Max Colson: Tales

Photojournalism MA student at the LCC

The Theatrical Backdrop (more thoughts on the street photograph)

with 5 comments

I was reading Uta Beyer’s post on street photos (which also has some lovely images and can be seen here). Aside from her images the other thing that I respond to is her enthusiasm for the ‘theatrical backdrop’ approach to taking the photo.

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, snapping a moment is incredibly difficult. I’ve tried walking down the street snapping people literally in the face and to be honest it really doesn’t work for me at all. It’s not very nice; I’m not Bruce Gilden enough; I don’t like fights; it’s also an inefficient use of a frame. It’s a bit like cold calling I guess, because in that context people are really not expecting anything. In addition, sticking a camera directly in their face is a fairly violent act. I’m sure Gilden doesn’t think so, but it is. (At a public event I feel it’s quite a different matter however – more on that in a later post.)

But the backdrop approach I find to be much more pleasant, and enjoyable even. 1. You’ve worked out your frame, you’ve worked out the appropriate settings, and you can wait for everything to form in front of you. 2. You’re also not targeting particular people, which you are consciously doing in the street walking approach. 3. You are not disrupting other people’s space; people are only drifting into your frame. (But then I have also previously commented on Jo Ellicott’s blog that street photography is also slightly creepy, so obviously my views on this practice are slightly contradictory at the moment.)

The only thing that this approach drains from you is time.

I’ve been walking through quite a few museums this past week and a half, but the place where I think I found the nicest spot was the British Museum. I don’t think that these images are quite there yet, perhaps there could be more going on in them perhaps, but I do like their simplicity.

Mobile Phone Camera, British Museum


Passers By, British Museum


Head, British Museum

Written by Max Colson

February 6, 2011 at 11:52 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Very graphic, like them a lot, beautifully framed and I think its the biggest challenge in street photography with a fixed lens – you see something, you can’t there quick enough or you’re too far forward, you move and its gone! Like the little head too, quirky.


    February 7, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    • thanks Fjona.

      Framing is definitely one of the major challenges, and I think that’s why the backdrop approach is the most efficient approach cos you’ve kind of done most of it already prior to clicking the shutter.

      Although I say that the backdrop approach takes a lot of time in my post, the approach where you are walking around trying to catch a moment actually takes even longer!

      I’m not sure how efficient it is trying to walk around and find it – perhaps if one is going for that method then it’s better if you just have a small camera on your person all the time and if that elusive moment happens in front of you then you just breathe a sigh of relief and take the picture?

      Max Colson

      February 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm

  2. Max, I can’t add a lot to Fjona’s comment – I agree totally and find the simplicity really appealing. In fact it makes me want to find out more and dive into the frame. I think the black and white provides that clean canvas and is quite stunning.

    Jo Ellicott

    February 9, 2011 at 8:15 am

    • Thanks Jo! The British Museum is nice to photograph in, there are such great shapes there…

      Max Colson

      February 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm

  3. Love the first one, I have been using this approach myself. First find a setting, then wait and shoot!


    February 11, 2011 at 12:09 am

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