When I first got word of May’s Mortal Muses theme I was thrilled. Street photography is a style that I greatly admire. I love the stories that can be told and the stories that are left to the imagination. It’s the people, places and moments that get my head swirling with ideas for short stories and poems.
Then it hit me. I’m a Muser now (yeah!!). Which means I have to actually photograph the theme, talk about and share the outcome (yikes!). Unlike themes in the past, I don’t get to sit back quietly and watch the theme unfold all month. I have been pushed into the metaphorical pool, and I can either sink or swim… I prefer to make a big splash and come up smiling, wouldn’t you? The truth is, street photography totally freaks me out, like sweaty armpits and giant butterflies in my stomach, kind of freak out. I decide to ask myself a few questions to unravel what was stopping me from trying a style of photography that I really love.
Q: What am I so worried about?
A: Someone is going give me a dirty look, yell at me, punch me in the face for sticking my camera lens where it doesn’t belong. (totally irrational, right? Well, maybe…) I’m going to mess up the shot, not have film loaded correctly or at all in my camera (ahem), and I am going to look like a fumbling bumbling amateur.
Q: What could ease the process?
A: Check my camera(s) for sufficient batteries, memory cards, film. BREATHE. BREATHE. BREATHE.
When I practice and teach yoga, the term, “Comfortable Edge” comes up a lot. It’s that sweet spot where you are pushing the body and the mind just beyond the comfortable boundaries you have set up for yourself and finding what is just outside of the box compassionately and patiently. I liken it to getting as close to the edge of the Grand Canyon without actually falling and tumbling down to the Colorado River below (this would be the “dirty look” or the “punch in the face” thing I was worried about above). Identifying your limit while respecting where you are at that moment, and moving beyond the limit just enough to grow. Like a good yogini, I decided to take my practice off the mat and into the street.
On the first Friday of May there just happened to be a block party happening in a part of town that is seeing a huge revitalization. The Midtown District is full of quirky shops, amazing new restaurants and bars, creative spaces and a handful of tattoo parlors. I figured I would use the opportunity to support a local scene that I am really excited about, as well as practice my street photography. Here is what I learned. I can shoot with my iPhone (like the image above). The camera is small and non-intrusive. Often people don’t even know you are taking a photo of them, which is totally great. It allows me to stay “safe” while practicing to see moments while out in the streets. But, the point of the exercise was to get out there and challenge myself. To grow as a photographer. So I tucked my iPhone in my back pocket and unzipped my backpack full of cameras.
I discovered when I tote two or three old-school, film cameras, especially the Polaroid 103, I have a built-in conversation starter. People can hardly believe that they still make film for that “thing”; they love seeing the process as I pull the photo out the side of the camera and wait for it to process. I get asked questions about how do I know when to peel the back off, where did I get the camera, what about the film, just how old is it, and can they take a picture of the picture so they have a “copy”?
A few other things I figure out that fine evening in Midtown Reno?
- People sort of love getting the camera pointed at them, especially people that are covered in tattoos, body piercings or standing on stilts. These people might look intimidating, but the ones I encountered were totally cool, and a few were photographers as well so we had something to talk about.
- Actually putting film in the camera BEFORE heading out the door is a good idea. Um, yeah. I shot half the evening with no film in the Minolta. Phantom images are nice, but really difficult to share with others.
- When shooting the Polaroid: patience, go slow and take the time you need to get everything in focus and framed properly. Just like when I am on the mat practicing an arm balance. I must start off calm and in focus, or I will end up flat on my face.
- My film cameras, the Polaroid 103 specifically, might be the kryptonite that I needed to battle my fear of street photography. These images are far from perfect with their blur and light leaks. But for now, I will take it. I got out there and actually photographed in a new-to-me style. I snapped frames of people who I normally wouldn’t approach, and actually had a ton of fun doing so.
Now it’s your turn! Get out there and push yourself to do something a little outside of your photographic comfort zone. I would love to see and your results and hear about the experience. If you are already a seasoned street photographer, what are your tricks? How do you get over nerves and being shy so you can just shoot.
Until next time!