Street Shooting – When things go right


When things go right, I can usually trace it back to one of two working styles after seeing the opportunity

  1. The image is instantaneously purposeful, per-envisioned, and backed up by sound technique. I take only a few shots and walk away knowing I have something to remember. Somehow I work through a million combinations in the short amount of time it takes the opportunity to appear and then disappear just as rapidly.
  2. The situation persists for some period of time and I see the potential, but I can’t quite get a handle on where to take it. I work many angles and perspectives. Only after many shots am I able to hone in on the essence and sometimes I don’t even know that I’ve gotten something worth keeping until I review my images at home. I’ll often spend 10-15 minutes shooting the same area or the same person.

As I practice, I strive to increase the amount of time I am successful using the first case – see, think, shoot. But learning to work a scene is also important and I’ll often wind up with something completely new.

In this instance I had one last morning in New York and I had forgotten to take a picture of the front of Jay Maisel’s building. So I returned to the scene of the crime and saw this woman in purple, leaning on a yellow cab, with blue reflected light. I took a first shot and realized I had far too much in the frame. So I move in a couple of steps to get this framing.

“Shoot what excites you” – Jay Maisel

At lunch on Thursday Jay gave us the following suggestion: “Go out for 45 minutes and just shoot what you love. Shoot what excites you”. I got three of my favorite shots of the week from these two short sessions. The learning was seeping in. Was I seeing better? Was I was digging deeper? Was I beginning to discard my preconceptions and shooting (and editing) only that which truly excited me?

On Wednesday, I explicitly remember going through a phase of shooting doors and door knobs in a desperate attempt to clean up my framing. These shots will be hidden away forever, they are studies. I also shot some recipe shots of people playing cards at the park. For these I received the critique, “You don’t look like you are enjoying yourself.” This critique was devastating but psychologically strategic. When I arrived at the workshop I was shooting intuitively. After some instruction, my photography became more inhibited and restrained. This critique (and I understand it is a common zinger), reminded me to maintain a heightened awareness of frame but not to loose the excitement.

Thursday afternoon I was out shooting with two other workshop participants. We had about 20 minutes until we would meet for dinner and were near a local park. We notices some interesting activity of two Greek men playing chess and they agreed to allow us to photograph their game. Amazingly we didn’t seem to bother them in the least.

Most of the time I spent doing portraits of one or the other of the two players. I played with moving around the depth of field on their faces, their hands, and the pieces. Two things, however, were bothering me. There was too much distraction in the background and the timer they were using for the game was really ugly and had writing on the front. Jay would crucify you for including text if it wasn’t part of the story. So I began to look for an angle to minimize the timer, As I moved around to my left I noticed the sun streaming in across the table and through the white captured pieces on the edge of the table. I then honed in on the players actions and saw the repeated action of him hitting the top of the timer to reset the clock. The placement of the white rook and black king was icing on the cake.

This was the last image I showed on Friday’s critique. Silence. Jay looked up, grinned, and said in an undertone, “did you know this was good when you took it?” “Yea”, I replied in the same undertone.

This image is printed as a small 8×10 on my wall in my office with a few others from the week. Everyone who comes into my office comments on my photography and invariable I hear, “I really like that chess one”.