Shooting Street in Italy with the Sony A6000

Shooting Street in Italy with the Sony A6000

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I brought the Sony A6000 compact system camera (CSC) with me on this trip to Italy because I wanted to be able to travel light while exploring and sightseeing. In the past, I have traveled with a Nikon DSLR (first a D700 followed by a D800) and 3 to 4 prime lenses* in order to manage the weight of photographic gear I’m carrying with me.**

* 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm
** I tend to backpack (or slack-pack if truth be known) when I travel.

As I mentioned before in my review of the A6000, I find this CSC very intuitive and easy to use, and shooting street scenes with it is an absolute dream because it is so light and responsive.

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Before I proceed with details, here is my A6000 set up:

  • Sony A6000 set to shoot in Raw
  • 24-70mm f/4 Vario-Tesslar lens (in retrospect, I would have opted for the 16-70mm f/4 lens as it provides a wider angle option for architecture and landscape-y type shots)
  • Back-button focus assigned to the AEL button
  • Auto-exposure lock function assigned to the C1 button
  • Exposure compensation assigned to the back wheel (when shooting in Priority modes)
  • Single focus point
  • Continuous autofocus (You can also turn on focus tracking but I preferred not to use this as I found it distracting – a personal observation)
  • Photo filter: Black and White (because I wanted to be able to assess tonality when I previewed the images)
  • Live histogram displayed
  • Exposure metering set to Evaluative (Pattern/Matrix metering)

Much of the above allow me to shoot very instinctively and respond quickly to anticipated moments (in street photography parlance, by the time you see it happen, you have missed the opportunity to shoot it; so you need to be able to pre-empt when something is going to happen and have the camera shooting when it happens).

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I shoot in Aperture Priority a lot when I’m shooting street, and have the ISO set on Auto so that the Sony will select the most appropriate ISO to allow me to shoot at the selected aperture and a fast enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake blur. I then compensate exposure by using the exposure compensation dial (assigned to the back wheel) or auto exposure lock (assigned to the C1 button so that it’s conveniently located near my index finger).

Here’s an example of a scene taken while walking along Via Caselnuovo, one of the back roads in Matera.

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It was around 3pm and the light was creating strong contrasts between the lit buildings on the left and the rest of the scene in deep shadow. I noticed the nonna outside her building; dressed in black, she was a stark contrast against the white walls. I knew I had scant seconds before she ducked back inside so I had to get the shot as quickly as I can and make sure I had captures enough frames to have a variety of images from which to choose.

Because it’s a high contrast scene, the camera would usually try and obtain an exposure that would consider the brights and the shadows which would often lead to the brights blowing out in order to accommodate detail in the shadows. However, I wanted the scene to remain high contrast, so I had to make sure that the exposure was locked for the brights. No worries! All I had to do was fill the frame with as much brights as I could by pointing the camera at the portion of the scene containing sunlit walls and the sky, then press the auto exposure lock button (assigned to C1) to lock the exposure. This means that the camera set the shutter speed and ISO to the values it had selected to expose for the brights.

I then focused on the nonna, recomposed and fired off three to four frames in quick succession to get her walking back into her house.

In other scenes, I used exposure compensation (assigned to the back wheel) and watched the way highlights and shadows played out in the histogram. Because I was shooting in Raw, I knew that I could expose to the right in order to maintain shadow detail, so kept an eye on the left hand side of the histogram to make sure that it never clipped off the edge. I could then adjust the exposure compensation to make sure that the histogram didn’t blow out the highlights on the right hand edge.

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The Sony A6000 us a great CSC for this kind of shooting, but it is not without its faults. Here are some tips for overcoming them:

  • The Sony A6000 has very fast focus, but at times, it may be quite inaccurate. To compensate, shoot with a single flexible focus point and set this to be the smallest focus point provided.
  • The camera also has a very slow start up phase (it may be a whole second or two between you turning it on and it showing something on the LCD/viewfinder), so keep your camera on at all times and make sure you bring spare batteries (it can chew up battery power). Tip: To help prolong battery life, turn off the “Airplane mode” on your A6000.
  • Use the electronic viewfinder (EVF) instead of the LCD; the display quality on the LCD is terrible, especially in bright conditions.
  • Get a thicker, more comfortable camera strap than the one provided by Sony. It chafes.

That’s the technical bits done. What about creative aspects of shooting street in Italy with the Sony A6000?

Think lighting

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One of the best things about shooting in older cities is that you get very directional lighting with sunlight coming in between buildings and lighting up portions of the scene. I always look for scenes with directional lighting and then wait for something to happen in the lit areas (eg. A person stepping into the light) to give the scene a human element. Speaking of human elements…

Include people

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I take street photography during my travels as a way of documenting my journey, and having people in the scene simply adds a human element, and sometimes human drama, into the scene. It helps remind me of those who live in the places I visited. Some locations and settings lend themselves naturally to photographing people in their environment – the fishing harbours, for instance, that proliferate in ports in the Mediterranean.

Textures

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Old towns and old cities in Europe are full of remarkable texture, in walls, roofs, buildings and cobblestone streets. When you’re angling to compose your shot, think about how these textures can add to your image.

Juxtaposition

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One of the best things about traveling in older cities is the juxtaposition that exists between the old and the new; new structures or signs of human activity (eg. Street art and graffiti) exists side by side with medieval, Renaissance and Baroque-era edifices. Look at ways in which you can capture juxtaposition in your photography.

The Sony A6000 makes a great compact travel camera and its size and accessible (and customizable) interface makes it a fantastic tool for capturing moments while you’re exploring the streets, harbours and promenades of European cities.

If you’ve shot street with the Sony A6000, let me know your thoughts in the comments below and feel free to include a link to your images in the comments.

Ciao!

Note: The images shown have been processed to black and white in Lightroom 5 (my own preset which is affectionally known as “Street”. 🙂 Grain added for arty-ness and a feeble attempt to emulate film. 🙂

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