“I love the people I photograph. I mean, they’re my friends. I’ve never met most of them or I don’t know them at all, yet through my images I live with them.”
– Bruce Gilden
I have long held a fascination with people. I think it stems from my former career as a paramedic, where I would have ten or twelve patients in my ambulance each shift. These patients came from all walks of life: celebrities, newborns, holocaust survivors, CEOs, tradespeople, athletes, veterans… each with their own story to tell. This love of meeting new people and hearing their stories subsequently influenced all aspects of my photography, and most definitely my approach to street photography.
When I see somebody that I think would be a great subject it is usually their appearance that strikes me at first. It might be an outward characteristic: their smile, their eyes, perhaps the outfit they are wearing. Just as often, however, it is something more intrinsic… some indescribable strength, a sense of wisdom, or perhaps a vulnerability that you can see and feel from a block away. Great subjects come from all walks of life and are a gift to us when we are out shooting on the streets.
Such was the case with the subject in this photograph, who I saw last year while I was teaching in Toronto. There was something striking about the way she walked, a strength and sense of purpose in her step that was instantly noticeable. I saw this photograph in my mind within seconds, with her red hair and green dress set against the darker buildings she was walking beside. I decided to crouch down, shooting upward at the subject, to emphasis this perceived confidence and strength.
My camera was in Aperture Priority Mode (at f/5.6), with Auto-ISO set to maintain a minimum shutter speed of 1/500th (which is usually fast enough to freeze a subject’s motion). You can see in the settings above how the camera raised the ISO to 400 to maintain my desired shutter speed. I knew that these settings would nail the exposure for me and, because the subject was approaching quickly, I simply pre-focused on the sidewalk where the subject would be when she walked passed me, re-composed, and a second later clicked the shutter.
Photographs like this happen fast. I would say that the total amount of time, from first seeing the subject to capturing the image, was maybe ten or twenty seconds at the most. What allows us to capture these photos with consistent success is practice. We need to have the technical aspect of our photography nailed down, so that we don’t have to think about it while we are focused on the process of crafting our images. I believe it was Seneca who said:
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”
Preparation (practice) allowed me to capture this image, and all it needed in post production was a slight contrast boost and a crop to clean up a distracting element.
To circle back to the beginning of this post, what was it that made me want to take this photo again? It was, undoubtably, the subject. Great subjects like this deserve to be photographed.
Until next time,
About this series:
Ansel Adams once said:
“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”
This statement is absolutely true. To quote David Hobby, “we should all strive to become thinking photographers.” I love it when my students ask questions about a photograph because I can see their minds at work. Sometimes these questions focus on how an image was made (the craft), sometimes they focus on why it was made (the vision), but they always show a student’s desire to improve their craft.
When I look at another photographer’s image I am always interested in the photographer’s thought process: What drew their eye in the first place? What did they see in their mind? What was their process for the creation of the image? How did they go about achieving success?
With this in mind, I have spent the last year writing a book featuring my images and the stories behind them. The book will come out later this year, but in the spirit of open source education I have decided to publish 2 dozen of these photos and essays here as well. My hope is that everyone can benefit in a small way from this sharing of ideas, much like I have benefited from other photographers who shared with me.