Capture a Street Photography Portrait
Capturing a street photography portrait. You know, in this case usually I will because it's not a pre-planned thing, right, so you show up at a place, or you're walking down the street somewhere, you know, you've just arrived in Paris or wherever and you're out looking at things. You know, if I want to do a portrait of someone, it's usually because someone hase caught my eye. There's some distinguishing characteristic, or the way they're dressed, the way they look, that will compel me to actually go up to them and introduce myself, and ask permission. Okay? So in that case, you know, you definitely have to be charming and strong, and again, not be kinda creepy and all anxiety-ridden. I guess charming is really the key. And then also, depending on the subject's gender and the circumstance around that, that's also really important. I'm hypersensitive to that, that I'm a relatively big guy, not a massive, but I'm a relatively big guy, and that when I approach women, and especially certain...
ages and all that, or in certain situations, that I don't want them to feel vulnerable or weird. And the same thing with kids, or, you know, and then on the other hand, with guys, I want to make sure that I'm not putting myself in a position of confrontation. I don't know if that makes sense, and maybe I'm overthinking these things but because of my experience, I've learned through the years, I've learned these things. And I hate when I get into a situation where my presence is making that person feel really uncomfortable or threatened. And then it's important to talk to them, if you can. If there's a language barrier, then maybe it's hand signals, it's eye contact, a smile goes a really long way. A smile goes a long way in bridging those barriers. And again, with the big camera, if I smile, and I point at my camera, then it's kind of obvious what I want to do, and then someone can go, no, or say yes. With this, my little camera, with your phone it might... You know, at this point though, everybody's got a phone. Not everybody, but most people in the world, really, most people in the world have phones. It's kind of amazing, actually. Be a good business to get into. Okay, so I want to share some work here. So this guy was amazing. When I saw him, I was like, I have got to do a portrait of him. And then I was looking around for the background because I wanted it to be very, you know, stark, yellow on black. So it just happened that there was this tarp just within a few feet of where we were, and I wanted him to look, because he's kind of a little weird looking, I wanted him to look, and weird's not a very descriptive word actually at this point, but you know, actually he looks a little ominous, almost. I said he was like Lurch, you know. But anyway. Although he ended up being like the sweetest guy and the most beautiful, gentle smile. And then I wanted to do, I was thinking very much about my distance to him, I wanted to first get the full coat finished and then I wanted to get tight on him and so I'd have that choice, but I wanted to make sure I got all of his, is that a goatee? All of his beard, his braided beard. And then this is a case where we had permission. She was one of the vendors we had permission from, so I had more free rein to get up on something, and actually in this case I did a Hail Mary. I did that. And I love this picture, not only because of the flowers, so it's got a nice design. Lovely color palette. But this is a case where, and we took pictures where she gave me a really lovely smile, but it felt very saccharin. And then this off moment is, to me, says so much more. So that's the other thing to think about when you're photographing people, when you're doing portraits You remember, you can be a director. Smile, look sad, look happy, chin this way, chin that way, chin up, down. Whatever it may be. You know, you can do that. I mean, you don't have to do that. You don't have to do that. But you do have that permission, that liberty. But then sometimes it's as simple as just shooting through a moment and then capturing what's really sort of an off moment. I didn't ask her to pose that way. We good? Questions?
She's got one in the front.
You're fingering the mic. Go ahead.
This probably seems like a stupid question, but basically what are you doing with your street photography? Are you writing articles, or doing documentaries?
So for me, my street photography would fall into various categories. It would either be part of a larger body of work, or a larger story or essay, where it's important to me to capture a sense of place, and a sense of the street. Okay, so that would be more of a sort of journalistic, narrative reason, okay? Then there's times where I'm just street photographer for the sake of street photography. It's one of the great traditions of photography. Whether it's with a phone or not. Street photography's really one of the great, great traditions of photography. So there are times where I love hitting the street and just shooting. And generally it's because I'm in a particular place. I'm not someone who does things so randomly. There are brilliant photographers who work in a more random way. I don't. Yeah, you know, and then it could be related to, maybe I'm visiting someplace and more like a travelog, right? And then the last would be what I call daily visual journaling. You know, where I'm just sort of walking down the streets, and I'm not really there with the intention of making photographs, but I see something that grabs my attention. And again, because I've got the camera in my pocket, I can do it. All right? Okay, cool. Okay. So. So actually that question was good timing, because now we're going to look at some of my street portraits. This was in Colorado, and I was actually doing a workshop. I think we were in Carbondale, Colorado. And this was one of my TA's, actually, and I just thought it was, again, I love frames within frames, that this was kind of a cool perspective, and it was a really nice background. Ideally, the car would not have been there. And I like the angle of the light. I had seen her. She's a friend. I had seen her pose this way before, or not pose, but hold herself that way. So I asked her to do that again, because I thought it said so much about psychologically where her state of mind is at. But at the same time, there's something very, to me, very graceful about her positioning. I wanted to just maybe do it against a blank background, like maybe even against that... No, don't change anything, please.
Oh, look. Oh, look.
If you just like go right there.
Let me see what that looks like. Yellow on black, yellow on black. Oh my God, that's amazing. Just like that. (man laughing) That was a scary laugh. That was like slightly diabolical.
That's my evil laugh.
Hold like that. Hold like that, that is great. Okay, really serious. Chin up a tiny bit, just a little but not too much. Too much. Just like that. Yeah, hold like that. All right. You can give me a big smile now. All right, just want to get a closeup. Oh, that is great. That is beautiful. Nice. Just a little serious, little serious. Thank you, sir.
Thank you so much. Could I do a portrait of you? It'd take like literally 30 seconds.
So maybe just, if you stand I guess as close to me as you can.
I have a bunch of stuff down here...
And then, good. And then I'm going to hold the camera up so just chin up a little bit. That's it, look right in the camera. Let me just see what I got here. All right, let's try it again. So just look right in the camera. That's it. That's it.
Smiling face or no smiling face?
I don't know, how can you not smile? Oh my God. Okay, now look depressed.
All right. In the camera, in the camera. Thank you.
I am really fanatic, aren't I? But one thing you'll notice, well, I don't know if you noticed this, but there's a certain amount of, I don't know if confidence is the right word, assuredness in my approach. But I'm not rough. I don't, I hope I don't come off that way. But like with the gentleman, where I'm, you know, it's like I'm making it clear I know what I want. So I'd like to believe that when you behave that way, then you instill a sense of confidence in your subject. I don't know if that's what you guys read off of that, but, yes?
Well, first of all, the man in the yellow jacket, like you couldn't have found a better subject. That was amazing. But I think that most people are often afraid to talk to strangers. Even if you've done it a lot. Are there any exercises, other than just going out and doing it, as you've been showing us, any sort of practice things that people can do ahead of going out there on the street?
Yeah, that's interesting. I've never thought of that in that way. But I mean, first of all, it has to do with your level of shyness. Like if you're a naturally very shy person and you maybe lack the confidence, then you obviously have a bigger hill to climb in this way. I mean, I think the best way to start, and you know, think of your camera as protection, also. As much as the camera can be perceived as a tool, and something that is almost like invasive, the camera is also a kind of be like a protection like a cocoon, so if I go up to you, and just try to have a conversation with you, I might be uncomfortable, because I don't, like, why am I trying to talk to you, right? Whereas if I camera in my hand, I now have a reason that I can at least say, "Hey, I'm Ed, and I'm a photographer," as opposed to, "Hey, I'm Ed, I'm some guy from New Jersey," and, you know, why am I talking to you? And then you're thinking, what does this guy want? Right? So the camera actually, in terms of an exercise, think of it that way. If you are someone who is more prone to be shy then maybe it's a good exercise to go with your camera and try that. And definitely try to pick people who look sympathetic. (laughs) Don't go after the scariest, meanest looking guy to start with. And then to me, what's important is to be able to say who I am. I think if you saw most of the time, I was like, "Hi, I'm Ed." Like I'm just right in there. "Hey, I'm Ed." I'm not afraid to get in close and to let you know that I'm there. As opposed to, "Hi, hey, how you doing?" Like then people are like, that's weird. But I think I'm weird anyway. But anyway. So, you know, I would say it's important to be able to say, this is who I am, this is what I'm doing, this is why I'm doing it. And the other important question in today's world that I didn't used to have to answer is, what am I going to do with the pictures? "Hey, I'm Ed, I'm a photographer from the New York area. "I'm here photographing on the streets of Seattle. "Can I photograph you? "You look great. "Or you look interesting, or, you know, "I love what you're doing. "Please just keep on doing it." "Yeah, why are you taking my picture?" "Well, you know, I'm a photojournalist, "and I'm working on a story about "street life in Seattle," and you know, assuming they don't keep on grilling you, you eventually get to the point where maybe they might say, "Sure, go ahead." Or, "No way." And then you have to make a determination. Is it worth it to keep on pressing? Or is it time to let go of the subject? And that's based on how amazing the scene is or the person is, how much you want it, versus how stridently against being photographed do they seem to be. And then if they say, "Well what are you "going to do with the pictures?" Then you say, "Oh, well you know, "I have this website." Well, you know, some of it is not BS-ing, but some of it being quick on your feet. So whatever what's appropriate. If I'm on assignment for National Geographic, or a major magazine, I'll proudly use that card because that tends to be pretty effective. "Well, I'm doing a story of National Geographic Magazine." 95% of the time, you're in. Or the New York Times, or Time Magazine, or whatever it may be. Obviously, if you're doing something that is potentially controversial or negative, then you need to maybe be a little more strategic, because it might be saying, "I'm from the New York Times," might shut the door. So again, it's always circumstantial. That's a trend in all of my answers today, right? There's never one answer that fits all situations.