Anatomy of a street shot.
This short essay is a followup to a presentation I made at the Central Maryland Photographers Guild about street shooting and posted specifically because it seems like a good slow motion example of what usually happens very quickly.
First let me say that not all successful street shots are big, great shots; some are little shots that only evoke a smile or an grimace of appreciation. Generally shots happen quickly and the moves that get the photographer in place and the decisions made are usually too difficult to explain sensibly enough to provide any useful meaning for a less experienced shooter.
This one, however, was a slow, stealthy process and the steps may be of some real interest.
I was coming back from Full Circle Photo, a gallery and printer in north Baltimore where I had looked at a new show that had just opened for a review. I was hungry and so I stopped at Red Emma's a radical bookstore and a vegetarian restaurant. Their slogan is “We are a worker cooperative and family of projects dedicated to autonomy, sustainability, participatory democracy, and solidarity.”
I go for the sandwiches and the coffee.
The interesting part of this place is the very eclectic clientele and the general air of intent concentration on books, phones, laptops, tablets or writing pads.
I go to look.
I had a messenger bag with a book, my Olympus OMD 5 and some other stuff but I had an Oly EP-3 around my neck, as always. I was wearing a dark short coat, dark pants and boots. The only thing I was missing to really fit in was a pony tail and a t shirt that proclaimed 'Down with the current hegemony.'
After my sandwich appeared, and in preparation for looking around and maybe getting some shots, I chose one of the bar-like elevated tables immediately at the edge of the area that held all the standard height tables. Thus I would be up above those tables and in a good shooting position. But I needed to be unobtrusive; people respond to out of the ordinary behavior and I don't want to change what is going on.
I sat down and pulled the other two chairs around the small table, one on either side next to me, ostensibly to hold my messenger bag and my coat. The real reason was to get them out of the sight line for any photos I wanted to take. I ate slowly, reading my book. Every once in a while, I would pick up my camera and look at a couple of shots on the lcd.
Once I settled in, more people came, some people left – and I was just part of the crowd. There were two possible subjects – a bearded man working on his laptop next to another guy reading his phone and a group of deaf people talking rapidly and excitedly with their hands. I took some shots but nothing there panned out well, I would have had to move and crouch to get anything interesting, if at all, and that would have certainly aroused attention.
Most of the room was in the shade and as I looked around I saw there was this one person sitting over rather deliberately in the sun. The lines were good, there was supporting composition and I could shoot without raising the camera from the table top. I was a little concerned about exposure but I could see the histogram from the initial shot and the overexposed spike was probably from the bright tray on the table.
When I got home and looked at the snaps, clearly most of them were throwaways but one had some promise.
This one shot of the woman in the light in contrast to everyone else in the shadow stood out as being interesting. . There were some defects. Too much detail showed in the shadow areas that was not important. I wanted the woman in the sun to be the center of interest and be in clear contrast to everything else. It was, in my mind, clearly destined to be a B&W shot where the shadows and tones supported the parts in the light and the colors were unimportant. So I cropped a bit (specifically to minimize the influence of the bent-over figure on the left), fixed the too bright areas, darkened the shadowed areas so they didn't intrude and dealt with the tilted look of the columns. Then I then used a b&w layer in PhotoShop to convert it.
In the first 'final' shot, I totally didn't see some text on the back of the cap on the man to the right – but when someone pointed that out to me as being really distracting, it was an obvious defect and distraction - a good example of how difficult it is to fully 'see' one's own shots.
I edited the text out, or rather painted over it, and this below is the final final. Not an important shot but a good exercise to keep my eye in no matter where I am.
I started out trying to figure out what works and what didn't. After hundreds of failures eventually, like running for position to catch a fly ball in baseball, positioning myself for a decent shot became sort of automatic.
Then, the next obstacle seeing the differences between shot I got and the one in my mind's eye - and erasing the difference as much as possible.
Lew, a great read and I'm enjoying the site.
I too like the shot and especially your description of how you went about planning and getting in the right position for a possible opportunity.
Great site you put together Lew. Very nice read. Nice shot culled from the other shots. I actually like the color version better. Lighting really made the shot.
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