Last week I visited the South Side of Chicago to meet with Pastor Corey Brooks and document a few hours in his life. Pastor Brooks has received national attention over the past few months for pitching a tent on the roof of an old hotel that was frequented by drug addicts and prostitutes. His goal is to raise $450,000 to tear down the hotel and build a community center in its place. You can follow Pastor Brooks on Facebook, Twitter, and learn more about his efforts by checking out Project Hood.
New York City street photography is a dream come true with photo ops around every corner. I’m all about maximizing my time when traveling, and lucky for me there’s something to be said for the old adage… in a New York minute. Like most of my trips, I generally have a few images in mind that I plan on capturing, and then leave a bit of free time to allow for things unforeseen. The thing about street photography is you need to be quick to move and always be on the lookout for new photo opportunities. High traffic locations like NYC Central Park are great locations to maximize your time and efforts. In the matter of a few hours I had a chance to shoot a landscape, people, portraits, macro, etc.
Being flexible and always on the lookout can pay dividends. Case in point: I was setting up to shoot the Central Park’s famous walkway known as “The Mall” when I noticed off in the distance a young man posing in what looked like a wrestling singlet. Now typically this wouldn’t strike me is odd (being the big city and all) but since it was a damn chilly 10 degrees, it piqued my curiosity. So I picked up my gear and headed his way. Come to find out this young lad was a dancer (thus, the singlet) and his buddy was taking a few pictures of him for his portfolio. We chatted for a few minutes and asked if I could take a few photos. The whole exchange was 10-15 minutes tops, but this is what I love about NYC street photography — the rush, the challenge and the occasional payoff.
I’ve come to believe the key to getting good environmental portraits, or honing your street photography skills, is learning to take advantage of distractions and becoming invisible.
Distractions…the low lying fruit.
Parades and public events are great ways to hone your street photography skills without drawing too much attention to yourself because people are usually preoccupied by the event itself.
Go light young grasshopper…
Learning to travel light and being proficient with one lens can be a major asset. Leave the tripod behind and here’s why: we need to be fast, flexible, and under the radar to catch an authentic, spontaneous moment.
Be patient…..short term pain means long term gain.
Find a nice place to sit back, relax and wait for the shots to present themselves. I know it can feel tedious, and at times downright boring, but like the proverb says, “everything comes to he who waits.” A cafe, park, or city center are all great places to plant yourself and wait for photo opportunities. I know it sounds a bit like stalking, but truly what we’re talking about is simply people watching. Many street photographers, including myself, are fascinated by human behavior so I like to think of it as my own little case study of the world around me. Take notes, have sip of coffee, and wait for the shot.
If there’s one thing I was reminded of while in Africa it was my need to “connect in order to create.” That connection may be as simple as an exchange of smiles between me and a young man stacking charcoal or as intricate as an interpreter explaining my every word. As a photographer, my curious nature places me in situations that can be hard to navigate and at times difficult to explain. I found throughout the years that being sincere, respectful and giving a big smile are key ingredients to successfully navigating language barriers.
Here are a few guidelines to try to follow when traveling abroad:
1. Be polite and respectful. Don’t be the ugly tourist with camera.
2. Consider a local guide when traveling abroad. S/he can really help break down the communication barrier.
3. Spend some time getting to know your subject before getting the camera out.
4. If you’re in a town for a few days consider going for a walk without your camera. Scouting an area and connecting with people/shopkeepers can pay dividends when you come back with your camera in tow.
5. Telling a story — Try to tell a story with your images. I avoid shots that simply portray poverty. Taking a keen interest in what a person does for a living or how he or she supports their family is what I’m interested in photographing.
6. Lastly, remember safety is key. I love street photography but it’s very easy to get caught up in a “moment.” Having a travel partner that can watch your back is just common sense.
At the end of the day, it’s all about following the “Golden Rule” and using common sense. I believe when I make a sincere attempt to connect with people they look beyond the camera and see me for what I am: a harmless, curious guy with a camera 🙂