Getting off the train the other day on my way home from work, rather than going directly home, I decided to wander around the area near the train station and try to make some pictures.
The light at the time was that late-afternoon sunlight where the sun is low on the horizon but not quite setting yet. It was strong, sharp and warm, creating some great shadows on the sides of buildings and stores lining Church Avenue, a busy commercial street in my neighborhood. There were a lot of people doing their end-of-day errands; a great opportunity for street photography.
Along the avenue, there’s one richly red-painted wall which is part of a Rite-Aid pharmacy. I’m a big fan of that color and, in that kind of sunlight, the color of the wall and the shadows of an adjacent bus shelter attracted my eye like a moth to the flame.
I set my Fujifilm X-100T to auto focus (usually I’m in a manual, zone-focus mode) and set the camera to underexpose by about 1-2 stops. Underexposing by that much would ensure the shadows would get nice and dark and the rich red wall would have a nice saturation. To paraphrase Olaf Sztaba from his new book, I had set my stage.
There were people all over the place and I loved seeing them walk in front of this wall with all the shadow play going on. I moved around the wall and saw a lot of angles where the light was just incredible. People popped in and out of the light and shadows. Not every angle looked great through the camera though, but that’s the great thing about hanging out in one spot for fifteen minutes; I had the time really to move around and explore different angles and how the people interacted in the frame.
These are the three images I’ve settled on so far from that afternoon.
The shot of this gentleman was fun because he was waiting for me to take my shot (it was very polite of him) but I waved him on and said it was okay for him to pass in front of my camera. When he did, I took a burst of shots. I made sure to frame his black hat so it would stand out from the shadow on the wall.
This shot of the two guys was a similar situation. The guy on the left was trying to duck and stay out of my shot. He started to walk in a very odd manner, hunched over and putting out his arm. This was a “gimme” shot, so of course I fired off the shutter as he did his duck walk. Also, the shadow of his arm looks like it’s about to pinch his butt! Thanks, man!
In this last shot, I just set myself up next to the bus shelter and took shots as people passed by. They saw me with my camera and I have to assume they knew I was taking shots of them. I was very up front about being the photographer here; I wasn’t being sneaky. I fired off a lot of shots from this angle but this is the one I finally settled on. I really dig the look the guy is giving me. I know the frame is cutting off some of his head, but the expression carries the image so much that I can forgive the framing. Plus, I like the tension created by the cropping and the look.
One thing I would do when I was taking some of these shots is I’d set up the frame and then look up at the sky and then look back down at my camera. I noticed this would keep people from looking at me and stop from crossing my frame. People generally don’t like to cross in front of a photographer when they are taking photos. The space between the camera and subject is somehow sacred. I didn’t want anyone to feel obliged to stop walking for fear they’d ruin my photo. On the contrary, they were the subject. I think by my not looking at what I was shooting gave the passersby permission to cross this “sacred space.”
I spent about fifteen minutes in this area and I only left after the sun dropped down enough to make the shadows a bit too overwhelming. It was a perfect amount of time and I netted three images which I think have some merit.
So, yeah, sometimes it’s worth finding one spot and exploring as much as you can with your camera. Stay as long as you can and see what happens. Maybe you end up with only one shot, or a few, or maybe even none. But exploring a situation with your camera can be a great challenge and a lot of fun.
Set the stage and have at it.