Shutterings and Mutterings - photography blog

Flute player Baba photographed by Beowulf Mayfield

Beautiful to see and hear

Before I took up photography, a lot of my creative energy went into music - listening and trying to play it. When I encounter musicians playing in the street my attention is initially caught by the quality of their musical performance - or lack of it. Then I find myself considering how I might photograph them.

The musician above told me his name was Baba. I had seen and heard him performing on an African flute on a stretch of the south Thames path between the Millenium Bridge and Borough Market on several occasions. However, I had never attempted to photograph him.

On this occasion, he was sitting just inside a railway arch that has hundreds of tiny coloured lights set in the ceiling. The natural side lighting coupled with the artificial illumination was very striking and too good an opportunity to miss. I put some money in the hat and waited, camera in hand, for him to pause in his playing to ask if I could photograph him.

I used a Nikon manual 35mm prime lens, aperture was set at f2.5, the exposure time was 1/40 and the ISO setting was 200.

Some might not think twice about taking out the camera and shooting away but I'm not entirely comfortable with that. For me, taking a photograph of another person involves crossing a invisible but very sensitive boundary into their personal space. Moreover, if I should ever want to offer the image for sale, I would eventually be called upon to produce appropriate release forms - so really it only makes sense to ask a potential subject if they'd mind being photographed before even switching the camera on.

As street performers are out there for the purpose of being seen, approaching them is relatively easy. Generally, those I have approached have been happy to be photographed and have said how much they appreciated that fact that I asked for permission before starting to shoot.

Approaching a stranger who isn't looking for attention is something I've yet to try. Lomographer Kevin Meredith runs a course in creative photography that includes approaching a total stranger and taking their photograph among a set of tasks. I'm sure it's something that gets easier with practice but it's a scary prospect when you've never tried...

Further reading: For creative photography ideas, Kevin Meredith's Photo Op: 52 Weekly Ideas for Creative Image-Making and Lee Frost's 50 Photo Projects: Ideas to Kick-Start Your Photography are both worth reading.

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