Category Archives: Street Photography Tips

MY “FIVE Fs SYSTEM”: NUMBER ONE – FINDING

street photography tips, cartier-bresson, photography workshopsMy “5 Fs” (finding, figuring, framing, focusing and firing) system was conceived to help photographers remember the things to consider when photographing a subject in real life situations. If you practice this system it will become your working technique as a street photographer.

The first “F” is FINDING.

Finding a subject can be a frustrating process for many photographers. Subjects are everywhere. The eyes are not too important when searching for subject. The eyes are just part of the tools we work with. It is the vivid imagination that finds subject by noticing and evaluating various details that are part of the subject area, the photographer frames these various forms to make an effective photograph.

The subject itself is not the most important thing. What the photographer does with the subject is the supreme test.

A walk to the store will never be the same for the sensitive photographer, the mud puddle at the corner will provide a myriad of visual possibilities that can keep a photographer busy for hours. The reflections in the puddle, the passing wheels of cars, the feet walking by, the cop directing traffic all these and much more will facilitate the imagination to construct stimulating photographs.

Combining the smallest insignificant detail with other insignificant details can result in a significant photograph. These details, elements and factors are lying around everywhere for the attentive photographer to collect into an image that has the power to create an emotionally moving photograph. Henri Cartier-Bresson said, when asked how to do it, “It’s all in the details.”

Studying the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Gene Smith will demonstrate that their photographs always had at least three things, or factors, that they considered and then combined to make a wonderful photograph.

For example, in the photograph above the first thing I noticed was the tender scene of the father bringing the bicycle along as the children ran ahead. They ran ahead into their lives and dad was there to give support and guidance. The light and atmosphere at the day’s end was combined with the details that were needed to complete the visual story.  The focus was placed on the bicycle, which to me, was an important aspect of the image. The slanting light was emphasized to show that the day was ending and the people were headed home.

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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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TIPS FOR COMPOSING YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

This is a photograph that I made in Central Park in New York during my recent Street Photography Workshop. I took it so that the students in the workshop could observe how I get in close without disturbing the subject.

I arranged myself next to the subjects so that I could include the elements and details that would help give the photograph meaning. I was attracted by the arms of the couple in the background and also the arms of the woman in the foreground. The two children in the stroller, I considered were another “pair” of elements, or factors, that I thought would help the photograph. Two of a kind, three of a kind ect., similar to some card games, are considered more valuable.

Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote “Photography is simultaneously and instantaneously the recognition of a fact and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that express and signify that fact.” This advice was very valuable to me, as it explained to me that a composition is not for balance or beauty, but is a way of collecting the important details, elements and factors in the frame of the viewfinder. The effective organization of these facts take the mystery out of the word “composition” which to me means very little in the way of explaining what to include in the frame.

Accurate framing is very important to me, because I do not like to “crop” my photographs later in the darkroom because I messed up the framing of the photo in the first place. Cartier-Bresson’s photographs have a black border so that the clear edge of the negative will print black to show that the image was not cropped.

Choice of a camera that shows 100% in the viewfinder is also important to accurately frame a subject. Unfortunately, most cameras don’t do this. That’s why I use a Nikon F-3 that shows 100%, so that I can frame as precisely as possible so that I don’t need to crop.

To achieve the black border in the darkroom I take a small metal file and slightly enlarge the rectangular hole in the negative carrier of the enlarger, which allows the clear edge of the film to show black in the print. To eliminate the black line, I can raise the head of the enlarger slightly and the black line will disappear.