I have always looked at many great street photographs and have always wondered what the story was behind them. Interesting enough, I also get many questions about what was going on in my head when I shot certain photos of mine. Therefore I thought it might be a good thing to show you my 5 best street photographs of all-time, and explain a little more about the backround story as well as what was going on in my mind at the time.
1. “The Conductor” – Downtown Los Angeles
This is actually one of my first street photographs that I took. I was in Downtown LA with my girlfriend Cindy, and we went to go watch a show at the Ahmensen Theater, which is right next to the LA opera house. In the courtyard, there is this beautiful fountain that shoots streams of water at different intervals. Cindy exclaimed how beautiful it looked, and I ran over with my camera in hand, and snapped a few photos. I recall seeing the near-perfect silhouettes of the two people, and waited for the moment where either the man or woman would do something interesting. My wish was blessed, and the man on the left raised his hands as if explaining something to the woman. I snapped the photo and recall thinking, “It almost looks as if the man is conducting the streams of water to shoot up”. I then thought of the title, “The Conductor” and it has just stuck.
2. “Elegance” – Seoul, Korea
In the summer of 2009, I was in Seoul, Korea teaching English while shooting the streets on the weekends. The way that I would travel is by taking out a subway map, asking friends and family where points of interest were, and simply going there. Surprisingly enough, this method of simply wandering the streets helped me capture some of my best photographs.
Regarding this image, I was walking up a hill and saw the fascinating planks on the right. There were also little leaves on the ground, which really added to the atmosphere. I then felt water droplets hitting me on the head, and looked up, outstretched my hand, and noticed that it was raining. I knew that a great photo opportunity was to be experienced.
I then waited for the right person to walk by, and within 30 seconds or so, this woman walks by, parasol in hand. I then bring up my camera and snap two photos, this being the better photo in terms of how her legs were positioned. I remember thinking how elegant she looked in her white dress and white parasol, as well as how all the elements in the image coalesced quite nicely. I then thought it would be apt to title the image, “Elegance.”
I always wonder if she saw me taking a photo of her which caused her to cover her face, or she simply did it. Either way, I love the mystery it adds to the image.
3. “Mime at St. Pancras” – London, UK
Also in the summer of 2009, I embarked on an epic backpacking trip through Europe. I planned to meet my girlfriend in Paris, but had to land in the U.K. and take the train there (as it was cheaper). Therefore when I landed in London, I remember having to go to the St. Pancras station to transfer to the train. I recall when I arrived here, I was amazed by the beautiful architecture of the place, as well as how massive it was. I walked around, and saw this fascinating statue of a man holding his head as if he missed his train. There was some text on the ground below him which encircled him (I don’t quite remember what it said), but I thought it would be a great photo opportunity as well. I just wondered if the right person walked by it would make a magnificent shot.
I trusted my intuition, and framed the image in such a way that there would be some open space on the left. I then waited for the right person to pass, and saw a glimpse of a woman with high-heels walking on by. I then saw her reaching for her hair and thought to myself, “I gotta get this shot.” I snapped the shot at the right time, looked into my LCD and grinned. I nailed it.
In terms of titling the image, a thought came to mind: was the woman miming the statue, or the other way around? Guess I had to let the viewer think that one out. Therefore I titled it: “Mime at St. Pancras” and called it a day.
4. “The Entrance” – Paris, France
I arrived in Paris safely, and met up with my beautiful girlfriend Cindy. She had studied abroad in Paris while we were still in school, and she had so many fascinating places in Paris that she wanted to show me.
Like a local Parisian, she danced through the streets and showed me all the places “off the beaten road.” One day, she promised to take me to a place with “the most amazing chicken ever.” We then cruised through the streets, and soon stumbled what I believe to be the Jewish district in Paris. We then got the most amazing rotisserie chicken, ate it, and continued to wander the streets. Then suddenly from a distance, I saw these two little girls in front of what appeared to be a massive door. I ran to it instinctively, and snapped a few photos, trying a few vertical and horizontal compositions. Only until I looked in my LCD screen could I see that they were looking at a scooter in the distance.
The reason why the image spoke so much to me was the fact that it was almost like a fairytale. These two little girls waiting behind a mysterious door, and ready to almost step into another wonderful place. Kind of like something from C.S. Lewis. Not only that, but I loved the framing and how the older sister on the left is outstretching her arm, as if telling the little sister to “hold on for a second” or even getting ready to grab her hand and embark on their little journey together. Therefore the title “The Entrance” made complete sense to me.
5. “UFO” – Santa Monica
I finished work late that night, and had some time to kill before meeting a friend in Santa Monica. I thought that it would be a great opportunity for me to hit the streets and take some photos. I recall exiting the office, feeling a bit chilly, and zipping up my leather jacket–camera in hand.
I walked aimlessly around the streets, waiting to encounter an interesting scene. I was walking around for nearly an hour and just about to finish taking some photos, when I thought I’d walk around the new “Santa Monica Place” in Santa Monica. I then saw this fascinating fixture or sculpture, which was many steel spheres suspended from above. I saw the lights from the ground shooting up, which added even more to the mood. To top it off, I noticed an arrow on the street, which pointed right to it. I knew a great photo-opportunity was at hand.
There were a lot of cars passing in the street, which made getting this shot tough. I wasn’t quite sure who or what I was waiting for, but I wanted someone (or something) to cross this stage I had set up right where the arrow was pointing to. I waited for a bit, as the right people didn’t seem to walk by, or a car obstructed my view. Then from the far right, I saw a bike speeding over. I therefore cocked my camera to my eye and was ready to shoot. The instant the bicyclist was under the “X” mark, I shot the image. Half a second later another car zoomed by–obstructing my view. I had nabbed the shot.
There was something very strange to the scene–almost alienlike. What was that thing on the top anyways? A UFO–that was going to pick up the man and teleport him somewhere? Bingo.
Why not share your knowledge of street photography and leave a comment below with one of your best street photographs and tell us the story behind it!