Sunday, December 29, 2013

Street Photography 101: Having a Child-Like Curiosity when Shooting

Ricoh GR-D IV @ 28mm zone focused. 1/217th sec F/2.8 @ ISO 80. Cropped square. I don't even know how this child knew I was taking pictures as I was shooting from the hip. But I know he knew because even as he passed me he turned and gave me a look... Harajuku, Tokyo.

When I'm walking down the street and taking pictures, I know how to blend in well. I often will find a spot to shoot, hang around for a while and look busy for a few minutes, and then settle in and start taking pictures. Most people are so busy thinking about where they're going, or what they're going to do, that they won't notice me... except children. Children are easily 'distracted' by visual and auditory stimuli, and for some reason, they can sense a photographer or sense that a camera is pointed in their direction. It happens so often when I'm shooting that I realize it's no coincidence, and having this child-like curiosity is a positive quality that all street photographers should try to learn...

Ricoh GR-D IV @ 28mm zone focused. 1/350th sec F/3.2 @ ISO 80. Cropped. I was standing on a street corner trying to take pics of bikes and this kid saw me as the van made a turn. He waved at me first and I waved back. So cute. Otsuka, Tokyo.

Why do kids notice me while most adults don't? I think it's because kids live in the now. They're not worried about what's going to happen tomorrow, nor regretting what they did yesterday. Yes, there's a healthy amount of meditation we all do as we contemplate our future and how our past plays into that, but we often forget the present. This quality is needed when taking pictures. Some call it being in the zone, and I think that's important, like athletes who are focused on the task at hand. But curiosity is more than being in the zone. It's a state of mind, something that's more difficult for adults to learn, if that's even possible. 

If you've spent time with creative and artistic people, you will notice that they too have a very inquisitive mind. Their creative process is often child-like in some sense. They want to know how things work, and they are often interested in things that most of us adults find boring. I've walked into a room with an artistic person, and they'll hone in on something that I didn't even notice at first. Can you teach this? Is this a skill that can be taught?

I think it is possible to teach adults to be inquisitive enough so as to stay in the present and find interesting things to take pictures of. We will all be drawn to different things, but the key is to be visually alert and curious about our surroundings. Where others see just an alley, we can notice the unique reflection in a puddle of water, or the cool pattern on a brick wall. We can all find interesting things to shoot if we allow our minds to be inquisitive enough to actually see what we're looking at! 

Ricoh GR-D IV @ 28mm zone focused. 1/500th sec F/5 @ ISO 200. This kid noticed me taking pics a few seconds before I took this shot. Again, I was shooting from the chest and blind, so I don't know how he knew, but he looked right into the camera. Shibuya, Tokyo.

So if you're privileged enough to have kids, maybe observe them observing and see if you can learn something about the way they 'see' the world. If you don't have kids, you can still observe children on the street and look at what they're looking at. If you have time, check out this cool video on WIMP about living in the present. A very motivating talk to get us off the couch and do something taking pictures. Moreover, where we see nothing interesting, try and learn to be more curious and see beyond our limited view of the world. Try and unlearn some of the things we've learned to focus on and re-focus on new things... happy shooting!



P.S. Did you notice all the pictures were taken with the Ricoh GR-D IV? Two points. First, the camera is so small, most people would never notice the camera itself. Obviously it was my body language that gave me away to these kids. Second, the GR is a great street camera because it is so small that you can catch people moving naturally, without having to pose them. I like how people look when shooting with the GR... more on this later...

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