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Capturing Urban ‘Kaleidoscopes’: The Street Photographer's Manual

Posted on 06 Feb 2020

This extract by David Gibson offers practical advice on how to ‘double-up’.

David Gibson, Bangkok; 2013

David Gibson is one of the founder members of In-Public, the first modern international collective of street photographers. David has taken street photographs since the early 1990s and is now a highly respected photography tutor, running workshops in London and other cities worldwide. The following project by Gibson offers practical advice on how to ‘double-up’.

Another type of reflection is the mirror or kaleidoscope effect, what might be called simply ‘doubling up’. It is a technique that I have always instinctively used because you cannot always chase the obvious in street photography. You have to look up and down, seek different perspectives from which to shoot and generally search out alternatives.

We are surrounded by surfaces and buildings that are not always opaque backgrounds that stop dead, as it were, for photographs. They can be transparent or half transparent. More significantly, they can reflect back, distort and surprise. We do not always look at this parallel world because we know that it is not real, we take it for granted; but remember the imagination of children and how naturally fascinated they can be when noticing their reflection on the street and how they’ll spontaneously play with it. This is what street photographers do; they understand more than the child but they seek to play with their surroundings. Using reflections to split photographs in half – with one half mimicking the other in reverse – is a trick favoured by many photographers because it can be ingenuous and a little surreal. At ground level you have to position yourself tight against the reflection, so that the split is roughly in the middle. This ‘doubling-up’ image [see above] was taken from a high perspective in Bangkok; it continues the high perspective concept, but the main intrigue here was the cleaner by the side of the glass building. With her blue top, blue bucket and mop, she is central to the series of photographs.

I was struck by her reflected doubling-up shape in the glass wall. Immediately there was a central symmetry that might be added to by the people passing by. I had time and was unseen – always a good combination – and was keen to fill out the corners of the frame, so that everything was balanced but provided a pleasing kaleidoscope shape.

I took 20 frames, which is a reasonable amount, feeling, as I often do, that I’d naturally exhausted most possibilities. How long to linger and at what point does it start to feel strained, with too many pictures? I think that there is some sort of internal nudge that comes into play, almost a reminder to not push your luck. Luck is precious and it should come naturally.

There was plenty of even daylight in this scene and because I wanted the passing figures to be sharp, I had the shutter speed of 1/500 of a second.

David Gibson, London; 2012

The other short series [above/below] was shot in London and taken at street level. I was interested in the man’s reflection at a bus stop but was aware that it was not enough, it needed another element. I then saw the newspaper seller coming along. Everything was set up and I took just one vertical shot as he suddenly came into the frame. This was better; it was much more of a kaleidoscope.

David Gibson, London; 2012

Doubling up is a great way to develop a good sense of composition and balance, although admittedly it could be viewed as an exercise. Too many photographs would potentially be bland, and that would prompt a challenge – to make each double photograph appear fresh. An awareness of this technique offers another avenue to explore and slows you down, because it often requires standing in one spot. To people passing by – who might be vital for your photograph – it can appear as if your focus is not on them but on some sort of reflection. It is easy to give this impression and then at the right moment swivel the frame to include them.