Changsha Streets (10 of 10)

Street Shooter: Colin Bissessar


                    My name is Colin Bissessar. I’m 46 years-old from Canada but I live in China. I visited China 10 years ago and fell in love    with the     place and stayed ever since. I’m not in one of the larger cities. I live in Changsha,  the capital of Hunan province in  south-central China. That’s not to say there are few people here. There are about 8 million people in Changsha but for China that only ranks about 20th by population. I work in the Foreign Languages Department of Changsha Normal University. (Normal denotes a Teachers College). My job involves a lot of speaking and so when not working I’m usually quiet. Unless I’m having a few beers, then I tend to be loud and annoying.

                     You can see some of my work on my blog. changshanotes

  • How or when did you start in photography?

I never had much interest in photography before last year. Sure, I would take a little compact camera with me when I went on holidays for snapshots but it always felt like something I should do rather than wanted to do. I’m not very sentimental so I rarely look back at old photos and I would often wonder what the point was of taking them at all. The feeling that I was not doing it for myself but for others was not appealing.
Last year during the summer after some pestering from people back in Canada to show them more of China and coinciding with a planned holiday I decided to buy another camera. For years I had been using only an iPhone. One of the great things about living in areas with a lot of people is that it’s easy to have ‘hands on’ with potential purchases. It was the size of mirrorless cameras that brought me into photography. It wouldn’t be annoying to carry.
Since they are more complicated than compacts I wanted to learn how to use them before my trip and I loved it. The science of the technical aspects mixed with the art, the feel of making the image. I’m really annoyed I didn’t get into it earlier.

  • Did you like working in black and white? Tell us the pros and cons

-Yes,  I like it very much but not exclusively. I found shooting in B&W has helped me learn how to ‘see’ better. Stripping away some of the reality of the scene makes me look at a potential shot in a different way and notice more than just the main subject of the photo. It has helped me learn to pay more attention to light and shadow. Taking colour
out of the equation gives one less thing to worry about but it also takes away a potential main attraction to a photo.

These days I’ve been shooting more in colour as I’m trying to learn to see the relationship between different colours better. Sometimes I will convert these shots to B&W.
I don’t really have a style yet, I’m still in the process of learning the most basic of things so I often change what and how I’m shooting just to learn.

  • How did you begin shooting street photography? 

-It’s what I see, what draws my attention.  It’s also needs the least amount of equipment. I’m a beginner and don’t have a lot of equipment built up yet. Good portrait hotography needs proper use and understanding of flashes, landscapes need tripods and maybe filters and time, Macro needs different lenses but for street photography, I just need to have my camera with me as I’m going some place.

Right now, I don’t have a lot of time to dedicate for photo shoots but I shoot something almost every day. I just take my camera everywhere I go. I may leave an hour earlier to go to work or take a long walk after work but that’s about it. I also like that I don’t have time to take the shot. I have to think quickly about my settings and composition
and get the shot. Try to predict what will happen in a situation to get the shot at the right time. You can’t hesitate and when I miss a shot because I’m fumbling with settings or missed the light it’s frustrating but also motivating to get better. I don’t ‘spray and pray’. I don’t think there’s is anything wrong with doing so, I just don’t like doing it. I like the feeling of taking one shot and getting it or missing it. Most of the time right now I miss.

  • What advice and techniques do you have for photographers who arestarted in SP?

Nothing ground breaking of course and I’m hardly an expert to be doling out advice

  • Know your camera : Be able to change settings by feel. It should become an extension of your eye
  • Learn the basic rules of photography: Understand ‘The Exposure Triangle’, Learn basic rules of composition, framing, light etc.
  • Break all the rulesIt’s like a sport. Work on your fundamentals until they are as instinctual as they can be, then play with freedom.
  • Be polite If someone doesn’t want their picture taken, don’t take it.
  • Change your angle I love the viewfinder on my camera but I often take street photos using the LCD because it allows me to easily get a different perspective.
  • Use one focal length at a time I think shooting with prime lenses is important when starting. It’s not about better lenses but by learning to use your feet to get the shot rather than just zooming in and out.
  • Let others see your work Join an online community, post your photos. Let other people see your photos. Take both praise and criticism with a grain of salt
  • Take lots of photos often.  Practice makes perfect, right?
  • Shoot for yourself.

I have some photos that no one likes except for me. That’s ok. I take the photos to make myself happy. If others also like them… Great but that’s not the main draw of doing it.

  • What is your favourite focal length?

My favorite lens is 40mm but my most used is 35mm. I think as a beginner the 35 or even something  slightly wider fits my eye better. I haven’t learned how to see shots with wide angle lens before looking through the camera yet.

  • You could tell us who is the photographer that has inspired you the most?

No one famous actually, well, except for you Freddy. Photos I like to look at generally have no bearing on what I like to shoot. I guess that’s strange. If I had to choose someone it would be Diado Moriyama but it’s really more for his attitude than for his particular style. He just wanders around Tokyo taking photos of whatever catches his eye. He could care less about the actual camera and often uses a simple point and shoot. His stuff is dark, gritty and full of emotion. He’s not trying to make the perfect photo, he’s try to show the perfect moment.

My real inspiration comes from other amateur photographers. Mostly from seeing the beautiful work and passion they have. Just regular people with their 9-5s that give me a glimpse of the world around them as they see it. Online communities have helped me tremendously in feeling connected to
other people like me. You know I’m a big fan of your work Freddy.

  • Do you prefer night or day to do photography.

Night but I’m not as good at it. Most of my best photos are taken in the daytime but I get more joy out of a good night time shot. Of course the fact that it’s 35ºC in the shade right now may have something to do with it.


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