Saturday | Fatigue | Movement

We are stopped at the exit by a soldier, weapon slung across his chest, who informs us that there is an unattended package being examined to ensure that it isn’t an explosive device.  He looks young, but his eyes reveal an experience beyond his years.  Everyone around us remains calm, seeming to accept what has become the new norm for international travel in many parts of the world.  We circle around to another exit, find the taxi stand, and soon we are en route to Paris.

Spencer and I have both been here many times, however the thrill of a Parisian cab ride never gets old.  The conversation is boisterous, speed limits and lane markers are ignored as often as they are followed, and in no time at all we are at our Air B’n’B for the week.

I make the mistake of sitting down for a few minutes and the fatigue hits immediately.  I have been up for 19 hours at this point, drained by the 10 hour flight and the rigours of travel.  We hit the streets of Paris, ostensibly to find food and explore, but for me it really is just about staying awake right now.  You have to power through that first day, forcing yourself to absorb the 9 hour time difference and adjust your clock right away.  

I walk the streets of Paris, streets I have walked many times in the past, without focus or intent.  My camera somehow still makes it up to my eye though, my subconscious seeing photos even when I am not. 

We walk for hours, shooting well into dusk, and then finally we make our way back home.  Tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep, the week begins for real.  

I can’t wait.

Click here to read part one of this series

What Lies Behind : Photographic Insights – Volume Five

“The eyes are the window to your soul.”

– William Shakespeare

The difference between an “ok” photograph and a great one is often a game of inches.  Consider a simple image of a couple standing at the alter during a wedding ceremony.  This photo can be bland, mundane even.  But, if you capture a moment when the couple glances at each other, smiling nervously with their eyes full of love, then that “ok” picture can become perfect.

Photography is often a game of inches.

Two of the things that consistently elevate photographs for me are emotion and eye contact (given that most of my photos have people in them).  Eye contact in street photography can be a controversial thing for some people; with many purists subscribing to the belief that it isn’t a street photograph if there is interaction between the photographer and the subject.  I care little for rules like this, however, and love it when my subject looks right into the lens as I click the shutter.  It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does I often find the resulting image to be a powerful one.

I took this photograph a few years ago, while I was wandering the streets of Los Angeles with fellow Official Fujifilm X Photographer Rinzi Ruiz.  We were walking slowly, enjoying a long conversation about photography, when I saw two things at the same time:  The first was this lady walking down the street, looking wonderful in her blue and pink outfit.  The second was the wall to my left, covered in blue and pink posters.  I am always looking for elements in a photograph that compliment or contrast with each other, so it was easy to see an image coming together as she walked towards us.

I crossed the street quickly, tweaking my Exposure Compensation slightly to adjust for the bright LA sunshine (my camera was in Aperture Priority Mode with Auto-ISO engaged).  I snapped a few candid frames as the lady entered the frame, but then she paused and looked directly at me.  I smiled, asked if I could make a quick portrait of her and, after a slight nod, clicked the shutter one more time (capturing the image you see above).  Within seconds she continued walking down the sidewalk, I rejoined Rinzi, and we made our way down the streets of Los Angeles looking for the next photo.

That night, as I was viewing the image on my iPad, I was struck by the intensity of her gaze.  The sunglasses definitely add a layer of mystery, but you can feel her looking directly into the lens.  It feels powerful, much more so than any of the candid photos where she was looking down the street.  This connection, this human connection, is something I love about street and portrait photography.

Post production was very quick for this image:  I elected to use a square crop to remove distracting elements on either side of the subject.  I also had to recover some bright highlights on the wall behind the subject, but the rest of the image is just Fujifilm’s Classic Chrome film simulation being awesome. 

I think that a few lessons can be learned from an image like this:

  1. Always be looking when you are out on the streets.  This day was about spending time with a peer while I was on vacation, but photo opportunities will always present themselves if you are tuned in to your environment.
  2. Don’t just take one image when you see a scene coming together, work it to increase your chances of getting the best image possible.  Here I shot an image from across the street, grabbed a few candid frames as I was finding my final composition, and finally took this one during our brief interaction.  Working the scene might mean trying different angles, different compositions, shooting it in black and white or dragging your shutter to create a sense of motion.  Much like shooting a portrait session, the first photo you take is rarely the best one.  Investing time into a great scene is worth it.
  3. Don’t be nervous around people.  It is common for new photographers to feel awkward photographing strangers, be it candidly on the street or in a more formal portrait setting.  But, the truth is that people are almost always wonderful, the world over, if you simply reach out to them and make a human connection.  There was a time in my life when I would have put the camera down and nervously looked away when this wonderful lady looked right at me, but that always resulted in a lost opportunity and a lost photograph.  Overcoming shyness and embracing the connection that comes from direct eye contact will only make your photographs better.

I wish I had been teaching the day I took this image.  The main subject is wonderful, the photo provided a compositional lesson about using colour palettes to tie a subject and background together, it was an opportunity to reinforce the power of direct eye contact, and I got to engage with a stranger on the street and ask to make her portrait.  The whole experience only took 2 or 3 minutes, but it is another in a long list of rewarding experiences that photography has gifted me.

Until next time!

Ian

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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 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. 

What Lies Behind : Photographic Insights – Volume Four

Camera INFO:  Fujifilm X100F | f/8 | 1/600th | ISO 200

Let’s talk for a minute about being prepared, both mentally and physically, when we are out shooting on the streets.

My approach to street photography is usually more methodical than reactive, working to build an image in layers with deliberate consideration.  It starts by finding something that could be the foundation for a compelling photo, such as an interesting framing element, a unique perspective, beautiful light, or perhaps strong colours.  I will then work the scene for a few minutes, trying different compositions, until all of the static elements in the photograph are arranged the way I want them.  Some photos are done at this point, but often I will then wait for the right dynamic element (usually a person) to enter my frame to complete the image.  This is a very mindful, zen like process that I enjoy immensely.

The danger in this methodical approach, however, is that we may not see or be prepared for any spontaneous photo opportunities that present themselves.  There is a very real risk of “tuning out” while walking through the streets of a city, only re-engaging our creative eye when we spot our next scene, which could lead to us missing wonderful moments.  Always seeing, and always being prepared to react, allows us to avoid this.

Such was the case with this image, seen as I climbed up out of a Paris Metro station on a beautiful sunny afternoon while en route to meet my wife and daughter for dinner.  I saw the composition instantly: the Metro sign framing the top of the steps perfectly, with bright sunshine backlighting the entire scene.  In a moment of pure serendipity this gentleman stopped at the top of the stairs for a few seconds and I knew I had my photo.  I loved his posture, and hats always make for a great silhouette.  I managed to snap 2 or 3 frames, standing on the steps as people moved passed me, and then my subject walked out of frame.

We have talked about the importance of seeing constantly when on the streets, but just as important is to ensure that your camera is ready to go.  I have worked with photographers who pack up between scenes, or who always have the lens cap on except when they are physically taking a photo.  These actions create a barrier that will result in missed images.  I prefer wearing my camera on a sling, allowing it to hang out of the way by my right hip.  I also always ensure my camera is set up to immediately grab an image.  Let’s talk about that for a second.

I often change my camera settings when I am deliberately building a photograph, perhaps manually focusing, manually exposing, adjusting Exposure Compensation, etc.  When I am done with that scene, however, I always reset my camera back to the same settings (my “home base”).  I have alluded to this in previous posts, but home base for me is Aperture Priority Mode (around f/8 depending on the light) with Auto ISO set to give me a minimum shutter speed of 1/320th (again, depending on the amount of light).  For other people home base might involve setting a manual exposure and zone focusing.  How you set your camera up isn’t the important thing, it is that you develop the habit of going back to those settings when you are just walking around, so that your camera is ready to capture an image that suddenly appears in front of you.

Always be seeing, always be ready.  

Cheers,

Ian

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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.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS: