In this corner of Downtown LA, just at the Broadway entrance to Grand Central Market, people buy their lottery tickets. You can stand here all day and watch the people stream out out, intent on their tickets and scratchers. They rarely look up. They rarely notice. And if they do, they rarely care. This is the perfect position for a street photographer.
I’m still in the image harvesting stage from my Cuba trip. I have a good idea where some of the gems are located, just waiting for me to get to them. There are some sections of images I’ve hardly touched because they represent a big project. For example, I have a set of images taken off a rooftop in Havana. I know that I have a lot of culling and panorama stitching work to do in order to bring together the complete vision. So they sit and wait for a long quiet weekend.
This image, on the other hand, was a complete surprise. It was buried within a series of images I took walking along the Prado on afternoon. Sometimes, when I shoot, I see a theme but I just can’t get all the variables right. That was the case, mostly, with the images from that part of the day. Except for this one. I don’t even remember taking it.
a series of short tutorials on different compositional techniques you can use to make images with stronger impact.
Our responsibility as photographers is to show ordinary subjects in extraordinary ways, to point out what the casual or indifferent observer overlooks, that which the vigilant observer sees. Being attentive and alert observers is not even enough. We must show what we see in ways that capture the imagination and attention. We must show the world from an original and novel point of view.
Eye-level is boring.
Showing the world around us in this way means using your position to create a unique perspective or point of view. There are several obvious approaches including getting low, high, very close, using unusual angles, or obscuring your subject in interesting ways.
Get Low, Step Closer.
There are many images taken at eye level, but unless they use other strong compositional elements, they are just repeating the view seen by every other person walking around the face of this earth. One of the easiest methods for adding impact to an image it to get lower and closer.
On the left is a simple image of a child playing on the Prado in Havana Cuba. The has a lot of potential with a cute kid, nice expression, and interesting color play, but there is no presence. The eye-level point of view has simply copied a simple scene and, and due to the camera position, there are a lot of details competing with the top of the child’s head.
In contrast, the image on the right was taken after taking a step or two closer and getting in lower. This image has great presence and is very dynamic. There are no distractions around the child’s head. You can use your position to bring your subject’s head and shoulders above the horizon line which not only removes distractions, but also conveys a sense of elevated stature.
Getting low and close also gives you the opportunity to show details and context as seen with this image on the rooster on the farm in Trinidad, Cuba or with these old American Cars in the heart of Havana.
By seeking a higher vantage point you can begin to show the relationships between objects and display graphic designs. Notice the use of horizontal lines in this image looking down on a street full of Taxis in San Francisco and the patterns formed by the stars and pedestrians on Hollywood Boulevard.
Go Behind Something
Shooting behind something can add mystery, story, and context. Here is a two images taken from the back seat of a pedicab, or BiciTaxi as they are known in Havana Cuba. In each image I made sure to include the context of the taxi driver to ensure the point of view.
Don’t be Obvious
In summary here are things you can do to add Point of View to make your images have a stronger impact
Each morning in Havana, Kip Brundage from the SanteFe Workshop team, would lead a group on dawn patrol. At 6:15am, Kip would provide a dawn tour of an area in Central Havana so that by the time the light was up, we had our bearings and could use the morning light to make some photographs.
On the first Dawn Patrol, Kip lead us down the Prado and into a neighborhood situated north-west of the hotel.
One particular street had two competing Cafeterias, private residences serving coffee and pastries out their front windows, which attracted a lot of action and attention.
I stayed for about 10 minutes to catch several different daily life scenes play out.
I was initially attracted to this scene because of the blue car, lights on, and obvious concern by the driver. It is very common to see drivers out of their cars rummaging under the hood or in their trunks.
I took this image as the car began to drive off, it shows the full context of the scene.
Some closer images
Footnote: Thank you to Glenn Primm, a long-time LA Photojournalist, who has been following my posts. He pointed out to me that my edit, while technically OK, didn’t convey the mood of the shots. He suggested that I bring down the exposure to match the morning scene. These are new edits as of Sunday morning.
I know you are all itching to see a photo or two from Havana or Trinidad. First things first, I need to transfer my images from my laptop, I’ll do that with a LightRoom catalog export and import, and I need to figure out how to present the images and my thoughts.
It was an excellent trip. Los Cubanos son los anfitriones terrifico!
Sometime in early 2012, I set my sights on photographing in Cuba in 2013. I don’t know exactly why I picked Cuba, but my life is filled with examples that follow the same basic pattern. I get and idea of doing something and just decide to do it. At the time of my decision often have little understanding of what it will take to get there or even what it will be like when I arrive. I just know it is the right thing for me to do and I set out single-mindedly to achieve the objective. The pattern includes both a long-term vision (I want to be a classical oboist) and lots of little short term activities (I need to master the Strauss Oboe Concerto, I need to study with the 1st oboists of the major US symphony orchestras).
So it was with this trip to Cuba. I announced to my friends: “I’m going to Cuba in 2013, who wants to come along?” I did not wait for answers, I just started my planning and preparation.
My preparation for the trip has included finding the right trip, studying Spanish, reading about Cuba and its history, studying other’s photos of Cuba, studying with master photographers to find myself, and practicing my particular brand of street and social documentary photography. The last part included shooting exclusively with the Olympus OM-D E-M5, memorizing as much as I can about where the settings are located (I’m really bad at memorizing details), and doing as much street photography as my schedule allows.
Over the past several months, when I went out shooting, would say to myself: If you were in Cuba today shooting, what would you come home with. And I would evaluate my results and experience by asking myself several questions that run the gamut of exploring my craft, my vision, and my inner strength.
Did I capture the mood?
Did fear keep me from taking a picture of spending the time required at a venue to get the right shot?
Did I keep and open mind and try new things?
Was I conscious and intentional with my camera settings?
Did I have any issues with efficiently using my camera?
This approach is completely parallel to the lessons I learned when I studied music.
Study with the greats – study great photographs, take workshops with the right people, read about their processes
Practice your scales – take practice pictures in different conditions isolating different techniques
Run dress rehearsals – go out and shoot as if you were on the assignment
Know everything about your instrument – study the manual and practice finding those hidden, but needed, menu items
Be unconsciously conscious about the state of everything while you are playing – It needs to be second nature that for every shot you know what your aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focal length, and white balance are.
Each time I went out I produced more good work and became more comfortable with my approach to photography and the OM-D system.
I will be bringing 2 Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera bodies, 5 fast prime lenses and one zoom (as a backup). I’ll also be bringing my Induro CT114 tripod with Acratech bullhead. I’ve prepared and run my dress rehearsals. I’ve concentrated on prime lenses so that I am super conscious of composition and framing. I’ll be warming up with a couple of days in Miami before the trip and the concert starts on January 29th.