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Street Photography: The Art of Photographing Strangers

Lesson 6 of 20

Decide on a Story to Tell Through Photos

Ashley Gilbertson

Street Photography: The Art of Photographing Strangers

Ashley Gilbertson

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Lesson Info

6. Decide on a Story to Tell Through Photos
Begin the segment on the pre-shot process with a look at storytelling through street photography. Work through the process of determining what story to tell, from finding what you are passionate about to working for a specific cause. Just be sure, he says, to be open to changing your opinion as you work. Find inspiration from some of Ashley's past projects.

Lesson Info

Decide on a Story to Tell Through Photos

So we were chatting about some of the themes of the questions have been coming in during the break there's a couple of things I wanted to address, you know, while we're still on it and that is one of them is what to do when you actually don't have a now outlet for the pictures it's a really important question and that happens a lot in with me like I'm often shooting where I haven't got any idea what I'm going to be doing with the photographs I don't know if I'm gonna be posting online I don't know if it will be making prints and put him up in a cafe or a museum or a gallery whatever um and it's not necessarily for a story so in cases like that, I mean, it just happened yesterday I was photographing somebody in seattle on dh at the end of the shoot, he said what's this for and I said, I don't know, but the thing is he was fine with that. I told him that if I use the pictures for anything, then I'll make sure that they're presented in context, you know, using his name if he so desires um...

with the with the caption that explains what he's doing and who he is and why he's the, um but it's it's actually okay to say you don't know and you know what I often say to people is that I'll send them a copy of the picture I can send them a print or I can send them an email with it um because usually that's what somebody actually once as well as knowing where the picture is going to be used. So even if there's no context toe why you're shooting saying I'm not sure what I want to do with it right now is fine just as long as you know you can reassure them that you have their information and you can tell them if it's in a magazine you'll tell him you know it's not it's a very small efforts on our behalf to keep you people that where people that are investing trust in us uh abreast of what's happening with a picture the other thing wass here's the thing was well, first of all do do you actually follow up with all those people if you have said I'm going to give you an image? Yes, I find that I hesitate even say I'll send you one if I'm not sure that I'll actually gonna do it you gotta do. The other question was about street photography um and interacting with not interacting with strangers and what's your stance on using that big telephoto lens or what have you where you're not actually trying teo interact with strangers right? So I don't use a telephoto I mean I um when I look at my old contact sheets on for those of you in the audience I don't know what that is it's when you actually shoot film and you print a contact sheet on a piece of paper and look at what you shot I would look I look at my old contact sheets of when I would start traveling to different countries and the beginning of a trip everything would be with a telephoto from far far away um and then towards the end of the trip you could see that I get closer and closer to people as I became more comfortable with the culture in the country I was photographing so once I identified that elian I sold my telephoto and I still to this day don't use thumb I you know, I've forced myself into a position that I have to be intimate with people you know? So the longest lens that I'll generally use today is a fifty millimeter my friend johnny wilcox fraser another photographer the agency says his extreme wide angle is a thirty five and his extreme telly is a fifty I love um so I don't let myself do that anymore I don't think it's any problem with it and this is where you know I think the way I've been explaining this to you guys it's always like pretty lovey dovey and compassionate and like high levels of empathy I'm not always like that like I could be pretty hard core dick sometimes but that's what I'm forced to bay um you know there's there's like the fifth avenue crowd in new york, some of whom will travel with security guards I don't know how they must be pretty fancy right there on the sidewalk they're in public space and if they're in public space were allowed to photograph them and so I will sometimes have to fight like pretty strongly in order to get a picture that I want to make I don't think that it's there that you know, the homeless guy that I interact with and photograph and ask and talk to has different rights from the person who has personal security who puts their you know their hand in front of my lens and tries to stop me from shooting like that sort of nonsense I don't put up with and I get, you know, a more regularly than I would like get into pretty big shouting matches with people like that and I call the police myself ex screw you you know what? You don't like this thank you call the cops and you work out what your constitutional rights are it's not cool, I know like it's not a nice way to approach people except sometimes it's all I can do um I'm not saying I'm a victim here it'll sound like that sorry but I believe in the fact that we're in public space as soon as you walk outside that you're going to be photographed you you you inevitably you're photographed hundreds of times on your way to work with cctv cameras. The only difference is that I'm putting the picture on instagram or whatever along the magazine so you don't being you know there should be different ways that you work as a photographer and is not always that pretty I mean there's a guy in new york actually this is my favorite esso I live downtown in the west village and there's a guy a magnet photographer called bruce gilding on bruce has this style of taking pictures of some of you might be aware of its really close he shoots like twenty one millimeter lens right in people's faces and a flash so he runs around he sits and waits against the wall somewhere in these videos of them online doing it's really intense and then he sees somebody interested he like runs up to the man shoots a picture like right in their face that I see him walking home sometimes and across the street because I'm like, oh my god it's so scary yeah, but it's a different approach like bruce has a very different philosophy from how to shoot than I do you know he's not he's, not an ask permission guy I usually am on and sometimes I'm not bad, I'm denied, and then sometimes I like to excess make a point of showing people that if you're outside, then there is some interaction you're gonna have to have with the world. Um, so I think I'd like to go into, uh, how to decide on the story to tell and I've got story up there and story is a really broad terms for me, it could be it could be a subject, you know, you might want to tell a story or your subject could be football tailgating in the city that you live in, it could be homeless. It could be a big foreign story of looking at, you know, orphanages in a cambodia or alondra whatever we could be looking at war crimes tribunals, it could just be looking at a certain location, you know, in in the centre of infinity infinity pocketing it's cold in chicago like that great outdoor space. Um, so choosing what you actually want to shoot is to me, one of the most difficult things that there is in photography, like approaching strangers is really hard, but in order to engage with the strangers, as I've said, it helps a lot to have a good reason to be photographing them. Even if there's no outlet to the work, having a reason to be there in the first place is really important, so I normally try to create some sort of thesis. Um, and I'm usually working on stories, so I'm always working on things that I really care about, that I'm really passionate about veterans affairs, you know, I'm I'm prepared to take that fight on dh, like, really go and confront people active department of veteran affairs through the new york times, and I have that opportunity. I've worked all my life to get to the point that I'm at, because I believe that I can make change. I believe that photographs can help out of the conversation and add to ask being a better society. I also believe maybe naively, but hopefully I'll take this to my grave that we are capable of becoming better human beings, of working, of working with more compassion towards one another across the across the world, and I I want to be apart of that conversation to make sure that we can do that, that could be in really small things, it could be really big things, you know, blocking seven years in iraq, it is in iraq was a pretty big story, but then, you know, a ce far as a day to day basis, you know, photographing photographing just street scenes in new york can be a celebration of that humanity and reminding myself that there are these absolutely beautiful moments, so finding things that you'll passionate about is really key to how you approach the situation, how you research it, you'll give it the right amount of energy in the right amount of love and care if you can don't welcome things that you think you going to please other people, you know, I think there's a lot of photographers out there that are tryingto please the crowd oh, please, the teacher don't do that, you know, you're not hired for that reason people aren't looking at your pictures, you're not gonna be proud of a picture that looks like my picture, you know, I've done that. I've done that with other photographers in the past, but I've tried to emulate their style. I'm like I'm proud of the fact that I totally ripped that dude off massively successful manner, but I'm also not very happy about that because it's not my style of photography, I have a style, so don't don't muffle your own style because you think that it's not as pleasing to the eye as copying a cartier bresson, you know, it's your vision that you should be trying teo investigate here, and by choosing stories that you care about, you let that vision speak I usually welcome stories that infuriate me. Um, I think a lot of people work on things that they're passionate and really, you know, in love with, I'm not that guy, you know, I work in stuff that just makes me crazy on dh that's, like I said, better that's, apathy, apathy, a big issue, a big problem in my opinion, which is lighted like the bedrooms of the fall, and I felt like these deaths were turning into these sort of template obits that the dude loved red lobster, and monday night football doesn't tell me anything about that person who was that person that signed up to join the military and fight believe believe in the mission in iraq or not means nothing to me, the fact that these people are going over there and dying and we're not paying them necessary attention did mean a lot to me, and I wanted to draw attention to who it was that was fighting, um but I want to highlight that is not well, I don't always get angry about these giant things that are really hard to effect sometimes it's the little things and the reason I guess I mentioned that park in chicago is a hate public, um, really strange, I know, but I think it's spineless, it's, it's it's easily digestible nonsense and it's very rarely confronting but I felt that park was actually pretty cool like it hasn't got a lot of spine okay, but it's a pretty amazing exercise in public so when I went there I had heard so much about how chicago is this great city folk especially public in some cases most cases I found that wasn't really to my liking and it's perfectly fine to be opinion in the work that we do, which we'll get to but I really enjoyed the park so it's one of the places that have actually shot made some pictures off because I liked it, which is which is strange for me but I'm always going out and trying tow essentially prove or disprove something in my you know, according tto the research that I've done so the refugees, as I said earlier, it's something that I've always been concerned about judy, my background judah, my being an australian due to the fact that I live in a society that's entirely made up of people who well almost entirely made up with exception of the aborigines in australia um people who have migrated oh being refugees and come to australia like the fact that weaken turn around where a single it, you know, get a beer and wear flip flops and say that all this administration I don't want those somalis coming in is it doesn't make any sense to me, and I've tried to understand and I will continue to try to understand how we can be that way with other people, but it it infuriates me and I want to try to humanize who these other people are that are trying to make the journey that our fathers made that all mothers made, so choosing to focus on the refugee crisis in europe, you know, it's something that I'm pushing myself further than I would normally go if somebody calls me and says going to a story about tailgating, I'll shoot it sure, like you be broke and I'll take the assignment money, but I'm not going I'm probably not going to feel like actually think target is pretty funny, but I guess it's not the story that does it for me it's somebody else's story you know, the refugee story is my story and it's something that I will. I will make sure that I stay out longer, that I get up earlier, that I do more research into that I that I throw myself into it deeply as I possibly can. And I'll push myself to make the greatest photographs I possibly can because it means something to me and that's what we have to find so it's not as having opinions going into this, I think it's um it's really important that were conscious all of that opinion which is one of the reasons that we're going to go into how we pitch and how we research um having agood informed opinion not necessarily an agenda because going out on dh having that opinion is perfectly fine it's impossible for us is a human being not to have an opinion on something that we're working on we can still be honest you know there's the is the photojournalist I think they must still be some schools are teaching it was supposed to be objective I don't believe in that I don't think we can be objective I think we can be honest you know in the words of w eugene smith said objectivity no honesty yes you know I believe very strongly that's true but being honest means being honest with your own response is that what you're witnessing? Um so this was a this was a pretty good example um these two different stories one was the one was the wall street crash and the bank is a wall street and the other was the occupy wall street story the response to the crash so what happened there was I went into the letter to the banking you know, down on wall street to the banks under the under the stock market floor seven months and I thought it was going to be amazing and cool and sexy and romantic and is going to be like all of these guys you know being a michael douglas is who aren't that cool I know in the movie but you know like this over a romanticized view of new york on banking sector of new york but shooting there was sort of numbers guys and it wasn't that visual on it wasn't that exciting and it wasn't it definitely wasn't the romantic view of wall street that I had expected so it's sort of upended itself a little bit and it turned into a different story turn into a mood piece about how the nation was feeling rather than how these particular bankers with uh experiencing this crisis and then a few years later when the occupy movement started downtown I live like five minutes by bike away from where it wass so you know obviously the occupation happens they took this park in downtown manhattan called zuccotti park and I wrote down there and I had a look and I was like trust fund kids going like cause a little bit of rockets and I'll go home I really had no faith that anything was gonna come of that so I shut it for a few months and I ended up falling in love with it like I went in there thinking it was a waste of time and I ended up loving it like the fact that our national conversation arose about the declining middle class the fact that we can have a national conversation at a grassroots level you know, nothing necessarily change as a result of that, you might argue except the fact that we are capable of society, of having a conversation like that was, in my opinion, a shift, I think, up until that these conversations into being really, you know, stuck in cafes, as and that vase where were complaining to our friends that, you know, things aren't good all of a sudden it was put in this national stage, so, you know, I had these opinions in both cases and working on the story changed my opinion to a completely different perspective, and we have to be conscious of that. We have to be honest with ourselves about that allow ourselves, you know, to change while we're shooting. So what? I'm trying to find these stories and there's going to be billing questions about this? I know it's really it's it's so hard doing this, so when I'm trying to identify stories, I have a few different working processes. One is I'm always reading the newspapers, magazines, anything I could find, you know, I'll spend a couple hours a day does reading, and I'm looking for stories that I keep coming back to identifying issues, countries, subjects that I care about, and again, this is a question of being conscious, you know, so I think a lot of what we're talking about here today it reminds me just reminds me again like this idea of being conscious about what you're doing where you and things that are happening around you like that's not something you would really learn in I think a classic photo course or or or college gets much I'm more used to learning about stuff like this, you know, in a temple um I think in america we call it being mindful, you know, being mindful in aware of yourself and if you're aware of what you're doing and what you keep coming back to in conversations you know when you call your parents when you call your friends, what is it that one of the topics you keep coming back to is the syrian refugees is it is ah the kurds is at homelessness is ah, it could be anything but what of the things that drive you isn't going to see shows? You know, exhibitions of different museums like photographing museums is one of the coolest places to shoot in the world, so if you like museums, you should be shooting the hell out of them it's so much fun like I think magnum has a whole book on it it's amazing it's a great place to shoot, so identifying these things by being conscious about what you're reading every day like I find in my case I have difficulty reading about stories that are coming out of russia, for example, I just I can't get my head around that story so there's not a place I'm gonna be working in the near future it has killed all my opportunities for assignments in russia, however, reading stories about, you know, the ongoing story in iraq in syria like that is something that I keep coming back to, and I keep seeking out more information about it, so identifying these sort of macro issues that drive you, and so once you've identified those, you try to find micro and local issues on that I I've always been taught as I think, a lot of us, I think you can't work overseas until you can work in your own backyard, so don't say I'm going to be a photographer and then buy a plane ticket and philip a backpack with camera gear and, like, fly off to some foreign land, you have to learn how to interact with people on a daily basis in your own, you know, in your backyard, whether that's family, whether that's, friends, whether that strangers on the street I hear you're actually more answerable in your faults than you are when you go overseas, you know you land in and istanbul and it's not going around doing street photography in istanbul, you can make mistakes, but I think that it's it's actually a better way to learn in a more responsible way to learn when you're at home like here when you make a mistake and you miss cap and you miss caption you know somebody's name on the street that you photographed yesterday and here she finds that like they're going to call you out on it which is good you know make those mistakes at home become the professional that you want to be at home and then take that talent take it overseas take it to the biggest stories start with small stories you know you want to cover syrian refugees it doesn't mean you have to fly to turkey to a refugee camp doesn't have to fly to greece and photographed the beaches in less boss it could be that you go and you find the syrian population like let's say you live in detroit, you get a dearborn you photograph the syrian refugees that we're entering deal the dearborn now the syrian refugees in the community that already exist there and you investigate why they left and what the type of life is that they're living now what their hopes and what their dreams are and you immerse yourself slowly in this you start by telling the story of one person and that story then broadens over over time it will broaden to tell a much wider story so try to find local and small angles into these situations I mean, I've been doing this for some time now and it's still the way that I work, I find things that might represent a larger story, but they might not you have to you have to get into the story, you know, and just pull the trigger and get into it because a lot of second guessing yourself and that's part of that is overcoming that fear into starting it. Another question that I ask myself what I'm going into a story is why is it relevant? Wash somebody care about this on dh when you was doing a story about aids in china that have barely been photographed years ago and I came back here with a serious of portrait's that I was showing to an editor and she said, why should we care about this? Why should an american audience count about this? And I flipped out like this is like one this is a huge problem and looking in perspective of china you've got you've got tens of hundreds of thousand of people who are suffering from this it's totally stigmatized like we have an opportunity to actually take away that steak in a little bit and have people talk for themselves and represent themselves put real statistics and numbers on a situation which is being hidden by the government I don't like jumping up and down and bang on the table and all that and she's like good I was like, oh my god, you're testing me so now when I'm going into a story I sort of run that test with myself why should people care about this? I get a sense of how much I care and how it is actually relevant to a larger public you know, how can I tie this back because that's one of the things that you're not just gonna be telling editors when you're trying to sell the story but you're also telling the people that you're photographing why they're important but why is their vision why's the perspective important? Um looking for things that a universal in the story looking for things that I misunderstood you know you're you're identifying different elements of what you're gonna be shooting and I don't create shot lists I look at the issues within the issue and I try to address them I let that happen organically occasionally you'll miss things as a result, but I work from actually is the producer of this very coarse will tell you I work very much by the seat of my pants um so I really investigate this story as deeply as I possibly can and then when I'm interacting and on the story itself, you know I'm finding how these issues are beginning to represent themselves in a visual manner um and I was talking about when I'm reading the newspaper and I'm looking at um I'm hitting some of these stories and finding that I'm not so I'm having trouble connecting with story in russia but I'm really connected with story in syria for example um you know I might one day come across the story that I'm really drawn to um I'll start researching that so there's two examples up here on the screen I have something that I've stuck with something that I've spent a few a few days on so that really ugly looking thing on the left hand side is my really rough notes of the banlieue which is a kind of ghetto on the outside of paris and different major cities around france and spain um I wanted to look at the battle you because the residents of it have felt disempowered on dh ghetto ized and not a part of french society um there's some amazing films that were made about places like this but they're muslim dominated neighborhoods and is they were in the press I think was about a year ago where some pundits were calling no go zones of course that's not true like there are no no go zone there are some areas that are very very dangerous that's a lot of drug dealing that's happening there on extremism as you know we will continue to experience unfortunately going forward, eh? So I started doing notes and I've got pages and pages of notes about the banlieue in different locations, different statistics uh different ideas that I might be able to go into um in looking at this is a story but then I found that a photographer called around back had done work over ten years in the values and the work was so good I mean devastating it's so beautiful on dh looking at the joys that these people experience within like these neighborhoods as well as these enormous challenges that they face living in a you know, marginalize society um once I found that I was like, okay, I wrote to the photographer and said it's like amazingly good work thanks keep it up and move onto a different story sometimes I just I didn't feel like I could add anything out of the conversation that you know he had already done so I left that pitch and just let it go whereas a story on the right is something that I've been trying to get assigned for years and it's a story about this tribe which is filled with very faint, you know famous runners called the challenge in in kenya from the rift valley and there's different theories as to why these guys have fasted everybody else why they win the majority the world's marathons one of the theories is that they have a higher pain threshold than other people in the world even people in their region judah certain ceremony so they have within their tribe and this idea of eastern civilisations embracing pain more than a western civilization who tries to push away pain in any given, you know, any given chance became so interesting is a philosophical concept to me. I still desperately want to go over there and photograph this. So this is a pitch that I come back to re pitched. Two editors I rework, you know, come back to every six months, I'll rework it with new research, I'll talk to new experts in the field, and someday you'll see I will get to work on this story. But this has been three years and it's something that I keep coming back to. So being conscious of what you're working on, like that's, a pretty good example also the rough length of what a pit should look like, ashley, I wanted to mention, um, maybe you can talk a little bit about the fact that, as part of one of the bonus materials for this class, you've created a sample pitch kit, right? Could you talk a little bit about that? Yeah, so I don't know why I had to learn all this stuff on the fly, like how to write a pitch, how to research a story, what, like different things to try to identify and then how to present that to both subjects and editors, um and for whatever reason, photography is not very willing to share this stuff I don't know why I like maybe we're embarrassed about how about our writing is well, maybe with a secretive about the story that we're working on like I don't think I'm gonna get scooped on the challenge in story a little watch what? What happens right what's much may be proven wrong, which I'm open to um but we have we don't we don't share a lot of these sort of inner workings of photography, which I think is you know why this course is a little bit different like this is this is really the you know that deep like the sort of hidden aspects of how we work of how we get our jobs done, his photographers of how we justify ourselves photographing strangers of how we come across stories, how you research than how we package them and how we sell them um so the pitch that we put together for the course because I wish I had had this when I was growing up actually outlines all of this with examples of failed pictures with examples of successful pitches, so hopefully that's ah pretty good resource that we can use and were covering that you know, in here today as well, but I wanted to check in the audience if any of you guys had a pitch that you're working on so my name's sandra whittington um I'm really really interested in women's rights issues as well as homelessness um and so in the past um I received a grant in two thousand thirteen to study women living and working under communist rule in the hometown at the hometown but where mao zedong began the communist solution and so I've always been passionate about these issues I can remember being in sixth grade writing like my first research paper about, you know, like women's rights issues, but right now I'm really interested well, still I mean it's been an ongoing theme in birth rituals um so I'm interested in birth rituals throughout the united states and sort of like home birth and things like that so that's what I'm working on now that's one of my things so right? And so I mean, have you looked at what other workers out there, um, I have not I haven't done is much research I'm still trying to, like, formulate my ideas and I have so many ideas right now, so I'm trying toe yeah there's a lot out there though, so I think I mean, as you know, we've been talking about I think one of the one of the keys is like really and this is difficult, but different people have different approaches it's important that we look at other work that exists but it's important, we don't look at that work too much and let it influence how we want to shoot it's important, we don't go out and emulated, so I would look at other work that's out there and see, you know, what's, lacking one of the holes, going into a story like that, I would say, you know, is this going to be a survey, or is this going to be, like, a serious of many stories? And I would think about what is best going to engage viewer? And if I have, like, a picture of this and a picture of this and a picture of this, it could look, you know, it could risk looking a little bit like a textbook, right? Definitely. But if you were to go out and this is this is what's so amazing about the top opportunities that we have today with online, you know, in the past, I think shooting a serious for a newspaper or a magazine like you would have the danger of the survey because you've only got limited space it's eight pages. But now, with online, you can do this eight pages in the magazine and say, jumped your website where you've got actually each profile of cross one of those pages, you've got like a shorter multimedia. Five in a multimedia piece looking at, you know, why this you know why birth rituals are important to each of these different cultures? You looking the unique asked think of each thing and looking at the universe and you as well, organically come up the universal aspects of those which would make it really compelling. Yeah, you know, um, I think that the other types of things that I'd be doing going into it is I would definitely look for people who have written extensively about this, you'd be amazed, and this that's something I think is I'm pretty certain you'll be able to find a quite a few expect definitely, yeah, but for stories that are more obscure like you, you would be amazed the amount of expect what people become experts on, they're experts on everything, and you can track it down and they're always open. They're always open, teo receiving a phone call because they usually in academia, it's okay to call them and say, you know my name sandra, a freelance photographer. I'm working a story, I don't know what I'm gonna do with it. I don't know where it's going to go, but your name keeps coming up and I wanted to chat with you about some ideas academics great about chatting, about ideas it gets a little more difficult you start doing with bureaucrats and stuff like that they just want to know when you need access that academics a great so don't be scared about calling you know, calling the social scientists anthropologist you could actually help you into this because inevitably was working a story about a drought in oklahoma and I was calling to from people who found out the severity of the drought in the panhandle down there and as a result of talking to one guy said you know is there anybody else you think I should talk to and he's like well yeah actually there's a guy who lives down here who's the great who's the grandson of the man in that famous picture from the dust bowl and it's like a picture of a guy with wearing a hat and he's like walking in a dust storm with his two kids behind him you know, this guy that I ended up meeting and photographing for the new yorker was the grandson of the guy in that picture is amazing s o the academics have contacts and inroads and so that could help your story as well. You know, like I need to go to this very remote community in the arizona desert right? Like you can't just roll up the right right duk sam might not be on facebook right? Um well however you want to contact them um so the academics could be a big help especially on a story like that I would recommend you know they can also tell you like what's what's being done a lot in what hasn't been done right he's not looking for homes help me with the whole issue I wonder if that helps but it definitely does help yeah good thing that I would approach it and then I would start writing I would write a treatment for how how do you know why the story is important? What it's going to show and then I would I would break it down you know by the different rituals that thing gives you a sort of storyline you could stop following because if you get you could get lost in the story pretty easily quickly oh definitely there's a lot there cool thank you actually just wanted to chime in and share with you some of the folk stories that they're working on that home we don't necessarily need to work workshop them but if you have any um little thoughts this is from photographic memory I'm going to nursing homes and photographing the elderly but getting a story from their history perspective as their history books that we will be losing s o I think that's an incredible story to focus on on then this is from the ship charmaine who says my idea is portrait's of women veterans titled I wore combat boots too and charmaine says it's much easier to recognize male veterans and women, especially in older generations, because they don't speak of it much. It's really good, I wonder if you could I'm not sure what the charmaine right? Charmaine charmaine, I'm not sure what where she stands on her, but I think one of the things, particularly in regard to veterans that has been frustrating me, is there's like these different campaigns that big companies will do that have very questionable, if, like, benefits for the veterans. So there's one from a big american company right now, where you put a green light in your house? Why yellow sticker on the back of your car? You know, what does that really do? We I'm very much an advocate, my work advocates for the people that I'm photographing, but I I believe that when these big organisations get behind some of these causes, like, we need to actually question what it is that they're doing, and I wonder if you're in a serious like that, you could you could have pictures of the female veterans when you could interest place that with a broader story of, like, what are these, you know, questioning what these campaigns they're actually doing for that that's having a picture of one of the veterans and then a picture in a green light in a house or a yellow sticker on a car I don't know like this that's that's how when I'm coming to stories like that I could already sounds like a good story, but I also look at how can I experiment with this and make a little bit different and really draw people into the story? Yes, oh one thing is also about birth I think that's the kind of cause it's kind of coming up in america right now but a specific story that I want to tell and I'm not sure how to get the access to is, um I'm a foster parent and one call that we get is for mothers who are about to lose the print rights that whether they're incarcerated is one situation, so I'd like to tell a story of incarcerated mother who is giving birth and then that child going on to the social records and then teo foster homes and not sure what angle it's going turning to but also there's the privacy rights of sharing the mother story as well as the foster child's information that's something that I have you run into any ways as a foster parent sharing right pictures willie the faster aspect of that makes it particularly as you know particularly difficult, but as far as incarcerated women on giving birth in prison I think there are different ways that you would start getting into the story I've worked on this issue a little while ago in new york that there are actually grassroots organizations that are pretty organized and doing doing pretty remarkable work on exactly that topic. So what I would recommend doing in a case like that is getting in touch with those people telling them why you know why this is something that's compelling to you on that you would like to collaborate with an organization in creating some sort of documentary? What often happens is they will give you act in exchange for use of the pictures after they're being published they will give you access to some of the people that have been working with and in turn you get permission from the people themselves. Now in the case of kids it's really it's the only place you can get permission obviously is from the parents, so I think that would be from the state in this situation, right? But I think in this case like you, it'll be very difficult just to go immediately in and asked the state's not going to give him permission. But there are ways of telling similar stories that will hit on some of the issues that you know, the kids who are going into foster homes might experience and that could be a mother who gives birth in prison whose permission your you know, depending on what state you're working and you actually might be able to photograph that it's not out of the question that has been photographed before it's rare but it happens like nothing's impossible to shoot so who and I sew you say go through the organizations uh you know, I didn't know if I could would go through like the social workers are who do I get like how do I find the mom? It would just be through organizations you think you would you sit down, you have a meeting and this is like there's an order through which I contact people you know, when I'm when I'm first reaching out to an organization like in this I would first call the call the director of the organization to make a time to speak to her on the fun um and then the first thing I'd do is say when can we meet bethany you like you've got to sit down with people in person face to face eye contact and talk about what it is that you're doing build trust that way. Um so the ideal option is number one meeting in person the second by telephone the third is email most people don't write back to email in the last like desperate option that nobody ever writes back to his facebook messages I mean, I still write them I don't know why um but trying to sit down with somebody from the organization saying, like, I would like to do this. I know it's been done before. Here's. What? I'd like to do it. I would share the pictures with you in exchange for some sort of access. Sounds very mercenary, except you obviously doing it because you care on do you try to you work into that story slowly, like you find the incarcerated woman who has a child in prison, and then the child is then given to let's, say extended family, in which case you will still have opportunity to actually photograph human her growing up over the years that his, you know, his mother is still in prison. In that case, you would be photographing the mother in prison, the child visiting the mother as it's coming up on let's. See, you do a long term documentary. You know, the kid could be fifteen and your photograph in the mom coming out of prison and imagine the sort of documentary that would be. Yeah, that was really exciting. Just the way slice it to the extended family and that that access opens up. What so much more? Yeah, absolutely amazing, great.

Class Description


  • Confidently approach strangers for street photography
  • Refine your eye for strong compositions
  • Choose the right gear for street photography
  • Tell a story through street photography
  • Write captions to accompany your work
  • Cull and edit your street photography images
  • Use street photography tips for building a career


Find the courage and skill to photograph strangers in public. Work with renowned street photographer Ashley Gilbertson to build both the confidence and skills necessary to succeed as a street photographer. Learn how to capture people moving through everyday life in artistic ways. Find out how to approach people in the street -- and how to photography anonymously in public places when everyone says no.

From understanding gear and the nuances of focal length to working as a documentary photographer in a public space, take your passion for street photography to the next level. This class isn't for beginners learning shutter speed and aperture for the first time -- it's for anyone that's ever wanted to work in street photography but struggles to build the courage to do so.

Watch behind-the-scenes videos following a real street photographer in action. Hear tales -- and see sample images -- of street photography across the United States and abroad, including major cities like New York and Chicago. Build captions and edit images with Photomechanic and Adobe Lightroom Live. Dive into an art form that reveals the complexity of human nature with Street Photography: The Art of Photographing Strangers.


  • Intermediate photographers eager to try the street photography genre
  • Enthusiast photographers branching into documentary style photography
  • Advanced photographers struggling to come out of their shell to approach strangers

SOFTWARE USED: Adobe Lightroom 6.0


Australia born photographer Ashley Gilbertson is a well-respected documentary style artist that many consider among the best street photographers. From working on editorial shoots to personal projects, his work has earned him an Emmy nomination, the Robert Capa Gold Medal, and an American Society of Magazine Editors Ellie award. The street photographer is also the author of two photography books and a regular writer for publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post. Based in New York City, Ashley's work has been featured in major publications as well as museum and art galleries around the world. 



I have taken more than a few of the Creative Live courses. I have, in general, found all of them to be very good and I have learned something important from them all. Not always enough of exactly what I was looking for, but something useful and important. This course was absolutely amazing. The best I have taken. I would like to download it and see it again and again. Ashley's style was authentic, humble, yet confidence inspiring. The information he gave was focused and totally useful. He shared both philosophy and thinking as well as real tools to learn - whether they be soft stuff (like how to approach someone) or hard stuff (like gear and settings and such). I cannot recommend this class highly enough. If you want to learn to do "humanistic photography" (his term which resonated with me), this is best I have ever taken!


This was a terrific and wonderful class. Ash was superb. His stories were awe inspiring, his passion was evident and his ability to teach was flawless. I would take any other class by him and actually can't wait for more of the VII agency programs eminating from Ron's class during photo week 2015. A great great addition to Creative Live's orbit.


Wow, I loved this course - I watched the whole thing, and most of it twice, during the first run. Ash is is intriguing, a good teacher, honest. I found this class to be so inspirational. I especially loved his encouragement about talking to strangers, asking to take their picture- "what's the worst thing that could happen?" And the videos watching him in action were motivating- you saw him make connections but also saw him get rejected too, but he keeps such a positive outlook. Love this class, please more photojournalism!