I recently attended Elliot Erwitt’s “100+1″ exhibition at Fotografiska, which will be in Stockholm from December 6, 2013 to March 2, 2014. We were given a brochure with great practical advice for street photographers– which I have shared here. This text for the article is extracted from the foreword dedication written by Elliott Erwitt for the book “Personal Exposures.”
Photos in this article are from my road trip from Michigan to California.
One thing I hate about the modern world is our addiction to speed. We want everything to be done faster, more efficiently, and better optimized. We are frustrated when we are loading up a website on our smartphones and it takes longer than a few seconds. We hardly have the patience to cook anymore, so we just pop something in the microwave. We then inhale our food in a few seconds so we can get back to work and be more “productive.”
Besides street photography, I have a great interest in sociology, psychology, and philosophy. What I love about all these side-fields is that they overlap and add unto one another. Not only that, but I have probably learned more about street photography from these outside fields than from the field of photography itself.
A field I have been quite fascinated with is called “behavioral economics” the idea that us humans act “predictably irrational”. This means that we all have similar cognitive biases in certain circumstances. Although we like to think of ourselves as rational beings– we are far less rational than we’d like to believe.
In this article I want to share some insights I have learned from “behavioral economics” (which tends to fit into the field of psychology and cognitive science).
Disclaimer: I am not an expert when it comes to composition or color theory – but I wanted to share some of my thoughts and observations what I have experienced in photography. Please read this with a grain of salt. I also highly recommend you to refer to Adam Marelli as a better resource than me!
For today’s compositional lesson– I want to talk about color theory– and how you can better utilize colors when it comes to your street photography.
Personally around 2 years ago, I made the switch from shooting fully black and white — to just shooting color film (Kodak Portra 400).
Since then, I have learned to see the world in a totally different way. It has been fun, refreshing, and quite exciting.
However at the same time– shooting in color presented a new bag of worms. Whereas black and white tended to simplify a scene, color could be distracting and take away from a photo (if the colors didn’t add meaning and value).
So for this lesson we will talk about some color theory — in terms of how we can make colors better work for us. I am certainly not an expert when it comes to working in color, but I will try to share some practical tips of how you can better shoot street photography in color.
My good friend and talented street photographer Jack Simon (from Burn My Eye) has recently turned 70 years old (he looks about 2 decades younger than he is). In honor of his birthday, he recently published a new book titled: SEVENTY — which is a compilation of 70 great candid photos. He was also generous enough to offer the book free via ebook. More info about the book below from Jack:
SEVENTY is a compilation of 70 unplanned and unposed images. I enjoy the hunt for that moment of mystery, surprise, and humor in my everyday life. I seek images that hint to a larger story, like a publicity still from some forgotten movie. These fragments of fictional stories are drawn from the real world in an odd coupling of my unconscious, my intentions, and chance. As I turn 70, I celebrate these accidental glimpses into other worlds and untold stories that inhabit my surroundings.
If you want to learn more about Jack Simon and his work, you can see this in-depth interview I did with him here.
Jack Simon Shooting the Streets of SF
Below is a fun video I made with Jack shooting in the Mission District of SF:
If you haven’t heard yet the new street photography documentary: “Everybody Street” is now available to watch via Vimeo on demand. You can either rent the film for $4.99, or buy the film via digital download for $12.99. The film is 101 minutes long, and definitely worth the watch if you are passionate about street photography. More info about the film below:
“Everybody Street” illuminates the lives and work of New York’s iconic street photographers and the incomparable city that has inspired them for decades. The documentary pays tribute to the spirit of street photography through a cinematic exploration of New York City, and captures the visceral rush, singular perseverance and at times immediate danger customary to these artists.
Covering nine decades of street photography, “Everybody Street” explores the careers and influences of many notable photographers––a number of whom have never been documented, featuring: Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Jill Freedman, Bruce Gilden, Joel Meyerowitz, Rebecca Lepkoff, Mary Ellen Mark, Jeff Mermelstein, Clayton Patterson, Ricky Powell, Jamel Shabazz, Martha Cooper, and Boogie, with historians Max Kozloff and Luc Sante.
When it comes to composition– one of the first things you should ask yourself is: “Who is the subject?”
If you have a hard time identifying the main subject (or subjects) in the photo– you are in trouble.
One of the most difficult things to do in street photography is capture multiple subjects well. When there are lots of subjects in our frame, it is often difficult for us to focus on who the main subject is.
So how do we overcome this difficulty? I propose the compositional concept of: “Spot the not.”
Erics Note: Rohit Vohra is a street photographer based in New Delhi, India. In a search for new methods to ‘read the city’, his photographs are often about contact with humans and basic living elements. He is also the Editor in Chief of Art Photo Feature.
Rohit: Street photography is one of the purest forms of photography. Love the challenge it presents, of capturing the unknown. You are out on the road with absolutely no idea of what you are going to come back with. I enjoy street photography because of this uncertainty… the joy of capturing that perfect moment… perfect in terms of light, texture, and elements all perfectly in place. Such a flawless alignment of elements, coming together randomly, to create a perfect moment which is visible for the smallest span of time before it vanishes forever… that is what I enjoy. When I am on the street I like to show my reading or perception of reality.
For today’s lesson I want to talk about “urban landscapes.” Urban landscapes aren’t really compositions in the specific sense (compared to lines, curves, etc)– but I still feel they are relevant when creating our street photographs.
If you guys have read my prior lessons on composition– I have thought a lot about what a “composition” really is. For me at the end of the day– a composition can really be anything. The dictionary’s definition to composition is as follows:
Composition: The combining of distinct parts or elements to form a whole.
So when it comes to street photography, whatever elements we capture in the background make an image.
I am not exactly sure what direction these “composition lessons” are heading– but thank you for your support. Let us continue to ride the wave– and see where it follows:
In the late 1960′s, photographer Tony Ray-Jones wrote a hand-written note on his “approach” when he took photographs. I think these tips are lessons all of us as street photographers can learn from him. Read more to see some of his inspirational images (and this list typed out):