Playing with Empty Space in Street Photography

Enter - San Francisco - 2015

Composition – and subsequent cropping (if we choose to cheat a bit) – really shapes the images we capture on the street. Sometimes, rarely, it’s empty space that makes the composition.

This is a recent example – shot at Vinton and Grant Avenue in San Francisco with my Fujifilm X-T1 – and, I’ll admit, cropped to perfect.

The focus of the image is the woman moving into the doorway on the left edge. But the empty space – and the dramatic light – really fill the frame. The No Parking sign on the right really anchors that side of the image.

I opted to leave the image in color instead of converting to monochrome. I found the colors of the wall on the left, the woman and the street shadows added a lot to the image. In monochrome, without the colors, the empty space seemed too overwhelming.

The Stools on San Francisco’s Stockton Street

DSCG5216

My friend Doug Kaye and I seem to get to San Francisco’s Chinatown a couple of times each year for one of our street photography adventures. We love the small alleys in Chinatown for their beautiful textures and, during some times of the year, amazing light and shadows. But we also love Stockton Street – the central “market hall” for Chinatown.

Stockton Street always seems to be bustling – with thick crowds of people out shopping the markets that line this busy street. It’s often great fun to watch the crosswalks for interesting people as the cross the street or round the corner right in front of you.

On a recent visit I noticed something quite useful – especially for a guy like me who enjoys sitting down and working a particular scene. On many of the street corners on the east side of Stockton Street there are fire hydrants adjacent to the crosswalks – and they’re just the right height to prop my body on or against as I try to stay out of the way of the busy traffic while attempting to capture the scene.

The image above is one example – Doug is crossing the street (shooting with his new Leica Q) – while I’m holding back and capturing the woman in pink who’s looking at him with just a touch of disdain. I shot this with my Fujifilm X100T – and it’s been tightly cropped to exaggerate the effect here – but you get the idea.

Below is an image of one of these “stools”. I waited a couple of minutes for him to leave – because I wanted it – but he was firmly planted and holding forth on his stool! I thought about giving him my camera and asking him to shoot a few shots! 😉

DSCG5278

Next time you’re wandering Stockton Street in Chinatown and need a quick break – look for a stool. Just don’t bother looking on the other side of the street – it’s populated with big hydrants from San Francisco’s high pressure distribution system and they lack a smooth top suitable for sitting on! You can see one of those high pressure hydrants in the background of the image with Doug – it’s got the blue top.

Photography in San Francisco’s Chinatown: Ross Alley and Vinton Court

News - Chinatown - 2015

San Francisco’s Chinatown is an area rich in photographic opportunities for street photographers! My friend Doug Kaye and I always enjoy a few hours on the streets of Chinatown – so many interesting places, always a lot of people out walking, etc. – it’s a perfect street photography venue. And, if you time it right – and get the sun angles aligned with the streets themselves, it becomes almost magical.

We’ve been to Chinatown twice so far in 2015 – the first time on January 2 and, most recently, last Friday March 20. On both occasions, we timed our visit to a align with the sun using the The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a very useful tool for this kind of advance planning.

While the sights along Chinatown’s main market street – Stockton Street – or along Chinatown’s “main drag” Grant Avenue are always fun, we’ve come to love the alleyways of Chinatown and can get lost in them for considerable stretches of time! Two of our favorites are Ross Alley and Vinton Court.

Ross Alley runs between Jackson and Washington Streets and is just a single block long. Part of what makes it fun is how narrow it is – and the fact that it seems to get a lot of foot traffic with folks walking through the Alley. I assume it has something to do with no automobile traffic – making it great for just walking. Here are a few images I’ve shot on Ross Alley.

Post No Bill - San Francisco - 2015

Breaktime - San Francisco - 2015

Ross Alley - San Francisco - 2015

Another favorite spot of ours in Chinatown is Vinton Court at Grant Avenue. Vinton is a street that is a half block long which intersects with Grant Avenue near Pine Street. What’s great about Vinton Court is that the street itself provides a great background for capturing people walking along Grant Avenue. It helps isolate them – they’re not up against some noisy background of shops and stores. Plus, it’s just interesting – with the steps going up on the right with the handrails, etc. Here are a few images I’ve shot at Vinton Court.

Glance - San Francisco - 2015

Shopping Trip - San Francisco - 2015

Solo - San Francisco - 2015

Walker - San Francisco - 2014

As you can see from these examples, both of these spots in San Francisco’s Chinatown offer some great street photography opportunities. If you go and take some pictures there, let me know – I’d love to see them!

Below is a Google Map image that shows the location of both Ross Alley and Vinton Court – you can click on it to open and explore:

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.27.36 PM

Early January Light in the Alleys of San Francisco’s Chinatown

Balance - San Francisco - 2015

On Friday, January 2, 2015, Doug Kaye and I met up for one of our regular photo walks on the streets of San Francisco. We had done a bit of planning in advance using The Photographers Ephemeris which showed that the sun would be streaming down the “north/south” streets of San Francisco beginning about 11:30 AM that morning. These are the streets north of Market St. in San Francisco – such as Kearny, Grant, Stockton, etc.

After meeting at the Embarcadero BART station, we walked over to Sacramento St. and caught the 1-California Muni bus up to Kearny St. where we got off and walked over to Portsmouth Square in Chinatown. We had fun shooting the game players in the park before moving on up Washington Street, eventually finding our way to Ross Alley where the sun was just beginning to floor the street. From there, we headed up to Stockton – but found the light too much on that wide street so we headed back into a few more of the alleys instead – preferring the much narrower streets with the light streaming down on the mostly brick walls of the buildings in this part of Chinatown.

I was shooting with my Fujifilm X100T – using the TCL100 converter which provides a 50 mm equivalent focal length. I also capture some shots along the way with my iPhone 6. Below are a few examples of the fun we had exploring the alleys of San Francisco’s Chinatown – with the low sun angle light at mid-day in early January.

News - Chinatown - 2015

Blue Smoke - San Francisco - 2015

Enroute - San Francisco - 2015

Post No Bill - San Francisco - 2015

Mops - San Francisco - 2015

In the Shadows - San Francisco - 2015

That Decisive Moment – Street Photography in San Francisco’s Chinatown

Walker - San Francisco - 2014

Lots of credit – deservedly so – has gone to the notion of “the decisive moment” in photography and its origin with Henri Cartier-Bresson. The notion is a precise capture at the moment of most interest.

In late August, Doug Kaye and I went exploring in San Francisco’s Chinatown. We came across this lovely alley way that heading up hill – a perfect “stage” that street photographers love to find. Once you’ve got a stage, you have to wait for something interesting to come by and fill it – patience helps!

I got lucky – this fellow walked into my shot and I was able to capture him in mid-step – holding that coffee cup in his left hand. A decisive moment to be sure!

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.

A Walk in the City

On the Go - San Francisco - 2013

We’ve really been missing Lily this week – even her annoying habits that we used to complain about remind us that she’s gone.

This morning Doug Kaye and I met up in San Francisco for one of regular photo walks – this time exploring Chinatown mostly again but also passing through Embarcadero Center on our way to a late lunch at one of our favorites – Slanted Door.

Doug was shooting with two cameras he had acquired from BorrowLenses.com – a Leica M9 and a Fujifilm X100S – for upcoming reviews on the This Week in Photography podcast.

I was shooting with my new Fujifilm X100S – having committed to this new camera based on the rave reviews it’s received from many other photographers.

This image is one of my favorites from today – seems to capture the capabilities of the X100S very nicely!