Capturing the Brilliant Light of Marseille: Street Photography by Yves Vernin

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Eric’s Note: Yves Vernin is a street photographer based out of Marseille, France. I met Yves in Marseille last year, where he was an amazing host and showed me all around the city. I wanted to share his images of Marseille, a place that I haven’t seen much street photography from, and I love how he is able to catch the brilliant light there. Read more to see his images and his beginnings and what he looks for when in the streets.

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Yves: I am doctor and ethnologist. I shot a bit of street photography as an adolescent, but for the next 25 years gave up photography entirely.

About three years ago, I then bought my first camera to take photos to illustrate letters to my girlfriend. Inspired by photography once again, I bought my first DSLR about a year later. The main purpose of getting the camera was to photograph musicians during their rehearsals and also of some master stringed-instrument makers. From then, I was drawn to the light and also with a focus on hands.

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From that point forward, I started to shoot again in the streets with my DSLR. Due to the large size of my camera, I am quite shy when shooting on the streets. Therefore I tend to focus my attention on the light and the shadows rather than on people.

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Eric, you asked me an interesting question: “How does your music influences your photography?

I listen to a lot of music, especially classical music. I’m not sure whether my interest in music necessarily influences my photography, but it certainly reflects my tastes. I am drawn to complex structures (both in music and photography).

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Some of the photographers that I admire is Constantine Manos— and his use of shadows and light. Interestingly enough, Manos also started like me– by first taking photographs of classical musicians during their rehearsals. Perhaps this isn’t a cooincidence.

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When I shoot on the streets, I don’t think much about composition. Rather, I go by intuition and with my gut. As a child, my parents taught the fundamentals of Italian painting and would explain them onc countless museum trips.  Not only that, but I was a shooting champion as a child (with a gun) as a child — so I trained for a long time to perfect my aiming without necessarily looking. Today, when shooting I don’t always frame using my viewfinder.

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To work the rough lights of Marseille, I often wait until the sun is low – and I make sure that my lens is clean and my lens hood is on. I also am careful of the sun, because our eyes are precious and it can be quite harmful looking at it for too long.

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The light changes every day and I spend a lot of time walking, looking for new paths of light. I look for rays on the ground, unexpected reflections, or abnormally-lighted faces. I then try to understand where the light comes from. I think it is important to know your city well in order to know where the light comes from and where the shadows fall.

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When I find the good light (which is nice and contrasty) I usually do one of two things. First of all, I might set my exposure to the highlights. I don’t mind if the shadows are black and without detail — it is actually something I like. However if I am facing against the sun, I look for an object which I can use as my main subject. I then wait for people to walk by at the right time, to create an interesting silhouette, shadows–or for something unexpected to happen! After that, it is a lot of patience, and luck.

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You can see more work from Yves from his website here. You can also follow Yves on Facebook.

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