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.

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.

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!

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!

Street Photography Tips – Visual Rhyming

I love capturing visual rhyming in street photography. The funny thing is that I was unable to find anything on it doing a web search. I don’t believe that I invented it. For the most part it seems that the term is used in writing. So I will provide my description of visual rhyming in photography.

In the photo below, the man is wearing a striped shirt and standing at the crosswalk with the white stripes on the street. The mind sees the two sets of stripes and recognizes this. They just have a way of fitting together even though it isn’t necessary for it you to verbalize it in your mind.

Yes, vision precedes language and the necessity to translate what it sees into words. That said, it’s surprising how often visual rhymes appear in street photography opportunities. If you keep your eyes open to them you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised.

Queens Street Photography
Stripes Crossing, New York City, June 2019

Of course, you can stand at an intersection and wait for the stripes to appear. Other possible visual rhymes are when a person’s clothing matches a color in the background. Below you can see an example of rhyming with colors. 

Soho Street Photography
Rainy Day in Soho, New York City, August 2018

Somehow the above photos would be far less interesting without the rhyming. These are just a few examples of one more thing that you can look for while out shooting the streets. It’s a bit like poetry and it provides another layer of depth to your photography. Happy rhyming!

Street Photography Tips – Up Close

When you’re in the middle of large crowds of people it is actually rather easy to get up close and personal shots. Whether you stand in one spot and wait for people to approach you or you shoot while walking it’s not difficult to do. The funny thing is that most of the time people aren’t even aware of me when I get these kinds of shots.

Monochrome NYC Street Photography
Monochrome Mood 20, New York City, August 2018

So of course the most important thing is to have correct exposure settings on your camera. It’s also important to keep your eyes open. This is where it’s good to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. I tend to lift the camera and use the viewfinder. Which is what I did while walking to get the 2 shots shown here.

Monochrome NYC Street Photography
Monochrome Mood 14, New York City, August 2018

That said I also often just lift the camera without really looking at the preview and shoot. In the right state of mind it’s like a good mental and physical exercise. Street photography is very cool.

Street Photography Tips – Fear of Shooting

So I’m an extrovert! Obviously that comes as no surprise to you! It’s possible that gives me an edge in street photography. But not as big as you might think. Street photography isn’t easy. It isn’t about it being easy. Easy gets boring. Street photography is always a challenge! Street photography is always about confronting your self first. Even when you’re an extrovert!

In a city with millions of people, how could I not be curious? I’ve always said that my curiosity, enthusiasm and determination are my biggest assets. I boldly step out into the world with my camera. My camera is my raison d’être. It gives me permission to experience life. To be in the world. Sometimes people smile and connect with you when you’re out shooting street. Often people smile. They are happy to have their photo taken.

Color Street Photography
Make My Day! New York City, 30 March 2018

My philosophy of life and of photography are the really same thing. It’s always about life and people and a belief in humanity. I’ve been told that I’m courageous. The truth is, I don’t know any other way to live. The only risk that I can identify is to not embrace life and live it in a way that feels honest for who I am.

New York City Street Photography
Convertible in the Rain, New York City, October 2018

It’s always about treating others with respect. Perhaps you get what you give in life. Oh, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Not necessarily easier. Happy shooting!

Photography Tip – Question Everything

That’s right. Question everything. Maybe it’s the radical in me just looking to disrupt the status quo. It’s easy to either listen to the so-called pros or to just get into a predictable pattern. Whether it’s the camera mode that you use (Aperture Priority, for example,) processing in the same old tried and true method or even how you approach your subject.

East Harlem Street Photography
Dancing with Picasso in El Barrio, New York City, 2 September 2017

It’s too easy to get stuck in a routine and not know or forget why you did it in the first place. My motto has always been to experiment and not be afraid to do so. What could happen? It is very possible that you’ll find a method that you like better. I am doing it all the time! I started using auto ISO awhile back and I had to wonder what took me so long? The fact is that in the early days of DSLRs auto ISO wasn’t so good.

The same is true with shooting Raw. I do sometimes shoot Jpg now. Oh no! Don’t take my word for it or anyone else’s. Try it first and then decide. You might have to try something many times before you decide. At least you’ll know why you’ve chosen to do things the way you do!