bertrand bernager sony alpha 7riii black and white architectural view from below

How I Shoot | Turning the City into a Photographer’s Playground

Bertrand Bernager

I have been extremely lucky growing up and learning photography on the streets of Paris. Big cities are fantastic places for street photography as there is so much going on and so many different types of buildings and locations. This gives you the opportunity to try different things and really learn your craft quickly.

For the latest few years I have been shooting not just in Paris, but cities around the world, at first with the Sony α6000, and now with the α7R III.

bertrand bernager sony alpha 7riii woman in red walking in front of a historical building © Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7R III + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 1/160s @ f/8.0, ISO 100

The City is a Playground

Cities are like a maze. I see every day as an opportunity, a new challenge of trying to find locations and capture scenes that haven’t been shot before. So, my first piece of advice is to simply enjoy the city and walking around it. Go and explore your town or city and look at it with a fresh pair of eyes.

bertrand bernager sony alpha 7riii woman sitting on a blue bench in front of a tower scaled © Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7R III + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 1/200s @ f/8.0, ISO 50

When I think I have found a scene to photograph, I like to stop and take a second or two to observe what is going on before taking an image. I am looking for something magical; it may be a special light, or just something that really captures the mood and the atmosphere of the city at that particular time. The key, though, is stopping to look before shooting.

Don’t Shoot the Obvious

The most important thing for me is to try and reproduce the atmosphere, the energy, the DNA of a city. It is easy to shoot a picture-postcard image of a city like New York. You may get a good picture as a result, but we will have all seen such an image 1,000 times before. Instead, look for interesting compositions or colours to try and make your pictures original - add something of you own to each image.

bertrand bernager sony alpha 7riii red cab reflection in a japanese steet scaled © Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7R III + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 1/125s @ f/8.0, ISO 400

One exercise to train yourself to explore a scene and find something different, is to take the obvious shot then simply move around the scene. Try shooting lower, higher, or look in the opposite direction. Try to find another image to take. Over time you will start to naturally look and find different compositions aside from the regular tourist images.

bertrand bernager sony alpha 7riii view from above yellow building scaled © Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7R III + FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA | 1/80s @ f/5.0, ISO 500

Timing Is Everything

Like any other genre of photography, light is incredibly important. I take a lot of images at sunrise and sunset. I really like to wake up early in the morning at, say, 5am or 6am to take the first light in the street. I enjoy shooting at this time, as the light is magical and there is almost nobody in the street.

bertrand bernager sony alpha 7riii red lantern in a sunny street © Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7R III + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 1/250s @ f/8.0, ISO 200

One of the ways I like to introduce some atmosphere and magic is by shooting directly in to the sun. I like to play with the light and how it creates reflections, flare and star burst. Some people don’t like the effect and try to avoid it, but for me it really creates energy.

bertrand bernager sony alpha 7riii three person crossing the champs elysees avenue © Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7R III + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/1600s @ f/2.8, ISO 400

To find the best light, I will use apps that can track where the sun will be in the sky at different times of the day and then I will aim to be at the right space at the right time for the light. I still don’t know the exact image that I will take, but I will know that the light will be hitting a building or street at a certain angle and then the job for me is just to make the most of the affect it is creating.

Spend Quality Time on the Edit

I will spend almost the same amount of time editing as I will have spent out shooting - a full day of shooting will produce enough images for a full days’ worth of editing.

bertrand bernager sony alpha 7riii black and white shot from the center of a building © Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7R III + FE 12-24mm f/4 G | 1/40s @ f/5.6, ISO 400

When editing, I concentrate on the contrast level to bring out the strong black and white tones and then turn my focus on the colour and the shape. I really like having orange hues in my images, so I will play with the images to bring this to the fore, but the key is identifying the colours you want to elevate and working to get the contrasts to a happy balance.

Give Yourself a Project

One thing I like to do is to set myself a project to try and create a series of images that work well together. I recently went to Singapore and set myself an architectural project. I changed my way of working, and used the FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens on my α7R III to shoot black and white abstract minimalist images. I looked for very minimalist compositions with lots of linear elements.

bertrand bernager sony alpha 7riii japanese temple with sunlight © Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7R III + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 1/250s @ f/8.0, ISO 200

Having a project to work on helps to give you focus and a motive to push yourself and try something new, and become a better photographer.

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Bertrand Bernager

Bertrand Bernager | France

"Through photography I try to track the light, sublimate the movement, capture the moment"

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