I mentioned this in a previous post but I miss walking around and indulging in one of the two loves that I have of photography – street photography. Not only do I love walking around and getting lost within the world around me but I like to try and do that without being noticed. No, I’m not hiding behind trees and bushes cloak and dagger style. However, I do like to walk around camera hanging off my shoulder and shooting from the hip. I keep at least one hand on the camera with a finger near or on the shutter button at all times. In doing this I can snap a pic of whatever wherever without drawing attention to myself or making people self-conscious or on notice.
Recently I was asked by Andy, a photographer friend of mine, if I wanted to join him for lunch while he grabbed some local building stock for a client. Clearing out a little time I said sure why not. Before joining him I debated on whether to bring a camera as well or just take the opportunity to stretch my legs,grab some fresh air and enjoy the weather. What a crazy thought. Why would I pass up an opportunity to grab some shots myself? With a camera in hand we met up and started out on our lunchtime adventure. Andy was looking for houses and areas that had a DC residential flair. Me? I decided it was time to reengage in one of my
favorite styles of photography – street photography. While we walked around trying to find the ‘right street’ I was thinking about how I wanted to approach my outing today, what should I shoot. Because we were in a residential section in the middle of the day on a weekday there wasn’t a lot of activity around the streets. Sure there was the occasional passerby but for the most part is was sparse on the human front. I didn’t want to mimic what Andy was doing and made the decision to spend more time shooting from the hip than from looking through the viewfinder.
I had a 50mm lens on the camera so there would be no zooming. Thanks to it being a sunny day I was able to toy around in the 11-16 f/stop range so I knew the DoF wouldn’t be too shallow and there would be a greater chance of things being in focus. Working off a center-weighted focus I was ready to inconspicuously keep my finger on the shutter button and fire when ready. I didn’t know if we looked like tourists or creapers or what. We would walk around, point at houses and Andy would shoot what he thought would fit the assignment. For me I kept a look out for anything that interested me.
There was a couple things that caught my eye and so I would ‘aim’ the camera at my interest point, look the opposite way and SNAP picture grabbed. I like people in the environment so the residential area didn’t offer me as much as I had hoped so while waiting for that humanity to make an appearance I did grab a couple things that did capture my attention. Just like when I decided to bring the camera, why let an opportunity pass me by. Sure I wasn’t finding exactly what I was looking but that doesn’t mean I should ignore other things that grab my attention.
That afternoon was the perfect time for me to forget my sunglasses and to wear a long sleeve black shirt. And by perfect I mean ugh, it was really hot and quite bright. So after an hour or so we both decided it was time to start making our way back to the real world of work. Looking at our map of the area and finding the best, most direct path back to where we needed to go we started on our way.
I spied a park a couple blocks away so we shifted our trajectory and made. I knew there would be something for me to stealthily grab and was ready for action. The park wasn’t the one I was expecting – thats what I get for not being familiar with the area – but still had some various elements of life. There was an interesting mix on the benches, some people in unfortunate situations, while others were taking it easy chatting away on their phone. Without drawing too much attention I was able to grab some images while looking like I was just looking around ‘protecting’ the camera on my shoulder. Andy even tossed in an assist by scuffing his feet on the ground as I took a picture in order to cover up the shutter sound – this camera does have a satisfying SNAP in operation but in these situations quieter would be better. Only once did someone turn our way when the shutter went off. The guy behind the bike turned his attention to us but then looked away when he didn’t see anything conspicuous with us.
Leaving the park we were getting closer and closer to the more dense and active population in the area. This meant that as Andy was getting out of ‘shooting for client’ mode I was getting into the ‘woohoo, time for more possibilities from the hip’ mindset. While we were in conversation about the area I would turn here and turn there for a pic or two. I tried to get my timing down to get a girl riding her bike in the shot or going across crosswalks with groups of people. I wasn’t too worried about focus, I wanted to make sure everyone was in the shot and that the composition was such that I could work with it. Let me just say that the 50mm was the perfect choice to walk around with. While it limited me in composing shots that I was doing through the viewfinder, it really gave me the freedom and confidence to keep the camera low and out of other people’s minds. I was having a blast.
The more people there were around me the more photo opportunities I had. These opportunities weren’t just because of the volume of people around me but also because of the ‘volume’ these people were producing. All the extra noise helped to drown out that lovely shutter sound the camera produces so I was even more ‘hidden’ in the crowds. Grabbing people in their natural state interacting with their environment without adjusting or reacting to a camera in front of them meant that what I captured is what I, or anyone else, saw unfiltered. These moments, while others could also see doesn’t mean they were really looking at what was going on. This is one of the things that I love about street photography, the raw moments that people might not notice or pay attention to until they see from a different perspective. No, I wouldn’t say street photography is without manipulation of the viewer. There are images that are captured to elicit a response, or moments where the photographer waits for just the right person to pass by a sign or other element. Street photography is just like any other style of photography in that there is something the photographer wants the viewer to see, to notice. Sometimes this comes from unfiltered, unplanned spur of the moment images and sometimes it comes from patience and planning. I like to think I dabble in a little of both. There are images that I shoot where I want the viewer to have an eye-opening reaction and there are images that I want to viewer to just look to enjoy and create their own experience. I don’t expect everyone to respond to the photos I create the same way I do. The final images I create have a purpose and meaning to me, and at the crossroads of my meaning and the viewers meaning is where a fun connection can be made – where the conversation gets to start.