Previously, we've spent some time looking for interesting shop fronts to photograph but now we want you to lift your eyes a little higher in search of a good shop sign and pay more attention to what's actually on display in the windows.
Displays in shop windows are designed to grab our attention and steer us towards the entrance of the shop in hope we'll part with our money. Some stores, particularly at Christmas, spend hours planning and then preparing their window displays. A lot of thought goes into how to use the space, what colours the mannequins should wear and how they should be posed making them an interesting photographic project as you walk down the High Street.
What Gear Do I Need?
A medium zoom lens will get you close to the signs without you having to borrow some ladders off a window cleaner and it'll also work for capturing shop windows too. You'll also need to carry a tripod if you plan on returning later in the evening when the neon's get switched on. It'll also help if you have a camera that performs well in low light and if you don't want the street reflected in your shot take a polariser along as well.
Have A Walk Along The High Street
There are lots and lots of shops on the High Street which means you don't just have to settle for the first shop you come across. Spend some time really looking at the displays paying attention to the colours, poses and other items they use to really make the window stand out. Remember, a more interesting display will give you a better looking image so a short observation walk is worth it. See if you can find shops that aren't chains. In Sheffield there are several retro clothing stores and a joke shop which always have unique and sometimes entertaining window displays. Fancy dress shops are another one that's almost guaranteed to have a loud and amusing window display to photograph.
Unless you want a photo that shows the display as well as what's happening on the street, which can work well sometimes, you'll need a way to minimise the reflection. Stepping further away from the window and using your zoom lens to fill the frame can help but the simplest and if you're on the edge of a road also the safest way to do it is to fit a polarising filter. This will reduce the reflection and give you a clear shot of what's inside. If you find the sun causes glare just move your feet to remove the problem or if that doesn't work come back later on when the sun's changed position.
Work From A Higher Level
When it comes to signs, when you stand on the street and look up at them, it's fine when you're looking for the nearest bakery but in your photos it won't always work. To combat this, just step a little further back or better still find something to stand on that will give you a little more height. You could try holding the camera above your head but this won't help you with framing unless you have a camera that features a vari-angle LCD screen.
Photo by David Clapp
To Zoom Or Not To Zoom?
If a sign's particularly interesting or amusing zoom right in and fill the frame with the sign. Or are you going to put them into context showing some of the street or the shop front in the shot? If you do include the store pop on a polariser so you don't catch your reflection in the windows. This works particularly well with old buildings or with unique stores that have displays that will add to the image.
Standing at one end of the High Street quite close to the buildings looking up will give you the chance to capture several signs all in one shot or try waiting until the sun's began to set and photograph the many neon signs that decorate our streets. Just watch for camera shake as you'll be using slightly longer exposures and take a look around your image to see if there's any flare from some of the lights. Having said that, this can work well sometimes, especially on wet evenings.
In busy towns and cities you'll find plenty of signs, often grouped together, along the tall buildings that line the streets. If possible, find a higher spot, as you do when shooting a cityscape, and use a wider focal length to capture the signs and buildings in one image. They can look busy but the bright signs and bustling surroundings will really sum-up the feeling of a busy city.
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