What I learned about street photography last weekend in New York City
Last weekend I stopped back through New York City on my return trip south during a 2,588 mile road tour on the East Coast. My my only agenda being the avoidance of pollen in Columbia, SC and to play with my camera. I had a full day to wander through Soho, Chinatown, and Little Italy. I wrote this post shoirtly after the experience and it has fostered some conversation and it's encouraged me to reevaluate my approach in general. That being said, I'll leave the text as follows, while concluding that what I really learned was that I need to adjust my approach and come back after about 1,000 hours of practice.
I’m primarily a photojournalist and it took me by surprise how challenging this could be. I’m thinking it comes from not having the ability to work a specific subject/person like on assignment. Or maybe you follow the absurd down the street. I should have done that with the kids with pillow bellies, they would have probably enjoyed it. I should have introduced myself when the light changed.
I typically know where my shots are going to come when on assignment. Then I work over like a rented mule. Well, maybe more like my own mule. And a lot of that is observing without making images. You can work the corner but the chaos at a street crosswalk, is just that. You never know what's lurking behind the next human. Regardless, here are some things I learned or was reminded about street photography last week. I'm sure it's all been said before, but here's for my own reinforcement.
Work the busy corners in the way that you’d work the subject of an assignment and let the people come to you. When the traffic light changes the humans will spill across the street like a floodgate has opened. Then watch the cars try to make right turns without running over the pedestrians. If you wanna have lots of fun, stand in the crosswalk salmoning upstream.
If you’ve got sunshine find a good corner with some interesting light. Be on the lookout for light shafts bouncing off of building windows and be aware that they are going to move with the big ball of fire in the sky.
Find a food vendor that’s selling something that might look interesting when consumed while walking down the street. Things like cotton candy, corndogs, and ice cream.
If it’s raining keep an eye out for those clear umbrellas because they don’t block light and you can shoot through them. And they look ridiculous.
If it's raining or if it rained look for puddles and the gymnastics that humans attempt to avoid those hazards.
When working the corners, be fully prepared for the folks trying to run across the street when it’s not really all that safe. I was typically too late here.
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Sean. Good stuff. I am from NYC. Yes, it's tough. Mostly overwhelming. So much to see, but what to shoot? I have been mostly a portrait/editorial photographer for 15 years, but for a brief spell I ventured into "street" photography. It was more so assignment and photo essay work, but it was purely "street" centric. I shot Occupy Wall Street and I spent several months shooting Chinatown. You can see some of it here:
Now, I'm no wise sage, but what I learned was this - there's a difference between looking for something and SEEING it. Particularly in a place as frenetic as NYC. You have to look for it, see it, and then capture it. Otherwise, what I found was, ur just playing the odds, shooting, hoping you will capture something magical, maybe, in fact, missing the magic in front of you.
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