Friday, March 28, 2014

Street Photography

"Bible Thumpers" Near Lincoln High School  (Shot thru a wet windshield!)

Back when I was just getting into photography and picture taking, I was blessed to be in a large city that offered a huge variety of people and cultures.  I really started learning about photography when I was in the Army and stationed in Berlin, Germany.

I learned the basics of developing black and white/color films, basic composition and exposure and the like and I enjoyed printing my own photos when I could, as I felt that no one was as meticulous as I would be!  In those days I preferred to shoot slide film. (Kodachrome...yeah just like the song)  I had a Pentax K1000 SLR and a standard 50mm lens.  The Army had a good Photo Lab and it was outfitted with fantastic equipment that was pretty much free to use. 

I took pictures of everything...Buildings, Russian Guards, Scenic Photos of Cities and Mountains and the like.  But more than these rather pedestrian photographic tasks, Berlin would afford me an opportunity to learn about "Street Photography".  I am not sure that is what it was called back then, but it is the current term for taking photos of people and spaces within a bustling urban setting. 

I remember heading out the door of my tiny, one bedroom apartment, hopping on an "U-Bahn" (Subway) from "Oscar Helena Heim Station" and jumping off at "Wittenberg Platz" in the heart of downtown take what I called...People Pictures.

These outings consisted of me with a camera slung over my shoulder, walking among the people, in the midst of one of the busiest areas of the City.  It is a very large city and at the time had well over 3.5 million people living there. 

I would simply sit on a wall, or a bench...or one of the "U-Bahn" terminals and take pictures of people going about their business.  Sometimes it was mundane, other times it was just depended on my mood that day, and the random expressions and behaviors of the people I would see and photograph.  You never knew what might catch your eye!

It has been many years since I strolled about, looking for interesting people and faces to photograph.  I have not lived in a city as large as Berlin since then.  I also have not relied on walking and public transportation like I did while in Europe.  This has limited my enthusiasm for taking those "People Pictures"...or in todays terms...doing Street Photography.

Today, after weeks of considering taking to the streets like I had all those years ago, I loaded up my old green canvas shoulder bag with a fixed focal length lens ( 64mm pancake lens) on my DSLR and a remote Flash Unit (just in case?!)  I decided to head to downtown Tacoma at about noon, as there might be some folks walking around at lunchtime and there would certainly be some students at the UW Tacoma Campus nearby.

Union Station on Pacific Ave...across from UW Tacoma

It felt good to be out with my camera as I paid for parking and headed down the very long stairs that cut through the UW Campus towards Pacific Ave.  I took a few photos...but nothing inspiring.  There really weren't many people out.  Trouble with Tacoma is it simply is not as "Bustling" as Berlin was...or many of the other larger cities. 

As luck would have it, it started to I ducked into a Starbucks that shares a building with the UW Campus Book Store.

Not wanting to waste an outing, I looked around the Starbucks and hoped I would find someone/something interesting to discreetly photograph.  I took a photo of a man doing what has become completely normal and is now a part of modern culture...texting on his cell phone.  It was an "ok" shot...typical though and nothing stood out about it..though I did like the composition within the "darkish" Starbucks cafĂ©.

I was about to finish my small cup of Hot Cocoa (No vanilla syrup/Extra hot!) when a man came in and took a seat behind me.  He was an older gentleman and he sat down with his drink and cracked open a book as he relaxed in one of the more comfortable "I am going to be here for a while" chairs.

His face showed the lines of having lived and experienced a great deal.  I could not see his eyes, as they were covered under the rim of the Nike hat he was wearing.  He held the book with a steady hand and seemed quite absorbed with what he was reading.  The gentleman was lit naturally from a window over his left shoulder that really highlighted the texture of his face and lit up the red brick behind him.  This could be a really nice little shot!

Now the trouble with this, is that he was behind me and it would be terribly awkward for me to turn around, put a camera in front of him and click away.  It would be rude and it would ruin a perfectly natural composition.  In my earlier days I might have shied away from this situation, but I had missed out on many a good photo because I lacked the tenacity and confidence to "get the shot".  The other thing to note is that a DSLR, while quiet..still makes the characteristic shutter release sound.  This means that I would need to get this shot right the very first time in case my nice gentleman hears/notices this and becomes less than "natural" and relaxed.

I set the camera to "Program" mode, where I could simply set the F Stop to F11 and let the camera worry about the shutter speed.  I carefully turned the camera around backwards as it sat on my rather elevated table and prayed that I would get a decent shot.  I pressed the shutter button one time and then tucked my camera back into my bag and left the coffee shop no one the wiser!

I walked up the 10 or so sets of stairs leading to my car and took a few photos of reflections in the rain spattered puddles as I walked. 

As I was driving home, I felt good to get out for an hour or so and force myself to see things from a photographers point of view again.  It was fun.  I hoped I had gotten that "one good shot"...which is all I ever hope for on an outing like this.

The photo of the man in the coffee Shop? turned out just fine!  Maybe I still have it in me after all!

Gentleman in Starbucks


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