Head On in Rome

I’ve been working through the shots I got in Rome, and boy there are not only loads, but so many keepers. As a break from sorting and preparing the blog posts, (I still have many to come), I took a few that I hadn’t put aside for blogs, to load to Flickr. I amazed myself that there were quite a few that would make a really good post.

It was whilst opening the following shot and titling it “Head On” that I got the idea for this post.

Head On
Head On

Do you know that feeling when you see the shot and open it up larger to process it and you think, WOW! ? Well this was just that shot. There are no false facial expressions of laughter, ignorance, disgust or anything else, just walking towards me and realising the camera is pointing straight at her. I was actually taking a shot of someone else and she came round them and straight towards me. I was shooting on the shaded side of the sheet and when opening the shot thought that added to the overall feel. So you could call the shot the “Title Track” for the post.


This was another shot that was in the uncategorised shots, and another “Head On”. I debated whether to convert this one as it was so strong in colour, but hey, it looks great in B&W too.

Beauty in Front of Me
Beauty in Front of Me

It is such a great feeling when you get that head on and the eyes are looking straight at you. I have said before about people disagreeing about eye contact and that one way is the proper “Street” way. I won’t swear but it is for the individual to decide. It doesn’t bother me. I like both types of shots for different reasons, but when getting head on shots the person quiet often closes their eyes, diverts their eyes or just looks away. So when you get the Head On with eyes looking at you, even with shades on, it is a buzz. Tell me this isn’t a great Head On shot!

Always A Pleasure
Always A Pleasure

I gave it that title because I think that is what the expression is, “Never A Joy, Always A Pleasure”. Then again I may have it wrong.


There is a great buzz when getting the “Head On” shot. I think it is the adrenalin rush of the fight or flight. You are standing your ground, and it would be easy to drop the camera down and not take the shot, but to stand there and just shoot is what I think is one of the big buzzes of “Street”. I know when starting out, for me anyway, and I suspect for others, it was a longer lens, then gradually you are looking for more, or something different. The lens gets smaller and sharper, and being closer to the subject there does seem more of a connection.

The Bee Keeper at The Colosseum
The Bee Keeper at The Colosseum

Occasionally people contact me asking for advice on shooting “Street”, and what camera and settings I use. I tell them I use the same camera I bought for taking any shots.

In my opinion it doesn’t matter that much which camera you use, I have seen people with top Canons and Nikons and their work in my opinion isn’t that good, then others who have an entry level camera and their shots are fantastic. I would say though that the lens you use should be fast. Whether you want to use a Zoom, Telephoto or Prime is your choice and what you feel comfortable with, but use a wide aperture.

As I said, I started with a longer lens, and as I became more confident, so the lens grew smaller. I now use the Nikkor 85mm as that is what I am most happy with. I did use the 50mm for a while, but wasn’t happy as it didn’t seem close enough. I know I could get closer but that is out of my comfort zone, although I do push it now and again. But the biggest advice I can give anyone is what I picked up. Practice, practice and practice even more, and do it to suit you and nobody else.


Off your phone
Off your phone

I make no apologies for shooting mostly women. I just find there is so much more variation. They are different shapes, hair colour, a much wider variety of clothing, stance, and so many more things. With men they seem a lot more similar unless they are wearing unusual clothing, facial hair, or stand out characteristics. Maybe this is down to me being a male and my natural attraction to women, that they stand out more to me.

Pretty Photographer
Pretty Photographer

There are many techniques to get Head On shots. In this shot below I was walking along the street and saw the woman walking towards me further along the street. There were people walking in front of both of us, so I slowed so that the people in front of me went ahead. As the people in front of her passed me I lifted the camera and run off a few shots on burst mode.

Pretty in a Hat
Pretty in a Hat

Hiding from the heat
Hiding from the heat

The shot above and below were both shot in the area around the Colosseum. The difference with these is that I was stationary and as I saw them coming towards me I just lifted the camera and ran some shots off. In this situation you can then just walk away, or just keep the camera to your eye and let them pass so it looks like you were focusing on something behind them. Another technique is that when you get your shot, stand to the side with your eye still to the viewfinder, so that it looks as though they were in your way and you were looking at something behind them. This frequently gets a sorry, so with a smile I tell them it’s OK.

I used the step aside technique for the shot above, but with the shot below I used a different one. I got the shots I wanted then lowered the camera and smiled. The reason I did this was due to the slight smile from the girl. Although you have only a fraction of a second to read someone, it is amazing how quick your brain reacts. Added to that is experience, and you only get that with practice.

The iPad Camera
The iPad Camera

I took the following shot outside the Colosseum Metro Station. I was walking amongst the people who were gathered there and getting shots. I saw this fellow and immediately thought he looked like a chunkier version of Ghandi. Maybe it was just his glasses and bald head, but that is what flitted through my mind. I walked in front of him and as he turned, looked at me. I got the shot and moved on.

Ghandi Lookalike?
Ghandi Lookalike?

The Best Photo You'll Ever Take
The Best Photo You’ll Ever Take

Walking down the street and stopping is a great technique. If you stop too soon, or lift the camera too soon you will see the people step to the side, close their eyes or just look away.
I do like it when I get any interaction with the subject and these 2 shots gave me that.

In the one above, the guy was walking towards me so I lifted the camera and shot. He said to me, “If you’ve taken my photo it will be the best photo you have ever taken”. What a great reaction from someone who doesn’t seem to mind his photo being taken.

This is often the difficulty in street shooting, and also what gives the buzz, that you are taking a fraction of a second to get the shot and don’t know what the reaction will be.

With the final shot of the Blog I was shooting in Piazza Navona, when I saw this man and boy with soaking wet hair and T shirts in front of me and a woman standing to the side. I assume they had been dipping their heads in the fountain. The man had some sort of grip in his hair. As I walked along the woman stood in front of the man and was laughing. I walked behind the man so I was looking directly at the woman. She looked up laughed even more and what a lovely fun shot it makes. She shrieked out and said something to her husband in a language I don’t know, and laughed even more. I lowered the camera and burst out laughing, waved to her and smiled before walking away.

Mobile Hairdresser
Mobile Hairdresser

I like all of these shots for differing reasons. Whether they be serious or funny, light hearted or a harsh look, they all gave me a buzz. This is why I like “Street”. Millions and Millions of different people in so many different situations in so many places, the possibilities are endless.

So the advice I would give anyone Shooting “Head On” or any other “Street” is get out there and practice. When you have done that practice even more. Did I get that over, that you need to practice.

I enjoy writing the blog and presenting my shots as it gives me a buzz, but nowhere near when out shooting and getting the shot.

P.S. To anyone who subscribes to the blog. You would have got a sneak preview of the beginnings of this post in your mail. This wasn’t a teaser, just being late in the day and I hit the Publish Button instead of the Save Draft. Oops!

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7 thoughts on “Head On in Rome

  1. Wow Wayne you are really on a roll, some super portraits here, but my favorite is “Hiding from the heat” and of course the “Mobile hairdresser” is very very good, another great article, you are becoming a super prolific blogger, hope thats right, I have had a couple of glasses of vino!! Very well done.

    • Wine Baz? What’s new! 🙂 I really enjoy it but each one takes a while as I like to get it right.

  2. I definitely want to get a lens where I need to get in close to get the shot. I think my general discomfort with being too close to strangers is part of why I keep a safe distance. I use my zoom lens because a lot of times I see something interesting across the street, or down the street, and wouldn’t have time to get close enough to make the shot interesting. It is helpful although it does make me lazy sometimes.

    I *love* the last two shots because the people in them seem so good natured. I loved the swagger of the man in the “The Best Photo You’ll Ever Take”. That would have made me laugh out loud. I also love how genuinely happy the woman in “Mobile Hairdresser” seems to be. It’s people like that who make street photography really memorable.

    • Tina you need a good Prime Lens. I would recommend the 85mm.

      You don’t have to get too close, but the much wider aperture would make your shots zing, really separating the subject from the background, and when you see the bokeh you can achieve with the wide aperture you will be over the moon.

      You will find that you will soon get used to the new lens and you will adapt to it and watch your shooting grow.

  3. I think this is one of your best posts yet…..no, in fact for me, it is!

    The images are superb and the information and advice is second to none.
    I did have a small smirk on my face when you described the ‘step aside’ technique, that’s what I do.
    I take a couple of bursts and either keep the camera to my eye with a side step or I pretend I’m checking the shot on the screen and take another shot of the scene behind the person as they carry on by just to sow that seed of doubt in their mind.

    I took one of a guy who was standing right next to me using his phone and I just stood there with my camera to my eye, finger on the button for about at least 30 seconds, waiting and hoping for him to turn and face me. When he did I took the shots and then admired the scenery behind him. I don’t think he said anything because he probably thought nobody could be that cheeky…or could they? ;0P

    The last shot is the best and one which will stay in my mind for a long time to come…. right next to the waitress in the sunshine shot.
    Keep them coming.

  4. I like your style of writing posts. There is this one blog that I used to read, but not so much anymore, specifically because the tone of the blog became too preachy. It was like I was being lectured instead of being given tips on how to be a better (street) photographer. I much prefer your style of writing. You just say and show how you do things, and leave it up to your readers to take what they will from your posts. For me, I never really used to care for black and white. It depressed me for some reason. But seeing your shots, which are mostly black and white but convey such happiness and life, has led me to experiment more with black and white and break out of my comfort zone.

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