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 – Own It

I am a late bloomer. Always have been. It took me quite a bit time for me to arrive at where I’ve come to and it isn’t the end of the journey in any sense. I spent quite a few years drifting around in photography while obtaining a surplus of mediocre photos!

The internet and digital photography have accelerated my development as a street and abstract photographer. It has probably taken me far longer to reach this stage than it should have. What can I say? I didn’t study photography in school and I didn’t have access to different styles of photography. That became possible with the internet as well as the social media communities of photographers with a shared appreciation for the art of photography.

Perhaps the largest piece of wisdom that I can offer to you beyond getting comfortable using your tool and being present when you’re out shooting, is to experiment, to shoot as often as possible and to look at the work of other photographers on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter if they are famous or not. Oh, and do make mistakes. Don’t be afraid of them.

Harlem Street Photography
Business Transactions, New York City, 23 October 2018

To use the typical example of learning to play guitar, one normally tries to learn to play songs that they like. If they’re passionate enough about it they will try to be able to copy the original to the point of almost being a cover band. In the beginning you have to start somewhere. It is about learning a new language.

I have always said steal from the best and make up the rest. So you see things in photos taken by others that you like. I always see things that I like. The best thing about looking at the work of others is also about seeing what works and what doesn’t. Photography is a truly subjective and personal choice. There isn’t one correct way to do street photography.

Somewhere in the process of it all, I have found myself bored. That is a fairly regular state of mind for me when I do the same thing over and over again. To use another metaphor, if you always cook with the same recipe, you’ll always get the same dish. You’re saying “Leanne that’s pretty obvious.” You’re right. But sometimes stating the obvious is exactly what’s needed to make a change.

At some point in time after repeating the process of shooting, experimenting, not being afraid to make mistakes and viewing the work of other photographers, your own style becomes apparent and you make it your own. You own it. This has been my experience and the other item is sharing your work with people you don’t know who are also photographers. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. That’s my recipe. Try it, you might like it. Happy shooting!

Street Photography Tips – Shooting Methods

In my workshops and photo tours I talk about 3 different ways to shoot street photography. In all 3 it is important that you have your camera settings ready to shoot so you don’t have to think about and worry about the results.

So the first thing I always suggest is that you check your camera settings and do a few test shots to see how your exposure and focus looks.

1) The first method is what I call slow photography. I find a background that I like for patterns, light, shapes or whatever and I wait for people to walk into my frame. It can sometimes take a little patience but in New York City depending on the neighborhood it isn’t always that long. In slow photography the composition comes before the shot. Less is left to chance in that aspect.

This method is how I accidentally started out in street photography. My aim was to take photos of architecture. The problem was that people kept walking into my photos. One day I lost my patience and continued shooting with people in the shot. I didn’t know what street photography was before that.

Harlem Street Photography
Just Do It, New York City, 27 August 2017

2) Shooting from the hip is fun. It works for all kinds of cameras with a wide angle lens. You may find that you get some interesting angles when shooting from the hip. I put my camera on my stomach with my elbows in at my waist and shoot. It shouldn’t be necessary to tilt the camera. It’s fun to experiment with and the more you do it, the better you become at it. Give yourself time to learn it! The above photo was taken shooting from the hip.

3) Walking and shooting and/or stopping in the middle of a busy sidewalk. You can shoot from the hip standing still or walking. You can also, as I often do, lift your camera to the view finder while walking and shoot. Of course you can also use live view or your camera’s screen to shoot in that manner as well. But it is a quick reflex shot.

It doesn’t always work out when you shoot in a split second decision. Like anything the more you do it, the better you get. At times I just stop and shoot when there are enough interesting people and then I’ll continue walking. I tend to do that walking up Fifth Avenue on a sunny afternoon when the light is shining on people.