Did you ever see a great street photograph, and wonder– “How did that street photographer make that photo?” If you’re curious like me — study CONTACT SHEETS (the behind-the-scenes of how a photographer made an image):

One of the benefits of shooting film: you can create ‘contact sheets‘, which is essentially a behind-the-scenes look into the mind of another photographer.

The best book for education is ‘Magnum Contact Sheets‘; which has given me a phenomenal master-class in street photography. I learned how the masters made the shots they did.


Lessons

henri-cartier-bresson-contact-sheets-magnum

When you study contact sheets, here are practical lessons:

  1. Never take just 1 photo of a scene. “Work the scene” to increase your chance fo making a good photo. Download PDF on Working the Scene >
  2. You never know when you will make a good photo. Take LOTS of photos of the same scene, to increase your chance of making a good photo.
  3. Vary your angles, distances, perspectives, and compositions/camera orientation (horizontal/vertical) when you’re shooting. When you go home, choose your favorite photos.
  4. Sometimes the best shot is in the beginning, sometimes in the middle, sometimes at the very last shot! So don’t give up; when you think you got a good shot, shoot 25% more than you think you should!

Related Articles:

Jean Gaumy contact sheet- women burka - shooting guns2

 

  1. Debunking the “Myth of the Decisive Moment”
  2. How Studying Contact Sheets Can Make You a Better Street Photographer

Below is a further analysis of some of the famous master photographers:


Robert Frank

Bored elevator girl:

0 robert frank elevator girl contact

elevator girl - robert frank

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Children playing at broken wall, Seville.

Note, Cartier-Bressson didn’t just capture 1 ‘decisive moment’. He caught 2 moments, but chose the initial shot.

henri_cartier-bresson_seville_espagne_1933_d5494202ghenri-cartier-bresson-contact-sheets-magnum


Rene Burri

High angle shots of women walking by, with men looking at them:

rene burri contact sheet1rene burri contact sheet2


Eve Arnold

Malcom X:

eve arnold.jpg


Richard Kalvar

Woman looking at herself in mirror:

Richard Kalvar.jpg

richard kalvar contact sheets2richard kalvar contact sheets3richard kalvar contact sheets4richard kalvar contact sheets5richard kalvar contact sheets6richard kalvar contact sheets7richard kalvar contact sheets8

Another by Kalvar: Boy with funny glasses in Italy:

Richard Kalvar - milhouse glasses.jpg

Martine Franck

Boy by pool:

MARTINE FRANCK - contact sheet- boy by pool1MARTINE FRANCK - contact sheet- boy by pool2MARTINE FRANCK - contact sheet- boy by pool3MARTINE FRANCK - contact sheet- boy by pool4

Playful monk, dove totally falling on the monk’s head by chance!

martine franck - playful monk and dove1martine franck - playful monk and dove2martine franck - playful monk and dove3martine franck - playful monk and dove4


Steve McCurry

Women huddled around in sandstorm (shot on Kodachrome slide film):

steve mccurry contact sheet sandstorm1steve mccurry contact sheet sandstorm2


Bruce Gilden

Bruce Gilden gets 3 ‘keepers’ in one roll of film!

bruce gilden contact sheet - on shoulders1bruce gilden contact sheet - on shoulders2bruce gilden contact sheet - on shoulders3bruce gilden contact sheet - on shoulders4

Bruce Gilden and Yakuza: he saw an interesting scene of a “lesser” yakuza lighting the cigarette of a higher-ranking yakuza member, and he asked them: “Light his cigarette again!”. Note in the photo, the cigarette is already partly burned:

bruce gilden - yakuza cigarette contact sheet1bruce gilden - yakuza cigarette contact sheet2bruce gilden - yakuza cigarette contact sheet3


Martin Parr

Parr actually was so poor when he shot his project, ‘The Last Resort’, that he initially saw this contact sheet in black and white.

Parr shot the project with flash, medium-format film, on a medium-format 6×7 rangefinder:

martin parr - the last resort contact sheet1martin parr - the last resort contact sheet2


Jean Gaumy

Women in burkas in Iran, 1986, practicing shooting guns:

Jean Gaumy contact sheet- women burka - shooting guns1Jean Gaumy contact sheet- women burka - shooting guns2Jean Gaumy contact sheet- women burka - shooting guns3


Eli Reed

Kids playing soccer in Africa, note how intense they look in the shot that Eli chose, yet the other photos the kids are smiling!

Lesson: A photographer will always ‘edit’ reality, by choosing a photo which suits his/her artistic/philosophical vision:

eli reed contact sheets - kids in africa1eli reed contact sheets - kids in africa2eli reed contact sheets - kids in africa3eli reed contact sheets - kids in africa4eli reed contact sheets - kids in africa5eli reed contact sheets - kids in africa6


Jacob Aue Sobol

When he shot his ‘Sabine’ project– a personal documentary of his love:

Jacob Aue Sobol - sabine.jpg


Chien-Chi Chang

He often will sketch his photographs from memory, before looking at the photos themselves:

Chien-Chi Chang contact sheet sketch monk1Chien-Chi Chang contact sheet sketch monk2


ERIC KIM

R0003340 - pickR0003341R0001531 - BEST0-one eye contact - mikieR0000449 - BEST - burned1-contact-braids-nycR0001496 - BEST0-bart-hat

Asking this woman to turn around to face me, reminds me like Vermeer’s “Girl with Pearl Earring”. Shot with flash:

R0003670 - PICK - flash.jpg

contact sheet back tattoo copy.jpg

Mikie with one eye: asking him to move around, and getting him in the corridor. Lesson: Don’t be shy, he looked ‘scary’ but he was super friendly! I ended up checking out his soundcloud (he raps on the side), and now he has a dope profile picture:

R0001531 - BEST-1.jpg

0-one eye contact - mikie-1.jpg


ERIC KIM CONTACT SHEETS

LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheets from MASTERS
LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheet

If you’re curious more about how to “work the scene” in street photography, download my full-resolution contact sheets for your own self-education and learning with the links below:

DOWNLOAD

For your convenience, I have a selection of my contact sheets as a .ZIP file (very big at 2.5GB) available for you to download via Google Drive or Dropbox below:

All of these photos are open-source; meaning, feel free to print, distribute, remix, or share them with others.


Directory preview


Learn the importance of “working the scene”:

Which Photos Should I Keep or Ditch?

Contact Sheet Books:

Contact Sheet Articles:


Contact Sheets

0-contact cindy hat hanoi eric kim street photography hanoi-0002040 cindy project hat hanoi

(c) Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos. Contact sheet by Henri Cartier Bresson, from Magnum Contact Sheets
Robert Frank Elevator Girl Contact Sheet

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