American Carwash

American Carwash, Shoreditch : Canon EOS R : EF 85mm USM (85mm) f/13.0 : 1/200s : ISO 400

Street photography can be an unpredictable pursuit. One minute you are walking around in a street, with nothing resembling a potential shot. Then out of the blue, you see what looks like an incredible moment of serendipity, when light, subject matter and composition come together for one delicious fleeting second. At these times, it is all about capturing the moment. If you waste precious seconds changing lenses or adjusting your camera’s settings, the moment can disappear.

This is probably a good opportunity to share my street photography camera settings. I would much prefer to focus on subject matter, lighting and compositional challenges. However, I believe that in street photography, unlike many other photographic genres there are often shots that happen purely by chance. When this happens, it is critical as a street photographer that you are ready and set up for these fleeting moments. Normally, I pre-set my aperture to f11. This provides a hyperfocal distance of approximately 12 feet, with everything from 6ft to infinity remaining in focus.

For my ISO settings, being that I am constantly moving around in highly varied lighting conditions, I set an auto ISO range that I am confident will provide a sufficiently exposed subject under most circumstances, but will not stretch the sensor’s capability so as to stray into poor-quality image territory. I have two ISO ranges one for daytime (ISO 100 – 1,200), the other night time (ISO 100 – 6400). I program my minimum shutter speed to 1/125s so as to be able to freeze walking subjects and will amend this when necessary, for example when I want to blur a moving subject.

Back to the image of the carwash worker. I saw plume’s of steam rising over a high fence while I was walking in Shoreditch and recognised the opportunity of capturing a dramatic shot in the last shafts of late-afternoon light. The challenge was to position myself at the right angle so as to silhouette the carwash worker, while catching the plumes of steam lit by the sunlight. The opportunity around 3-04 minutes. During that time, I tried to capture as many shots, angles and exposures as possible as the worker toiled away on the car. Only one of the 12 or so taken achieved the desired effect. This is the one shown here.

With such a high dynamic range, post-processing was difficult. I had to decide which areas were going to be allowed to fall into shadow, what was to be silhouetted and where detail was to be retained. Also, the highlights had to be carefully handled if their delicate structure was to be retained in the final image.