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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.

Abstract Street Photography Tips

There are many kinds of street photography. They don’t all feature full frontal images of people. I have written and spoken on street photography tips that are really designed to be some form of that larger group of styles with or without the face being seen.

What I haven’t really spoken about is what might be called abstract street photography. My guess is that most people reading this newsletter know that my favorite photographer is Saul Leiter. He didn’t call himself a street photographer. We don’t really need to go down that path.

Rather, I should say that if you want to explore that style of street photography you can throw all the tips that I have provided out the window. You don’t have to use a wide angle lens and you might find it to be an obstacle to achieving abstract street.

Abstract Street Photography
Underground, New York City, June 2019

If you look at abstract art you will see how an artist uses color and space. That is really what abstract photography is in a sense. But in the art world, many artists confine themselves to either figurative or abstract art. There are however some who combine both.

Saul Leiter was a painter first as were many photographers who were later categorized as street photographers. The point being that the field is wide open to interpretation and creativity. It’s possible that labels are not always the best method of thinking about photography as they can of course be restricting.

So everything from shadows and reflections to color combinations to even going so far as to intentionally blurring a photo are a few possibilities. I will be writing more about these in upcoming issues. Check out Saul Leiter or do a search for abstract photographers to get some ideas.

The key is to have an open mind and realize that with practice and determination you can get better at it. I’ve tried to learn how to paint a few times. It’s easy to think that you have an idea in your head that you would like to recreate. However, in practice is another thing. That’s why they call it art. It often looks easier than it easy.

Those brush strokes you see on paintings definitely take practice. Yes, the same is true in photography. But you might even find that it’s fun to do. If you are passionate about it, you will persist in it. Happy abstract street shooting.

Street Photography Tips – What to Shoot

The choices of what to shoot in street photography are nearly endless. Street photography broadly defined is about capturing the human element. Street photography can include photos of people whether they are personally identifiable or not. As I wrote in a previous article, German street photography tends to not show a person’s face because of their privacy laws. I quite like this style. But you don’t have to be German to shoot in this style. Many of the stunning photos by Saul Leiter do not show a person’s face. Street photography can also merely suggest the presence of people.

Let it Rain, New York City, April 2019

A large majority of street photography is straight ahead shots of people. I use this style on a regular basis but I also often shoot people walking by my frame. Capturing a side view of them. That’s only two angles and styles that you can do. Regardless of the place where you shoot from, in New York City street photography is legal in public spaces. That includes children, police and everything in-between.

Chinatown Street Photography
York, New York City, February 2019

I have my own set of rules about what to shoot. First of all I think that it’s important to be within close proximity to your subject. To stand back at a distance with a telephoto lens is creepy. I know that if someone did it to me I would be suspect of their motives. That is how people naturally respond in this situation.

Harlem Street Photography
This is Harlem 6, New York City, April 2018

I shoot children on a regular basis. I realize that’s not always an easy subject to photograph in this day and age. Even for a woman. But no matter who I choose to capture in my frame, I always look at their eyes for a brief second to determine whether to take their photo or not. It’s very possible that I have good intuition on who to shoot and whom not to. Shooting the streets does mean that you may have communication with people. In my experience very few people are upset by having their photo taken. Not everyone will like it and that’s something that you can’t know or control in life.

I don’t take photos of people who clearly look like they have a psychological, drug or alcohol problem because I can’t predict how they will react. I do on occasion photograph homeless people. The world is full of beautiful people living the good life. I think that it’s important to show all of humanity. A beautiful photo doesn’t have to be of a “beautiful” person. I do think that it’s always important to show the subject of your photos with respect no matter who they are.

Monochrome Street Photography
Bench Time, New York City, June 2015

Street portraits are a different topic and nevertheless still a valid genre of photography. They are not however street photography. In street photography shoot first and ask questions later. It’s not about seeking permission. Photos that are taken after asking for permission are rarely candid. I’ve never liked having my photo taken mostly because I don’t like the way I look in photos. But on a few occasions people have taken candid photos of me that I like. In general, people are too conscious about how they should pose in front of the camera. I rarely like those photos as much as the candid shots. Happy shooting!

Analog vs Digital – part one

I shoot with film and digital cameras. I have never thought that you have to choose one over the other as so many people seem to do these days.

The reality is that they are both valid tools and one does not cancel the other out. There is a definite difference between the results of the two.

Abstract Street Photography
Blue Streak, New York City, January 2020

Perhaps you could say that it’s like the difference between oil and acrylic paints. When a photo is viewed on paper, the difference between film and digital becomes more apparent than when seen on computer.

I make it a practice to make the occasional print of my digital work and to compare what I see on my computer monitor vs what I see on paper.

Can you see the difference between the two? In part two I write about the difference between shooting analog and digital.

Untranslatable

What is abstract art? How do you decide what’s abstract and what isn’t? These of course are great questions. They are also open to interpretation. Mostly, abstract art leans in the opposite direction of representational art.

Using lines and shadows in a minimalistic fashion is one form of abstract art. The eye is drawn into the movement of the work. To the shapes and colors or lack of color.

Abstract and minimal art can easily be found in the everyday. If there is light and shadows, you’re already off to a good start. If you’re not used to this kind of work you can look at the work of the photographer Aaron Suskind. Also, they are many painters who work in this style.

Monochrome Abstract Film Photography
Untranslatable, New York City, May 2020

This photo was taken with a film camera during the pandemic lockdown on my daily walks. Film photography has a way of making you take your time to look at and study your environment. There’s always something to photograph and sometimes it’s there in your front of your face to shoot.