Jun 9, 2011

The hack guide to street photography...

...or, "Things I feel compelled to shoot, that have been done to death by more talented photogs."

  • Anybody with an umbrella.
  • Homeless guy (humorous signs only, please).
  • Kid with ice cream cone.
  • Hippy on vintage bicycle.
  • Vegetables at a market.
  • Asian woman in Chinatown (especially one who seems to hate you).
  • Any graffiti.
  • Construction guy with hardhat and cigarette.
  • Really, really old white guy (particularly awesome, since they can't chase and beat you).
  • Colourful door in otherwise dreary neighbourhood.
  • Small dog being carried in bike basket.

Note: the depth of a street photo is doubled by converting to black & white, and quadrupled by the use of actual film. Employing an f/1.2 lens (or lower) will result in weapons-grade art.

Jun 8, 2011

Whatever it takes.

I gave out a business card the other day which had the above image on it. (My stash of cards is comprised of 50 different shots.) I got a nice complement, and the guy asked how I took it. I could have told him, but I didn't.

I rented a limo, so I could shoot out the sunroof while the driver cruised around downtown. I found the perfect angle on University Ave., so he parked for a minute while I spot-metered the neon sign on top of the Sheraton, I compensated one-third stop under, and we started circling the block. The fifth time around, I got a nice shot just as a car full of frat boys passed us on the left.

Actually that's not quite true, The camera was clamped on my Hyundai's roof rack, automatically shooting a frame every two seconds, for about 45 minutes. That gave me about 1300 frames to choose from... And all I had to do was drive around and listen to Miles Davis.

(Admittedly, I shot this sequence for a time lapse video, but I noticed this particular frame in After Effects. Perfect. I'll take it.)

So, who cares how a photo is shot, anyway?

Well, seemingly everybody, if you read enough. 'Spray and pray', for example, gets a pretty bad rap from a lot of photogs. Admittedly, it's no way to learn the craft, but every now and then you gotta gun that thing and hope for the best. Can you fix it in Lightroom? Probably.

Jay Maisel brackets his street photos in three-shot bursts, so at least one is correctly exposed. Great idea. I'm guessing if the perfect frame happens to be one that isn't 'correctly' exposed, he just picks it anyway. 'Spray and pray'? Yeah, I guess... If that's what it takes.

Say you're shooting a wedding. What are you going to do when the groom leans in for the kiss... wait for the exact, perfect moment and snipe one? Sure, if that's the way you roll. But I'll be the guy on full-auto, with a fast shutter speed, even if it means my ISO is jacked up to the moon. That way I can freeze the moment... whenever that happens. I'll save contemplation for the other, less-fleeting opportunities. 

"Don't do it that way!"

Do you notice people like to say don't a lot—especially online? "Don't go over 3200. Don't use zooms. Don't look at your LCD. Don't use tripods." There's a whole whack of don't at Ken Rockwell's site and Luminous Landscape. Do you take it seriously?



On a related note...

About six weeks ago, I mixed together a couple hundred seed bombs for fun. (A seed bomb is a dried-out ball of clay, flower seeds and compost. They are dropped mercilessly on inaccesible, unsightly property; with the intent to beautify.) I had never made any before, and I have no idea if I did it right, but the kids and I chucked these things all over a fenced-off vacant lot near our house in Etobicoke.

Talk about spray and pray. We weren't doing it the 'right' way, we couldn't stay for long, and we weren't even allowed there.

Like the hundreds of photos taken on a wedding shoot, the majority of those flowers won't take, but I desperately hope some of them do... I want my kids to see that we make our own magic, our own beauty. That we do whatever it takes.

Because if even one person looks in at that miserable lot and says to themselves, "I wonder who the heck snuck in there and planted all those amazing flowers," then it was worth it.

And... with any luck, I can set up my tripod some time in August and take a very deliberate set of photos.

Here's hoping.

Jun 1, 2011

Ah-ha Moments, Vol. 3

INT: our apartment, early evening, circa 2001.

Me (watching CNN news-crawl): Wow! Looks like L.A. is in for a major hurricane tomorrow.

Michelle (glances at screen): "LA" means Louisiana, doofus.

Me: Ah-ha.

(end scene)