It’s been almost a full year since I’ve walked the streets of downtown Nashville on a weekend night. My previous venture was last October. Every now and then, I get a chance to indulge in my favorite photography genre, street photography. It’s even more rare that I get to shoot the streets at night. This rarity is due to timing, but a major part is equipment related. Well, the photography Gods were smiling down on me this time because not only did I have the time to shoot the night streets of downtown Nashville, I had a better camera spec for the task.
There are two striking differences between my latest shoot and last year’s shoot. The first notable difference was the low turnout for a weekend night in Nashville. I can remember waiting at a crosswalk last October, when a lady mentioned to me how dead it was on Broadway for a weekend night. That was not the case this time. This time, I could not walk down Broadway without being shoulder to shoulder to someone. The atmosphere was not just alive, it was electric! There appeared to be more businesses. Herds of people were going in and out of bars, restaurants and shops. A lot of these places had lines leading into the streets. Could this be a symptom of the positive change in the US economy? Whatever it was, Nashville was thriving that night.
The next significant difference was my new gear. Last October I was shooting my Olympus E520 DSLR. That camera has served me well over the years. However, it has its limits. As long as you stay within those limits, things work out just fine. I have always told myself that I would only upgrade my camera when I begin to hit the ceiling of its performance. Shooting street photography at night was one of those performance issues. With that said, there is a lot to say for technique. I won’t go into detail, but paraphrasing the words of the late great Ray Charles, “I made it do what it do.” In other words, I only shot scenes where I could get a usable photo. This is actually a good practice for improving photography. When you have to study and think about your subject, you tend to stay focused and engaged. You might ask why not continue to stay focused and engaged with the E520. Well, take a look at my October venture in the blog post Nashville Walkabout. All of those shots were captured with my E520. I loved the shots I captured in that post. What you won’t see in that post are all the missed shots due to missed focus and slow shutter speeds. In that post, I also talk about my technique for capturing the shots I did keep. Enter the EM1M2. Focusing is now super fast and accurate. Shutter speeds are vastly improved as I’m am able to shoot above the E520 ISO limit of 1600. Faster focus and faster shutter speeds do not take away from the virtues of being focused and engaged. It just increases the opportunities. This new camera was a game changer for me on the night streets of Nashville.
The one key parameter that made a huge difference was the ability to increase my sensor sensitivity over ISO 1600. In fact, I settled on an ISO of 5000. The other settings I used are listed below. If you are interested in my new camera’s specifications, check out my blog post No More Mirrors! I listed some of the key features that helped me make my decision. I also talk about why I chose the Olympus Flagship.
Lens: 17mm (35mm equivalent = 34mm)
White Balance: 2900K
Shooting Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Compensation: +0.3
These settings worked out nicely. However, there were still missed shots. Sometimes the light was too low for the action I was trying to capture. Other times, I missed focus due to having the wrong focal point selected. A couple of times I accidentally engaged the AEL. There were a number of operator errors that cost me several shots. So as you can see, misfires can happen no matter what gear you have. Good technique and knowing your camera goes a long way in getting the shot.
You will see in these photos that there are several shots that may look blurry due to bad focus or moving subjects. I chose to publish those photos anyway because I still liked what I saw. The blur in some of the photos added a dimension of motion to the image while helping to tell the story of the moment. When you look back on the street photos of some of the greats like Robert Frank or Henri Cartier-Bresson, you will see shots that are not super sharp. You will see shots with a lot of blur and grain. The blur and grain did not detract from the image. These artifacts actually added to the image.
When it comes to photography, I am not a pixel peeper. I don’t mind a little noise or grain. I much rather have a grainy or slightly blurry shot than to have no shot at all. You can visit almost any photography forum and see arguments about gear and pixel output. Photos are not meant to be viewed at 100%. Photos are meant to be viewed in their entirety. One pixel does not tell the story, but all the pixels working together create the big picture. Sharp and clean images are great, but they are not required to create an interesting or compelling photograph.
Let’s get to the photos! After curating the images, I decided that I would go black and white. The b&w treatment gave a more classical, timeless look to the photos. Before I dove into the street photography mode, I did a little urban exploration. In fact, that was all I had intended to do, but I figure I better take advantage of this opportunity. Shooting people on the streets would also be a great test run for the new camera. I should add that the only post processing implemented on these images were applying the b&w treatment. I should also mentioned that the 17mm focal length which is equivalent to a 34mm in the 35mm format has become my favorite focal length for the streets. Now I see how restrictive my 50mm SLR lens was. It looks like the next lens for my OM1 SLR will be a 35mm. These shots are posted in the order taken. You can click on any image to view it in the lightbox. Once you are in the lightbox, you can start a slideshow or click through the images at your own pace. I also recorded some video. You will have to scroll down through the post to see the video as it is not in the gallery slideshow.
At this point, the sounds and smells of the streets started to work on me. I was enjoying the relaxed nature of shooting behind the scenes, but the street was calling. It did not take me long, but I caved to the pressure. It took me a few test shots to settle on the parameters I listed above. Once I was locked and loaded, I merged into the crowds.
I’ve seen fiddle players, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that fiddles and dances at the same time. The young lady in the next series of pictures is Hillary Klug. She has a very impressive resume. This graduate of MTSU has performed and studied around the world. You have to check out her website to appreciate the depth of her talent and experience. Click on Hillary’s name above to visit her website. I was very impressed with her sidewalk performance. I hope to catch Hillary again the next time I am downtown. Here’s a link to Hillary’s Facebook Page.
Those who follow me know that my new camera shoots video. I’m more of a stills kind of guy, but having video at the ready is nice. After I left Hillary, I ran into more entertainment. Yea, imagine that, street performers at every turn in Nashville. This time I decided to record a few minutes of video. I’ve never used the video on this camera, so I did not know what to expect. I hit the red button and started filming. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the resulting footage. When I showed the short clips to my wife, she thought I made the videos in New Orleans. She was right. This was not a typical Nashville scene. It looked more like a scene from a more populated urban area. This was a nice surprise.
This next series of images starts off with a woman attempting to hang from the bar for more than 120 seconds. The first image is her trying to grab the bar by herself, but you can tell that did not go very well. You then see her getting some assistance on her second attempt. She finally made it on the bar, but that was short lived.
Wow! What a night! I had lots of fun with the EM1M2. I’m glad I took the plunge into the streets. This was a very good exercise. I shot a lot of images on purpose just for the practice. The next time I hit the streets, I will be focused on creating more interesting images. I may even create a theme. Overall, I am very impressed with the fast focus and image quality. The overwhelming majority of these images would not have been possible with my E520. I hope you have enjoy these images as much as I have. I believe this body of work gives a good representation of a weekend night in downtown Nashville. I would love to hear your thoughts. I will leave you with the last image of the night just before returning to my car. Thanks for reading!