What to shoot?

Practicing can be a frustrating exercise. Not in a sense that it’s difficult but that the results don’t mean much to me. I’ve been shooting people as close-up as I possibly could and dared, which was close. And these shots ended up being just shots of people, mostly looking at me in surprise or irritation, while there was no composition to speak of. Of course not, no time for that. Doing this I was losing the fun in photography and that’s not the way to go.

Also I got some comments on my pictures and those comments often come down to “You shouldn’t make that kind of pictures” or “You should have used a different technique”. This kind of advice threw me off more than that it helped me and I’ve come to the realization that I have to keep shooting the things I want to, simple as that, and that the only way to progress is to remain critical of my own work. I think I’m learning most from others when I watch their work, their way of working or their take on their own photography. Joel Meyerowitz inspires me greatly, and the same is true for some members of my photo club.

Two days ago I went to Breda by train and instead of keeping myself busy with my phone I took my camera and started shooting out the windows, just for the fun of it.

No, it’s not street photography by most of the common definitions but it’s in the same spirit for me: spontaneous photography with hardly any control over the scene.

There is the widely accepted notion that you have to get up real close to people, preferably using a 35mm lens. Fine. This one was made with a 50mm lens and needed some serious cropping afterwards. Thank heavens for the flood of megapixels our present cameras give us!

 

Happy

I’ve just been watching a video of Joel Meyerowitz talking about his photography. Impressive, inspiring and deeply moving. Just be patient and watch the whole 75 minutes.

Yesterday I was practicing with the 35mm lens on my camera and getting up real close. To hell with it! I just hate that 35mm angle of view! Joel Meyerowitz’s video made me think of a photo I made earlier and to which I keep coming back. Still happy with this one.

At noon I always made a 7-minute-walk to this square to get my lunch at the supermarket and for some time I took my camera with me. It was a beautiful day and I made a few snaps of this pretty scene. Coming home I was delighted with all the detail in the shot, partly because the gearhead in me likes to pixel-peep but also because there’s so much to see. Be sure to at least click on it to see it larger. The biker in the foreground, one of my colleagues sitting just left of the blue car, people passing by behind the car, the signs, all the street furniture. And this wasn’t made up close and I used the Olympus 2/40mm for it, my favorite angle of view for snapshots. No one ever seems to share my enthousiasm for this photo but that doesn’t bother me really: I like it. I’m thinking of printing this large and submit it for the yearly photoclub’s exhibition in March next year, probably encountering that same lack of enthousiasm of others.

Another one from that same period when I took a camera with me during lunch break. This is even more just a simply pretty picture. And I like this one too: this is how beautiful my home town can look.

The video restored my drive to keep photographing. After yesterday’s experience I was wondering what purpose there was in making those street pictures while I was just trying to conquer my fear in pressing the shutter, I wasn’t really looking for something that triggered me to make the shot. Going to try something different next time.

Practicing

Yesterday I decided to practice, getting up close to people. I put a 35mm on my camera to force me to get up closer. And with the adrenaline racing through my veins I kept shooting, again being constantly surprised that so few people seemed to bother. Well, one lady in a group of 4 muttered: “But sir, you can’t really do that, just take a picture like that”. But then it was in Dutch of course, very difficult to transfer the real message. She was mildly shocked, not angry, like a mother who admonishes her child without really expecting it to listen.

Anyway, nothing presentable came out of that shoot, so here’s a picture from 1997 at the Scheveningen Boulevard. I remember exactly how I felt when I took it, the excitement of seeing the line of people, dressed for business and probably on a lunch break. Looking back I realize I always wanted to do this kind of stuff. The background of this one is one big, unattractive clutter and that disturbs me; today, when watching work of great photographers, the importance of background and composition makes itself abundantly clear. Having to shoot quickly is no excuse for being sloppy.

Another shot that was on my mind for many years, until I finally got around to scanning this slide. Again I remember the excitement when I took it, with my Nikon F3 and 2/35mm. Disappointment came over me when I saw it on the screen for the first time, it wasn’t half as good as I liked to remember.


I’m almost ashamed to admit it took me thirty-odd years to realize what photography I really want to do.

Unripe

This picture is from two days ago and I know now that this means it’s unripe. I wanted to show another one that has sat in my catalog for a few weeks but no such luck: I must have thrown it away! A lesson learned the hard way: street photos need to ripen. Especially street photos, much less so for my landscape or family shots. Eric Kim calls this marinating in his 100 Lessons From the Masters of Street Photography. For me I think I need a few weeks at the very least to decide if a picture works or not, maybe even much longer. Garry Winogrand waited a year before processing his shots; that’s too extreme for me, mainly because now learning from my mistakes necessitates a faster feedback loop.

Eric Kim also led me to some interviews he made with street photographers (just look for him on Youtube) and it’s just great to see how other photographers go about making pictures. Vastly different styles and if one thing’s clear, it’s that style is born from personality. Ergo, it’s up to me to find my own. Will take a while, probably and hopefully it’ll never end.

So I went out on a limb in showing the picture because every time I look at it, my mood goes up a notch. Mission accomplished if only one other person on this planet has the same experience.

No explanation

In the first version of this post I explained why I took this shot. I now edited that out: if I have to do so, the picture obviously doesn’t work. Upon revisiting older shots I decided to show this one after all, even though it’s not perfectly sharp. Hope you like it; be sure to click on it for a larger view.

Early

Yesterday I decided to go out early, hoping to catch somewhat different scenes. Less people on the streets and some restaurants weren’t open yet.

 

 

People garnishing the scene

In earlier photographs I put people in a street more as a garnish than anything else, until it became clear to me that I wanted people as the main subject so against my ratio I was heading for street photography as the real deal.

Still sometimes it worked for me, here’s an example.

Encounters

This time I focussed (pun intended) on encounters: people having interactions with each other in a way that made me smile, if only just a little.
Being more relaxed now, I don’t mind if my subjects take note of my pointing a camera at them. It gives me more time to take a picture, even watch composition, check on focus and take more shots if I want to. When noticed I smile, pretend I was photographing something else by looking away after shooting, just walk on or whatever. Your own behaviour is crucial in a way I’m only beginning to slightly understand. Key to this is experience, experience, experience, I guess.

Rain is nice!

“Nice weather today, good to go out and make photos!” I get that often and people are amazed when I pull up my nose: nah, too much haze, look at the whitish-blue sky. Cloudy weather is easier for street photography and rain creates subjects of its own.

So when showers were forecast for last Sunday I took the bus to the city center and decided I was going to hunt for bikers coping with the rain. Bikes are a common thing here in The Netherlands, they are a commodity used for everyday chores like grocery shopping or going to work. And for going out because you can drink!

This time I took a full-blown camera bag and that was a good decision: all these were made with a 70-200mm lens while standing under a canopy. Such a lens can hardly go unnoticed but again no one seemed to care what I was doing. I feel more and more at ease and don’t bother as much anymore if someone notices me taking photos; maybe just that little bit more peace of mind comes across.

In the railway station

Lots of people moving fast in a railway station, so opportunities galore when you’re quick. I could hold a position but standing still in such a location attracts attention so I keep walking and only stop to shoot, quickly.

The woman in the middle looks almost like she’s daydreaming which looks strangely out of place here.

Let me guess: they’re going to a colleague who’s leaving. And Jasmien obviously went to Starbucks for her coffee.

So many things to wonder about when looking back on the pictures. As things are going quick, I hardly ever know what to expect. And I take Kai W‘s advice to heart: don’t chimp when you’re shooting. He’s right, it distracts and gets you noticed unnecessarily.

It’s amazing that people hardly notice you when you shoot quickly, and if they do they usually shrug, it looks like they believe you can’t take a photo that fast. But I still have to move closer, closer, closer.

Bought a wrist-strap the other day, much better to keep the camera in your hand than hanging it off your neck. “Duh! New to this, heh?” Yep.