Sunday, June 13, 2010

Worldwide Photo Walk, Stuttgart, July 24, 2010

For three years now, Scott Kelby has been organizing a couple of hours each year during which gregarious photographers get together to walk through their town and take pictures. Fynn and I did the walk together in 2009. Michael Dämbock led the walkers from the Schloßplatz, through the Schloßpark, up the train station tower and out to a beer garden in the Schloßpark. It was so much fun that I looked online to see who was doing it this year. No one had signed up to lead it yet, so I volunteered.
After the wonderful experience last year, I wanted to offer returning participants and new ones alike something different. It should be scenic yet also something I'm familiar enough with to be able to improvise if the weather turns foul.
Having lived in S-Ost for eight years now, I've learned that it has a lot to offer. The Muse-O is showing its second exhibition of S-Ost photographs now. Furthermore, the Werkstatthaus on Gerokstrasse is becoming an important place for me to develop my photographic skills. Frank Uhlig offers not only official courses on every imaginable aspect of photography but also helps organize an informal meeting of photographers there every six weeks. Finally, there is a group forming in S-Ost right now. There is no reason why S-Ost should not be showcased in such a forum.
In preparation for this walk, I've been doing some research. Gathering tips for a city walk. Walking myself. Doing tasks from Robert Hirsch's magnificent book. Dreaming up things to do during the walk. Talking to people. Organizing some special surprise highlights for the participants. I hope some of my photographer friends join my son Fynn and me on this walk, too!
So here are some tips gleaned from watching a Kelby Training Video, in which Scott walks through Manhattan with Jay Maisel. His style may not be yours, but if you want to try the "Jay Way" of city shooting, try out some of these ideas:

1. Leave your camera bag and heavy equipment at home. Take one camera and one lens. That way you don't have to worry about what lens to use in certain situations. Are you going to miss the shot of a lifetime because you took a wide-angle instead of a telephoto lens? Probably not. EXERCISE: Use a prime lens (50mm, 90mm, etc.) for one week. It will teach you two things: a) how to crop your pictures better and b) how to move around with your camera.

2. Take off the lens cap and the lens hood. The first is a no-brainer, but the lens hood? Doesn't that keep unwanted light rays off the sensor, thus making the pictures sharper because only the most directly aimed rays go in through the lens? Yes, but think about this, too: Most lens hoods make an already long lens much longer and more conspicuous. How can you make a picture of someone spontaneously if they saw you coming from two miles away?

3. Leave the camera on during your walk. The whole time. It has an energy save mode. And any battery will last 2-3 hours. Not sure? Take a spare one with you in your pocket. It would be a shame to miss a good shot by a split second.

4. Shoot at as high an ISO as your camera and your software will allow you to. Shooting in aperture priority mode at ISO 1600 will keep the shutter speed quick enough to compensate for long lenses. We're working with available light in the city and need all we can get. Sometimes the grainy quality of a high-ISO picture is attractive. TEST: See how your camera reacts in bright light at ISO 1600. Is the shutter speed capable of 1/8000th of a second? Maybe you need to close the aperture to 11. Or move the ISO down to 800 as long as you are on the sunny side of the street.

5. Use high-speed exposure bracketing. Taking three pictures of everything (one "perfectly" exposed, one underexposed by 0.7 and one over exposed by 0.7) may fill up your hard drive thrice as quickly, but it may also land you some space on a museum wall, too. Of course, you may say that you are shooting raw files and like spending time correcting the exposure on the computer. Fine, but the fact remains that if you take three shots of something/someone, the chances are much better that one of them will be in focus. It makes most sense to bracket if you are taking pictures of people or moving objects. A gigabyte for good odds! EXERCISE: Learn how your camera's bracketing functions. The Sony 700 can bracket in many different ways, including for white balance, dynamic range, and shutter speed. And it can bracket various numbers of shots at diverse ranges. Read your manual and try out the settings.

6. Walk slowly, not deliberately hurrying from Point A to Point B. Watch people. Learn to anticipate things. See relationships develop. Find a nice background and watch players enter and exit your stage. EXERCISE: Find a nice, inconspicuous place to sit or stand for a while. You should be facing a wall or line of trees that provide a nice, subtle background for your photographs. Capture people presenting themselves in front of your background.

7. Don't intrude on people's privacy. Smile at them while you are taking their picture. Tell them they are beautiful, interesting or captivating (they captured your attention, didn't they?). You can conclude by telling them they are now immortal. If they ask why you are taking the picture, tell them the truth. When in doubt about whether to shoot, ask yourself if you would like to be photographed in that situation. EXERCISE: Pair up with another photographer and take pictures of each other as you walk through town. How does it feel?

8. Do your "visual push-ups" every day. Take your camera with you wherever you are. Go out on photo walks every day. Practice. Johannes Brahms said the sign of a true artist is seen in the amount of creative work he throws away. What do you think?

9. On the other hand, take your pictures carefully. Some people prefer to say "make pictures" because you are in charge of setting them up the way you want them. Jay Maisel quoted someone else: "We don't take pictures; we're taken by pictures." That means there is often - or should be - a trigger that excites you visually and makes you want to capture an image. The trigger is something that excites you (through your eyes), such as a certain light, color, contrast, etc. Think about why you pick up a certain stone on a rocky shore. What was it that caught your eye? In other words, if there is absolutely no reason to shoot, don't shoot. Again, if you are practicing, for example, to see what wide-angle pictures of poinsettias look like, you have a reason to shoot. EXERCISE: Go out and try to tune into one artistic element for an hour - a color (shoot all things yellow), a certain brightness, a shape, etc. Look at the pictures as a collection and see what it is about that particular element that still thrills you even after you've put your camera away.

10. Ask yourself (preferably before you shoot) what will be different in the picture you are about to make from one that another photographer may have taken from that very same spot (below the Eiffel Tower, for instance). We all carry our life's experiences unconsciously and often fearlessly into whatever we do. Our art will be a product of our third grade math teacher, our driving instructor, our first lover and our last meal. If we see, through our art, that we appreciate symmetry and harmony, that may tell us something about us that we may not have known.

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