I'm going to make a bold statement and say that Shoreditch is the best place in London for street photography. Controversial? Maybe. But it has a strong case for wearing the crown.
The west side of E1 is a hive of activity and diversity and a terrific canvas upon which to create: market stalls, narrow alleyways, graffiti-strewn walls, open spaces, architecture and, of course, the people that made it so popular.
I spent yesterday morning – a beautifully sunny, autumnal morning – shooting in and around Old Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane with friends. In the space of a few hours we had collectively racked up an impressive range of subjects: bicycles, stall-owners, food, cars, turntables, churches, artists, dancers, barbers, shopfronts, and buskers. It’s overwhelming and chaotic and utterly inspiring. It is the ultimate street photographer’s playground.
Chinatown has always been one of favourite spots but it is tiny by comparison. Shoreditch is sprawling. You can lose the crowds just as easily as you can throw yourself into the busy heart of the streets. At this point there will be some of you eager to remind me of a little place called Camden. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy visiting Camden – I used to live just a stone’s throw away – and it offers a wealth of photographic opportunity. But if I was forced to pick one or the other I would head east.
I spent the morning using nothing but a 50mm and my standard street photography settings:
Auto-ISO (maxing out at 3200)
Minimum shutter speed of 1/100s
If I had a specific photo in mind that I wanted to capture I would consider going manual but there is so much going on that I find the above settings are my preferred options for keeping up with the pace. Amazingly, during the course of a 3 hour shoot I didn’t even get a chance to use my beloved Fuji X100S. Those of you who know me well will know just how much of an X100S fanboy I am; that I didn't find time to use it should illustrate just how many opportunities there are. It is constant.
My advice? Spend a day in Shoreditch. Whether you’re looking to develop your portfolio or simply want to practice your skills, it will work your eye and keep you on your toes like few other places in London. And don't worry if you feel conspicuous thrusting a camera into a stall to get a close-up of some artisan bread or risking a sneaky shot of a graffiti artist; there are so many photographers working these streets that you’ll feel out of place if you don’t have a camera in hand.
So here are my top tips when out in the playground:
Pack light – you’ll be doing a lot of walking
Abide by the usual street photography mantra: use a wide angle prime to force yourself to get close
Look up, otherwise you will miss a lot
Old Spitalfields Market is especially great for contrasting light and shadow
Use the walls as backdrops and wait for the right moment to come along and complete the scene
Be aware that not all stall-owners will want their merchandise photographed
Make sure you eat out!