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.

On Being Critical

On occasion people ask me to be critical of their photos. While I can and do critique photos from time to time, I prefer to help others develop their own style.

I like to encourage others to find their own style. To give them the courage to do what they think is right. To take photos that they like. After all, you need to be happy with your photography first.

There isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong way to do it. And it’s possible that I am influenced by my own experience of not really fitting in in any of the photography clubs. Typically boys clubs.

As I have said before, steal from the best and make up the rest. Find those elements that speak to your own sense of what looks good. A big part of photography is developing your vision and having your photos match your vision.

Blue in East Harlem, New York City, August 2017

I took this photo during a street photography workshop and I can only tell you that timing was everything! She turned and I clicked. And yes, the focus is a little soft. Whatever. I still like it and some of my favorite photographers have photos with soft focus.

You might not appreciate that. I look at photography as an art and art is always in the eye of the beholder. It is subjective. It is not a science. There isn’t a recipe that will always be successful.

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!

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 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!

Street Photography Tips – Slow Photography part 1

I know that I’ve written about slow photography in the past, but I think it’s a good thing to mention it again. In this digital world with the mass proliferation of images the idea of slowing down has a real appeal. It’s possible that my age has an influence on this. Either way, I find that you get an equal amount of good photos by going slow. Possibly more.

Color Street Photography
Young and Hip in the City 6, New York City, March 2018

The photos that are included here are an example of slow photography. That is to say that I found a spot that I liked and waited for a person to enter the shot. It’s funny how easy it is in New York City to feel compelled to move fast. It takes a little effort to stop and observe. The same is true with digital photography in general and more specifically in street photography. So the idea that you need to be hungry or that you need to chase the shot just isn’t true in my opinion.

Color Street Photography
Greening in Soho, New York City, August 2018

I recently got my Ricohflex back from repair and I finished my first roll of film with it in awhile. It’s a medium format camera with a waist level viewfinder. I am forced to shoot slowly with it and I realize how easy it is to press the shutter on a digital camera. I’m not saying that one is better or worse. Only that it changes the way that I see. If you haven’t tried slow photography I do suggest it.

Street Photography Toolbox

I started the weekly photo assignment * as a method of supplying different possible styles that you can have in your toolbox. Your toolbox is the different styles that you can use when out shooting street photography.

It is good to have a few areas of focus when you’re out shooting. Not too many all at once. If you continually work on a few different styles then you can create a cohesive body of work and see progress as well as areas to improve.

Greenwich Village Street Photography
Flames in the Village, New York City, April 2012

The above photo uses three possible styles that you can use. The first is the ‘rule’ of thirds. It isn’t always important to use a rule of composition when shooting street. But when you are shooting slow photography or you just have the time to wait for the subject to be in position, it is a good rule to use.

The second is being able to capture a sense of motion. The legs are apart in stride suggesting movement. Especially in combination with the subject walking towards the edge of the frame.

The third is having the background be an important element of the photo. The fact that she’s dressed in black adds more emphasis to the street art.

This photo was taken in 2012. There are two wheat paste street art pieces on the wall. One of Jay Z and the other of a much younger Donald Trump. They are made by Shepard Fairey who also created the Obama Hope art poster when Obama was running for president. (That seems like ages ago now.)

When you focus on a few styles on a regular basis, you no longer need to be conscious of looking for them. It becomes natural. Like learning a new language. You become fluent. It is a good method of improving and organizing your photography.

So how many styles can you find in the photos in the newsletter and what is a common element in most of the photos? Oh, could this be a contest? Maybe.

*The weekly photo assignment is announced in my newsletter and people who are in the Shoot New York City Facebook group post the weekly assignments in it.

Photography Reveals

It is impossible to stand outside of yourself and create an image. Photography always reveals something about the photographer.

An image is a reflection of the person making it. It is personal. The more that you work on your image making, the more your style becomes apparent.

Photography is like a language. It is capable of layers of meaning in a single image. It’s like poetry. Rich with possibilities.

The Exploding Art Show, New York City, May 2008

When an image is successful, it can have multiple meanings. Each viewer brings to a photo their own story. Their interpretation.

The beauty of any artistic pursuit is that it is never-ending. One image by itself is like a page in a book. An artist strives for a body of work that represents their vision.