Nature Photography Photography Travel Guides

How a trip to Tuscany helped me become a better street photographer

very time I step out to shoot some street photography, I am always approached by other photographers who are also out shooting. Irrespective of whether we are in London, New York or Paris, the conversations always start off the same way. They would make a remark about my Canon EF 70-200mm F/2.8L IS USM telephoto lense, the way it is hanging loosely next to my hip and the speed with which I raise the camera to my face and take candid shots. Evidently they would have been observing me for a while.

The Missing Piece

I use a Sun Sniper PRO Steel & Bear camera strap. I wear it diagonally across my body from my left shoulder. The height is adjusted so that my Canon 5D Mark III rests perfectly on my right hip. With this setup, I can walk around for four to five hours before I am exhausted. I can also shoot any subject in less than 4 seconds. I am not digressing so stay with me for it will all make sense later on.

If you are patient with anything or anyone, they cannot help it but eventually place themselves at your feet to be explored.

They will then proceed to tell me how much they love images of unique or odd moments in everyday life frozen in time in a candid photograph. But they would also add that they are terrified of photographing strangers in public places. We will then look at some of their images on Flickr or Instagram using their mobile phone. And usually I would be impressed. So the issue is not their photography skill because it’s evident from their images that they can indeed take beautiful photographs.

The problem usually lies somewhere else. I totally understand each and everyone of these photographers because I use to be in the exact same boat. For me the issue was a lack of patience. I could stay focused for twelve to fourteen hours shooting a wedding (which is actually a string of candid shots) but I could not bring myself to do street photography for even one hour.

A taste of Tuscany

Let me tell you how my trip to Tuscany changed all of that.

have always felt that a huge part of any culture is embedded in the language and if you cannot speak the language, your experience of said culture will be fairly limited. That is why I choose a guided tour (run by Jarek) for my trip to Tuscany. And boy did he not disappoint. I choose him because he is a photographer, has lived in Tuscany for about ten years and speaks fluent Italian.

We stayed in a farm called Agriturismo Casa Picchiata. This is a popular concept in Italy called “Agriturismo”. t basically means that tourists are allowed to lodge in a working farm. They get the chance to see how the owners operate the farm on a daily basis. They also get to eat the produce of the farm. Casa Picchiata farms olives, fruits, produces wine, owns cattle etc. Parts of the very popular movie – The Gladiator starring Russell Crowe were filmed very close to this farm.

Gabriella and her mother Nella served us some of the finest homemade Italian food. To watch her 72 year old mother cook breakfast for us and then right after that hop on a tractor and drive around their olive farm was impressive. On one such occasion, I just stood there in awe and said to myself “that is how I want to grow old” – happy, vibrant and energetic. When I was returning, she made traditional Italian almond biscuits for me and when I arrived back in England, I sent her a large pack of Walkers Pure Butter Shortbread.

Being present in the moment

During this one week tour all our days were organized in a very similar manner. We would hit the road at about 4:00, 5:00 or 6:00 AM for a sunrise shoot. We would return to Casa Picchiata for breakfast, then rest for a few hours before lunch. After lunch we would go and explore one of the many small towns in Tuscany. Some of them included Pienza, Sorano, Bagnoregio, Orvieto, Montepulciano, Pitigliano and San Gimignano. In the late afternoon we would go for a sunset shoot and then return to base.

But the most interesting part of the day that relates to the subject matter of this article is the change in my mindset that took place during the exploration of the above mentioned cities. My sense perceptions were magnified because I was in a new place, witnessing and at the same time admiring a different style of life – more laid-back, slow-paced, less hectic and more in sync with nature.

For example, I noticed that the people in Tuscany simply consume the foods that are more available for the season they are currently in. The more I was interested in the culture, the less I wanted to be somewhere else. I wanted to be there. I had totally forgotten about my daily routine of drinking a large glass of freshly made green (spinach, celery, cucumber, apple and lemon) juice. No yogurt-soaked granola garnished with strawberries and blueberries. And I did not even miss them. The point of diving into the ocean is not to quickly swim back to the shore but to luxuriate in the wetness of water and marvel at the power and size of the ocean.

Being confident that Jarek had the best plan for the day photography wise, helped me accept the situation as is. Impatience is usually another way of saying “I would rather be somewhere else and doing something else than being here right now”.

Most of the small towns where practically empty during the day. Imagine walking through a town and seeing only about 10 to 20 people. I had never experienced anything like it before. Sometimes laughing out loud felt like disturbing the peace and quiet. The stillness could not be ignored.

The realisation

The above mentioned circumstances all culminated into me being present in the moment. When you are in the moment, time suddenly drops out of your consciousness. And before I would notice, 2 hours would have gone by. In that time, I would have also taken some candid shots. It was on the fourth day, when we visited San Gimignano that we again encountered large crowds of people, lack of parking spots etc.

That was when I felt my impatience starting to come back. But coincidentally, that was also the moment I realised that I had been totally accepting and patient for the previous 3 days. I remembered the effect of that mind set on the way I carried myself through the day. So I consciously switched my mindset and carried on as before.

When you understand how your psychology affects your biology (i.e. how your mind affects your body), you are able to re-create mind states that you have had in the past. I think we all do this consciously or unconsciously. I can now do this with regards to street photography. I can bring undivided attention to a single subject in the middle of an over crowded setting without breaking a sweat. I can watch a developing scene and anticipate when a subject is going to do something interesting.

The Result

Find below one of the many candid images I have taken since returning from Tuscany. On this particular day, I walked around London for 4 hours in the rain with no expectation of what I would encounter. I was grateful to run into these two monks who made my day.

street photography of two monks walking in the rain towards Westminster bridge in London
street photography of a couple walking on the South Bank in London

If you are patient with anything or anyone, they cannot help it but eventually place themselves at your feet to be explored. I hope you feel inspired by the article to explore street photography.

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