Craig Reilly’s Street Photography Play With Shape and Shadow In London

All images by Craig Reilly. Used with permission.

“To have a solo exhibition and one day have a book published.” These are the targets London based street photographer, Craig Reilly, has set for himself. He has every reason to believe his goals will be reached. Already he’s a highly regarded street photographer, an Olympus Ambassador and one of the co-founders of the huge online community, Street Photography International. A rather impressive foundation for him to build on. His beautiful images centre around shape, shadow, light and humanity. Craig uses these quality ingredients to create tasty looking work – and his followers constantly want to be fed more. Craig is no stranger to the sacrifices that need to be made to do well in this scene. He puts in the leg work, the eye work and the digital work in order to remain consistent and ahead of the game.

Many know his photos. Now it’s time to get to know the man himself.

Phoblographer: You’ve just got back from South East Asia. Did you get much street photography done whilst away? What was the experience like?

CR: Unfortunately I didn’t. The time away was all about switching off and spending time with my girlfriend (who I actually proposed to while we were in Bali. And she said yes). I even took a bit of a break from Instagram, and the experience was wonderful, thank you.

Phoblographer: You learnt the trade in London. Where are the best places in the capital to shoot street photography in your opinion?

CR: My own preferred route in London is along the Southbank, working around the National Theatre and Tate Modern, and then onto the Barbican Centre. If I’m feeling good I’ll also go to Brick Lane or Spitalfields Market too. The reason I like these locations in particular is because I prefer to shoot in a methodical way, composing and exposing my scenes exactly how I want them by eliminating as many distractions as possible and then waiting for the final element to enter the scene.

That way I’m getting as much as I can correct in camera and not having to choose and crop something interesting from a large scene (That’s not photography to me).

Phoblographer: Is there a certain location that has all the makings for a great street photograph but you’ve not quite found the right scene yet? Do you revisit these parts, waiting one day to get “the shot”?

CR: Yes, it’s why I stick to the same route and always recommend to my workshop attendees to do the same for at least a year. It’s really important to see how much a particular location can change from one day to the next in all types of light and weather. There is one particular spot that I really want to capture, but the lack of people that use it is the one downfall that stops me from sticking it out.

Phoblographer: Street photography can be a lonely practice. You often come home with an SD card full of, well, nothing much. Oh, and you’ll never make a living from it. Remind those who, just a little, have become cynical about the craft, why it’s so worth doing.

CR: Haha. In terms of it being a lonely practice, I don’t see that as a bad thing at all. I’m more than happy to shoot alone. I spent a week in Lisbon on my own and came back with some of my best work. Returning home with a card full of nothing much was a regular occurrence when I first started street photography. But that was due to having the mentality of needing to get to another location as soon as I’ve taken one or two photos of the subject that interested me at that moment. As my eye improved and I began studying the scene from all angles and points of view, my success ratio improved greatly.

“To have one of the big six camera brands endorsing your work for their brand is a huge compliment…”

Of course, it’s difficult to make a living out of it, but the same can be said about most freelance or self-employed professions. You’re always going to have peaks and troughs. At the same time brands, commissions, companies, and other art forms have all approached me due to my street photography work. The reason I think this is is due to their customers and clients having a greater relation to real-life locations and people opposed to airbrushed, perfect world shots. One of the main reasons it’s worth doing is because of its accessibility and it’s a great way to keep your eye in. Whether you’re a landscape, wedding, fashion or sports photographer, shooting street can help improve your eye without having to have access/permission/invite to any of the locations mentioned.

Phoblographer: You run your own workshop. What can people expect from a day shooting with you?

CR: Discussions on the different ways to approach the art of street photography, the ethics of the genre, some do’s and don’ts, as well as techniques to help them gain confidence photographing strangers in the street. They’ll also take in some of my favourite locations. My main goal is to help attendees gain skills to take their street photography to the next level, by helping them use the available light, develop their own style, training their eye to see potential scenes in everyday life, and give them an understanding into what makes a strong image.

Phoblographer: In terms of your style; were you clear about what kind of style you wanted when you started street photography or has it evolved over the years into what it is now?

CR: It has definitely evolved over the years. Initially, I was taking pretty much anything and everything and coming away with very little. That evolved into looking for potential candid moments and interactions, portraiture basically and again that improved my eye. Once I felt like I’d exhausted that I changed my approach again and adapted my own style to get the type of photos I get now.

Phoblographer: How did you get involved with Olympus? What is it about their cameras that you feel make them great for street photography?

CR: I’ve been an Olympus user since I got into street photography in 2015, and it was switching to the MFT format with the OM-D E-M10 Mark I that reignited my passion for photography again. The opportunity to become their street photography ambassador was an exciting one. To have one of the big six camera brands endorsing your work for their brand is a huge compliment and one I enjoy promoting too.

There are a number of reasons why I love their cameras (the OM-D E-M1’s in particular). For a professional camera body, their size is non-intrusive and inconspicuous, the image quality is excellent, the customisation of the buttons and certain technologies these bodies have.

“my main ambition is to keep growing a decent portfolio, continuously improve my photography skills and to pass on my experience…”

A number of people complain about the sensor size of the MFT system and say you need to have a full frame camera for professional work. I can safely say the file sizes are more than good enough (I’ve had an image printed and exhibited at 50” on its longest side) for what’s required in my line of work.

Phoblographer: When you get commissioned gigs, how does street photography influence the way you shoot the non-candid frame?

CR: It influences it a lot. There’s only been one commissioned job that was specifically non-candid but even then you’re still using your street eye to spot certain pockets of light, backgrounds, leading lines, and juxtapositions. In those instances you have the benefit of positioning your model or trying repeatedly to capture them at a certain point, but the initial idea comes from your knowledge and experience of shooting candid street scenes.

Phoblographer: Finally, after achieving a lot already, what are your street photography ambitions going forward?

CR: Personally, my main ambition is to keep growing a decent portfolio, continuously improve my photography skills and to pass on my experience and what I know to others who want to learn about the art of shooting street photography. With regards to Street Photography International, building the SPi brand and community is very important to me. The global platform we’re able to give to little known or unknown photographers gives me so much pleasure. Knowing how difficult it is to get your best work seen in an already saturated medium we’re able to provide that opportunity regardless of your sex, race, religion, nationality, follower count or portfolio; it’s based purely on the image itself.

To more of Craig’s work, be sure to visit his website and Instagram.