Transitioning to Street Photography (2015 Archived Post)

Since moving to Seattle, I’ve been focusing much of my photographic energy on street photography. Street photography, to me, is being receptive and reacting to the fleeting moments of beauty, quirkiness, or mystery that unfold in every day life. Though this definition is very loose, it allows me be much more open to the world, leaving me without any preconceptions about the photographs I will make. I find that this is a very different mindset than the skateboarding world and enjoy the change.

With skateboarding, I would usually set out with an entirely premeditated idea of what I was going to photograph or film. I would know the spot we were going to, the trick to be done, and already have figured out where to shoot from and how to light it by the time we got there. This approach was very formulaic and eventually got to be quite mundane. I enjoy following my curiosity and trying different things, so years of this had worn me out. I even tried to mix things up and shoot lots of snapshots and stuff outside of just the tricks (which makes up most of The Mob Rules photo book), but even that felt contrived and forced.

Street photography, on the other hand, allows me to have much less restrictions—only those imposed by my self. Some of these restrictions are the obvious choices: the camera, lens, and film I use, but I’ve narrowed that down as to best simplify my life. For over a year and a half now, my setup has been a Leica M6 with a 50mm shooting Ilford HP5+ at 1600 and an Olympus Stylus Epic with 400 speed color film. I’ve shot probably 95% of my photos with this combination, and though I’m never immune to wanting a new camera or lens, I have resisted the urges and kept my setup to a minimum. (Although my current pondering is whether to shoot with a 35mm or even a 28mm lens on the Leica to get closer—but more on that later).

Aside from the physical restrictions of the tools, the only major restriction left is what I choose to photograph and show. It’s never as easy as going outside, taking a picture of someone doing something, and ending up with a great image. My way of thinking and seeing has to change. To make a good photograph, I have to be aware of what’s going on currently, as well as anticipating things that might happen. I must see the world in 1/500th of a second, and, before the split second of the photo, be innately aware of how to compose the image, use the lighting, and have the camera ready. This is where being open and receptive to the world comes in:

Snohomish, WA, 2015

I was wandering an old and very outdated strip mall in the small town of Snohomish when I came across this woman laying in the grass. Already interested in the scene, I was further drawn in by the gravestones in the back. In this situation, I was able to work more slowly and take my time creating the images. I used the stillness of the situation to get in closer and frame her with the gravestones. The following is the sequence of photos.

Sequence of photos

Contrasting the slower scene of the woman laying in the graveyard is this photo taken at the Washington State Fair. I was just walking among the crowd when the older girl, with her big fluffy dog, turned to try a bite of something sweet from her little sister. I had been seeing the oversized stuffed animals all day and kept an eye out for something interesting to occur with them. Fortunately, a scene just happened to unfold in front of me and I was ready to act upon it.

Washington State Fair, 2015

I love that street photography, more than any other genre of photography that I’ve found, keeps me in the present moment. Being out on the street focusing solely on the life happening in front of me is quite meditative. It really helps to quell any stressful or anxiety ridden thoughts that plague our minds, and it allows us to see the beauty in every moment.