Monthly Archives: March 2013

MY FIVE RULES OF STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

Pershing Square, Los Angeles 2003

In the many years of teaching classes and workshops in street photography I have learned that most photographers face the same obstacles in their search for more effective photographs. Here are five rules, or tips, which I have discovered over the years that have helped my students become better street photographers.

1. No posing or anything contrived.

Follow the straight and narrow road of the great photographers. In my 43 years of study of “Street photography” I have learned that the most basic rule is that there should be no posing or anything artificially contrived. It is this main rule, which gives the genre its highly sophisticated reputation. Yes, it is very difficult to snatch something of value from the ever flowing and constantly changing flow of life, but with a determination to improve, and a lot of practice, you will be able to move about freely and unnoticed in the passing parade of life.

2. Prepare for the moment of truth

Practice operating quickly and effectively when a subject is presented to you. Most unprepared photographers seem to freeze up at the moment of truth because they are unable to follow a well practiced plan of what to look for and what to check when evaluating a possible subject. This must be a conditioned reflex action of great speed, if you to arrive at an accurate rendering of the magical moments that are found in everyday life situations.

3.  Rule of “3”

When evaluating the photographs of the greats becomes it is apparent that the best photographs contain many elements, factors and details that the photographer arranged only by careful evaluation and an awareness of how valuable these many details are when “framing” the subject and only including the details that give the center of interest added strength. I don’t look for one thing, but at least three things to combine so the photograph has the ability to “speak” for itself. Therefore, no caption and no explanation of why the photograph was made will be necessary. The only caption should be the place and date of the photograph. When showing photographs if you remain silent you will not dilute the viewers experience by talking about the photograph, so you will get a natural reaction.

 4.  No cropping.

Henri Cartier-Bresson used a black border to show that he did not need to crop his photos. The black lines are caused by enlarging the negative holder in the enlarger so that it includes the clear edge of the negative and makes it print black, thus proving that the photograph was not “cropped”. These black lines are etched into my mind, so that when photographing the lines are always there to remind me to be very attentive when framing the shot. No cropping.

 5.   Get in close

My favorite photographers, Robert Frank, W. Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier-Bresson, where gentlemen photographers. They didn’t rush up to scare some old women to get a cheap shot of someone up close. They moved smoothly through life, mostly being invisible to those around them so they could get so close to their subjects. They worked with the greatest respect for the subject, for themselves and for photography itself. Be very strict with yourself and know that street photography is a very difficult and requires great speed from the photographer. You need to develop great speed in thought and great speed in the operation of your body and camera.

To be able to do this work is the gift of a lifetime that most people are unaware of until they see great photographs that have the ability to provide a more compassionate understanding of our brothers and sisters all over the world. Visual documents that give the viewer hope, joy and a better sense of self.

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The Human Condition

I have had numerous questions about our trip to India.

Wendy and I had a wondrous time in India. The people there are so warm and friendly that is hard for me to describe them. They are constantly smiling and India 2very comfortable to be around. The sensitive and respectful photographer will have no trouble at all photographing in India. I found the people to be the best that I have ever encountered. My main interest in photography is the human condition and its relationship to the environment and India proved to be the perfect location. I have posted some of my photographs on my Facebook page.

Many of the questions about our trip were technical in nature, so I will attempt to describe how I photographed there. I took Dorothea Lange’s advice and went in stupid. I agreed with Dorothea, that to prepare studying India would not serve me as would as my own personal reaction to whatever I encountered.

For equipment, I relied on my Nikon F-3 with 55mm Micro 2.8 lens. It’s very sharp and needs no lens shade. I also used my 40 year-old Nikon F with a 28mm F-2 lens. I usually just carry one camera with the 55mm lens, but this time I knew that I would be working in very close quarters and that I would need a wide angle lens. My 28mm is one of the best wide angle lenses ever made and is extremely sharp. For film, it was Arista premium 400 speed black and white film, developed in Kodak D-76 1-1 at 68 degrees for 11 minutes.

I use the Nikon F-3 for the simple reason that the viewfinder shows 100% of the image being photographed. That is very important to me, as I do not crop my photos later in the darkroom. Most cameras do not show 100% in the viewfinder. The F-3 is very easy to handle and operate. It’s quick, smooth and precise. Focusing is a must for me. Manual focus is for me, because I hardly ever focus on a spot in the center, but usually at the center of interest which is usually off to the side. I have tried rangefinder cameras in the past, but their poor focusing controls and their not so accurate viewfinder made it difficult for me to be as quick as I am with the F-3.

When I photograph, I am not just looking for possible subjects, as much as I am looking for three things at once. I am always thinking of three or more elements and factors that I can assemble into a photograph. Three things. Maybe one item will catch my eye and I will work with it to try and find other elements, factors, and very importantly, the details that are always present in a subject area. By a thoughtful and logical process, I try to build something out of all the details. The great Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “It’s all in the details”. Proper use of the details provides extra strength for the center of interest.

Photographing in India was one of the great highlights of my 43 year career as a social documentary photographer. What made the trip even more pleasurable was the fact that the love of my life went with me and we both enjoyed the trip together. Hooray for the wonderful people of India.

#The Human Condition

#Street Photography

#Social Documentary Photography

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