Street Photography Tips – Vision Above All Else

I don’t always know how I do what I do or have the ability to explain it in words. I mention this because people frequently tell me that they don’t know how I’m able to see what I do. We’ll be out shooting and I’ll turn quickly and shoot. And they are surprised that I saw the shot.

Monochrome Street Photography
Bowery Afternoon, New York City, August 2018

I tease that I have eyes behind my head. My eyes are always wandering and it’s so natural that I don’t know how I do it or even if I’ve always done it. What I do know is that you always have to be ready to respond and shoot quickly. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss some shots. That isn’t even possible. Don’t get me started about the photos that I’ve missed! I think that the fact that my eyes are always wandering wouldn’t work in many other professions.

Monochrome Street Photography
Waiting, New York City, February 2020

So having to fuss with camera settings, previewing photos just taken and a host of other things can distract you form being able to see and respond to what’s going on around you. The more you practice, the better you become. That is of course true of most things in life. At some point in time it begins to fall into place.

I know that I’ve said it before, but I think that the important things to do are to shoot often, to experiment and not be afraid to make mistakes. You can take a recipe that someone else provided and learn how to copy it. But making it your own and learning from the mistakes is a part of the process that you can’t eliminate. Just keep doing it. Or as they used to say, don’t worry be happy.

Photography is a Language

Photography is like learning a new language. In the beginning you are constantly aware of grammar, sentence structure, verb conjugations and vocabulary.

The mechanics of language is very similar to that of the camera. It takes awhile to learn the diffferent parts of language that allow you to communicate smoothly and effectively. The same is true to become fluent in photography.

Diamond Exchange, New York City, November 2017

A camera is merely a tool. When people ask me what cameras I use my response for a number of years now has been, do you ask a carpenter what hammer she uses? I was pleasantly surprised when I came across a quote from Man Ray in which his response to the same question was “you don’t ask a writer what typewriter he uses.”

Your ability to get your camera to do what you want it to do is the first step. But even when you become fluent there’s still so much more that can be learned and explored. Like expanding your vocabulary.

If I am not able to believe that my best photos are to come I’ll put my cameras down. And it’s not just about the technical aspects about photography by any means. It is about the constant evolution of style, subject and technique. There IS always something new to learn and do! It is a lifelong pursuit.

Multiple Exposures

One of my favorites techniques to use in abstract photography is multiple exposures. Many cameras have the ability to take multiple exposures including using phone apps.

While I haven’t done much with phone apps, my Fuji cameras are capable of double exposures. And my Ricohs can make 5 exposures in one.

Abstract Street Photography
No Parking 8am-6pm, New York City, December 2015

In a way, making multiple exposure photos is like making a collage. However, with my cameras you need to take each of the photos within a short amount of time. I like the element of chance that this limitation imposes as with the photo above.

Abstract Street Photography
Hot Streets, New York City, November 2018

I understand that with many DSLRs you can also take multiple photos in one and that you can do that well after the fact.

I have also made a number of multiple exposures taking photos of my photos from computer and also using books and other kinds of images. The above photo is an example.

I strongly believe that there are very few limitations when it comes to creating abstract and abstract street photography. And it’s always fun.

Street vs Documentary Photography

If like me, you’ve been staying in during the pandemic, my suggestion is to spend time looking at the work of other street photographers and identifying the things that you like or dislike to give yourself ideas of areas to explore once you’re able to safely go out and shoot the streets.

Protest Photography
Occupy Wall Street 34, New York City, November 2011

On the other hand, if you’ve been out on the streets shooting the Black Lives Matters demonstrations, I applaud your work and I do hope that you are staying safe and social distancing.

There is however a distinction to be made between street photography and documentary photography. In street photography you are setting out to take photos which you cannot predict who or what you will encounter.

Protest Photography
Occupy Wall Street 35, New York City, November 2011

In documentary photography you are already planning on capturing a certain subject in your photos. You already have an idea about what you’re likely to see.

While street and documentary photography are both valid photographic genres, street is always candid and frequently documentary will also be candid. You bring yourself and your thoughts and ideas to shooting either. You approach the two in a different manner.

Protest Photography
Occupy Wall Street 30, New York City, November 2011

I took the photos included in this post at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York City in 2011.

Creative Photography

Photography, like the arts in general, is open to many different styles and techniques. I am consistently discovering new techniques for using photography creatively.

While many people have a preference for making or viewing ‘straight’ photography, that shouldn’t dissuade you from exploring different methods of creative photography.

Creative techniques have been used since the very beginning of photography. These techniques include; collage, photomontage, cyanotype, sonography, scanography and many more.

Abstract Photography
Frivolous Obstacles 13, New York City, May 2020

Many photographic techniques require expensive equipment or studios and lighting or for that matter, the ability to go out and shoot the streets. As we have been in lockdown for a number of months now, I have noticed many people producing more creative photography.

I have also had the time to work on more creative techniques. In upcoming posts I will be discussing a number of different creative techniques and I’m in the process of making videos on how to create them.

For the moment, I am sharing with you a scanography image that I recently made. No camera required!

Photography Changes the World

Photography has the power to change the world and we are witnessing it at this very historic moment in time. The Black Lives Matter protests are an excellent example of this. While people can read and talk about what’s going on in the world, it’s the photos that become etched in the mind.

When you can see something with your own eyes, an abstract concept becomes illustrated. While a single photograph by itself doesn’t necessarily represent the Truth with a capital T, the repetition of many photos can cement a reality.

Between the images of how George Floyd died to the demonstrations in the streets around the world has illustrated the growing beliefs of a large number of people. It is through these many photos taken by everyone with a camera including the journalists, that the people are giving voice to what might otherwise remain just a theory or a dream.

Black Lives Matter scanography
Get up, Stand up 5, New York City, 1 June 2020

I have written and stated many times in the past that I think that street photography can change the world one photo at a time and that maybe I am a hopeless optimist.

While photos of the demonstrations might be more appropriately called documentary photography, the genre title is not really important. It is clear that the majority of the photos shared publicly are candid and they reveal the feelings and beliefs of millions.

So yes, photography can change the world. Whether you are out there taking photos of the movement or, like me, only able to observe the overwhelming number of photos that repeat the same story, we are witnessing a major shift in the world.

Repetition in Art

Repetition in art can be a very powerful technique to draw the viewer into your work. Andy Warhol is one of the first artists that comes to mind when it comes to repetition. Have a look at his Marilyns or Campbell’s Soup cans.

Abstract Minimal Photography
Repetitive Lines, New York City, January 2019

You can search for repeating patterns in the outside world and you may come across many such opportunities as shadows (as shown in the photo above) or other objects. It’s especially good for minimalistic and abstract compositions.

Color Abstract Photography
Repetition in the Rain, New York City, May 2020

You can also create repetition on computer using Photoshop or a number of other computer or phone apps, as shown here both above and below.

Color Abstract Photography
Repetition in the Rain 2, New York City, May 2020

In spoken or written words, repetition can be a tool to place more meaning on what’s being said. To place an emphasis on it. The same can also be true in the visual realm.

Repetition can also create a sense of movement and rhythm. A composition that utilizes repetition will frequently use color or shapes as a dominate element.

And repetition in repeating the same process over and over again can create boredom. That is why I am forever looking at new methods to create works. Try repetition, you might like it.

Street Photography Tips – The Rule of Odds

What can I tell you about the “rules” of composition? They are interesting. They are often applied and rarely mastered. The masters of photography like Cartier-Bresson practically invented them. One has to wonder if they knew that when they were doing it? Or did it later become a so-called rule?

Many of the masters of photography, yes they were mostly men, started out in painting. They had already studied composition. Alas, it was introduced into photography. 

The rule of thirds has been done to death. It certainly has its moments and I admit, I often use the rule of thirds. Sometimes with good results. It’s like grammar. Learning how to communicate visually. Poetry however pushes the basics to a new level. 

Henri Cartier-Bresson - rule of odds
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rome, 1959

The rule of odds is yet another of the composition guidelines. It is a bit looser in some ways. It can apply to a disjunction of sorts. Like a very large man with a very small dog. The photo above by Cartier-Bresson is a classic example of the rule of odds. The photo below is mine and also an example of the rule of odds. There is one odd person in each photo.

The Rule of Odds
Every Which Way, New York City, June 2015

For many street photographers, the rule of odds is about numbers. It would seem that even numbers are not favored. Odd numbers create tension and the number three is a particularly good one. And three can form a triangle indicating movement as well. 

When the rule of odds works it can work very well. But circumstances don’t always allow it. It’s not like you can get people into place or even that you’re thinking where are my three people? So I would say that it’s more often used as a method of justifying why a photo works or doesn’t after the fact. It’s a bit of a crap shoot.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hope that you’ll be alert enough to capture it when you see it. Just don’t get hung up on trying to obtain that. Maybe you find the even numbers are easier to capture and you’re getting shots that you’re happy with. The art of photography is always an ongoing process. My evolution is ongoing as is my sense for what makes good composition. Happy shooting and composing!

Analog vs Digital – part two

I have been thinking about the question of the difference between shooting film vs digital for quite awhile now. I’m not talking about the end result of comparing the same photo taken on a film and a digital camera.

I’m also not talking about the actual cost difference between the 2 formats. You can easily find numerous articles online about the technical and cost comparisons.

Rather I am thinking about the actual process that I go through when shooting them. With digital it’s much easier to spend a great deal of time fiddling with the settings and reviewing the results.

At the moment, the majority of my film photography has been with a lomo camera, the LC-A+. There are few choices for settings. In fact the only things that I can choose is the film, the ISO and for focusing there are 4 different ranges.

Film Street Photography
Walking in Chelsea, New York City, December 2019

So it’s really just a matter of lifting the camera to the eye and framing the shot and pressing the shutter. So technically all I have to do is compose and shoot.

Yet for some reason I find that I take more time when shooting with film even though it doesn’t take more time to shoot. The only added step is advancing the film by winding a few turns.

Even though film does cost more, I don’t find it that expensive or cost prohibitive. When I’m shooting digital or film, I tend to be in a zone where I’m not thinking about anything other than the composition.

When I’m working with people on street photography, we start with getting a good exposure so that we can forget about reviewing photos after every shot.

Alas, with film photography you don’t have the advantage or perhaps disadvantage of previewing the shot you just took. It’s possible that the not knowing what you will capture until the film is developed could be an important element in why it takes more time for me to shoot with film.

If so, it is beyond what I am conscious of when shooting. I think that it’s definitely a good exercise as a photographer to shoot both and not feel a necessity to privilege one over the other.

Yes, I’m still working out the differences. Your comments on the subject are always welcome.