at hand helps me to capture moments as they happen.

Street photography also takes sometime to learn how to read body language, predict, and react how things will pan out. Then all you need to do is make sure you’re in the right place before you shoot.

Paying Attention to the Environment

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Shooting street images requires you to pay lots of attention to your surroundings. For starters, you could accidentally step into traffic and get hurt. That isn’t good for anyone. But you’ll also need to generally look around and find interesting subjects or things to shoot. When you do this then all you need to do is keep in mind the zone focusing rules and shoot.

Paying attention makes you learn how to predict someone’s movements or reactions and it helps you to read body language. To that end, you learn to read emotions and figure out whether or not something is worth shooting or just moving on.

Shooting Blind

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So how does a photographer that is going blind shoot images in focus without the aid of autofocus? Part of it comes from seeing the world the way that the camera does and vice versa. My vision naturally makes me view the world in a 35mm field of view–not in 50mm. So when a scene comes about, the only thing that needs to be done is raising the camera and pressing the shutter after figuring out if the scene will be in focus or not. Many times I also shoot from the hip just because of the fact that the world looks so much different from down there.

Lastly, because I know that I can’t totally rely on my sense of sight, I learn to react and use whatever sight I do have to ensure that I get the shot.

When zone focusing is combined with using the Sunny 16 rule, then the technical aspects are achieved. But by seeing the world in the focal length, you’ll have an easier time capturing a scene. As far as subjects and characters go, you’ll need to just pay attention and see the world in a way that your camera can. After that, it’s about thinking and reacting.