Thoughts on Photography in the Digital Age

What are photos worth now? Do they have more value or less value as a sheer result of the volume? Why take photos at all? These are real questions that deserve real thought even if we are unable to come to some kind of solid answers that we can all agree on.

When I took this photo earlier this year, I was very conscious of the fact that for whatever reason, this building won’t be here forever or at least continue to look like this. Sometimes I wonder if the way that I see things now have more to do with my age or if perhaps we are really in the midst of a major change in the way the world is moving?

I don’t take photos with a thought to if they have a monetary worth or not. I shoot as a form of expression. Photos have a way of sparking memory. We look at photos about the way things used to be. Photos are always past. Are history.

1 Allen Street, New York City, May 2019

I took this photo because the colors and light on that day and at that time appealed to me. For the moment, I like this photo. I have no idea if I will continue to like this photo after shooting another 10,000 photos. Perhaps it’s not that important. Photography is an activity for me. It’s not always obvious why I take a photo or if it will become important to my work.

When we choose to shoot certain subjects, we reveal something of who we are and our tastes in things. And of course, those things are subject to change. How often do we stop and look at a photo and decide what it means to us? We see thousands of images everyday. Most of them are not by choice.

Your assignment if you choose to take it, is to stop and take a look at a photo and think about what it means to you. Let’s call it intentional viewing. Happy looking and getting lost in photos.

Street Photography Tip – Composition

Composition is the number one aspect that separates a snapshot from a memorable photo. Digital photography is very forgiving and so much can be repaired in post-processing. Except for composition! It’s also one method of upping your odds in obtaining a memorable photo.

There is much emphasis in street photography as being an activity where you have to chase the shot! But that’s only one way to do it. If you’ve been on a photo tour or workshop with me you’ve likely witnessed me stopping everyone to look at a red wall or repetitive patterns or shadows, etc.

Monochrome Street Photography
Pleasure! New York City, August 2017

Look for that thing that really attracts your eye. Then wait for people to enter the frame! In New York City or other cities with a good population you won’t have to wait for long for someone to enter your frame. Like it or not!

Anyway, I call it slow photography. That may seem contradictory for some when it comes to street photography or even being in the middle of the buzz of millions of people. Try it. You might like it. Think about composition first for a change.

Street Photography Tips – Street is Candid

In its broadest definition, street photography is always candid, unposed. For me, it is usually better when people are not aware of the camera. According to The Free Dictionary, candid means 1. frank and outspoken: 2. without partiality; unbiased, 3. unposed or informal.

Candid street photography is unposed. It’s not always easy to go unnoticed when shooting street photography. If you are quick it is possible to shoot without being seen. So the first thing is to get your camera settings set so you are ready to shoot.

There are ways to become somewhat invisible. You can stand off to the side and wait for people to appear. Busy areas are the best. I even stand at a crosswalk and wait for people to walk into me. It’s amazing how so many people are unaware of what’s going on around them.

Chinatown Street Photography
Red Tie, New York City, 17 February 2019

The above photo was taken during the Chinese New Year celebrations. I like how everyone has their backs to the camera except him and he didn’t see me. That is however only one style of candid street photography. It could also be considered documentary in style. Street photography can also include photo journalism.

The street photos by Bruce Gilden are also considered candid street photography. Their response to his camera in their faces is one of shock. It isn’t posed. If you know me at all, I object to shocking people for the sake of photography. But there’s also some wiggle room in there as well.

If you are interested in street portraits that is also a valid genre of photography. It’s just not the same as candid photos. At any rate, it is good to think about what your role is in the making of a photo. There is no objectivity in art.

When you choose to take a photo it comes from your sense of the world in front of you with all your life experiences and views. It is always taking a split second out of the larger context of who a person is. Ultimately it shares something that is an honest depiction of reality.

Street Photography Tips – Attitude

Smiling while you’re shooting changes the game! When you get caught in the act and you’re smiling people tend to smile back. Even if you’re not caught in the act you may find that you are able to get better photos because of your attitude. All the gear preparation for the day doesn’t mean very much if you’re not in a good mood. Hence this week’s photo assignment: smiles.

Chinatown Street Photography
Chinatown Color 15, New York City, 15 May 2018

Street Photography Tip – Slow Photography

If you’ve taken a workshop or a photo tour with me you’ve probably heard me talk about slow photography. I talk about slow photography in reference to composition in street photography.

Composition is perhaps the number one aspect in photography that you can’t correct after the fact and which will make your work stand out.

Everything about New York City and street photography practically dictates that you should move fast. Maybe that’s even more reason to go slow.

Monochrome Street Photography
Cowboy in Chinatown, New York City, 27 August 2017

When you look at the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson it’s important to realize that in the majority of his work he waited for the right light and shadows and human element to enter the frame. The decisive moment is 90% perspiration and 10% luck.

You make your luck through being patient and awake enough to shoot at the best moment. The majority of the photos famous or not that you see with amazing composition, didn’t happen through sheer luck.

It’s easy to go fast. Maybe too easy and it doesn’t give you a higher percentage of getting a good shot. When you go slow there’s more opportunity to really “see” what’s going on around you.

After learning how to get your camera to do what you want it to do, the most important thing is training your vision which is also about discovering your style and focusing on composition. I often remind myself to go slow!

Street Photography Tips – Patience

I really can’t overstate the importance of patience. Yes, of course you need to be able to get your camera to do what you want it to do. But after that everything in street photography is about using your vision and being aware of what’s going on around and being patient!

Chinatown Street Photography
Red is the Color, New York City, 8 January 2019

The lighting on the day when I took this photo was perfect. An ideal wall and waiting, waiting and waiting. Then a man appears with a red bag that just happens to match the red on the wall. I decided to go with color for this photo because there are minimal colors and because of the light.

There are so many examples of how important patience is when you find the location or background that appeals to you. A man who took a recent street photography workshop with me thanked me for helping him be more patient. I hadn’t even realized that I was doing that and I always think that I could be more patient.

So for starters, you will need to get comfortable with your camera so that you can forget about it and focus on being in the moment while shooting. When a carpenter is holding a hammer, she is thinking of hitting the nail. Not how to use the hammer. Perhaps a hammer is a little easier to use.

I hope that if nothing else you are able to understand the importance of knowing how to use your tool. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter if you shoot in auto mode or manual etc. It’s whatever that works for you. If the photos are turning out the way that you want, by all means continue to do so.

I will continue this in the another post and discuss being in the moment. Happy patience even if it may seem contrary to street photography and being in a big city.

Maybe Less Really is More

When I’m not shooting I am typically thinking about photography. Though I don’t do both at the same time. They are two entirely different activities.

I wonder what the value of a photograph is? This is a question that I may never have an absolute answer to. But I think it is an important one to consider.

Before the Digital Age, there seemed to be a sense that a photograph could hold an importance that it rarely holds now. The act of taking a photo almost seemed like magic. As if you could record an image that could be of importance to others.

Just Past Noon, New York City, April 2018

Whether the image is one that is personal and includes friends or family, or that it has social, cultural or artistic significance, it could have a meaning when shared with others.

We now live in a world where it appears that everyone has Attention Deficit Disorder to some degree. We flip through photos at such an alarming rate that they begin to lose their value.

In fact we even go so far as to use the word ‘porn’ when talking about photos of food. Photos that are often designed to make us envious of the meal that someone else enjoyed.

So yes, the unavoidable masses of images that we see everyday have an a way of disrupting the photos that we choose to see as art rather than mass market consumption.

I don’t know how we avoid the mass market images. What I do know is that taking the time to really look at photography by photographers who practice it as an art can provide much satisfaction. You may need to seclude yourself in a gallery or private space to really enjoy photography. And yes, sometimes less really is more.

Open-Mindedness & Creativity

I’ve been shooting for the better part of 50 years and it doesn’t cease to amaze me. I think of myself as always somewhat new to photography. I don’t know if half a century really means that much.

There are many photographers out there that have been shooting for a much shorter amount of time than I have and they are “better” than me. Whatever better means as there are so many criteria to base that on.

Art is always subjective, it’s always in the eye of the beholder, There’s no clear cut decision on that. I think I still have quite a way to go. I can say that I am far from bored with photography. Perhaps I am in fact the opposite of bored. I am enthusiastic about it!

I feel that I have far more to learn and experience ahead of me than what came before. What I can say about shooting for 50 years with a fair amount of certainty is that I do it out of passion and sheer persistence. Maybe I’m the tortoise. Yes, even a late-bloomer.

I hope that the blooming continues for some time to come as it is very exciting to me. I find that I continue to shoot in the same neighborhoods, even the same streets, and I always find something new.

Bail Bonds Row, New York City, August 2017.

Or perhaps like my favorite quote from Marcel Proust, it’s about seeing with new eyes. That is always my biggest challenge to myself. When I stop seeing with new eyes is when I’ll quit.

It is also very exciting and I feel very fortunate to meet some amazing people in my workshops and photo tours. They are at various stages of life and photographic experience as well as nationality.

And they almost always approach photography with an open mind. Looking to learn something new. The desire to learn new things can be very contagious and I become inspired by the new eyes of beginners and the openness of experienced photographers to take on new challenges. The exchange of ideas is very helpful. Closed- mindedness may very well be the biggest threat to creativity.

If photography, in general, and street photography more specifically, aren’t about being open-minded than I’ll quit right now. But that’s not my experience! I believe that it’s important being around people who are like-minded in that respect. I don’t mean that they like everything that you do. But that they are willing to look at it at a deeper level. Beyond the obligatory social media “like”. Having honest feedback is very cool and also rare!

What Makes a Good Photo?

What makes a good photo? That’s always a question for me. The brain is always attracted to things that it likes. I love the color red and red is great for photography. It is often the thing that will cause me to choose to process a photo in color. But not always. There are many such things that we are attracted to. Things which make you stop and shoot. But does that make for a good photo?

I didn’t shoot Halloween last year. In part because I am possibly losing interest in photographing planned events. It’s too easy to photograph a really cool costume. I repeat, what makes a good photo? The costume isn’t enough. A pretty woman, a pet, an odd person, etc etc, they all grab the mind’s attention.

Chinatown Street Photography
Red Tie, New York City, 17 February 2019

But a really good photo has a number of elements that make it really good. It’s never just one thing. I think that a boring subject captured well is more interesting than a beautiful subject shot poorly. Sunsets often fall into that category. The actual sunset is often more pleasing to the eye than the photo.

How do we get to that place where we can truly judge the merits of a photo? That’s a really good question and one that I don’t think that I can honestly answer. I can say that it isn’t truly just a technical thing either. Technically precise photos lack emotion.

Many other photos are merely emotional eye candy. Somewhere in the middle is a place where technique and emotion combine to make a lasting image. If and when I finally figure out the secret formula, I’ll share it with you.

That said, art is always subjective. There is no objective method in which to judge art. So perhaps my question will not ever be truly answered!