23.04.2021 York Place Studios

Street smarts

York Place Studios

Liam and Dominique Shaw, the brother and sister reportage duo behind York Place Studios have built a reputation for creating genre-defying wedding imagery with a street photography twist.

Whether shooting weddings, events or street photography; complex multi-layered storytelling, subtle humour and raw intimacy have become a hallmark of York Place Studios’ photography. Their unique approach to shooting weddings has gained an international following, picked up multiple accolades and led to Dominique and Liam being invited to speak at photography events around the world sharing their passion for their craft and their carefully considered ideas about reportage photography.

For Liam and Dominique though it’s never about the complexity of an image, it’s about the feeling behind it and it’s that feeling that has, for over a decade, driven them in their quest to create original, innovative imagery of real, spontaneous moments.

Dominique Shaw of York Place Studios offers some must-have street photography tips for when you start pounding the pavement Again

After a strange and distant year marred by isolation, the world looks to be making hopeful steps towards normality. With this comes the promise of connection, insight and the simple beauty of ordinary life. Documenting those fleeting moments has always been the joy of street photography, but now it feels like something extra special to treasure.

One inspired individual is Dominique Shaw of York Place Studios. “I really love the raw reality of storytelling – and the idea of creating art from the simplest observations of everyday occurrences,” she effuses.

It’s easy to assume street photography is a genre that offers overwhelming opportunities. However, with life forever going on around us, the best moments can sometimes be difficult to recognise. For Dominique, at least, overcoming this is a matter of outlook and experience.

“When you’re very familiar with an area, it’s harder to find inspiration, because nothing is new. After a while, however, you train yourself to see nuance in the everyday environment and that familiarity can become an advantage. It helps you find intimacy and understanding of what’s around you. These days, I don’t look near or far as a preference, I just search for a theme.”

FUJIFILM X-E4 + XF23mmF1.4 R – F5.6, ISO 3200, 1/180 sec

Diving deeper into her own method of ‘seeing’ these photos, Dominique continues: “You can anticipate or wait – there’s no one way of doing it. Ultimately, it’s about connecting with something, then finding a way of communicating those ideas and understanding that potential. Base your approach upon whatever sparked your interest in the first place.

“For me, a great image is simply one that tells me something about the world or the photographer themselves. It communicates the observation, however big or small, successfully enough that it needs no further context or explanation,” she surmises.

Another challenge for would-be street photographers is that of people. Photographing someone in their daily life may even seem like an invasion of privacy, but when done sensitively and considerately, that’s far from the case.

“A key asset for any photographer is a strong sense of empathy and flexibility, adapting to the scene in front of you,” explains Dominique. “There isn’t a blanket approach to photographing strangers. It’s about reading the situation you’re entering, acting ethically and respectfully, and treating everyone as individuals. Before I photograph on the street, I ask myself, ‘why am I taking this?’ If I’m not confident I can justify it to anyone who challenges me, then the image likely isn’t good enough anyway, so I simply don’t take it.”

FUJIFILM X-E4 + XF23mmF1.4 R – F8, ISO 3200, 1/250 sec

But smaller steps are a preferred approach for many, and to build the confidence experience provides, Dominique has excellent advice. “If you’re nervous about photographing strangers at first, just concentrate on geometry and stay further away. Or capture silhouettes rather than facial features, then gradually work up from there.”

The final piece of the puzzle is a set of tools that are right for the job. It may be easy to obsess over rapid autofocus, lightning-fast burst speeds or supremely low-light lenses for optimal shutter speeds – but, for Dominique, all these features are encapsulated quite simply. “I want to experience the least possible resistance between the idea in my mind and the act of turning that into a photograph. From the moment I first picked up an X-Pro2, the X Series has done that for me.

FUJIFILM X-E4 + XF23mmF1.4 R – F3.6, ISO 3200, 1/250 sec

“Recently, I’ve been really enjoying the FUJINON XF27mmF2.8 R WR. It’s not only a lovely focal length, but also such a compact lens that’s perfectly suited to the FUJIFILM X-E4, making it easy to carry around with me everywhere,” she continues. “Before that, most of my favourite street images were captured on the FUJINON XF23mmF1.4 R. With either lens, I usually set my aperture to F8 as a good starting point for seeing the world around me in sharper focus, but then adapt that to each individual story I want to tell.”

Enthusing over the X-E4 body, Dominique says: “It’s just a massively powerful, interchangeable lens camera in a tiny, highly discrete and attractive form factor. I can carry it at all times, not just during dedicated photo sessions. I don’t only see photographs when I plan to, I see them everywhere I go – so, whenever that happens, I always have a professional, quality camera ready to capture them.”

FUJIFILM X-E4 + XF23mmF1.4 R – F7.1, ISO 3200, 1/125 sec

The company of strangers

To become more comfortable approaching strangers for less candid street portraits, the best thing you can do is be prepared. Here’s the tried-and-tested approach that’s sure to garner some good results.

Make polite contact with camera in hand, so they can easily infer your reason for approach. Ask to take their portrait with a fairly general explanation, such as ‘I love your look’. Anything more specific, like ‘your wrinkles have so much character’, runs the risk of offending. If they decline, remain polite. It’s bound to happen on occasion.

You can’t monopolise a stranger’s time and you’ll lose the spontaneity of the moment quickly, so work fast. This includes setting Face Detection AF, Continuous Shooting and Aperture Priority mode to control depth-of-field. Speak to your subject throughout to maintain rapport and photograph in bursts if you want options. Work varied angles, too, giving yourself a better chance at the perfect frame. When you’re done, give them the chance to see the photos and let them know where they might find any final edit.

FUJIFILM X-E4 + XF23mmF1.4 R – F8, ISO 3200, 1/250 sec

Focusing in the zone

For the candid frames, and the ability to snap moments in focus as they happen, there are two strong options: autofocusing or prefocusing. The former is obvious; the latter is less so, but should be in every street photographer’s technique arsenal.

Prefocusing allows you to anticipate the action by ensuring a good portion of your frame, in terms of depth, is in focus. This is done by focusing at a specific distance and using depth-of-field to ensure objects in front and behind that point, within a limited distance, are also sharp. For example, if you were to take a 23mm lens at an aperture of F8 and manually focus to 10ft, everything from 6.5ft to 16.5ft would be acceptably sharp.

You don’t need to do any real work here with varying focal lengths, apertures and desired zones – just look at your camera’s focus scale. The blue area either side of the focus distance indicator denotes the range of acceptable sharpness. To view the focus scale in viewfinder or LCD, Press MENU OK and go to SET UP > SCREEN SET-UP > DISP. CUSTOM SETTING and make sure that MF DISTANCE INDICATOR is ticked. To control how precise this ‘acceptable sharpness’ is, go to AF/MF SETTING > DEPTH-OF-FIELD SCALE and choose either PIXEL BASIS or FILM FORMAT BASIS.