The Importance of a Moment in Time

The most significant moments in our lives are usually made up of tiny slivers of time.  I will always remember exactly when my daughter took her first breath and the moment my wife said “yes” when I asked her to marry me.  I remember where I was when I learned that planes had hit the towers in New York City and I remember the time I said something brutally honest to a friend and then regretted it instantly, even before I saw the hurt in his eyes.  I remember all of the times that my sickest patients, whom I had fought so hard to resuscitate, defied the odds and started breathing again.  Many of these moments were only seconds in length, but I remember all of them with absolute clarity.

The times in between these events, however, are rarely remembered with any true clarity.  I don’t have special memories of grocery shopping, waiting in line at the bank or of working out at the gym.  To be honest, as the years go by, I find myself trying to clear the “noise” from my life more and more, actively focusing on the important slivers of time that really matter.  I don’t want a life consumed by “in between” things… I want the memories.

Now, there is a direct parallel between these moments in our lives and our photography.  Anybody who has shot long enough will have experienced at least one special moment when out with their camera;  the street photographer who sees and captures that rare time when the subject, background and light all come together in a perfect composition, or the landscape photographer who finds themselves shooting through a sunrise so beautiful that it must have come from God, or the wedding photographer who captures the first kiss, but who then stays with it and captures a tear on the cheek of the bride as she pulls away, her eyes still locked on her new husband.  These are the moments I live for as a photographer.  

As we gain experience I think it is important to learn how to anticipate these moments, to create them if it is within our power to do so, and to not get distracted by all of the “in between” photos that present themselves.  It is important to know the value of that one special photograph and to not get lost in a sea of “in between” ones.

I love the photograph at the top of this post.  I think the lady is beautiful, the expression on the waiter’s face is perfect, and I love how well the subjects match the background.  The light in the scene is good and, perhaps most important of all, the photograph tells a story.  There is a genuine moment here, captured as a slice of time in my camera. These photographs don’t present themselves often, but I would gladly trade one thousand “in between” photographs for ten or twenty that truly tell a story like this one does.  

When I took this photo I knew I had something I loved as soon as I clicked the shutter, and it got me thinking about the fact that I seem to be making more and more of these images as time goes on.  Upon reflection, I can honestly say that the main difference between now and a few years ago is simply this:  I have slowed down, which allows me to see more.  I have learned to focus on those special moments in time and to not get distracted by all of the “in between”.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered by many to be the father of modern street photography, wrote often about this concept.  Here are a few of his thoughts that have influenced my approach to photography:

“It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.” 

“A photograph is neither taken or seized by force. It offers itself up. It is the photo that takes you. One must not take photos.”

“There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.” 

What is Henri saying here?  I think it is that the photograph is already out there, but to capture it we need to be more patient, more cerebral, more focused and yes, sometimes more instinctual.  We must slow down, see more, and be ready to act when we do find that perfect moment in time that will only last for a few seconds.  Henri also wrote:

“We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole.” 

When we first learn photography the right side of our brain is often overloaded by the technical aspects of shooting.  This is as it should be, we need to shoot a lot in the early stages to develop our skills.  Once we have the technicals down, however, it is important to place the focus on our creative vision.  For the street photographer, this means learning how to become more attuned to the environment, to anticipate moments, and to shoot photographs in a way that captures the story that our eyes are seeing.  We won’t nail it every time, far from it actually, but it is so satisfying when we do.

So, here is my challenge to you:

The next time you hit the streets, coach yourself to slow down and see more.  Really take the time to become in tune with what is happening around you without a camera up to your eye.  Don’t shoot the “in between” photos during this outing.  Don’t settle… wait for that special moment.  Wait for the decisive moment, where you make that one photograph that will mean so much more to you than a hundred “in between” ones.  

It might take some time, but it will absolutely be worth it.

Cheers,

Ian

The Streets of San Francisco – Part Two

“San Francisco itself is Art.  Every block is a short story, every hill a novel.  Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal.” – William Saroyan

For me, there is no quote that describes San Francisco better than this one.  Every day I am there I start shooting  early, as the sun rises, eager to explore.  This isn’t a big city, but in the blink of an eye the sun has set and I have walked over 20 kilometres.  My feet are sore, I am mentally and visually exhausted from shooting for so long, but I can’t bring myself to head back to the hotel because there is just so much to see and discover.  This is a city full of life, a city that embraces you, and there is always one more block to explore, one more corner to turn, one more person to meet, one more photo to take.

Being a photographer in San Francisco is a wonderful thing.  Here is another series of street images from my most recent trip there…

Note:  The next photograph has a funny story:  I pass through this tunnel on my way to Chinatown often and these steps have always intrigued me as a vantage point for a new photo.  I finally made this one, which I like, but something felt off about it as soon as I clicked the shutter… like it felt familiar.  It wasn’t until days later that I realized that my good friend Valerie Jardin had made a photo from this spot, which was published in one of her recent books.  I was going to just delete it, but I think I will leave it here as an homage to a friend.

All images in this series were shot with Fujifilm X Series cameras, either the X100F or the X-Pro2 (using either the 23mm f/2 or the 50mm f/2 lenses). I can’t think of any other camera system I would want with me on the streets of a city like San Francisco, or anywhere else for that matter. 👍

To view Part One of this Series click here.

To view Part THREE of this Series click here.

The Streets of San Francisco – Part One

“You wouldn’t think such a place as San Francisco could exist. The wonderful sunlight, the hills, the great bridges, the Pacific at your shoes. Beautiful Chinatown.  Every race in the world. The fleets sailing out. The little cable-cars whizzing down The City hills… And all the people are open and friendly.” — Dylan Thomas

2018 started off at a breakneck pace.  It’s funny how that seems to happen to me every year:  I slow down over the winter break, unplug a bit, and spend time with my girls.  Upcoming work in the new year is somewhere in the back of my mind but it seems so far away.  Suddenly it is Christmas, then New Year’s Eve, and just like that my girls are back at school and the dam that has been holding my work at bay gives way.  This is exactly how the beginning of January went for me this year, where I worked 19 long days straight on multiple projects, for multiple clients.

…but then there was San Francisco.

I am writing this post early one morning from that amazing city, a place I have loved ever since I first visited it countless years ago.  My window is open, the morning sun shining into the hotel room, and  I can hear the sounds of the cable cars filtering up from the city streets below.  It feels wonderful.  It feels like home.

This post is the beginning of a series featuring new street photography from San Francisco.  I’m not sure how long the series is going to be though.  Four parts?  Five?  There are so many new photographs to share, new stories to tell and new people to meet.  Let’s get started…

Note:   All photos in this post were taken with the Fuji X100F, using the Acros and Classic Chrome film simulations.

Click here to view part two of this series!