Recently I had the opportunity to spend several days with one of my long-time favorite National Geographic photographers, Sam Abell. The street photography workshop at the Los Angeles Center of Photography brought me back 25 years ago into a classroom environment with insightful, and painful critiques.
By the time we got downtown Los Angeles to our location, Union Station, we had 20 minutes left of light. Knowing I live for light, I wasted no time and focused hard on not letting fear interrupt the precious time left. While I fall head over heels for good light, I decided to push through the rest of class and work on seeing differently without the sun and working under artificial light only.
I tend to think a lot about my approach when I am photographing. I noticed I second guess myself when I am photographing on the streets. I ask myself over and over if I am allowed to take each picture. I am aware it is legal, but my gut doesn’t always feel convinced it should be mine to take. There are many opportunities I allow to pass even though I can see the exact moments happening. That feeling of being new to an area that's not my neighborhood, my reaction to being in unfamiliar territory, makes me think I am a tourist or visitor.
It's easy to say fear is the issue. While my intentions are good, I am committing an action and taking something from these people. What I take is a secret to them because we rarely connect. They will never have an idea about why I thought they were special to me.
I think it is too trite and poetic to say it is their soul that I take. Each person lives in a series of moments and those moments put together equals that person's day. A majority of these movements are spent in public for everyone to notice. That means my pictures are 'their' moments in their time, not mine. Once I press the shutter, I own that moment and get to run home without ever sharing it with them. I always say thank you in my head.
I tend to let the voices overpower the more I walk and walk. Even when I am headed to work, a meeting or running errands, the voices leave me feeling blind and lacking creativity.
I have my camera, and I am ready.
Confidence deep inside, all the way down in my gut fuels a fire in so many incredible ways, but it can be exhausting constantly pushing back. Inevitably, I see beautiful light that inspires me and before I know it I am a maniac chasing the light as it moves and bounces from building to building. Late afternoon light moves very fast.
Street photography is about luck. However, in order for that luck to happen on a consistent basis I have to be alert and ready. I walk down the street with my hand on the shutter button at all times. I also visualize the camera's rectangular frame to focus my attention on the camera's field of view. This helps me get rid of the extra visual clutter that will be cropped out once I lift my camera to my eye.
As long as I am in the mood, seeing this way comes naturally. But it does require me to completely shut down otherwise. It is a selfish time and not something I can do at 100 percent if I am with someone having a conversation. My camera is manually prefocused, shutter and F-stop are also in manual mode. The best pictures typically allow me with less than a second to react. There is no time for computers to make the decisions.
Fleeting moments aren’t going to wait and most won't ever happen again. The camera becomes an extension to the eye. However, the most important connection is between my eye and my mind because without that I would not have a personal vision and voice in my work.