Monday, May 12, 2014

My Journey Into Street Photography

Photo by Matthew Mann

As some of you know, I've been getting back into shooting film photography over the past year.  I picked up a cheap 35mm FED4 camera and carry it with me wherever I go.  From this, I've improved significantly in reading exposure by eye and guessing where my settings should land on my camera in any lighting situation.

After a year of shooting with it, I gained my confidence with film on the FED and was ready for a next step up.  After seeing the documentary "Finding Vivian Maier" (watch the trailer below) I really began researching medium format cameras for all-around high end photography.  After a few weeks of research, I invested in a Hasselblad 500cm, which was the holy grail of medium format film photography for a long time.  They shot the lunar landing with a 500 series camera.  It's been used for decades in fashion shoots and classic studio photography.  It's robust, and is just a finely engineered piece of machinery.

I've done multiple outings with it as a street photographer with my buddy Matt and have really been struggling with shooting people.  It's just an uncomfortable hump to get over, and is a very common problem to street photographers when they first start out.

My goal is to be comfortable just approaching someone on the street, getting into their personal space and capturing an event or portrait of them.  It's a lot easier said than done though.  Several articles and videos I've come across have really helped me get my head into it and challenge myself to get over this anxiety.  Hopefully some of you are in a similar boat and could use a good set of tools to help curb this issue.

One of the most helpful tools I've come across is an e-book written by Eric Kim that gives a 30 day challenge to green street photographers.  Each day provides a new challenge and new set of tips to go along with it.  A lot of the material is common sense but it's helped align my mindset when going out and doing this.  That can be downloaded here.

The next majorly helpful item I've come across is a lecture by Adam Marelli sponsored by B&H.  He goes through seven major approaches he uses in the way he tackles street photography.   Surprisingly, there's very little overlap between he and Eric's tips.  Where Eric challenges the photographer to shoot first and handle the consequences later, Adam suggests picking a location that's photographically pleasing and almost like a wildlife photographer, waiting for the right people to walk through your scene.  I think both approaches have merit and it's ultimately worth trying any and all techniques until you get over that fear.  The lecture's about an hour and a half and can be seen below:

The last thing that's helped me approach this anxiety is another article I came across through Eric Kim's site called "10 Things Garry Winogrand Can Teach You About Street Photography".  Again, it's another list of tips, but they're from a great source for learning technique and the general message is important: Shoot a ton.  The article talks about how Garry would shoot an entire 36 shot roll just walking down the street and not stopping!  That's a challenge to find that many interesting things even with a digital camera.  Let alone handling film.  But I love the idea of it.

There's kind of a dark and light side to shooting film.  You are generally more selective on the shots, composition and subject of each individual shots because there is a finite amount of film and every shot is a little more money burnt up, but on the other hand that can be arresting as well.  You may miss a shot because you go back and forth about it in your head.  "Is this situation worth it?  Is the light good?  Are these people emotionally evoking enough?" and by the time you've decided whether or not you're going to shoot the photo, the moment's already passed and you're stick with zero photos for the day.  I think shooting 36 shots in a matter of minutes, especially on film, is a bit absurd, but the idea is right.  I think the more you do it, the more refined your sensibilities will become for spotting those moments and the quicker you'll become at getting the shot off.

Another interesting piece that came from the article is a recommendation of Garry to not develop your negatives for a year.  I'd never heard that before but I guess that's a common practice for street photographers.  Shooting in the moment is important, but forgetting the moment over time can be just as important.  Waiting for an extended period of time and then returning to the material without rose-colored glasses and truly reacting to the photo as a pair of fresh eyes would is important in curating your own work.  I think you could do a similar method without so much "wait time" and only allow yourself to share three photos per roll of film you shoot.  Maybe even be more strict and allow one photo per roll.

I like that idea, as you're teaching yourself the discipline to ask "what is the best, most emotional and aesthetically rich material I've shot?" and severing any "maybes".  It's about honing your sensibilities and remaining critical of your work.  I know at this point in time, I typically post maybe 30% of my exposed photos online, and I'm learning that that's probably too much quantity, and not enough quality.  I think as I receive my first few rolls of medium format back from the lab, I'll really start to incorporate a more strict filtering of my work.  To read the full article, visit Eric's site here.

Finishing My New Screenplay "Garage Boys"

About two months ago, I began really entertaining this idea I've had brewing in my noggin.  The premise was simple: It's a buddy comedy set in the early 90's about a trio of late-blooming friends who get the wild idea to start a tech company in their mom's garage with the assumption that in doing so, they'll strike it rich. Their friendship is put to the test as they soon face the hard realities of their naive plan.

This has been the most organic writing process I've experienced thus far.  I had an idea.  I gestated on the thoughts for awhile.  I wrote a rough outline of how I saw things playing out in the story, and I sat down and began writing.

Three weeks after beginning the screenplay, I now have a finished first draft and am feeling good about the first broadstroke I've put on paper.  I realize there's a lot of work ahead for the project, in both the screenwriting and the potential of actually funding and producing it but this is the third feature I've written and it feels like it's getting easier over time.  Perhaps it's because this was the first feature I've written where I've had a cast in mind for the key players, and was able to use my familiarity with their natural speaking voices to help guide the writing and focus more on the "want" of the characters and not think so hard on finding a voice for them.

I filed "Garage Boys" with the copyright office last week and sent out the first draft to a batch of friends and colleagues for review.  I have up and down moments in my confidence in the story as I eagerly wait for the first response to come back, but hopefully I'll either have that confidence restored, or will receive a hard dose of reality in identifying the true problems and plot holes within the story.

My plan is to take the screenplay after I've received these first reactions to it, and begin a writing room with the intended cast and take another stab at it with them to help distill the story another level.

As I wait for the responses to roll in, I'm beginning to noodle with my next screenplay that I want to write, which is a fictional political drama set in the very near future.  This one may require quite a bit of research but it could be an interesting cultural tableau of a potential reality.