There is making photography in a controlled studio, then there is open air street photography, and there is standing in line waiting to get food with a number of other hangry* people and trying to get a photo without (a) holding up the line and (b) being awfully conspicuous. The piece in this post was taken in Central Grocery, on Decatur in New Orleans. I know there are less touristy places, with possibly tastier muffuletta’s, than Central Grocery — but when you are in the Quarter anyway and hungry, there is nothing better.
I wanted to make a photo of the scene at the counter. The stacks and stacks of oils, meats, labels, and signage was incredibly attractive for a composition. So how to do it? Points in my favor — it was daylight, so I could shoot with a decent depth of field without having to shoot totally wide open. The line moved horizontally with the subject matter, so I was staying at roughly the same distance away from the scene (instead of a line that went straight up to the counter), and the counter was constantly abuzz with people and conversation. Points against — the line moved quickly, so not much time for fiddling with settings. It was crowded, so I had to make the photo while possibly being jostled and bumped.
First, deciding what lens to use. I was using my Canon A‑1, carrying my 50mm f/1.8 and 28mm f/2.8 lenses. I tried the 28, but it was too wide for the area — it felt distorted and possibly would have lost the feeling of a tight, integrated space. So with the 50mm, I was able to narrow the scene a little more selectively. Next step: metering! I tried Av mode and made a guess of f/5.6, which metered at 1/60 of a second. Good, but not quite good enough — when people are involved in a live scene, I generally want 1/100 or higher. So f/4 and 1/125sec was set manually. The last step was focusing. As mentioned, I was able to go on and focus before hand since the line was moving parallel to the counter. I focused on the big MUFFULETTA sign, and as I moved through the line, waited to be right in front of the cashier. Once there, I framed the image, waited a moment for the composition to come through and triggered the frame.
If the scene hadn’t appeared for me, I probably would have tried again when the next customers went up. If that still didn’t work, I would have gone for as bare a scene as possible. Maybe with just the cashier waiting on the next customer. I don’t know — hard to say what I would have done. But I knew from when I entered the Grocery (and was immediately in line) that I wanted to make a photo, and spending thirty seconds setting up the camera gave me the space to consider the composition.
The moral, if there is one here, is that IF you think a photo might be possible, you MUST be setup. For some cameras, that simply means taking off the lens cap. For others, it is a bit more work. Regardless, be prepared and be alert. It’s a beautiful world out there ready to be photographed, but only if you are ready.