Posts Published in August 2009

Interview with Rachel James of aandedijk

Rachel James is the photographer behind aandedijk, brownglasses, and 28mm.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Rachel James: I’m a thirty-two year old American who has been living in the Netherlands for 11-years. My husband and I run a new media company in which I am a User Experience Designer. I also make a living as a wedding and portrait photographer. Two of my most successful websites have been brownglasses.com and 28mm.org. I now sporadically photoblog at aandedijk.com.

PP: Why did you move to the Netherlands?

RJ: I met my husband in 1997 via his online journal (the predecessor to what we now know as weblogs). After e-mailing and chatting via ICQ, I realized that he was my soulmate, the one, and flew to the Netherlands to meet him. I’ve been here ever since.

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PP: How did you first get into photography?

RJ: My father is an avid photographer. I can’t remember a time when there weren’t rolls and rolls of 120 film in the vegetable crisper. Photography was important in our family as I was growing up. We, my sister… my mom… all had cameras and used them often. That I eventually became a photographer is really no surprise.
What was your first camera, and what do you use now?

My first camera was a 110 camera from K-Mart. I used it for years, until the camera was lost during one of our many moves. My current work cameras are a Nikon F100 and Nikon D300. Nothing extravagant, but at the end of the day, they help me get the job done. For play I use primarily a Polaroid 680 SLR, Holga, Lomo-CA, and Leica M6. I was recently given a Norita 66 that I’ve fallen completely in love with.

PP: Do you find yourself shooting more with film or more with digital? If you had to stick with one, which would it be and why?

RJ: Commissioned work is done digitally. The work I do for exhibitions and for myself is shoot on film. I’m a film lover and will always be. Take a Polaroid for example. There is no DNG… no negative. I can’t manipulate the EXIF data. It’s an unique original. There is trust and honesty in that. As long as there is film to be bought, I will be shooting with it.

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PP: Can you tell us a little bit about your favorite pieces of gear and why you like them?

RJ: That would be, hands down, my Polaroid SLR 680 and SX-70. Ansel Adams said, “It is unfortunate that so many photographers have thought of the Land (Polaroid) camera as a ‘toy’…The process has revolutionized the art and craft of photography”. I couldn’t agree with more. I look at the Polaroids I’ve taken over the years, over and over again. I’m slightly obsessed. I realize this.

PP: Is there any gear on your wishlist?

RJ: NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED and a Hasselblad 500C/M chrome. I forsee the Hasselblad being added sooner to my gear collection than the lens though.

PP: What type of photography are you most interested in?

RJ: Portraiture. Meeting new and interesting people is what inspires me to photograph, and my photography is a way for me to keep meeting new, interesting people. It’s a cycle that helps keep my work fresh. In a way, a lot of what I do is self-portraiture, as I tend photograph people who interest me, people I see myself in, or at the very least, like me, stick out from the crowd.

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PP: What is your goal in photography?

RJ: I have a number of business goals (profits, clients, projects, exhibitions, etc), but ultimately, I want create photographs that serve as a documentation of the life I live and the people I meet.

PP: What does Aan de dijk mean?

RJ: Aan de dijk is a prepositional phrase in Dutch. Translated into English it would mean something along the lines of “Along the dike”. You pronounce it phonetically as on duh dike. In a sentence, you would use it to refer to where something is located. I live in the historical city center of Ravenstein, an old fortified city built along a dike and the river Meuse/Maas. My domain name refers to that.

PP: What is street photography like in the Netherlands? Are people friendly and open to having their photographs taken by a stranger?

RJ: It’s quite relaxed if your respect peoples privacy and abide by the law. People and law enforcement tend to let you do your thing. Occasionally someone will do a double take when I’m bent over photographing what they assume to be trash. In Amsterdam, where I learned the art of street photography, occasionally someone running a market stand would make a fuss if I photographed their wares. Moroccan and Turkish women don’t tend to like to be photographed. They give a clear signal which I respect. There’s a difference between someone who is photographing on a professional level and someone who’s doing it just for fun or as a casual hobby. And people see that, I think.

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PP: How do you go about photographing strangers?

RJ: When I first started photographing strangers, I did it from a far. Kind of stealth like. An instructor at the Photo Academy in Amsterdam urged me to stop using my zoom lenses and move closer to my subject. While he wasn’t referring solely to street portraits, it was advice I’ve did take to heart. I don’t own a single lens over 85mm. So these days when I photograph strangers, I’m open about it and shoot from only a couple of meters away. You have to be confident, friendly, and professional. I’ll take a shot ,and then smile really big. The person in question usually awkwardly smiles back and keeps on walking. If the someone turns away when I aim the camera, I’ll walk up closer and ask if I can photograph them. Usually they’ll what to know why and why them. There have been only a handful of strangers that I haven’t been able to photograph. Flattery really works wonders. Oh yeah and smiling. You can get away with almost anything as long as you smile while doing it.

PP: Do you have any memorable or awkward experiences while doing street photography?

RJ: I suppose one of the most memorable experiences happened while I was in Paris a few years back. Two children kept pestering me about giving them money. When I sat down to reload my Polaroid they hovered around me, begging. I aimed the Polaroid at them and took a shot. When the boys tried to grab the Polaroid from me, a friend stepped in between. I quickly took two more shots while my friend scolded the boys and gave the two extra Polaroids to them.

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PP: What would you consider to be the most important things you’ve learned since starting out in photography? How have they impacted your work?

RJ: To properly set-up and use Photoshop actions and Lightroom Presets. Batch editing saves not only time, but in the end money.

PP: Would you recommend a new photographer start out with film or digital? Why?

RJ: Think about what kind of photographer (fashion, sport, documentary, fine art) you want to be and choose the camera accordingly. To me it’s shouldn’t be about film -or- digital, but about the tool that best fits the job. This idea that it should be one or the other, or that film has no more place in the digital age is just silly. Far too much emphasis is put on the camera. In the end, it all boils down to the print. How you get there is your own business.

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PP: What personal advice could you give an aspiring photographer who is looking to improve their photographs?

Learn to look critically at your work. Many beginning photographers tend to not know how to edit properly. And I don’t mean just in Photoshop. I mean knowing how to pick that “it” shot. By understanding what’s not working in a particular photograph, helps you in turn to photograph the same situation better.
Could you tell me a little about how to take photographs? (your mindset, your technique, your process, how many rolls you shoot in one sitting, etc…)

RJ: Hmm.. well… I tend to have a clear idea of what I want to photograph and how I’m going to go about doing it. Whether it’s a commissioned assignment of whether I’m just shooting for my own personal pleasure. I don’t really have any special techniques. I love shallow depth of field and try to always do everything with available light. The most difficult choice is what camera to use. For a commission, it will almost always be digital, but when I’m shooting for my own personal pleasure, I always seem leave the camera I should have brought with me at home. Murphy’s Law, I suppose.

PP: What is the hardest thing about shooting weddings?

RJ: Getting started. If you haven’t been a shooting assistant for an already established wedding photographer or if you haven’t been lucky enough to successfully shoot a wedding or two from a friend, building up your portfolio will be the hardest thing about shooting weddings.

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PP: What is something about wedding photography that most people don’t know?

RJ: While wedding photography is a serious business, it’s also just a lot of fun, especially if you love being photographing people. How could you NOT have fun when everyone is enjoying such a festive event.

PP: Can you briefly walk us through your workflow?

RJ: My workflow for digital and film is essentially the same, except for the fact that the film goes off to a lab where it’s developed and immediately scanned to disc. So basically it all begins with importing files into Lightroom. Files are arranged into folders according to their shooting date. I keyword and I apply a preset I created that adjusts the white balance, saturation, calibration, lens vignetting, and exposure. Then I quickly sort out all the duds and duplicate shots. After some further adjustments made on a per photo basis. Lastly, I export JPG’s in the working color space appropriate for the final result (sRGB for internet use, Adobe RGB for print).

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PP: Who are some photographers you follow online?

RJ: Heather Champ, Lorissa Shepstone, Fredrick Olssen, Jim Green, Sophie Thouvenin, Valerie Cochran, Brigitte Heinsch, Andrew Newson, Rion Nakaya, Matt Armendariz, Justin Ouellette, Alison Garnett, Andrew Kopietz, and many of the people found here and here continually inspire me.

PP: Who is one person you would choose to see interviewed by PetaPixel?

RJ: Lorissa Shepstone.

PP: Anything else you would like to say to PetaPixel readers?

RJ: There will always be those with “better” gear than you. Learn to work with what you’ve got. Develop your own style and forget the rules.

Streetwalker Backpack Winner

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Wow… I’m pretty surprised at how popular this past week’s Streetwalker giveaway was. Over this past week we received 510 entries, with 230 comments and 280 tweets. To put that into perspective, the most responses for a giveaway prior to this one was 191 (when we gave away two Photomatix licenses).

To pick a winner, I assign each entry with a number, and use random.org to randomly select one entry. Using this method, we found the winner of a Streetwalker backpack to be:

#144: Kerry (birchblazephotography.com)

I think it would be amazing to photograph the Country of Bhutan, it’s supposed to be one of the happiest in the world, and it’s very beautiful as well!

Congratulations Kerry! I hope you enjoy your new camera backpack.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this week’s giveaway. Be sure to check back again soon, as we have some pretty awesome stuff lined up to be given away…

I also really enjoyed reading all of your responses. Here are some of them:

dahak_z:

Well, not so down to Earth speaking, in the broader sense of the word ‘world’, I’d really go and photograph the Universe, if one could only explore it. Think of all the nebulas, alien planets, and other unseen phenomena. Could result in quite some awesome photos.

On a more down to Earth tone, i’d make a one year (or more years, however long it takes), of all the world’s national parks. That could also result in quite some awesome photographs.

Cheers

Martin (time2shoot.com):

It might sound strange for some, but I wish I could capture the life of the people of North Korea and show the world how life is over there.

4strinbass (@4strinbass):

My dream place to photograph would be the ocean floor of the Atlantic Ocean, want to get nite style shots of glowing fish

simonhucko (@simonhucko):

how about anywhere over the earth? i’d love to go up to the ISS with a camera

Journey to Everywhere by Jan von Holleben

Editor’s note: Jan von Holleben is the photographer well known for his project “Dreams of Flying”. He just completed a twelve month project called “Journey to Everywhere“, which is a “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” concept done without any digital manipulation.

I thought this series would be great for inspiring PetaPixel readers, so I asked him to write a little introduction to this project for you guys to go along with this preview of his project. In addition, he has included some “behind the scenes” photographs to give you a little glimpse of his process.

If you haven’t yet, definitely check out “Dreams of Flying” and our interview with Jan.


In ‘Journey to Everywhere’ I am revisiting my series ‘Dreams of Flying’.The village in the Kaiserstuhl, where I shot all the initial images over 5 years, is still the same and not much has changed except the trees have grown taller and a few new streets have been built. The kids have grown some years since lying on various local grounds for my camera and their parents have grown into amazingly supportive collaborators. The sets have become more complex in their simplicity and between the kids and me; photography has become a hot topic of critical discussion in its effect and its usage. We still meet up in front of my mum’s house, contemplate ideas, pack the VW Van with the weirdest potpourri of materials, take a drive up the hill which overlooks the village and from where we can also see the Black Forrest, the Swiss Alps and the Vosges in France. It truly feels like a place from which we can see far into the world.

Some of the older kids have mean whilst taken over positions such as technical assistant or art director and we start setting up the photographs. We debate to which country or adventure we should fly first and who is playing which part and stands where and how in our tiny stage set. Ladders for the background are being constructed; foreground is designed and put into position. For today, the itinerary shall be: First into the desert with little water reserves, then play cowboys in the wild wild West and as a finale: conquering a pirate ship and meeting a wonderful mermaid in the pacific ocean. Easy!!!

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The Umbrellas

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The Shoes

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The Pillows

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The Flowers

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The Jungle

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The Sweets

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Behind the Scenes

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Interview with Daniel Cuthbert of Hmmm

Daniel Cuthbert is the photoblogger behind Hmmm.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Daniel Cuthbert: Born in the UK, grew up in South Africa (during the Apartheid years), left in 95 and since lived all over the world. I’ve had a few careers, namely a chef, a milkman (in the UK, for a grand total of 1 week before I couldn’t handle the hours anymore) and most recently that of a legal computer hacker (the good type).

PP: How did you first get into photography?

DC: I won’t do the usual spiel of saying I was born with a camera in my hand, that’s so clichéd. :)

I was in NYC at the time and had a small Sony point and shoot and a very good friend of mine, who is a creative director for a very well known ad agency, enjoyed the street images I had shot and said I should look at a few photographers like Eggleston and Winogrand.

I took his advice and a whole new world opened up for me. It was amazing to see how to properly take an image, not the type I was taking at the time and I pretty much decided there and then to learn how to compose and do it right.

PP: What is your goal in photography?

DC: I love telling stories.

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PP: What was your first camera?

DC: Nikon 2FAS (my old man’s).

PP: What equipment do you use now?

DC: Right now I’ve kept it dead simple. I did go down the route of having loads of cameras, but felt it wasn’t helping me so I sold them all. I now shoot with a Rollei 6008 Integral and my two Leicas (M6/M8).

PP: Can you tell me a little about your Leicas?

DC: I swapped my Canon 1d mkII with 50mm, 85mm, 70-200mm, 28mm and assorted batteries and stuff for the M6 and Summicron lens. The M8 was purchased from a good friend of mine, conflict photographer Jason P Howe (http://conflictpics.com/).

The benefit of the M system is that the camera isn’t in your face. What I mean by this is that with the Canon, or indeed Nikons, you look like a pap/press photographer. Big bodies, even bigger lenses, it becomes hard to not get noticed. With my M6 and M8, I just blend in and it does make a difference. I was able to get this shot of a Cocaine dealer bagging up before New Years Eve because he didn’t notice me taking the shot, I doubt I would have got the same shot with the canon as it’s too in your face.

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The M8 I love. I know many harp on about how the 5dmkII can shoot in the dark, but to be honest I don’t shoot in the dark so don’t need that capability. The quality of the sensor is amazing however, and it suits my workflow.

PP: Is there any gear on your wishlist?

DC: Not really to be honest I’d like a wider angle lens for my Rollei, I was thinking a 40mm or 50mm lens, but haven’t gotten round to looking for one yet. I really have tried to keep my setup as minimal as possible. The only thing that might sway that is if a Mamiya 7II comes along at a great price…

PP: What are some of the countries you’ve photographed in?

DC: The list is very long these days, but ones that stand out are:

Ukraine (and Chernobyl) — I visited the region for the 20th anniversary of the disaster, before the world’s press agencies and spent 2 days inside Pripyat and surrounding Chernobyl. It was -20 on most days and I was outside for a good part of 10 hours a day. The whole area is an amazing place, like time has stood still.

Cambodia — Cambodia is a country awash with change. A couple of years ago tourism wasn’t a big thing. It was full of journos, NGO workers and their big SUVs and extravagant lifestyles and a few photographers. Now it’s a top destination for anyone wanting to see a fantastic country recovering from a terrible past.

Russia — There is something about Russia, can’t put my finger on why I loved being there, but I will be returning next year to do a longer documentary about the region

Thailand — Oh Thailand, so much fun I decided to live there for two years and had some of the best times. Truly an amazing country

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PP: How were they different or similar to each other?

DC: I think it was the people. Each country had a past event that had defined the people, and this made for a more interesting outlook on life.

PP: When and why did you start Hmmm?

DC: It was started in 2004 as a reason for me to force myself to learn to see and take better pictures. About that time, the photoblog scene was exploding, so it was good to see fellow photographers learning. I’ve since become good friends with a few of them, namely Frisky (Faisal) and a few others.

PP: Where do you get your photographs developed?

DC: For the most, I do them myself. When time is of an issue, the local lab here in Durban, South Africa, does them and I then scan using my Macon.

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PP: Why do you shoot film rather than digital? Have you shot much with digital before?

DC: I shoot with what ever does the job for me. I did have mostly digital, Canon 1d with the usual arrangement of lenses, but found it was too big and really attracted attention to me when I was using it. Also I got annoyed with the amount of post production needed when shooting digital on the Canons. In a mad state I sold them all and got a Leica M6 with 50mm Summicron and haven’t looked back.

For fashion work, it is mainly digital medium format. Clients love to have that instant feedback during a shoot. This actually makes it harder as you have 10 people telling you how to do it behind your back. Right now I have a healthy balance of film and digital with a Rollei 6008 and Leica M6/M8 and they seem to work well with my workflow.

PP: Would you recommend that a beginning photographer start with film or digital? Why?

DC: I think start with what you are comfortable with. I’m bored of the arms race that is the DSLR game right now. Everyone tries to keep up with this model and that model, yet all seem to take rather boring pics. How about getting a camera, any camera and really learning how to use it. Make mistakes, learn from them and enjoy yourself. That 5 year old digital camera is still good, still can produce good files. Remember that camera companies don’t want you to buy older stuff, it hurts their bottom line.

Going back to the question about film or digital, I think with film you are more disciplined. You have 36 exposures (35mm) or 12 (120), so you generally think more about the shot. However, with digital you get instant feedback, which is also good when learning. Use both.

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PP: Are there any personal tricks you’ve picked up along the way that have helped you in your photography?

DC: Biggest trick so far is stop worrying what others think about your photography. Find something you really enjoy doing and let it happen, that’s the best trick. Oh and you can never have enough jiffy bags in a camera bag, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had to put all the gear in them when I’ve been caught out in the rain.

PP: What is a typical workday life for you?

DC: Admin, chasing up people, speaking to picture editors, dropping images off here and there. I spend most of the time doing the necessary stuff required to shoot projects. I’m also completing my Masters in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography over at the LCC in London, so that takes up a big chunk of time.

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PP: Can you tell me about your workflow?

DC: Both pretty much the same. Film is processed and then scanned by me using my Imacon Flextight scanner. Once the raw scans are completed, I import them into Aperture and tag/organise them. I love Aperture for this one feature. Unlike other programs that require you to create/maintain the folders yourself, Aperture does it for you and you have the ability to have multiple backup destinations at the click of a mouse. Once inside Aperture I only try and do slight post processing. Levels, contrast and cropping.

If I’m shooting fashion/beauty, that’s another workflow all together. I scan/process the raw files, work out which ones are to be used and then liaise with my retoucher, who’s based in Argentina and then work out what we are doing with them as per the clients requirements.

PP: How much and how often do you shoot?

DC: Not as much as I used to, but now I’m trying to do more quality than quantity. I’m putting together the final plans for a new project looking at homelessness in Southern Africa, from the perspective of a black family and white family. This is requiring more research than usual, so it’s eating into the shooting time.

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PP: How do you go about shooting?

DC: Good question!

Disclaimer, this might not be the best method at all, but it’s worked for me.

I think film, especially medium format, has really taught me to think more about the composition. When I look through the viewfinder, I try and ensure the whole frame is how I want it. I hate having to go through 10 of the same frames in Aperture, so I make sure it’s about as close to what I had in my head as I wanted. What I love about rangefinders is that you see more than the frame, this means I can easily see what is happening outside of what the frame lines give, which helps.

I try and take 1 shot per view. If this was a portrait for my People of Durban series (http://peopleofdurban.co.za) I’d say it would normally be 3 shots for that person. Each showing an environmental portrait, a 3/4 portrait and a head shot. This way I have a good selection of shots to use.

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PP: Who are some photographers you follow online?

DC: Faisal, Marco Vernaschi, Guy Batey, Simon Bates, and Kai Z Feng.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

DC: Well you’ve already set the standard with previous guests, so I’d love to see Guy Batey put under the spotlight.

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

DC: “Find a subject you care about. Something that moves you. Something which stirs your rawest emotions. And then have patience.”

Mark Power, Magnum Photographer

Danger: Extremely Hazardous Waves

Went to Bodega bay to do some crabbing for the first time, and took this photo while walking to the beach (it’s the untouched RAW):

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Canon 40D + 24-70mm 2.8 at 24mm, f/8.0, 1/250s, and ISO 100.

What was interesting was that though the sign warned people to stay off the structure, most people there were on the rocks fishing and crabbing.

In post-processing this image, I’d like to make it pop, while bringing out the detail in the sky.

Opening up the file in Adobe Camera RAW, I made the following edits:

dangere1White Balance: Upped temperature to 5600 from 5400. Auto while balance set it at 6100, but I felt like it was way too warm, so I brought it down a bit.
Exposure: Increased by half a stop. +.50. This clips the sky, and but we’ll deal with it in recovery.
Recovery: +20 to recover some lost detail in the sky.
Fill Light: +20 to bring out some shadow details and to even out the difference between the sky and the ground. Gives the foreground a pretty unsaturated, pasty look. We’ll deal with the contrast in the next steps.
Blacks: We lost all of our true black in the previous steps, and the darkest color we were left with was a gray. Turn these darkest points into black again by upping blacks to +10 from +5.
Brightness: Unchanged.
Contrast: +70 to make it pop. Usually in photographs with textures and things like rocks, I like having more contrast rather than less.
Clarity: +20 to make the signboard stand out a little more against the bright sky.
Vibrance: +20 to make the colors pop a bit.

Sharpness: +75. What I usually like to set it at.
Luminance: Aquas -50 and Blues -50 to darken the sky a tiny bit (we’ll do the rest in Photoshop).
Lens Vignetting: -30. A little. Not too much.

This is the resulting image after this first RAW to JPEG conversion step (hover your mouse over it to compare it to the original RAW):

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While the foreground has more detail and more “pop”, not much happened to the sky. As I explained earlier, I’d like to make the sky a little more dramatic in this particular photograph.

Opening up the file in Photoshop rather than ACR now, I do the following:

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  1. Duplicate the layer
  2. Add a layer mask
  3. Mask out the ground, and selectively mask the rest
  4. Adjust curves for this duplicate layer (curve shown to the right):

For the mask, I decided that instead of only adjusting the sky, I also wanted to adjust the water and the hills at the horizon. I didn’t want to adjust these things separately, but I also didn’t want to adjust them as much as the sky.

Thus, I decided to use a mask in which the water and hills are 50% masked. This allows me to adjust curves for the sky, with 50% of the curve being applied to the water and hills as well.

This is what my mask ended up looking like. Notice how the sky is 0% masked, the hills and water are 50% masked, and the rest (whatever I don’t want affected) is 100% masked:

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Here’s the final image (hover to compare with previous step):

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You can also hover over these links to see the original RAW or layer mask.

That’s it! Hope you found this post-processing walkthrough helpful. If you have any thoughts, questions, or suggestions, please leave a comment.

Interview with Shannon Richardson of electrolite

Shannon Richardson is the photographer behind electrolite, a photoblog that won the “Best Black and White Photography” award at the 2007 Photobloggies.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Shannon Richardson: Lets see. I am a commercial / advertising photographer based in Amarillo, TX. I’ve been working in that field for the last 14 years.

PP: How did you first get interested in photography?

SR: I guess it started when I was a kid. I had a Brownie camera was given to me and I played around with that as well as Super 8 movie cameras. As a teenager I made short films and that got too expensive so I became more involved with still photography. My first 35mm camera was a Pentax K100. I took a journalism class in high school and learned to develop film and print in the darkroom.

I got more serious and moved to medium format photography with a Pentax 645 in 1990. Then from there I shot only in MF black and white photography. A few years later I worked for an advertising agency and got my foot in the door doing commercial work and started my own photography business.

As digital cameras began to be the standard for commercial work, I sold off my Mamiya RZ67 and bought a Hasselblad 503CW to concentrate on my personal work.

PP: Do you use the Hasselblad 503CW with both a film and digital back?

I only shoot film in my Hasselblad. My digital work is done with Nikon cameras.

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PP: What equipment do you use nowadays? Anything besides the 503CW?

SR: Occasionally I shoot with a Holga or vintage Diana, but that’s it.

PP: How was the transition from your Mamiya to your Hasselblad?

SR: The Mamyia was too bulky to carry around and was not getting much use since most of my commercial work was being shot with digital SLRs. I had always wanted a Hasselblad. I love the square image it makes.

PP: When did you start your photoblog “electrolite”?

SR: Four years ago. It seemed there were quite a few appearing back then and I decided it would be a good project for me. It has motivated me and I’m amazed I’ve kept it going this long.

What’s the story behind the name “electrolite”?

electrolite is the name of one of my favorite R.E.M. songs. I wanted something simple and sort of ambiguous. It was the first title that surfaced when I started putting the photoblog together.

PP: What kind of photographs do you post to it?

SR: Most of my personal work from several projects I’m working on. Of course the majority of it is black and white photography. I don’t shoot much color but every now and then one makes an appearance.

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PP: Do you take color photographs and convert them to black and white in post-processing?

SR: No I shoot mainly on Tri-X 320, which I develop myself. If I shoot color film its Portra 400.

PP: Could you tell me about your workflow?

SR: Well I shoot on 120 film that I develop myself. From there I scan the negative and do in photoshop what I’d do in the darkroom – dodge, burn and adjust contrast. My goal is to make my online images match the warmtone paper I print on when I do get into the darkroom and print.

The cost of printing on real photographic paper has gotten expensive so the digital darkroom just makes sense. I save the real darkroom for portfolio and gallery prints.

PP: Where do you develop? Is it at home?

SR: In my darkroom at my studio.

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PP: What are some personal tricks you’ve learned regarding portraiture?

SR: Hmmm I guess the biggest thing is overcoming the fear of approaching strangers to ask them if I can photograph them. That never goes away. I took a Santa Fe Photographic Workshop a few years back and my instructor who has been photographing for years said the same thing.

I think what works for me is that I appear harmless. I’m not tall or imposing so I think that helps. Most people seem flattered that I want to photograph them. I normally approach them and say I’m a photographer and would like to take a few images. They ask why and I’ll usually say I’m working on a project that they fit into. If they appear apprehensive when I first ask sometimes I’ll just say I’m a photography student working on an assignment for class and that usually disarms them.

It’s a constant struggle though to put myself out there. But its part of why I photograph.

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PP: Do you have any memorable or awkward experiences with photographing strangers?

SR: It’s always awkward. The most recent memorable experience was this cowboy I shot by the cowboy motel. I had seen him earlier in the week in downtown and wanted to photograph him but of course I didn’t have my camera. I hate when that happens because it’s an opportunity that will never happen again. But later that week on Saturday I was driving near the motel looking for things to shoot and I look up an see him walking across the parking lot on his way to the motel. I quickly pulled in and got out before he got away.

He was quite the character and had no problem getting his permission to take some photographs. He invited to his room at the motel, so I followed him in and visited for a while. Thats the first time I’ve had an 2nd chance at a missed photo opportunity. But I think it worked out better this way.

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PP: Can you tell me about your shooting process?

SR: Well most of the time I’m working from what I come across. I try to have my camera with me the majority of the time. Sometimes I know what I’m looking for i.e. a project I’m shooting, but then a lot of the time I simply just stumble onto a situation that I wasn’t expecting. I call these moments happy accidents.

And of course shooting with a Hasselblad you get 12 shots and everything is manual. I try to make every shot count. You have to think about what you’re doing and you don’t get instant feedback. Its a very in the moment kind of thing.

So the whole experience of putting myself in an awkward position of photographing people I don’t know and going with what happens creates a rush and a high. Then I can’t wait to get back and develop the film. Yes it’s all very intoxicating.

PP: What are some personal tips you have for an aspiring photographer to improve their craft?

SR: Study the history of photography. See what others have done. Going to a gallery and looking at the work is inspiring. Also push your comfort zone a little bit. Try shooting different subject matter than what you usually do. It’s a good eye opener and motivator.

And of course its not the equipment, its the photographer that makes the photograph.

PP: What’s the hardest part about your job?

SR: Professionally and personally it’s staying motivated. Oh and lugging the equipment around.

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PP: What are some challenges you’ve faced along the way?

SR: I guess on the photoblog the biggest thing has been keeping it going. Like I mentioned before motivation can be hard. I started the blog to do just that – keep me shooting for myself. For the most part it has been successful in doing that, but sometimes I feel like I’ve run out of the things to shoot.

A big challenge professionally has been learning to do the business part of the job. It’s no fun and most professional photographers will tell you that. Plus self-promotion is an endless endeavor as well.

PP: What do you wish you had known before you started doing photography professionally?

SR: Oh, that it’s not as glamorous as one might think it is. It’s hard work but I can’t imagine doing anything else.

PP: Would you recommend film or digital as the first medium for a new photographer? Why?

SR: I’d recommend shooting film. Unlike digital you really need to learn how to use the camera manually and understand how to properly expose film. To see light and how to capture it. Plus the whole aspect of being mindful of what you’re doing as you shoot. Of course there is no instant feedback. You have to wait and see what you have after the film is developed. That’s where the happy accidents appear. It bothers me that learning to photograph this way seems to be getting lost in the digital age. Shooting digital is like being on autopilot and firing off shots as if it were a machine gun.

I believe digital has its purpose. I’m just a film guy.

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PP: Who are some photographers you regularly follow online?

SR: Well I follow quite a few on flickr. As far as photoblogs go I keep up with gotreadgo, hello, no traces, terror kitten and my lucky life. Two of my all time favorites have called it quits – making happy and travis ruse.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

SR: I think tread would be a great interview. He combines excellent photography and writing. I think he has some of the best writing on any photoblog I’ve ever come across.

PP: Any final thoughts you’d like to leave with PetaPixel readers?

SR: Well I’d really like to thank everyone who has been looking at my images on electrolite over the past 4 years and for all the great comments and questions as well. Anyone out there wanting to start their own photoblog the best thing you can do is just get it going. Put your work out there. And those who have have been keeping a photoblog going, I hope you keep at it. I enjoy seeing your photographs.

MIOPS: Smartphone Controllable High Speed Camera Trigger

MIOPS is a new smartphone-controlled camera trigger that combines all of the features photographers want in a high-speed camera trigger into one convenient device.

Read more…

A Streetwalker for Street Walking

Update: This giveaway is now over. We’ve randomly selected a winner and posted it here. Thanks to everyone who entered! Check back again soon for more great stuff.


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It’s time for another PetaPixel giveaway! This week I’m giving away a Streetwalker backpack by Think Tank Photo.

To enter, all you need to do is answer the following question:

If you could photograph anywhere in the world, where would you go?

There are two ways to enter this giveaway. You can send us your answer both ways to double your chances:

  1. Leave a comment on this entry with your response
  2. Tweet your response, and include the following link to this post so we can find it: http://bit.ly/ppsw. Here’s an example tweet:

    My dream place to photograph would be Cambodia! http://bit.ly/ppsw

This giveaway will end in a week on Saturday August 15th, 2009. We’ll randomly select an entry and send the Streetwalker to the winner.

Good luck! I look forward to reading your responses!


Update on August 13th, 2009 at 11:42 PST: Don’t worry if your tweet entry doesn’t show up in the reactions list below the comments. I wrote a script that automatically collects every tweet submission neatly into a table, weeding out multiple tweets and such. Just make sure the URL we gave (http://bit.ly/ppsw) appears somewhere in the tweet. This is what we search for to collect the entries. If you included it, we got your entry.

206 tweet entries so far at the time of writing this update.

Open Thread for PetaPixel Feedback

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Wow. I can’t believe it’s been almost three months since PetaPixel was started back on May 14th. Things have gotten pretty exciting since then, both here on this blog and with our Twitter account.

This is an open thread for you to comment on whatever you’d like. I’ll be reading each and every comment left on this thread.

Have any questions or suggestions about PetaPixel? Ask and I’ll answer them.

Want to promote your own blog, photoblog, or website? Go ahead!

How are you enjoying our twitter updates? Should we post more frequently? Less? Have anything you’d like us to link to?

I would also really appreciate it if you suggest some popular photographers or photobloggers for us to interview. We’re always on the lookout for new faces.

Finally, if there’s any article you would love to see on PetaPixel, please suggest these as well. You can even just comment the titles of articles you would like to see.

That’s all. Eager to see how this open thread experiment goes. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Interview with Jan von Holleben

Jan von Holleben is an award winning German photographer whose work is widely published in magazines and books. View his recent project “Dreams of Flying” here or his website here.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me about yourself and what you do?

Jan von Holleben: I am a photographer, and I take photographs. More than that I am a visual communicator instead of an illustrator. I developed a strategy on how to tackle problems and ideas, and those activities are always resolved in an image.

This said, I don’t take pictures for people or fashion or cars or weddings or animals. I play with them and I play photography with them.

PP: Where are you located?

JVH: In Berlin and sometimes in London where I lived the last 7 years and still have a little workplace!

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PP: How did you first get into photography?

JVH: My dad is a trained photographer and works as the DOP (Director of Photography) at a TV station. I was always amazed by all the tricks he did with photography and how he bent reality with very simple and standard tricks of the lens… (and those tricks he just did in his training learning the trade) still for me as a kiddo very impressive. I started when I was 13 to take up a camera and start shooting.

It all started there and then with my friends on an everyday, anywhere basis.

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PP: How would you describe and categorize your photography?

JVH: Difficult. In German there is a word for it that is called ‘Autoren Fotograf’. Which means that the photographer is like an author, telling a story from his point of view. Easiest is always to say that I am an artsy fartsy artist with a camera as I get away with things very easily then (you should see what we do sometimes with people and places… and that’s just funny and people don’t take you serious and wonder what you do – and then you tell them you are an artist and all is good)

I really have difficulties with a category, which makes my daily life not too easy either, because people need categories to give me a job. and they don’t know how to work with me.. so I have to put a lot of effort into educating people how I work and how we can work together!

I don’t see myself as a pure artist. I think I am a pure photographer, which pulls me out of any photography categories and makes me just deal with one thing: PHOTOGRAPHY.

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PP: How did you get the idea for your “Dreams of Flying” series of photographs?

JVH: It happened on a day when I was working on a commission for a Paris gallery and publisher.

The commission was to produce and shoot a photograph per hour for 24 hours in a row. (no preproduction, no preplanning, just improvising.)

I had a friend along who wrote about my day and she had a dog with her. On our journey, we drove 200km that day to change locations from each hour to hour, we passed by my house for lunch and my neighbors kids came over (as they did a lot when they were younger – and they would always ask to play photography with me). I took the moment and combined the kid with the dog and wanted to make the kiddo ride the dog.

We tried various options, but it was obvious the dog was not strong enough to carry the weight of the child. Suddenly, I had the idea to put them onto the ground,and it worked. I was very lucky that the dog laid still for 5 seconds so I was able to catch two frames and hey there we go! My first image for Dreams of Flying was born!

It took another 2 years to make this picture and many that followed on numerous weekends with the neighboring kids playing photography to complete a first set for the series!

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PP: Is the series complete, or is it still a work in progress?

JVH: It’s complete. Sometimes I still take the odd one, but generally I moved on to new adventures — also with the neighboring kids. We just finished another great project together, which departs from DOF but is still in the same idea — just more sophisticated. A bit more complex, as the kids have grown along with my understanding of photography!

PP: What was your first camera?

JVH: A flashy red RICO. Very simple and easy. Just flash on and off and an option for a distant landscape shot or a near portrait. I went through a phase when I tested all sorts of cameras and got very excited with large format cameras, and many studio flashes on location. Today I am back with my snapshot, flash on or off, and a fixed 28mm lens. Nothing else.

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PP: Do you shoot in film or digital?

JVH: When I do my own projects I use only that snapshot film camera. On commercial or editorial quick jobs I am happy to go digital. Am slowly discovering it for my own means, meaning comprehending what digital does to an image and its content. Once I have mastered it completely I will use digital in my work too.

It’s an exciting area and a very complex theoretical thing, digital, and it changes the way we read images and the way we take images.

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PP: What is the award or achievement you’re most proud of?

JVH: I feel that I am in a position to work on any project I like, and with any people I like. That’s my greatest achievement! Having the awards and the publishers and the magazines and galleries adds to that and just makes my work feasible and doable and convincing.

But having STEIDL Publishers on my side is quite extraordinary and still not real for me, but hey, I will understand that as soon as I have my first few books published with them.

PP: How often do you take photographs these days?

JVH: On average one day a week, so that would be 50 full days a year. That sounds about right!

Sometimes it’s 2-3 days in a row, and sometimes just a few hours in a day. I am very quick with shooting as I put a lot of energy into planning my shoots!

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PP: What advice would you have for an aspiring photographer looking to get where you are now?

JVH: Shoot, shoot, shoot, while always knowing why!

Always being aware of what that picture one just shot means, and if it means enough then continue.

PP: Is there anything you wish you had know when you first started out in your profession?

JVH: That it takes years, even for the fittest and best.

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PP: Could you explain how a professional photographer in your type of work makes a living? What are your main sources of income?

JVH: It is through editorial work (when I sell my own projects or ideas to magazines) or through the odd commercial commission through my agent. My kind of photographer doesn’t get that many jobs in today’s photographic industry because I don’t fit into a box. However, sometimes there comes a great project and then its also great money.

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PP: Have you had any formal education in photography, or are you entirely self-taught?

JVH: I assisted a commercial still life photographer for 3 years where I feel I learned all the technicalities about photography that I ever needed to comprehend, and then I went to Uni in the UK and enrolled for a course on theory and history of photography and wrote a big thesis for graduation.

PP: Who are some of your favorite photographers, both historical and contemporary?

JVH: So, so many — and not really important to me anymore, as I would rather think in photographs than in photographers. The best photographers have also produced some great shit in the last years!

But that’s OK. All it does is it just changes perspective and puts me in a different critical position. To photography and to myself.

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PP: Who is one person you would pick to be interviewed by PetaPixel?

JVH: Gerhard Steidl.

PP: Any final words of wisdom you would like to leave with PetaPixel readers?

JVH: Have fun with your camera and please, please, please take that very seriously!

Lessons from Street Photography

Editor’s note: When I first came across the following post by Jessyel Ty Gonzalez of dailysnap, I loved it so much that I asked him if we could republish it on PetaPixel.

Hopefully some of you will find his advice useful in your street photography endeavors. Jessyel will be contributing more posts to PetaPixel in the future, so stay tuned!

Also, be sure to check out PetaPixel’s interview with Jessyel.


lfsfjLately, I’ve been interested in approaching people and asking if I can take their photo. Additionally, I like to strike up some sort of conversation (I’ve been especially interested in what people do for a living). It’s challenging at times, but rewarding when a complete stranger opens up to you (especially in these rough economic times) and allows you to take their picture.

I’ve featured some of these shots on my photoblog, and have received a few emails lately from people asking for general tips on street photography. I’m obviously no expert, but will share some of the things I’ve learned over the last few years. I won’t be writing about its legality, how it differs from photo-journalism, about the art or technical aspects of it (you don’t have to shoot in black and white – seriously!), or meant to have any definitive rights and wrongs. These are just my opinions and experiences (and the lessons I’ve learned from them).

Being Sneaky

Looking back to my first street photography experiences a few years ago, I treated these shooting sessions like I was a private detective or something – being sneaky about it all. Not sure if it was my introverted nature or fear of rejection (more on that later), but I always felt like I was doing something wrong (some sort of guilt complex). Who was I to take photos of complete strangers while they weren’t aware of it?

This all culminated into some sneaky behavior that I quickly realized would never allow me to grow as a (street) photographer, and that the shots themselves would never reach any true potential.

Be Light

So what was I doing? For one, I would shoot with a telephoto lens. The mindset was that at 300mm, I could shoot from far away and never be ‘caught’. I thought I was a genius. It actually worked for a while too, but the shots just weren’t turning out all that great. I quickly found out that street photography almost demanded I be a participant, and not just an observer (if that makes any sense).

Additionally, people who saw me with a huge camera (I would apply a battery grip to my SLR as well) and a huge telephoto lens would be suspicious of my behavior. In this post-9/11 environment and paparazzi-like appearance, you can’t blame people for thinking this. In the end – even though I was far away – I managed to invade their personal space, and everyone around my radius was walking on eggshells and any spontaneity went out the window.

Don’t look like a photographer per se. I’ve learned to not take too much equipment, dress normally, and keep the camera bag small and inconspicuous. This means bringing only one camera (no added accessories) and one lens (or carry another in a small camera bag). You’ll seem less threatening than before. To me, you almost want to create the illusion that you’re a tourist – people realize you have a camera, but don’t care as to why you have that camera.

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I know I said I wouldn’t talk about technical aspects, but I will say this to those that are fuming that I said no telephotos – as with all other types of photography, you use your equipment to get the best shot possible based on your situation. Using a telephoto lens because you don’t want to get ‘caught’ or get up-close during a street photo is not taking full advantage of your equipment. Apart from this, the compression from a telephoto may work great on landscape or wildlife shot, but not so much with a street one (at least in my experience). In the end, if you like your results and feel a telephoto presents you with the best possible shot, more power to you.

What seems to work best for me are wide-angles and a 50mm prime lens. Not sure why, but there’s something about a 50mm with street photography that just works (could be because the focal length is about the same as the human eye). A wide-angle works great when I want more of the environment to show in a portrait. Regardless of what you shoot with, use it because it will help get you the shot in an aesthetic manner – not because of sneakiness.

Other Sneakiness

Apart from trying to be far away from people, I would try a lot of other sneaky things to not get caught. I would put the camera beneath my arm trying to conceal it (the cops peg you as a perv right away). If people noticed I was taking a picture of them, I would pretend that I was shooting something that was behind them. If I was confronted, I would tell people that I was a photo student on an assignment (sort of true at the time, but I used the line to my advantage – not the right thing to do).

You’ve noticed I’ve said I didn’t want to get ‘caught’. This was the definitive aspect in my getting better with street photography – knowing that in the end, I was doing nothing wrong. When I would stop by the side of the road with my tripod to take a picture of a landscape, nobody questioned me. When I would whip out my macro lens to take photos of flowers, nobody questioned me there as well. People generally understand the reasons of why we take photographs – whether it be art, documenting, knowing a culture, beauty, freezing a moment in time, etc. – people understand this. However, it’s a lot more difficult being in front of the camera than behind it (most photographers understand this). I had to put myself in people’s shoes and understand the hesitation and even paranoia of being in a complete stranger’s photograph. This was key.

Be Honest… and Nice

In the end, I’ve come to learn that being honest is the best element in street photography. If people question me, I tell them exactly why I’m taking their picture. I usually start off with a specific feature/reason of why I chose them over the hundreds of other people around: I dig your look; I like how your red clothing stands out; your afro is awesome; etc. Then I explain that I’m a photographer interested in capturing my city and its people (which is why I’m into street photography). Oh, and be nice. Don’t be aggressive. Smile.

If you talk with confidence and truth, most people see this. You’ll be amazed at how much people will let you in when you have the right intentions, are nice, and are smiling (just being a generally kind person). Some would say this goes without saying, but I see many photographers who go into a shot as if the subject owes them something; acting rude or unappreciative (just because you know why you’re capturing something doesn’t mean everyone else does). Again, kindness, smiling, and being honest will yield more positive results than not.

Shoot First, Ask Later

Another thing that helped me was realizing that I didn’t always have to take shots of people that weren’t aware I was taking them in the first place. That is, it was okay to ask before I took a shot. The recent series of street portraits I’ve taken have involved me approaching people and asking them for their picture before I press the shutter. This is a great way to ease yourself into shots later. However, some photographers don’t like this approach and prefer the candids; the spontaneity of a scene happening before your eyes that isn’t tarnished by people knowing you’re taking their photograph.

Regardless of which shooting approach you take, I feel it’s perfectly fine to shoot first, then ask later. Some argue about the ethical aspects of this type of photography – privacy, the elements of voyeurism, and taking advantage of a situation. I’ll be honest with you – if I see a scene before me that warrants a photograph in my mind and eyes, I’m taking it first, then asking for permission later. Some may think that’s wrong, but this is my approach as an artist (whatever the heck that means). You will never truly recreate a candid/spontaneous scene you just saw if you ask first, then take the shot.

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The photo above was taken in Los Angeles. I was driving down a one-way street and saw this man carrying some bags, struggling to walk, and he was wearing a beautiful coat and hat against a black wall. He breathed heavy with every step of his cane, and I thought it was a great scene to capture. I literally stopped the car, took my camera out of its bag (wasn’t shooting that day, but always like having my camera near) and tried to shoot. Memory card full. Dammit! I quickly deleted a shot, but by the time I looked up, he was nearing out of frame and the cars behind me were honking. I took one frame. And just like that, he was around the corner and gone. I never had a chance to meet him, to ask him for permission, or worse – never showed him the shot. I made a few turns trying to find him and never did. Some would argue I should have never taken the shot in the first place, and others would say I should never have publicly shown it since I didn’t get his permission.

Sometimes the scene before you warrants a shot. Shoot first, ask later. However, I always try to meet up with the individual(s) after a shot is taken – regardless of whether or not they knew I had even taken one – and ask them for permission. This means permission to show it in my portfolio, on my blog, etc. Sometimes they ask if I’m making any money off of them. Again, be honest. I approach street photography to simply capture scenes and people; I don’t like to sell prints of these events (just a personal choice). Regardless, I feel it’s an obligation to ask for permission to use a shot.

Rejection

Whether you asked first or took the shot then asked later, you’re going to get people that just don’t get why you’re wanting to take their picture. You’re going to get rejected. A lot. In a way, the fear of getting ‘caught’ and the fear of rejection are probably the reasons why street photography is so difficult at the beginning. Nobody wants to get rejected for any reason – especially when you’re going into something with good intentions. Sometimes it just kills me when I get shot down – not so much personally, but because I really wanted to take their photograph (for whatever reason). Apart from being able to actually capture a great moment, getting rejected is the most difficult thing for me to swallow right now.

If someone doesn’t want you to take their picture, respect that. I’ve seen photographers who don’t and will continue to take photos, and only make the individual(s) more irate. To a degree, that’s giving the rest of us a bad name/reputation.

However, what happens when you take a picture first, then ask and are shot down? I’ve had instances where I take the picture, show the person, and ask if I can feature this in my portfolio/blog. They say no. As much as it kills me, it’s something I respect as well. If they ask for me to delete the shot, I’ll do so in front of them. It’s tough, but again, I try to respect people’s decisions. I’ve often wondered if it’s the right thing to do, especially since it’s perfectly legal to take a stranger’s photo and publicly showcase it (unless you’re making money off of it), but it’s my current stance and what I’ll keep practicing. Who knows if it will change in the future.

Anyway, at first, I would take this rejection personally. What was I doing wrong? Is it my face? My actions? Why don’t they get this is art to me? Whatever. Like most things in life, you’re going to get better at something if you keep at it. I wish I had better advise as to ways to get better with this, but it’s not easy and it varies person to person. You just have to grow some cajones – getting over your fears. That’s not easy. You will be rejected, and you will have people question your photo motives. This is just something you have to live and deal with. There are many different types of people in this world, and sometimes you’ll lose some. Just the way it is.

However, sometimes you’ll be stopped by cops/security saying you’re not allowed to shoot (usually because of “security purposes”). Do not allow this to happen. Yes, I said I wouldn’t talk about the legality of street photography, but know your local laws and rights regarding it. I always carry this form (PDF) around to show to any officer/guard in case I’m stopped to prove I’m not doing anything wrong. You may still be hassled, but it’s better than doing nothing.

General Tips

As mentioned, being honest and not being sneaky are going to yield you better shooting opportunities. However, there are a few other things I’ve found that can be helpful. For one, shooting with digital is a great way to get the subject involved. Although I prefer to shoot with film, the immediacy of digital (and being able to show shots off of the LCD screen) is beneficial, especially to those who are harassing you or don’t speak the same language. Whether they let you take/use their shot or are giving you a hard time, allowing people to see themselves on the LCD screen is a huge boost (especially if it’s a decent shot).

I also hand out business cards to those that I photograph. I tell them to email or give me a call and I’ll send them a digital file or print. If someone doesn’t have email (or phone), I make arrangements to get them prints of their shot. I don’t do this all the time, but it’s something I try to keep up with. I’ve found a combination of the above has resulted in people rarely saying no to a photograph nowadays.

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Mo Money, Mo Problems

I constantly get emails on my street photography regarding paying people and photographing the homeless. I’ll keep this short – I have no problem paying people for my shots if it warrants it (Thomas Hawk has a great $2 portrait project) and believe it’s okay to photograph homeless people (applying the same rules from above). Some people think it’s morally/ethically wrong to do either, but this article isn’t really about that. Do what you think is right. I’ll leave it at that.

Common Sense

Like real life, a little common sense will go a long way in photography. Putting yourself in other people’s shoes also helps. Let’s say you’re at the park and you see a cool shot with a child in the scene. If you’re a parent and you see some stranger taking photos of your kid, it’s going to come off creepy. You may mean no harm, but it comes off as questionable behavior.

Being observant of your surroundings is also big. Having expensive equipment in an unsafe area while you’re shooting can lead to trouble. I’ve gotten myself into a few fights and chases (where I was the one being chased) over my gear. Know your limitations and trust your intuition. In those situations, I knew I was going too far to get a shot, and it resulted in me almost getting shot. If you’re into documenting some more ‘dangerous’ situations, that’s a whole other article in and of itself, but again – common sense, and try to feel out the people you’re photographing before you hit the shutter.

Some tricks I’ve learned over time have included using gaffers tape to cover up any logos on my equipment. This also includes the ‘red ring’ around Canon L lenses, unstitching logos away from my camera backpacks, and bringing other people/shooters with me when going to questionable areas. Simple things.

Rules of the Game

I seem to have a lot of issues with my compositions in street photography. These meets with strangers are usually really quick interactions. If I didn’t make an especially good personal connection to start, I really only have a few seconds to take a shot, tops. Shoot for any longer and the subject starts to get a little restless, especially if they’re busy and need to head elsewhere (and just the general nervousness they must feel). You’ll see this in the photographs.

The shot below is a prime example of what not to do. The shot was originally just of the man (I liked his beard) but he wanted his dog in the shot and called it over. I ended up cutting off most of their bodies out of the frame, had a crooked background, and there’s some light on his shirt that bothers me. For whatever reason, sometimes I don’t seem to do well in these situations in regards to composition. Bad photographer? Maybe, but I just need to be aware of this and keep practicing (and not let time get to me so much). Be aware of backgrounds (having a street pole growing out of someone’s head ruins a shot very quickly), be aware of lighting and surroundings, and don’t cut off body parts. Easier said than done, but just realize time is of the essence here with most shots, unless you’ve captured their attention and time and can snap off more than a frame or two.

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Which leads me to this point – when you ask if you can take someone’s picture, don’t ask your subject(s) to pose in a specific way. Sometimes it will be okay depending on their nature or surrounding, but I generally don’t believe in doing so. Half the time, people just pose themselves and do their thing. The other half ask me, “What should I do?” Sometimes I’ll direct them to some better lighting, but usually tell them – do whatever you want to do. I can push them a bit by trying to see the type of person they are (well, you’re a biker – what does a biker look like in his photos?) or just ask them, How are you? How are you feeling right now? Depending on what they reply, I ask them to try and show that emotion in the photograph. Doesn’t always work, but it’s better than asking for a specific pose (the shots come off looking… odd).

Babbling/Conclusion

Reading some of this back, I realize I’m just babbling now; time to close this puppy out. Overall, I would say street photography experiences will differ from person to person. Some will love the thrill, others will hate it and never try it again. Practice will make perfect (well, not perfect, but you get what I’m saying). I’ve been able to carve out some ‘rules’ for myself that seem to work well. However, there’s much to learn. I’ve realized the rules don’t apply everywhere or with everyone. Doing street photography in Denver was much different than doing it in San Francisco. Or its Chinatown. Or in a crowded city versus a rural area. Or where people don’t speak the same language or have vastly different economic circumstances. This is part of the challenge I enjoy, and the point of why I do street photography – to capture different people in this world of ours in a natural setting. I apply the above lessons to get myself a better chance at getting my shot, but always try to push myself and not stay in a ‘safety bubble’ because every person is different, and you want to capture that in your photographs. Now go out and shoot!