Street Zen Blog
Light is essential to photography. During this walk about, I noticed how the light fell onto this scene at Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. I stopped and watched as this man paced back and forth in front of his market booth. I knew if he fell into the right place it would make an interesting photo. About 10 minutes went by and he mostly had his back to me or wasn’t quite in the right place. There were also tourists walking through the path in front of his shop so I waited a bit longer and kept putting my camera to my eye to make sure I would frame it correctly once the right moment came. Finally he turned and I pressed the shutter.
For me it wasn’t until around the time I took this picture last year did I purposefully and consciously see the light and chase it. In my art classes we would draw from still and life models and learn about how light and shadows work. It only made sense to focus on it in my photography. Because I had focused on learning my camera and lenses, learning about exposure, learning about how to edit and processes my photos, and focusing on getting over the fear of shooting people in public I just hadn’t put the two together yet until then. So, a lot of what I learned started to come together in my mind around this time and light made the difference. It really helped me to develop my style. A fellow street photographer, Ibarionex Perello, wrote a book called Chasing the Light and he stated that once he realized the significance of light it changed everything about his photography. I’d say the same for mine. It brought depth and mood to my images. It brought out the vivid colors (to some), and added shapes and geometry to my images. I search for light and also look for the shapes the shadows make. The shadows are just as important to me as the light so sometimes I focus more on the shadows than the light. I love how light reveals and how shadow hides elements in the photograph. Paying extra attention to light and shadows is what I continue to train my eyes to see every time I go out walking and in every photography venture I encounter.
What makes it so pleasant an experience for me when I go out to shoot is the attitude I go out with. I do seriously enjoy getting out in the city and going for a walk. Well, in Los Angeles it’s a mix of a drive then a walk. Getting lost and finding new areas and places I hadn’t seen before is an adventure. It’s like being a tourist in my own city. Different areas of LA have somewhat different people and buildings. Each have details that only those that live in that area really know about but for me to discover. I love shooting in downtown LA but I also shoot in other areas. It’s a solitary thing for me partly because it gets me in the zone and partly because usually it’s pretty spontaneous where I head out to on a certain day.
Street photography to me, at least partly, is that it’s somewhat of a frame of mind and a way of seeing the world I live in. It is a personal thing for sure. I’ve come to understand why I do it and it’s because it is a mediation for me. Zen is about enlightenment and I believe I found enlightenment in the process of going out and doing what I do. I also like to make pictures, pictures that I like and that pleases me. I’ve liked making pictures whether drawing them or photographing them ever since I was a kid so the moment I know I made a good one is a huge joy. Seeing how different people live and how people interact with each other shows me so much about humanity and it touches me. There were some moments when I became a bit emotional after seeing a moment, thinking about it and bringing it to heart.
I went from being somewhat fearful of photographing complete strangers to not even thinking about the fear at all. Capturing the moment, the emotion, the interaction between a person and their environment became more important. Improving my skills and improving how I see the shot became more important. The fear caused some stress earlier on and I didn’t want that. It shouldn’t be like that. It had to be fun otherwise why do it? I’m also big on energy or vibes. If I was worried about getting caught or what one might say to me, or if I thought what I was doing was wrong or creepy then that would have been the energy I got in return. So I walk out with a positive energy and walk with positive energy and so far I’ve only had a few negative experiences but they were with homeless folks who I didn’t even take a picture of! There are folks out there who just don’t want their picture taken. That’s just how it is but the thing about the getting over the fear of taking people’s pictures is that it’s just what happens in the mind. The mind is so powerful and you can make it believe whatever you want it to believe. Most of what I thought I feared ended up being unreal but I had made it real by sticking the emotion of fear to the thought. So it’s just a change of mind or a change of beliefs. It’s what worked for me in the last year and my life in general. A smile also goes a long way and at times I’ll say ‘Thank you’ if it warrants one although the shot most often happens so quickly and I’m a bit more low key in the way I shoot so most times they don’t even know or at least don’t realize I’ve just taken a picture of them. As many have said before me, a positive attitude and positive energy goes a long way and for me is key while I’m out on the streets.
Photography is my passion and street photography saved me. It gave me purpose in life again. I started out like many photographers who owned a point and shoot camera and then at some point figured out that it’s fun to shoot and that the pictures I was taking were actually pretty good. My little camera would go everywhere I’d go and I’d take pictures of pretty much anything. Then after some time of going through photography websites, blogs about gear, reading photography books, and playing with friends’ cameras that I’d outgrown my point and shoot cameras. At the time I felt that I wasn’t getting the type of images I saw on some of the websites I had visited. So, I saved up and became a very happy and proud new owner of a DSLR, a Nikon D90 with kit lens. Oh, yeah. Soon after I bought it my friend, Kit, and I drove down to Hollywood and started walking and shooting that evening. (Photo posted taken that night) The smile on my face was cheek to cheek and I never looked back. The first few photographers that I admired, respected, and that I found inspiration from for street photography were Chris Weeks (35lux) with his e-book Street Photography for the Purist, Roberto (Bear) Guerra, Trent Park, Felix Lupa, Stephen Wright, Markus Hartel, Nils Jorgensen, Severin Koller, Frank Jackson and of course HCB. I’ve found more photographers that I’ve admired and learned from the last two years. Photography started out as an interest and something I thought was fun to do and turned into something I wanted to do everyday. Being that my background is in art and graphic design I also enjoyed the processing side to photography and was used to sitting in front of the computer and staying up all night. It just made sense.
So how did it save me? My life up until then was swallowed up by work. I was stressed out and honestly I was not very happy. The work environment was toxic and I was becoming a hermit too. The constant urge to go out and take pictures made me go places and do things again. Whenever I had a chance I went out and practiced. I then thought there had to be folks out in LA that were like-minded and decided to attend an Eric Kim Street Photography workshop after finding his blog when I was looking for X100 reviews. I read through his blogs and liked his enthusiasm and common passion for street photography. Through Eric’s workshop, I did not only learn more about street photography but I also made great friends and fellow street photographers. I received more encouragement within the group and from folks who began to see my work. I continued to meet great street photographers, some whom I had admired earlier on, and new friends that shared my passion for street photography. I’m happy and grateful to have found my passion in life. Last November I was laid off from the company I had worked at for 10 years. A blessing in disguise, I am now able to focus on photography and continue to hone and develop my skills in photography and have more time to shoot the streets.
The value of patience is a virtue I’ve come to learn in photography. As much as I like to wander around and move where the light or the energy takes me, when I find a background I like I’ll stand and wait for awhile for the right character to come along. I suppose it’s also a good time to rest the worn feet.
After watching Joel Meyerowitz’s video last year, where he was on a NYC street corner talking about how he used to walk around a lot and then he realized that if he just stood in one place that people came to him…, I went out and tried it. After a few days of walking, finding a good spot and then waiting for the shot, I was very happy with the results. Sometimes the right person didn’t come along but I could come back and try it again another day or simply walk around the block and a new set of people would present themselves. In the last year or so, one of the longest I waited was for about 30 minutes and the photo above is what the outcome was. There wasn’t that much people traffic there and the other shots I took with the others that walked through didn’t quite work for me. It definitely taught me the importance of patience and I don’t mind at all standing or sitting around waiting for and watching people. It took a bit of getting used to because I kept thinking that I could be missing something somewhere else or my restlessness would kick in. I think my wanting to get a good shot overcame those thoughts and feelings. The waiting and watching helps me to take account the details in the scene and to set my camera to the right exposure. I do a few test shots to make sure I like where it’s at or change it up a bit to get the right look I want. As I wait I could also figure out what the best angle is and how to frame the shot. There are times where I don’t have to wait long at all so that’s always a good thing since it gives me time to maybe try a different angle or explore a little more. I believe patience in that I can sit and wait for a shot to happen and patience in that I wait for the right time to click the shutter button really made a huge impact on my work and improved the way I ‘see’ things.