Street, People, Lighting, Workshops, etc.

I got a bit of feedback - all positive regarding that strange post on street photography from last week. What possessed me? I mentioned personal projects and my own personal reset that I have taken my good ol' time with. I am going to continue down that road a bit for sure but at the same time I am itching to maybe just maybe do a few other things as well. Some of them may even involve me posting some actual project type images - some of it may actually involve taking money for making pictures. Something I have not done in a few years. In sorting out my own head - or actually getting out of my own head and taking a hard look at what floats my photographic boat there is one thing I may actually do over again that I did actually enjoy in the past. Workshops. I wanted to brain dump a couple of workshop things that have been whirling around my brain as well as share a secret or two about shooting people. Well maybe not a secret but at least a variation to think about.

How does that at all relate to street photography? Only tangentially in that the workshops will most definitely involve taking pictures of people. If you read that post on street photography you might guess that I "don't do it right" according to some of the popular non-rules of street photography. I am going to put myself out there and say there is actually a huge overlap between what has always floated my boat - what I am good at and what I have done as long as I can remember when shooting people and what I think most people are interested in when shooting just about any human being - no matter what the context. Bear with me here…

My photographic boat floating has always revolved around making an image that captured people that were "natural" looking and made them look "good" and somehow got to the essence of them and put them in a context of some sort and told some kind of story no matter how simple or complex - either way making that "story work". That's a tough nut - it really is. Hence me traveling in such unfamiliar circles with "street photographers". Funny thing is that that is something I have always worked to do - successfully or unsuccessfully. So where do workshops come in and what about the secret?

Well, most of the dozen or so workshops I have facilitated have been focused on the use of strobes - either in the context of full on studio type shooting or dealing with locations. My focus and intent was on technical things - not classroom type things - situational type things with a lot of shooting and a lot of hands on time. I enjoyed doing them very much and figured out a lot of things about what makes a good one. We can talk about that another day if anyone cares to.

The funny thing is I learned a lot of things I never anticipated. One of the things I learned was that my own personal gear - as in cameras/lenses - not lighting equipment was a huge distraction in a lot of cases. Too much focus on why my pictures were different than some of the participants pictures and too much discussion on irrelevant gear stuff. I soon backed off on my camera gear and instead of MF digital I fell back to using my old beater Nikon D2H. Eventually I stopped using any of my own camera gear and used participants cameras for any short demonstrations. In one workshop the oh so elusive epiphany moment happened for me - a lot of the participants were there to not just learn how to deal with strobes. They were there to learn how to shoot people. Wow. I didn't really change the agenda or format around all that much but I certainly changed some of the things I was focused on discussing.

The real epiphany for me was when I started to mix in the discussion on shooting people I learned something that I do I never even thought about before. In fact the things I am about to list were actually illuminated by the participants in various piecemeal ways over the course of many discussions. Some of my own "secrets" that I never really distilled into any sort of methodology - that just developed over time. Here are some of those.

  • I talk - a lot while I am shooting. Not just about the shooting itself or the direction or "posing" but about random stuff that is just a regular old conversation. I mix in an necessary direction or relevant shooting stuff in a very casual way.
  • I almost never ask any one in front of my camera to "hold it there" or be still in any way. In fact I almost never release the shutter if the subject is absolutely still or has been still for longer than a half of a second. The opposite is true. My direction is usually asking the subject to do something and I shoot while that is going on.
  • To beat a dead horse - it was also observed that I tend to shoot before the subject actually accomplishes what I was directing them to do - "when they are not ready" vs when they are ready.

Sound familiar? Sound sort of "street"? There were many other details but that is a decent extremely condensed version of idiotically long detailed philosophical analytical discussions that us photographers at all levels of experience can really geek out to. In one of the workshops I did sometime around 2007 or early 2008 one of the participants declared that while all of the lighting stuff was great and was exactly what he was looking for the one thing he learned that would forever change his toolkit was that the way he was "posing people" - he called my particular way of working "the anti-pose".

After thinking about it for a long time and being more cognizant of how I was working before and after that epiphany it was clear. For me in any context no matter how contrived and artificial no matter what kind of person is in front of your camera pro model, semi-pro, your kids, your dad, some one you just met somehow they don't look natural when they are "ready" and static. For me it was far far easier to just talk about anything that was crossing their mind and mix in some loose direction and hit the shutter when I saw what I liked rather than trying to mould them as some sort of piece of clay with explicit "put your hand there, no there, now turn it a little bit, okay now don't move anything" - that never worked for me. People looked bad so I just did something else.

Take a look at the image at the top - random example of 1000's I could show as demonstrations between static and dynamic. Here is another from the same session…

I could pick a dozen more in every context imaginable my choice here was to illustrate a situation that is explicitly setup with not a whole lot else like post-processing, dramatic lighting, etc. Now that I am self aware of how I work I could demonstrate that all day over and over again with just about any subject. It doesn't change what I do or why but it does allow me to articulate it which brings us back around to workshops, street photography, and a couple of other thoughts. Namely the value of workshops - I personally think that setting aside dedicated photographic time and spending it with a group of like minded people that have diverse experiences is one of the best ways to up your game. Without fail you will probably learn something you never intended to learn in addition to picking up a few things that you had on your mind as well. There is a giant difference in reading about "rapport" and doing and seeing what that might mean to others. Likewise there is a huge difference in reading "move the light a little closer" and experiencing it. The reason is obviously the frailty of human communication and context - everybody has a completely different context in which they interpret the best articulation of a concept, a detail or an idea. Just as every person communicating it has a completely different context in explaining it. Being embedded live and in color with that context is amazingly different than listening to a podcast or reading a book or a blog. Not that any of those is a bad thing - heck that can get you 80% to any destination. The last 20% is where it makes a big difference.

I was thinking about firing up some workshops for 2012-13 that took a lot of what I was doing a few years ago and updated them to be a bit more diverse. Namely focusing on natural light, shooting people, and mixing small strobes with natural light in diverse locations. I may even chuck in some workflow things as well. I was thinking a 2 day hands on type workshop limited to 10 participants with everything ready to go in terms of subjects , location, etc. would be just the ticket. The goal of which would be to work on creative lighting on location and working with people. I hesitate to label a genre but if I had to it would be lifestyle/portrait/editorial. In my opinion this would be a great thing for just about anyone - even street photographers.

Feel free to share opinions and drop me an email if interested. I may even have a couple of guests…

RB

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