An Interview with Street Photographer Steve Coleman

Steve Coleman is a street photographer from Liverpool, UK. For him, street photography is purest of all forms and he’s very careful and meticulous in his approaches. Most of his work is discreet but the level of engagement is very impressive. The interpretation and critical appreciations of his own pictures on his blog is a refined and precise attempt at understanding and cultivating this art. He is very strict with himself and makes available a very small body of his work at his website but all his images are fantastic, promising, and they leave you wanting for more. We also noticed it in his images that they are very clean- even when there are a lot of subjects and characters in them. In his shot above, the eyes study each and every individual and their without distractions. It seemed to us staged for nowadays it’s difficult to find so many people standing together but not hooked to their gadgets; no wonder Steve aptly calls it “Humans”. Here’s our Q&A with him showcased with his choicest images:

steven_coleman_photography (2)Please tell us about yourself:

My name is Steve Coleman, originally born in Dartford, Kent UK, I currently live in Liverpool in the UK and have done so for the past 20 years. I left school with very few qualifications, but as a mature student I gained a degree in Music technology. By day I’m Radio Producer and journalist for the BBC and by night I’m a street photographer and also a keen motorcyclist.

steven_coleman_photography (3)Tell us about your relationship with photography. How do balance your full-day work and your passion?

Probably like most people I’ve been taking pictures for a long time, approx 25 years or so, but only in the past 4-5 years I have decided to dedicate my time to it seriously. I say seriously… but it actually means more consistently, I’m not sure I could describe my photography as serious as it’s just such a joy to do!

steven_coleman_photography (4)I don’t have a problem balancing work with taking pictures. I have my camera with me all the time, and just shoot as and when I can. I guess editing, post producing and them blogging them is the time killer, but I’m pretty hard on myself and tend to only post one picture at a time, say 2 a month, regardless of how many I take. I only choose 2-3 images from every session which can be anything unto 300-400 shots. I think it best for me to be very critical of my own work, I feel I develop as a photographer this way.

steven_coleman_photography (5)How did you develop a keen interest in street photography? You’re also documenting society and world with your insightful commentaries on your blog; how do you interpret a photograph?

I have always been interested in people, who they are and where they are going or have been. I really am a people watcher, expressions and behaviors. I find us humans strange beasts, over complicated and always searching for something. Plus on a very simple level, I like the immediacy of street photography- one camera, one lens, and open your front door and the journey and story begins!

Interpretation is difficult to explain… I don’t really like to analyse my work too much after the fact, but rather try to remember exactly how I felt at the moment the picture was taken. For me the subjects in a photograph play only a small part, I believe the emotion and feeling a picture holds is more important.

steven_coleman_photography (6)Tell us about your equipment, preferred settings, your views on editing and photo manipulation:

This is really simple for me. I mainly use a Fuji XPro1 with a 35mm lens, which of course equates to 52mm due to the crop sensor. I only own one other, the 18mm lens which I haven’t used in a while, but when I do it takes me a while to get used to the focal length all over again. I find the 35 is perfect for the streets around Liverpool and Manchester. Settings again are kept simple, auto ISO with a shutter speed of 1/125sec or aperture priority. Auto focus mainly but do with to manual depending on the circumstances. I think Street photography by its nature needs to be as simple as possible, it’s about being ready to get the shot and not messing about works best for me. I also recently purchased a Yashica Electro35 film camera which I love, I haven’t used much yet but come the spring and better light I aim to shoot much more film.

steven_coleman_photography (7)I always post produce in Lightroom and utilise Silver FX pro for the black and white shots. I have no problem with post production at all, times have changed and with it technology, a bit of editing isn’t new, dodging and burning and cropping in the darkroom was fine back in the day! Having said that, I never try to retrieve an image during post production, if it’s not good enough in the 1st place it goes in the virtual bin!

steven_coleman_photography (8)What is your method of shooting on streets? Do you carefully plan a shot or just follow your heart?

I’m always trying to look for a different perspective or angle, I love the work of Saul Leiter, William Egglestone and Daido Moriyama. They saw beyond the ordinary and it’s what I’d ultimately try to have in my mind. I really try to avoid the obvious constraints that photography has in a technical sense. I push subjects just off the edge of the frame or I’ll try to blur or take a picture just off focus. Of course this depends on what feeling I hope to convey. It’s not easy and I’m not sure how often I actually succeed, but the fun is in the trying!

steven_coleman_photography (9)The great thing about street photography is just finding a spot to stand for a while, or pounding the street for miles wondering what’s around the corner. It’s all discovery, every moment. The process drives me regardless of whether I get the shot or not.

Do you have a favorite photo or a photo having a great story behind it?

I’m way too critical of myself to have a favourite. I don’t know if this is because I haven’t taken it yet really. I’m not so critical that I don’t like my photos, I do, but I’m always looking for the next one, so I don’t dwell on them for long, only long enough to see if I achieved what I set out too.

steven_coleman_photography (10)What are your views on contemporary photography with an influx of images pouring in every moment?

I love photography, the more contemporary the better. There’s always something to see in a photograph. Sure I like Street as a style the most, and if I’m honest landscapes don’t really do it for me, I don’t think we can blame the photographers of photographs for our own boredom, if you’re bored looking at pictures then try something else, it might be time to move onto pastures new.

steven_coleman_photography (11)Tell us about your plans ahead and your favorite stuff… things that inspire you:

Eventually I’d like to have a body of work that would make a great set of images with some beauty and emotion. Get it printed and hope others could see something in it. But I try not to set myself goals like that, I like what I do and that’s really the main thing. Of course it’s great when other people like your work and that in itself does motivate me. Inspiration is out there on the streets, I love the hunt for the next image. I really have time for the photographers I’ve already mentioned, Saul Leiter, William Egglestone and Daido Moriyama but there are so many it’s hard to compile a list. William Egglestone’s quote “I am at war with the ordinary” is a real mantra for me in street photography. As street photographers that’s what we all are always trying to see, beyond the ordinary, and when we do, I feel like we truly understand the medium.

steven_coleman_photography (12)Something to say to our readers?

Never try to please others, only yourself. It’s easy to fall into the social media trap and directly or indirectly be influenced by how many ‘likes’ a picture may get. Ignore this! I’d also say be patient, but hard on yourself, it really does help to progress. I don’t like seeing people post too many pictures, if you really look hard you can definitely narrow your selection down to a few a month. It’s not a race for quantity, it’s only a race to be able to say “that’s a good shot!”.

steven_coleman_photography (13) steven_coleman_photography (14) steven_coleman_photography (15) steven_coleman_photography (16) steven_coleman_photography (17) steven_coleman_photography (18) steven_coleman_photography (19) steven_coleman_photography (20)All photos © Steve Coleman links: Website


About Nishant Mishra

Nishant studied art history and literature at the university during 1990s. He works as a translator in New Delhi, India and likes to read about arts, photography, films, life-lessons and Zen.

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