Boots on Stage

Boots - San Francisco - 2014

I’ve written before how one of the fun parts of street photography is to find an interesting background and then wait for something interesting to appear within it.

This is a shot like that – taken along San Francisco’s Kearny Street – when there’s no parking and the shops along the street provide a wonderful backdrop – a perfect stage. Gotta love those boots!

This image was shot with my Fujifilm X-E2 and post processed using Lightroom and VSCO Film 05.

Using Stages in Photography


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!

All the World’s a Stage – and Sometimes You’re On It!

Listen to Me #2 - San Francisco - 2013

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!

Good fun!

Smokey Joe in San Francisco’s Chinatown

Smokey Joe - San Francisco - 2012

This is an image from last year – shot with my Canon 5D Mark II on a photo walk in San Francisco’s Chinatown with Doug Kaye.

I love the gestures of the people in this image – and that guy with the cigarette who I’ve coined as Smokey Joe!

This is a classic example of finding a “stage” – setting up across the street with the camera – and waiting for something interesting to enter the frame!

Post processed in Lightroom 5 with VSCO Film.

Those Bell Bottoms in San Francisco

Bell Bottoms - San Francisco - 2013

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.

Into the Light – on Leidesdorff Street in San Francisco

Into the Light - San Francisco - 2013

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.

On Stage along Embarcadero in San Francisco

In Gear - San Francisco - 2013

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.