One of the most useful concepts for street photograph is the idea of finding a stage – a background that’s interesting and appropriate for an image – and then waiting for something unusual to happen like a person walking into the frame.
This technique requires pre-visualizing the scene and then getting the camera prepared. This is often best done by switching to manual mode and prefocusing on either the background – if that’s what you want in focus – or on the area where the person/people might be. It’s your creative choice – but get the camera ready.
Sam Abell, as described by one of the attendees at one of his workshops, described his approach: “A key idea in Sam’s approach is to first identify the background. With a promising background, you then wait for the light and the subject to complete the photograph. … Find the right background, wait for the right light, wait for the right subject, nail the exposure, pay attention to details of micro composition, take the picture.”
I’ve written a number of articles here about images I’ve shot using this notion of stages – you can see them here.
This particular image is inside Radio City Music Hall in New York City – shot with my iPhone 5s. Of course, it’s just a stage – waiting to be filled!
Earlier this summer, I picked up a Fujifilm X100S – a street photographer’s delight. The rangefinder design, its gorgeous styling and superb image performance make it a camera you just want to take with you everywhere.
When Doug Kaye and I go out for a photo walk in San Francisco, we’re always on the lookout for “stages” – great backgrounds that are just waiting to be filled with interesting people.
This is a shot in the park adjacent to the Transamerica Building (“the Pyramid”) in San Francisco. We had rich summer morning light flooding in along with some wonderful shadows – which help add depth to an otherwise two dimensional image. We also had four actors already on stage – nicely spread out! And then this woman walked across the foreground – wow, I couldn’t have scripted it any better – as she made her point to her friend on the other end of that pink cellphone call!
For this version of the image, I used a touch of Topaz Simplify in Photoshop CC to reduce some of the high frequency elements (trees) in the image. VSCO Film Velvia 50 was used to boost the colors a bit. A final pass of high pass sharpening was used to bring back the facial expressions of all of the actors!
As a street photography, you’re always trying to look for stages – places of visual interest against which you can shoot an interesting image. Finding a stage is one thing – being patient enough to wait for something of visual interest to walk into it is another.
On this particular morning in San Francisco, Doug Kaye and I were finding stages – but the pedestrian traffic was so light that we got frustrated waiting for something to fill the stage.
For this particular shot, I got lucky. I happened to like the stage of the stores’s display window behind – and captured this shot very quickly with my Fujifilm X-E2 as this young woman – in her bell bottoms – walked across the stage. Perhaps not the greatest illustration of this technique – but you get the idea!
I post-processed this in Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC – applying a bit of Topaz Simplify 4 and a touch of the Oil Paint filter to add a bit of interesting texture.
There’s a wonderful street – more like an alley for pedestrians (no cars) – in San Francisco that just lights up this time of year with reflected light shining off of the Transamerica Pyramid. It’s Leidesdorff Street – and you’ll love it!
Doug Kaye and I discovered it this week – and we almost got lost in shooting because the light was so special. The reflected light in San Francisco’s Financial District this time of year – with the low sun angle – made for many interesting venues – but I think this was perhaps the best.
This image is one example – the rider heading north on Leidesdorff Street into that reflected light from the Pyramid. Doug first noticed this spot – one of those places we call a “stage“. We love finding these places – with very special light or a most interesting background – and just move across the street and wait for something interesting to happen – such as this man riding by on his bicycle.
I shot this with my new Fujifilm X-E2 using the “kit” 18-55mm lens. I’m still learning the best settings on the X-E2 for street photography with this lens – so the rider is a bit blurrier than I’d prefer – but it’s still a great image with that wonderful light.
When I’m doing street photography, I’ve come to appreciate looking for a stage – a venue where, as the photographer, you can just fade into the background and let the subjects walk into your frame. When it works, it’s magical. It takes patience and time – but it’s often worth the investment.
Doug Kaye and I were walking along the Embarcadero in San Francisco – shooting with two “mirrorless” cameras instead of the big digital SLR’s (DSLRs) we usually carry. These new cameras are a delight – much smaller yet great performers. I was shooting with a Fujifilm X-E1 with the “kit” lens.
Doug and I met at the Ferry Building and walked along the Embarcadero down to Red’s Java House. Just across from Red’s, I found a “stage” – and sat down to try to capture something interesting. Among the 30-40 shots I took, I particularly liked this one – the attitude of the women, how they were marching along in formation, etc.
I simplified the image a bit using a technique I’ve mirrored from just one genre of work by Chris Hilgert. It removes details but leaves the core image elements in place. Beautiful.
On Sunday in Central Havana, we had some gloomy skies and just a bit of drizzle. I loved this old wall and was standing across the street from it – hoping to use it as a “stage” – when this woman walked by, gaze down.
She’s a part of my Faces of Cuba portfolio. Shot with a Nikon D600. Post-processed using Lightroom 5, VSCO 04 Film and Photoshop CC.
Earlier today, photo buddy Doug Kaye and I met up at the de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for one of our monthly photo shoots. We try to get out for a few hours before lunch on a roughly monthly schedule and then head to a nice spot to share lunch and chat. Today Doug wanted to learn more about Bitcoin – but that’s a story for another day!
We’re starting to have a few favorite venues for these photo shoots. Embarcadero Center and the Ferry Building seem to be at the top of our list – there’s always great shots available there. It’s a beautiful combination of great architecture, that amazing fountain, the Ferry Building shops/restaurants (Slanted Door!) and street photography. So much in such a beautiful spot.
This morning we headed to the de Young – I think this was our second time shooting there together. A great thing about the De Young is that they allow photography in their permanent collection areas – and they’ve got some great collections! Another great thing is the tower that rises up about ten stories above the museum and provides a remarkable floor to ceiling view of the western part of San Francisco. It’s a special spot – and a great example of what Jay Maisel calls a “stage” – a place just to observe as people come and go. We’re becoming pretty good at spotting these stage opportunities – during our trip to Havana Cuba earlier this year we found a couple that we great spots.
This image is one of those shot on the stage – and, for me, it captures the sheer delight these little devices bring into our lives. She took a couple of iPhone shots from this end of the tower – and that look on her face says it all!
This image was shot with my Canon PowerShot S100 – and post-processed mostly in Lightroom 5 with a few final tweaks in Photoshop CC. Below is a shot of Doug “working the stage” in the tower at the de Young!
This morning I headed up to San Francisco to try my hand at some street photography during the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. This parade is a big deal in San Francisco – and it was my first time heading out to try to shoot it. In hand, I had my Nikon D600 with the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens that I’d recently acquired. This lens seems close to ideal for street photography – it has that extra reach at 300mm yet can go wide at 28mm when required. It’s about as perfect a lens as it gets for daytime street shooting.
But, before the parade began, I headed to another one of my favorite San Francisco venues – Yerba Buena Gardens. As I left Menlo Park this morning, we were fogged in – and I wondered what I would encounter weather wise as I got to San Francisco. As it turned out, no fog and brilliant morning sunlight washed across the beautiful Yerba Buena scene.
As I headed into the gardens, I noticed a lot of steam rising from over by the waterfall. As I headed closer, I could see a fellow was using a high pressure water blaster to clean the payment around the waterfall. This turned into a classic example of a “stage” – a place where you think something interesting is going to happen and you plant yourself as a photographer and just wait for it to unfold.
Earlier, he was working in the shadows to the left – a relatively uninteresting area given the poor light. But when he came out into this area – and began working the pavement and tiles being lit by the morning sun, everything got a lot more interesting. As I was shooting it, I thought this would probably work out best as a monochrome – but I left in just a touch of selective color on the worker’s face and hair. Such beautiful light!