The sun in the late afternoon in the alley near J&M Bookstore in Auburn
As of late I seem to be going from one day shooting thousands of images of an event to shooting almost nothing. Shooting nothing serious for days drives me nuts. But those are the times I try to get out of my comfort zone, slow down, and tackle subjects that have no deadlines, that interest me personally, but also will advance my knowledge and experience as a photographer.
It’s quiet here in Auburn right now. The calm before the fall-sports-storm, when you can get a table at a restaurant and find a parking place. But that makes street/people subjects challenging. In my ongoing series The Streets of Auburn Project, I have added a few from the “Alleys of Auburn,” but this is just a start of that point of view, or a first initial look at the alleyways, and I didn’t make it very far that day.
The famous Toomer’s Corner Drugstore in Auburn in the summer
This week I finally had a few spare minutes to get downtown to take some street shots. I’ve been wanting to practice up on my black and white technique and revisit street photography for a long time but just never made time to do it. Auburn is generally a fantastic place for street photography for several reasons; people are super friendly (almost overly so which also has it’s challenges in shooting), there is almost always something going on that makes for interesting subjects (especially during football season), and it’s a small condensed area so you can cover a lot of ground by foot quickly.
Power lines run all over the place in rural Alabama, no such thing as underground lines.
Since January I’ve spent a good bit of time reading and re-reading all of Eric Kim’s books on street photography. There is so much practical real world advise in each one of his books that they are probably the few collection of books I’ve read multiple times. While we share different philosophies on life, we both share a love of photography, and it seems, a driving desire to continue to learn and improve. One of the reasons I continued to read and follow Eric Kim’s work over the years is he has completely changed and rearranged how I think about photography.
He’s made me re-think how I view my own personal photography, what’s acceptable as a quality image and what’s not, and even what equipment is actually truly needed. All those rules I spent years learning, like “don’t include power lines in your photography” it will ruin the shot, were disseminated by Kim’s books. I think I was 10 years into photography before I actually realized it was ok to include people in the images (my main teacher and book learning early on was 100% nature photography).
When you have been doing something, like practicing photography for 25 years, you don’t often come across new ways of thinking about the art, so it’s been a super refreshing experience so far this year. The ideas below came straight out of one of his books, The Street Photography Project Manual, which I was able to read because of his vision on open source information.
I thought I would do a little photography 101 slash book review for this Saturday’s post. Only one more week before Auburn opens the 2011 football season so today is sort of the last “free” day before the fall goes into full swing, so to speak. The changes in photography over the last 10-15 years has been amazing to watch, and I’m glad I started shooting when film was the only option. Just about anyone can pick up a digital SLR today that is capable of taking photos that weren’t even possible a few years ago. Thankfully, it still takes more than just a finger pushing a button to take shots that look like more than just vacation photos. It’s quite possible to take great shots with a point-n-shoot and lousy shots with a professional camera (my nephew who is 12 takes amazing shots with his $150 Canon PowerShot SD1300).
One of the aspects of photography that attracted me to the art years and years ago was how easy it was to take a photo, and how hard it was to master the art. Just like anything worth doing, it takes a lot of time, study, experience, and a determination to get beyond the basics. One of the very basics of photography, and also one of the most difficult to master, is exposure. There are three basic elements to exposure in photography that make an image possible. These have never changed since the very first piece of film was exposed to light. For a “proper” exposure you need a combination of aperture (lens opening), shutter speed, and ISO value (film or sensitivity speed). Today’s cameras all have what is called a “P” or “program” mode that automatically calculates all three of these in an instant and creates what it thinks is the proper exposure. The only problem with that is the meter always exposes for a “middle grey”, or average, which attempts to take every lighting situation in the frame, average it out for medium, and that’s the “proper” exposure. That not necessarily bad, or wrong, and it’s probably how about 90% of all images shot are taken, but it also doesn’t always make the most exciting photograph either.
The two examples above I shot in the fading sun over the Atlantic, and both are considered to be improperly exposed according to the camera meter at the time. One is significantly “over exposed” (too light or bright) and one “under exposed” (too dark). I took several shots back to back and the “properly exposed” shot was quite boring. I love how both of these shots show a different mood and many different details. What often determines a “proper” exposure is what you are trying to create when you take the shot. What story are you trying to tell often determines what exposure best portrays your vision when you pull the trigger.
If you are interested in learning more about exposure and how light is used in creating an image I recommend the updated edition of Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera by Bryan Peterson. I have no affiliation with Peterson but I did read his first edition that came out many years ago and recently finished the updated version published last year. Peterson goes through an easy to understand explanation of how to best use exposure in your photography beyond just pulling the trigger. Anyone who is interested in improving their photography should start off with Peterson’s book and move out from there, it’s a great place to start.
This is a continuation of my series, airports and a 50mm lens. Since I was in Europe this time I didn’t really get quite a much material as I normally do in a place like Atlanta. For one thing, once I get outside the United States shooting [photos] in an airport isn’t quite the same. The laws are different all over the world. I know what I can and can’t shoot in the U.S., and I can stand my ground in most cases in my own country. Not so much once I get outside the U.S., so this series changes a bit, to err on the side of caution.
Europe is usually ok about photographers as long as you aren’t obnoxious and you don’t look too suspicious but Entebbe is another story. I didn’t take hardly anything once we landed over there but on my next trip I know on the way back home there are a few things I would like to capture. I’ll see. In October I may be as tired as I was when we left in August, but EBB right now is about one single shot.
Here is a quick shoot of Amsterdam. There was a lot I didn’t get since our connection was so short, but next time I have a 5 hour connection so I should be able to improve upon this shoot. If you are wondering what’s the point… well, I actually consider this street photography, something I have really come to love over the years. Trying to capture a mood, or an expression, without someone standing in front of you going “smile” isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but sometimes it’s just more genuine. To me it shows a more realistic view of life. Everything in this (and all my 50mm airport series) is shot with one single focal length lens (obviously a 50mm), and to me, it tells a totally different story than the post from Atlanta 8 hours earlier told.
It’s Friday, and since we didn’t go anywhere exciting today other than to drive over to Columbus, my Friday Feet pic is rather boring, but there were some “great” church signs along the way as usual.
I have a pretty additive habit-hobby of church sign reading, sometimes it’s just like train wreck TV, you just can’t turn away. It is, at least in the south, a method of communication for local churches, and for Christianity in general (a very very broad range version of general). Since we spend so much time contemplating, discussing, and meeting about communication in our staff meetings at my own church I have no doubt that many of the church signs I see and read are not accidental. Church signs represent as broad a range of Christianity as their are Christians, and it shows. I just wonder if they at least think about the greater message they are presenting to the drive-by sign reader. I’m sure not everyone reads every single church sign they drive by like I do, but still, what message are you trying to communicate to the casual non-church-goer reading your sign? I have nothing against any of these churches of course, I’m sure their all great churches… but the last 2-3 weeks I have driven by this one church they have had two different, negative signs, which drives me nuts, but I’m not on their communication team, so oh well.
I have been a photographer now about as long as I have been a believer, and I have spent those 15-20 years trying to figure out how to combine both in a way that glorifies God. That tends to look different almost every day, and it did on this day once again. What draws me to photography is the ability to tell a story without words. Words are generally my weakness when it comes to telling a story (or just conversing with another person), but an image can transcend language, age, and culture. The difference at least in our culture is literally everyone has a camera, but few seem to know how to engage other people in a caring way.
And in comes Sunny. I was in Auburn on one of my favorite corners doing a photo walk of sorts (that means you walk around looking for something interesting to shoot, often it’s a person with some unique character, like Sunny). Problem is, every person with a camera who showed up before me just wanted to take Sunny’s photo and run, some, he explained, literally ran. No one was interested in telling his story. So I did what I always do before taking a photo of someone. I asked him (unless of course I’m trying to take candid street photography in which case the whole point is to not interact with your subject, here was a case of “street portrait” work). To my surprise, he said no. He asked me why I wanted to take his photo and I really didn’t have a good answer. This post is basically my answer to that question, but in the moment, I had nothing. I knew why, I wanted to tell his story, but I was thrown by his response and mentally froze.
So how do you convince someone you have never met before that you actually are interested in telling his story, and that no, you are not like everyone else who came before. I’m still not sure how to go about doing that, but we stood there and talked about life, faith, trains, writing, and music while college kids zipped by on the street and in their cars. It’s basically what I wanted to do in the first place. One thing I wish I had done at the time was take my own photo with Sunny. In a way I did, I’m right there in his sunglasses. Glad you too could meet Sunny as well, he was quite the character.
To answer my own question; how do you convince someone you care and aren’t there to just take their photo and run… you listen for 15-20 minutes and shoot for 15-20 seconds.
The other night Deb and I went back to Moe’s Original BBQ in Auburn over on Magnolia Ave. It is such a great place to do some street photography since there are so many restaurants and shops along those roads, but the atmosphere inside Moe’s is really great as far as photography goes. Lots of colors, paintings, drawings on the wall and so on. This sorta feels like an ad for their restaurant but it just happened to be where we ate dinner when I had my camera (I don’t get paid advertising funds from anyone on my blog just to be clear). Anyway, these are just a few of the images captured the other night while we were down on Magnolia Ave. If you are looking for a place to shoot in Auburn just walk around downtown from about 5pm to 9pm and you will have more to shoot than you have memory in your camera. All these shots were taken with a prime lens, a Nikkor 35mm f/1.8, and a Nikon D7000 (EXIF data over here) if interested.
On my recent trip to California I decided to continue my 50mm airport series I started a while back. I generally carry all my equipment with me on the plane since a lost bag will result in a non-existent photo shoot, and a few trips ago I started trying to get the creative juices flowing by using one camera and one single fixed focal length lens (a standard 50mm) to cover each new airport.
This past week the new airport was Orange County’s John Wayne Airport (SNA). I have usually flown into LAX and since I had not been to John Wayne in a while, it was next on my photo list (ATL has long since be shot, see my post Atlanta Airport Photos and a 50mm Lens // Part 1, if that is your interest). For the extremely busy location of southern California, Orange County is a great place to fly in and out of and almost has the feel of a Midwestern Lubbock or Amarillo feel to it as far as the traffic goes. I also didn’t get harassed by security, police, FBI, or any other uncomfortable PAX in the area, wonderful.
This the third and final part of my airport in a 50mm lens perspective (see ATL part 1 and DEN part 2), at least until I jump on another plane and end up at an airport other than ATL, DEN, and MIA. Miami was the most difficult out of the three to shoot. It was hot, humid (yes I was inside), very very crowded, and all under construction.
That just means I had to look around more than I usually do and find something that said this was MIA and was (to me) photographically pleasing. For this post, I chose these 4 images below.
I love the second shot, the plane. This old plane was restored and hung from one of the walks between terminal buildings. What caught my attention was the print just below the name of the pilot.
Passengers travel in this vehicle at their own risk
I did find one nice architectural images of this roof line which seemed to open like a bottle top. I would have preferred to get the faces of the travelers but in an airport you must be wise when holding the camera. With so many irritated passengers around every bend waiting for delayed flights, I wasn’t real interested in inflaming the minds of many.
I always liked the Miami airport. So much diversity even in the airport itself, but modernizing the terminals (which they are doing) would also make it a nice place to fly into while waiting for a long connection. All images in each part of this shoot were taken with a Nikon D700 (in full frame FX mode), hand held, with a 50mm Nikkor f/1.4 lens. Comments, suggestions, critique, or criticism are all welcome. These are shown in the order they were taken.
To see the larger sizes all at once just click on the first image to open the light box gallery and you can scroll through the larger sizes that way.