Featured Street Photographer of the Week: Piotr Gołębiowski

Note: Every Wednesday, I feature street photographers with great skill and soul. For this week, I decided to feature street photographer Piotr Golebiowski! I met Piotr by an insightful comment he left on my blog regarding using his Olympus EP-1 for street photography. I took a look at his work and was blown away! Check out all of the other featured street photographers of the week here!

1. How did you get started in street photography?

"On the Watch" - Piotr Gołębiowski
"On the Watch" - Piotr Gołębiowski

Photography has been my hobby for more than 20 years now, but my adventure with street photography started in July 2009 with one photograph I took during a walk near my home. It is titled “On the watch” and it shows a cat and a dog looking through a window. There was something magic in that moment. It lasted only for a couple of seconds and the guys in the window reminded me of some elderly people who like to sit in the window and watch the world passing by. Later I received a comment on Flickr saying “I think the cat is keeping the dog captive.”

At the time I was already fascinated by great photographs of Elliott Erwitt. I admired his ability to capture irony in our everyday life and I was amazed by the way he photographed dogs revealing their human character. I started digging more into the street photography subject and one day I found a very interesting interview with Joe Wigfall – New York street photographer, where he explains how “he sees with his hands”… I strongly encourage you to listen to that interview here or look at this short video where he explains his shooting technique here.

2. How do you shoot in the streets?

"Father and Son" - Piotr Gołębiowski
"Father and Son" - Piotr Gołębiowski

After “On the watch” photography incident I wanted to carry my DSLR everywhere I went, but it was just to bulky and to heavy to be carried around. Also, the DSLR makes you “look like a photographer” and after listening to Joe Wigfall’s interview I tried to avoid that. This is how I ended up buying a smaller micro 4/3ds camera Olympus E-P1.

When I shoot in the streets I try to remain invisible. I compose the images without looking through the viewfinder or at the LCD, often shoot from the hip or with the camera hanging from my neck. I learned that you have to be always ready, as you never know when the right moment comes. And when it comes, it’s to late to switch the camera on. So I turned off the “sleep mode” in my camera :)  I do a lot of candid shots. I try not to show my photography intentions to people in the streets, because I think the moment they notice the camera, they stop being themselves, stop behaving naturally. They subconsciously start to pose, act unnaturally, not to say they simply wouldn’t like to have their picture be taken.

Believe me or not, but the “Father & Son” photograph was taken without these guys knowing they were being photographed. I was standing in front of them in the crowded place, fascinated by how bored they were and at the time I pressed the shutter I was looking in a different direction. Sometimes such photographs require a lot of luck, but I think it is worth trying despite the fact that some of the shots are totally messed up.

Besides shooting in the streets while walking, I often shoot from the moving car or bus/tram while panning the shot. I do it not only because I don’t have much time for photo walks during the week and I shoot from the car (passenger’s seat) on my way to work, but I love how the movement of the vehicle I’m in adds to the drama and emotions of the photograph. When you pan the camera only the subject you’re panning on remains in focus, while the background, foreground gets that additional motion blur. I love that movement in the frame.

And last but not least, I sometimes visualize my street photographs before I take them and wait for certain character to enter the scene like in the “Creepy elevator” image for example. When people start to look strangely at what I’m doing, I smile. It helps… sometimes.

3. What do you love most about street photography?

"Jackpot" Piotr Gołębiowski
"Jackpot" - Piotr Gołębiowski

I love capturing these moments, often lasting only a fraction of a second, moments when you would think that nothing special was really happening, and an interesting character suddenly walks by with that unique look in the eyes. If not captured by the camera, these moments are lost forever, often people wouldn’t even know they happened. I try to look for interesting characters in the streets even when I don’t have the camera with me or when it’s dark. I try to visualize the photographs I could have taken at that moment. Such visualization helps to improve and train the photographer’s eye.

I’ve noticed that street photography had opened my eyes. I see more interesting people in the streets, sometimes I even recognize the same strangers and when it happens I feel like they are not strangers to me any more :)


"Creepy Elevator" - Piotr Gołębiowski
"Creepy Elevator" - Piotr Gołębiowski

Add Piotr on Flickr and check out his amazing work! Also follow him on Twitter as well.

Liked Piotr’s work? Show him some love and leave him a comment below! :)

19 thoughts on “Featured Street Photographer of the Week: Piotr Gołębiowski”

  1. Orlando Calheiros

    Just great! His work makes my head blow up. “The look” was one of the best street photos I’ve set my eyes.

  2. Loved the interview and loved Piotr’s photos…especially ‘On The Watch’. And am looking forward to seeing more of his work.
    I too use an Olympus Pen and it was so great to hear of other street photographers using the same, and making ‘music’ with it.
    I too was inpsired by a book by Elliott Erwin titled Dogs…and as I always try to include dogs in my photos this book has become my visual bible.
    Thank you Piotr for your insight and wonderful photos and Eric for bringing him to my attention.

  3. Thanks for bringing Piotr’s work to our attention, Eric. It’s all great stuff, and the interview is really insightful. The shot of the cat and dog is just priceless! Those stares are really penetrating, the way they’ve been captured. And I agree with that comment. The cat is definitely the mastermind here…

  4. Thanks everybody! I’m really thrilled with the positive comments here and the comments to my photographs you left on Flickr :)

    Lynnie – I’ve got the same Erwitt’s book you mentioned. It’s a great source of inspiration!
    Eric – thanks again for this chance of showing my work to your readers.

  5. Great interview and photos.
    I really dig your darkish B&W style. It looks very similar to early photography, which is great.
    Also lots of respect for shooting with your hands. I’ve seen the video of Joe Wigfall earlier and it’s a really great way of photographing. It must’ve taken lots of practice.
    How long did it take you to master this skill?



    1. Thanks Jaap! Yes, it requires a lot of practice (trial, error and patience), but it gets easier with every shot you take without looking at the viewfinder. After some time (hard to tell exactly how long it takes) you somehow know what will be included in the frame and what not. Sometimes the shots are cropped in a strange way, but that also makes for some unusual points of view and compositions.

      The trick is to use a prime lens (wide angle works the best, because you can get very close to your subjects and then crop in post a bit to fine-tune the final composition). I mostly shoot with 20mm lens now (what makes 40mm on the E-P1, so it’s not as wide as I’d like, but you shoot with what you have right?). Learning to shoot this way with a prime (or fixing your zoom lens at one zoom setting only, at the widest angle for example) is easier, because you don’t have to take the zoom factor into account while aiming for the shot.

      Take care,

  6. Piotr, thanks for your reply!
    I use a 35mm lens on crop (Nikon D5000) and I’m slowly starting to get the hang of its field of view. Shooting from the hip hasn’t been at all great up to now, but practice makes perfect, doesn’t it. :)
    Do you actually shoot in burst mode, or like 3 clicks “click, click, click” or do you nail it in one shot?


    1. Jaap,
      Shooting from the hip isn’t my favorite technique either, but in some situations it works best :) Especially if you want to remain invisible in the crowd of people. I try to get as close as possible to the photographed subject and wait for “the decisive moment”. I don’t use the burst mode on the E-P1, because it’s too slow, and the intervals between each “click” are much too long, so capturing the moment in one shot is all I got. Of course some times it’s necessary to re-shoot the scene if the circumstances allow and later choose the best shot. Sometimes all of the shots are crap :) But yes, practice makes perfect, and I’m far from reaching that perfection too.

      If you like street photography, please take a look at this website too:
      One of the real masters of street photography and one of my many idols is Nils Jorgensen, you can see his work here: http://www.in-public.com/NilsJorgensen/gallery/60

      I think that your 35mm on a crop sensor makes for a nice lens, but I would encourage you to borrow a wider lens from a friend if you have a chance, and see how it works for you.


      1. O yes! That’s a lovely camera Jaap. I’ve heard some great things about it and what I like the most is the dual viewfinder it will have and that Leica like appeal.

        Optical viewfinder just like in a range finder camera (you see through that little glass square) or electronic (you look through the lens but using the electronic viewfinder).
        I think this will be a hell of a street camera, so maybe you should wait for. I think it should cost around 1000 USD.

  7. Fantastic set of images and a very interesting read, Piotr. It´s interesting to read about your choice of camera. In Stockholm everyone uses DSLR:s these days, so I have no problem blending in with my K-7. Probably it´s a combination of not having to freakish gear and how you act while shooting. With a camera I believe is unobtrusive I probably act less like someone with a mission, so to speak ;)

    Anyhow – great images. Keep them coming …!

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