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Observe Your Shoot Location

Lesson 10 from: Street Photography: The Art of Photographing Strangers

Ashley Gilbertson

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Lesson Info

10. Observe Your Shoot Location

Scouting out the location helps prepare for a successful shot. Observing the location helps street photographers find the best light. Learn what to look for when scouting out a location.

Lesson Info

Observe Your Shoot Location

The first thing to do is when we you know we left when we checked out kit and then when I actually get to a place that I'm planning on shooting I'll sit down drink a lot of spent a lot of time in coffee shops and making coffee so I'll always have a coffee I'll sit down and usually take in the situation at least stand back and watch how the situation you know organically evolves and how it worked and where people are moving and where they're drawn to and how they interact with one another in different parts of the area so I'll do that for five or ten minutes um and then I will while I'm doing that I'll be looking at the light in the situation so the videos that we have it's over cost which I know is like a video guys dream but it's not a dream for me as a photographer I much prefer I much prefer sunlight and I'd love backlight so I'm always drawn I'm usually looking for places that are back with todd heist from the new york times great great advice on point which is he looks for the goo...

d light and then just follows you know gets drawn towards that end works that situation so look for great light like look for strips of life bouncing off buildings onto people on sections people are walking through look for strips of light coming through buildings backlight like direct flight areas that there's you know major difference in the stops between like shadow and the sun look for contrasts look for different and engaging sort of layered lighting areas in each place that you're shooting um do that partially in research on partially and you know when I get try to research a little bit like looking like I said like instant instagram a different picture that have taken place over the last few weeks of an area I could give you an idea of how the light will fall on our differently you can look at east west north south get an idea of what times of day it's going to be best to shoot so I've already got an idea of that before I start working but they would actually sit down I start looking you know, looking it with my own eyes eyes and working out what I want to shoot and then thinking about you know when the area that you're gonna be shooting in he's busy you know quiet depending on what you're looking for in your pictures I was just in chicago um and I was doing a street photography workshop and just in the hour that we like me and the students were out on the street the light's changed so completely dramatically there was this like perfect time of day which was mid day actually it was in an alleyway chicago's these great alleyways between the skyscrapers and there's a time of day in midday where the light that came straight down through the skyscrapers and I it sort of illuminated these fire scapes coming, you know, done dozens of stories of buildings that the people occasionally walking through the middle it was absolutely beautiful, but it was only it only existed for a few minutes of the day, so you know, I would I would definitely recommend going around with when you're going around with your notebook that you're riding down times of days that is really good to shoot, you know you're looking, you're looking for that scribble it down say, you know, come back to these alleyways at midday come back to the park in the afternoon because there's lots of people there and then you know, the like wall street, for example, when I'm shooting on wall street, I knew that getting their earlier was better because you would have the streets that looks sort of empty and then they'll get really, really busy as the market came to open. So when we were planning on shooting in seattle, one of our goals was to be downtown during rush hour didn't work out exactly as planned, but west here at city hall plaza, which is in downtown seattle, we've chosen to be here this morning earlier in the morning because we thought that there'd be a a lot of municipal workers going toe work we thought it was pretty busy in fact, it's not at all. So, um, light is pretty flat, so we're gonna have to work with that as well. Uh, initially we thought it was sunny that be, like, coming from behind these buildings sort of bouncing around off the glass buildings around us, so instead we're goingto tryto work with what we have. So I'm going to try to identify spots that I want to shoot and then find interesting people within that to create photographs with on dh approach. So I, like, I can already see that I like across the street there's like a wall of graffiti, which is pretty cool there's a red wall um, just across the way, which is backlit, but I think we could shoot behind and create some sort of cool silhouettes of people. Um, and I'm hoping that it gets busier as the day picks up gets closer to ten am I thought seattle started earlier than this. All right, so, um going, um, yeah, so the notebook always have it on the scoop on the great spots and as many details as you can about them, so when I'm actually walking around like there's another example of that like we came across an alleyway in chinatown, which I loved but there was nobody in it but it's a sort of place like when we had been driving on location scouting the day before I found this amazing spot that's like perfect in the afternoon light but then we won't shoot. It was overcast, so if I was staying here, I would be waiting for it to be sunny and go back to that spot of exactly three fifteen you know this alleyways another example. So a lot of what we do is almost shooting is researching for places to come back to you later on in the day when we think it might be busier looking for visual spot that might be interesting to shoot in every city like the light changes as the day goes on, you also scout great locations and this is pretty amazing find minutes, eh? For a chinatown alleyway it's almost perfect trade, but there's nobody here, so we'd have to wait till it's either warmer. Well, the day gets busier on it looks like it's pretty heavily trafficked by somebody and I think there's some sort of association or temple next door that I want to go check out and see if see if we're allowed to shoot outside or inside that so when you're walking around from place to place is, well, the light is always changing the like the strength of the light andi, I'm not waiting to shoot a picture to me to that light like when I changed rooms when I go inside the cafe and then back out into a city square or something like that, I'm automatically changing the dials on my camera you know, from two fifty two a sixtieth from faa tio two point eight and that is something else you need to stop thinking about doing, you know, a street photographer like this, we have milly seconds in which to get our pictures sometimes they were not always asking permission when always pre negotiating that sort of visit permission, we sometimes just have to shoot instinctively and so your camera should always be ready. And I think once you practise that enough, you know, when you when you're like, when you have a camera with you all the time, a real camera s allow whatever to change the exposure's like this actually from constraining photographer was working during the vietnam war and he would be constantly changing is the jungle canopy changed? Um so you should be doing the same thing when you're walking around so you're always ready and that should become again without thought, you know, you change rooms and if somebody was filling you, your hand would be on your camera and you be changing the aperture in the shutter speed while you're walking into that room often, when I'm taking pictures on the street, I will have done pre research, uh, live in new york, so I know what areas will work really well during specific times of day. Um, I know that shooting downtown, like in the financial district is amazing. First thing in the morning is the lights start streaming through the buildings, you get these signatures, strips of light and he's, sort of a big, dark canyons. I know that in alleyways like the one we're in here in an outdoor market in seattle, absolutely amazing during the middle of the day because the light straight overhead and shoots down the alleyway and you get these very dramatic shadows on the people like you have to start looking at locations as per where the light is going to hit them during the day. So but this outdoor market it overlooks the I guess it's the pacific or it's a harbor, I don't know, but anyway it's facing west, so in the afternoon you get these beautiful strips of light that come through the windows to come through signs, and it cost the most amazing shadows under people. So if I'd be photographing on the edge of the market, I'll definitely come here in the afternoons if I was photographing in the alleyways would be here in the middle of the day. And you'll find a lot of street photographers have notebooks that just filled with locations and times they want to come back or that they find it's, really, they find, you know particularly strong to shoot in, um, so if I get an assignment or if I'm interested in a place I will, like often back down there a few times and look at it in different times a day, which I definitely urge you to do, um, at this outdoor market, I was already familiar with it, and is we're here now to sort of research would give you a sense of how I would approach it so there's different elements, I look at the characters that are involved in a shoot on, I look at the light that's involved, so as I said, like, if I wanted to be here in the beautiful afternoon light when it's coming off off the water, that's in the evening and that's that'll be looking maura tourists, because it's in the afternoon evening, you get a lot of tourists are coming to the market on dumb, it'll be packed with people, but in the morning you're gonna have a lot of vendors who were coming in first, especially first thing at dawn, so you'll get muchmore the sort of seattle local field, which I think would be I really different type of photographs and, you know, one that I would much prefer to get personally, but, you know, as a photographer, you might be looking for crowds so that the time of day will depend on the type of character you're going to get the, um, the other aspect is making contacts into the market when you get here. So when you're doing research days or hours, it's good to start talking to some of the shopkeepers in a situation like this and familiarizing yourself. So when you turn up, say, hey, ash has it going, and it breaks down some of those initial boundaries, so when you do start floated off rangers, the shopkeeper in say, oh, that's that's, not some jerk from the times that's ah that's just ash um, so most of the locations that I work and I'm already familiar with him one way or another, obviously when I'm overseas, I can try to do some location scouting using google maps, which is pretty great by looking another trick that I use is actually looking at instagram, and I look at the locations is to see, you know, when people are shut in the past and how it's looked, but the best thing to do is come here in person and have a look around.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials

Street Photography Gear List

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Street Photography Pitch Kit

Ratings and Reviews


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!

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