INTERVIEW WITH NICHOLAS GOODDEN
Nicholas “Nico” Goodden is an Olympus Visionary and founder of the Street Photography London blog. He is an award-winning London-based photographer with a passion for capturing London’s landscape, streets, people and architecture through still photography, cinemagraphs and timelapse photography.
Here, Nico shares his insights into the ever-expanding genre of street photography.
How do you define street photography?
This is a tough question to answer and it can really divide opinion. Street photography is not staged. The subject is unaware of you taking the shot, and in that way you capture reality. It doesn’t have to be urban or even in a street, but I’d still say the image must take place in a public place. But definitions can only really limit and constrain creativity, so I am not so keen on them.
What is it about the genre that you love?
Street photography requires very little gear. You can never predict what you’ll capture, and you have to relinquish control of your environment. Street photography teaches you to see, and to act fast in your photography.
What really grabs me about street photography is recognising the beauty of the everyday. Would you agree with that?
Yes I do. I think it trains you to enjoy what’s around you a lot more. Most people go on with their day not really looking around. When you shoot the street, you become much more aware of what’s around you and take pleasure from very small details.
Street photography does seem to be about reconfiguring your perception of the environment. How important is it to train your awareness and become more open to ideas?
I think it all comes with time and practice. It is possible that some people are more inclined towards developing that ability. Personally it’s become a little obsessive and I actually had to step away a little from it all. I find it a little draining not to be able to go out and simply have a walk. Even though I love photography, my brain does need some off time.
Is it important to be interested in people?
I think you have to be interested in people yes, although that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to love people. After all, who doesn’t like people watching? When you see something particularly odd or capture worthy… take the shot. We all see things differently, that’s how we can all develop a unique street photography style, through our own vision/interpretation of what’s going on around us. I’ve spent 20 years in hospitality, working in top hotels mainly. You meet some characters for sure.
How do you remain discreet when seeking out images?
I don’t try that hard. First, I don’t use a huge camera – I shoot with the OM-D E-M5 Mark II. Sometimes I shoot from the hip. Then I try and avoid eye contact with my victims. Sometimes I pretend to be fiddling with the settings as I take the shot…
On that note, is proximity to your subject important?
I think so in my case, although it’s perhaps overrated. It’s hard to come across one article where they don’t quote Robert Capa ‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough’. I find that a bit boring. Do what you want. Some people are quick dismissing someone using a zoom lens. I don’t use a zoom, but at the same time if that’s a way for someone to feel more comfortable shooting, so be it. I’m not part of the street photography police.
Personally I shoot mainly with a 17.5mm lens, which means getting close. It’s a manual lens too so I zone focus about 3-6 feet away. It takes a lot of practice to get it right. A silent shutter helps when you are that close.
What should a street photographer look for in a camera?
Small, fast to get out of sleep mode so you don’t miss a shot, and silent. Street photography is probably the genre that requires the least fancy camera.
What lenses do you swear by and why? Many street photographers seem to prefer short lenses such as 50mm, 35mm, etc. Why do you think this is?
Well it goes back to your question about being close. But generally a 17.5mm (35mm FF equivalent) is what your eyes see, so makes the most sense. My favourite of all is the Voigtlander 17.5mm f/0.95. But it’s not for the lazy photographer, since it’s manual focus and heavy.
Do you ever use artificial light?
Never ever. The sun is all I need. I’m not the kind of in-your-face photographer who’ll shove an uninvited flash in someone’s face.
Are there particular camera settings you prefer?
If I want a black & white shot, I’ll shoot in black & white. I’ll never convert in post. Also, I shoot street work in JPEG, not raw. I know… I can hear the boooooos, but I really don’t care. I get my street photos right in-camera, so 99% of the time I don’t need to do anything other than subtle contrast/brightness adjustment.
What do you think are the most current mistakes in street photography?
I think there is too much bad street photography out there and people aren’t tough enough in their culling process. The amount of shots that are literally ‘a photo of a street’ is just mad. People need to stop and ask themselves: What’s in that shot? Is it really that good? If you find yourself posting one new photo a day, it’s likely you suffer from not being harsh enough on your work. Unless you become your worst critic, you’ll end up diluting the work that’s of good quality with all that’s not.