Ash Smith on Hunting Interesting Light and Colors for Street Photography

All text and photos by Ash Smith. Used with permission.

My name is Ash Smith and I am UK-based street photographer, with a background in fine art and graphic design. Inspired by early street photography colorists like Saul Leiter and  Fred Herzog, I search out great light, color, and texture to capture intriguing moments in daily life. I am fascinated less by portraits, but more by gestures and expressions and observing how people interact with their environment. Interesting light plays a big part in my work and when out shooting I find that’s the first thing I look for, then I will wait for the right person to come and interact with it.

I have always been interested in the arts, studying fine art and design from a young age. I inherited a Minolta X-700 35mm SLR when I was about 10 and set about figuring out how to use it, that was about 25 years ago and I’ve been making images on and off ever since.

On the street I feel like I’m both a documenter and a creator. When making images it’s impossible to not to be a creator, even in a small way, as you make choices regarding composition and what you chose to include or exclude in the frame. At the same time, you are capturing intriguing little moments that may otherwise have been lost, so there is  a sense of documenting also.

I’m pretty nonplussed about the technical side of making the image. Mostly I’ll either be deciding whether I want to control the depth of field or the motion of the subject, so I’ll either shoot selecting the aperture or the shutter speed to manage the effect I want to create – more often than not I want to freeze the subject, so I’ll set a higher shutter speed and control the depth. Creatively, as I said before I’m mostly hunting for great light and then waiting for a subject to come and play in it, but sometimes I’ll see someone whom I think would be a good subject and follow them until they walk into some great light (as happened with the man in the red turban – I followed him on and off for about 30 minutes!)

Processing wise, I have a couple of presets that I have created and tend to use as I have found that they give the effect I am looking for, with a slightly muted colour palette (except for reds!) and softer blacks. Since switching to the Fuji X-T3 I’ve had to adjust them a little as compared to the X-T10 I was using before it renders colour slightly differently.

I love the Fuji X cameras, they’re so tactile and the X-T3 is almost identical to the X-700 I learned to shoot with, so there’s a familiarity about it. Shooting street with the Fuji means I have all the controls directly under my fingertips, so if I do need to make a quick switch between focus modes, or metering modes, or make a fast shutter speed change, it’s all right there with no menus to go through. The lenses for the X system are absolute beauts too. I’m pretty much exclusively shooting the XF 35mm f2 at the moment for street work. It has amazing clarity and I find the field of view just right to frame both the subject and something of the environment.

I always felt that I would shoot street, so when I came back into photography seriously a few years ago, that’s where I started, but for some reason I got really into architecture photography and messed around with some landscape/seascape/cityscape images instead. In the last year, I’ve made a real commitment to going back to street again and am really enjoying it, although I still shoot other things that catch my eye too.

You can see more of Ash Smith’s work on his website, Instagram for his street photography and his other Instagram for other images from his collection.