Sunday, January 3, 2010

TLR Street Photography

© Vivian Maier Photography

In a previous blog I talked about street photographer, Vivian Maier's work and how much I got inspired. Well, for the first time since I have had been doing street photography with 35mm rangefinder camera and film SLR, I took my newly repaired Seagull-4A out to the streets today.

I have had this undescribable sensation and it adrenalized me to do more street fotos. I guess I did. Well I did not shoot as many as 10 rolls of medium format film, but just 2 rolls. Previously I got 2 rolls of Ilford FP4+ left and thought I could just use them.

From the experience I got today, I discovered that there are advantages and disadvantages in using a TLR for street photography, which pose challenges. Let me list them out here as you make the jump:


1. Flexibility - It's not as flexible as using a 35mm rangefinder camera or film SLR camera, where you can just lift the camera up to yr face, compose, focus and press the shutter button. With a TLR, you need to take things at a slower pace with much anticipations, where possible.

2. Parallax Error - After taking the light reading in advance, you need to get in close to your subjects, close enough for better composition and framing. Well, at 5 feet (about 1.5 meters) or closer distance, parallax error occurs. Parallax refers to the difference between the image seen through the viewing lens and the image transmitted to the picture-taking lens.

How do I fix the parallax error? Usually I would preset my focus distance at 3 to 5 meteres range, then position myself estimately to the preset distance. Then I would frame my subject with extra room at the top.

3. Handling - Handling a TLR camera can be cumbersome due to its size and framing operation. Through the ground glass, your subject's left side is on your left side and vice versa on the right side. During framing and composition, you tend to pan the camera numerous time from left to right, back and forth. It takes time to get used to such operation.


1. Stealthy performance - In this modern age, digital cameras are so common. Most people do not know about TLR and have never seen a TLR before. So when I'm taking a photographs of my subjects, they did not notice it as TLR has quiet shutter.

2. Shoot from the hip - At waist level, I can bend down my head to look through the TLR ground glass for framing and composing my subjects, without them even noticing that I'm taking their pictures.

3. Bigger negatives size - With a larger negatives and proper light reading, more tonality details are captured, compared to the 35mm negatives.

I will get the negatives developed by next week and hopefully I got good results. Thereafter I will get them scanned and post them here and on my website.


K. Praslowicz said...

A few more. Being able to rotate the camera to shoot to the side of your body instead of straight forward. Sneaky, but it works.

I also find that a lot of bystanders seem to think I'm shooting motion video. Do some slow panning across a scene like I am just recording the landscape, and no one is the wiser when that quiet leaf shutter *snick* goes off. Of course, I like to use flash on my TLR in broad daylight, so that technique tends to fail when I'm doing so. :)

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Martin Liew said...

To Praskowicz, I do agree on the part that bystanders mistook me as taking video and it proves that they do not know what is a TLR and they probably have never seen a TLR in their life before.

Thanks for the tips on shooting to the side. I will try that sneaky technique on my next street outing.

Happy New Year to you! :)

Daniel Highmountain said...

Would love to see some of your TLR-street photos :)

You talk about parallax error, but thats something I have never had any problem with when I shoot with a Rolleicord.. Even though I shoot it wide open quite often.. Parallax error sounds more like something the Rangefinder cameras have problems with.. But maybee my Rolleicord automatically compensates for parallax?

Martin Liew said...

Hi Daniel,

Thanks for reading my blog. Now you can view some of my TLR street photos here.


Hope you enjoy viewing. Thank you.