Photography is like learning a new language. In the beginning you are constantly aware of grammar, sentence structure, verb conjugations and vocabulary.
The mechanics of language is very similar to that of the camera. It takes awhile to learn the diffferent parts of language that allow you to communicate smoothly and effectively. The same is true to become fluent in photography.
A camera is merely a tool. When people ask me what cameras I use my response for a number of years now has been, do you ask a carpenter what hammer she uses? I was pleasantly surprised when I came across a quote from Man Ray in which his response to the same question was “you don’t ask a writer what typewriter he uses.”
Your ability to get your camera to do what you want it to do is the first step. But even when you become fluent there’s still so much more that can be learned and explored. Like expanding your vocabulary.
If I am not able to believe that my best photos are to come I’ll put my cameras down. And it’s not just about the technical aspects about photography by any means. It is about the constant evolution of style, subject and technique. There IS always something new to learn and do! It is a lifelong pursuit.
Photography in its broadest definition has become important to everyone! It is such a dominant part of our culture and our lives. Creating and consuming images is constant. So how do we differentiate between the different kinds of photography? Are they all equal? Do we even understand the effect that images have on us? Visual literacy is a tricky subject. Especially when there’s barely enough time to understand it all.
I work as a tour guide. On a regular basis I come into contact with tourists taking selfies with major attractions in New York City. It would be difficult to not witness this everywhere in the city. I wonder what the actual value is of these photos? (I will refrain from being judgmental here even if it is annoying.) They are intended as souvenirs.
The idea that you can choose to remember something by an image or an object. The strange thing is that souvenirs actually have a way of killing memories. They take on new meaning. We no longer have to remember it.
Perhaps the actual act of taking a photo is more important than the photo itself. That and the fleeting moment that it has a life on social media. We designate a moment which we have predetermined to be worthy of remembering. We have scripted our lives in doing this.
Planned vs unplanned photos. My favorite photos that I’ve taken are not planned. They couldn’t have been planned. They are decided only at the moment that they are shot. Sometimes I like them. Others I don’t. It’s always starting from scratch. Starting over with a clean slate.
When it comes to street photography you can’t decide beforehand what you’ll shoot. It’s life in motion. By it’s very nature it is unplanned.
My new favorite thing to capture is people looking up. That is a form of humans interacting with their environment. I do also like to capture people interacting with others. It is like a silent film. We are left to interpret what the person(s) are thinking about.
It’s so rare to see a New Yorker looking up! It’s also interesting when they are tourists. The photo on the right was taken during a recent street photography workshop in Midtown. There’s a sense of awe. Perhaps it was his first trip to NYC.
The photo on the left and the one that accompanies this week’s assignment are both New Yorkers looking at the progress of an 80 story office tour that is being built next to Grand Central Terminal. There’s something special about capturing human action. Especially when they are unaware of the camera!
There is no substitution for preparation. It is key to street photography. When you’ve got your camera settings ready you then need to prepare yourself. I have already discussed needs like getting enough sleep, not being physically hungry and dressing for the weather. I don’t do well if I ignore those things.
I have also discussed setting up your camera and I will write about that again in the future. When I say preparation is everything here, I’m talking about getting rid of distractions and being able to keep your mind and your eyes open.
Sometimes things happen fast and they are unpredictable, like the photo above. You can call it luck if you like. But luck is something that you make. It’s not like winning the lottery. It’s possible that I’m a natural at this as my vision is always wandering.
That doesn’t mean that I nail every shot. Only that the odds get better when you are able to bring yourself to an undistracted state and be able to respond to it in a timely manner. Take a few deep breaths, relax and just take in your surroundings. The more you do it the better you get at it.
Let’s start from the beginning. The first thing in street photography is your camera. The first thing in any kind of photography is your camera! It’s your tool. You take the photo. Not the camera. Any camera that you are comfortable using is a good choice.
I used to use big DSLRs to shoot street photography and they worked really well for me. Many people on my workshops and photo tours shoot with full frame top of the line cameras. Whatever works for you is the best choice. Some people are uncomfortable shooting street photography in general and that can be compounded by using a larger camera.
My choice to switch to mirrorless cameras is in part because DSLRs became too heavy for me. I don’t mention mobile phone photography because quite frankly I can barely use the camera on my phone and I never like the results. I also don’t plan on getting better at that. That’s not my style. But there are many people who do some very nice work with mobile phone cameras. Does that make everyone a photographer? Perhaps.
Oh, but film cameras are also very cool and I do still shoot film from time to time. Shooting film is fabulous as it really changes the way that you see things and it really provides perspective on how you shoot with a digital camera. In general, you’re likely to take fewer photos when shooting with a film camera. You have to rely on your mind more than just eye candy. Typically people are more discriminating when shooting with film cameras.
Many decisions go into the choice of camera. They are always personal and not about brand name or cost. How much money you spend on a camera does not guarantee the kind of results that you will get in your photography. People are often made to believe that the more money you spend, the better the photo. Nothing could be farther from the truth. All cameras have limitations. Some are better for certain kinds of photography than others.
When it comes to street photography just about any kind of camera works. That said, you may eventually outgrow your camera. If you’re shooting weddings and portraits you may find that the range of cameras gets narrowed down a bit.
Start by becoming comfortable with your camera. Get to the point where your camera is working for you and where you can have a reasonable expectation of getting the desired results. All digital cameras have far more functions than most people will ever use. Once you become comfortable with your camera you may want to experiment with some of those mysterious other functions in your camera. But don’t worry if you don’t know how to do everything. Happy shooting!
I started Curious Frame as a method of compiling my writing on photography in one place. Writing is a different activity and deserves a different location. It is a complement to my other sites.
After shooting for many decades now and making the transition from analog to digital photography, I have spent much time thinking about photography.
We live in a world that is bombarded with images. Yet we have very few tools or typically time to try and understand what it all means. So my focus is for the most part about the art of photography and attempting to at least posit some interesting questions even if I am unable to arrive at a definitive answer to what any of it really means.
It is of course possible that it means something different to everyone that encounters photography. I would like to think that this is a zone for slow photography. Like slow eating it is meant to be chosen wisely and consumed slowly. About spending more than 10 seconds looking at an image. If you like a photo, is it enough to “like” it and run?
At any rate, I do hope that you enjoy Curious Frame and that you will feel compelled to enter into a conversation about photography.