After the previous post on "Takers and Makers", I got to thinking: street photographers tend to fall into (at least) two broad subcategories. I can only say this with any confidence because I can clearly see one dominant type in my own photos, so it follows there is enough difference in technique to call each out.
Let's have a look at these two curious beasts in their native habitat.
The Walker will stay fluid, moving, looking, not loitering often or at all. These "streetogs" are elusive, reactive in the extreme and usually footsore at the end of a day's shooting. Sometimes resorting to the "spray n' pray" method they may be prolific, but as they gain experience the number of misses decrease and their compositions tighten up. The Walker glances off events, usually using a wide lens (24-35 equiv), which allows them to see a comprehensive scene as it unfolds, grab it and move on to the next. Longer lenses can also be used by some, with increased difficulty. Their favoured technique is zone focus, as accurate auto or manual focus is nearly impossible to do consistently (but, conversely easier with longer lenses). The "clutter" of composition is too great to analyse, compose, focus and capture nearly instantly. Instinct and opportunism are their friends rather than method and thought. The Walker will benefit from an increase in camera power, with higher ISO's and increased quality allowing them a more elastic envelope to work with. Kudos to the past masters working on the fly with ISO 25 film, average lens quality and clunky, nonreactive cameras (we really do not know how lucky we are). The recently discovered Vivian Meier is a good example of the Walker in action. She would spend breaks from her job as a nanny, wandering amongst people on city streets, quietly capturing intimate portraits of the everyday. It is possible she would switch to the Stalker method, as her use of manual focus, a longer than usual focal length and on a medium format camera would have taken some considerable skill, but her works seems to lack the repetition of place and distance of that style.
The Watcher is more methodical in their approach. They like a pre set stage for their actors to enter and will often frequent the same locations repeatedly. Watchers have greater control of their light and the backdrop than the Walker, but still rely on the "instant of perfect interaction" to create the image. My favourite exponent of the Watcher style is Jan Meissner from New York. Jan's work is based on setting a beautiful stage (backdrop, light and composition), then waiting for the elements to come together. Some of the images look staged, but they are not, just the result of patience and vision. A bit like the Maker of the previous post, the Watcher has some control of the elements of their image, but not complete control. Watchers may favour longer lenses or zooms to allow them to stand off, study and compose, but as with all street photography, there are no hard and fast rules.
What do they share?
Both styles are reliant on the decisive moment, interaction, light and composition, but the Watcher is first location aware, where the Walker is subject aware.
There is no right or wrong here. Anything that gets the result you want is ok for street photography, but maybe analysing your own style will help clarify your equipment needs and methodology. Equally, knowing what you don't do now may open up some creative doors.
Happy walking and watching.