Personal Lessons from Shooting Photography

I’ve always loved to shoot people and street photography, so a few years ago I began shooting for @melotones. And over time, it went from hobby to some try-hard client work like Shangri-La Hotels, Dior, etc. Like all good hobby obsessions, the more you do it, the more you realize how little you actually know. Henri Cartier-Bresson¹ said, “The only art [in taking photos] is the humanity of your thinking,” or your instinct. In interviews, he describes the “intuition of looking” at everyday scenes and finding the “right millimeter” angle for the photo. Today, photography has become so accessible, but do people still cherish the eyes and ears that silently look and listen into the precise, present moment?

I’ve tried to write these as stylistic observations so we’re stripped away outside of DSLR systems like Nikon, Canon, and et. al. Everyone’s eyes are so unique, one needs to find their own way of seeing things. You must investigate this thoroughly throughout the post.

Haleakala, Maui. Jan 2019

Shooting Manual is The Way 

I’ve always resisted in the beginning because “easier is better,” plus aperture-priority mode was pretty legit most of the time. But going manual opens a pretty wide swath of toolset features used by the photographer.

Sure, maybe the assignment or setup won’t allow for it all the time. Any serious hobbyist needs to eventually understand the relationship between aperture, ISO, and shutter speed to set it right for ANY shot. To the point where your muscle memory can immediately guess that sweet spot where you need to compensate with slower shutter speed in low light settings before it introduces motion or light blur. It’s also a game-changer in controlling the color/mood of the photo.

Shooting manual is a forcing function to help you slow down and understand what is going on in the frame, but more specifically key into the moment. I wished I learned this sooner.

Stone Town, Zanzibar. Feb 2019

Editing and Presentation Are Equally Important

I used to believe that minimal editing was required like the old masters of photography. The composition was everything, right? After seeing the photos that Melis has saved/completely one-leveled up due to good preset libraries, split-toning, and brush tooling, I’ve reconsidered that position. I even now shoot just a tad under-exposed because of the great light control you get in Lightroom.

And in this digital-heavy world, I’d say, “The presentation still matters.” Or rather, the analog medium of photography. Our friend Justin suggested we print out and hang some of our work. All the sudden printer sourcing and paper weights became interesting! Rant here, what drives me nuts about Instagram is the constant cropping that’s needed to fit on the 4×4 or 4×5. This is insanity, and something Instagram founders thought best to draw lines in the sand bend the content to the platform unlike 500px, Flickr, etc. Cropping is a necessary sin in today’s media landscape. The presentation should be important. Limitations give you the minimum perspective to hold the photo’s tension.

Serengeti, Tanzania. Feb 2019

Demeanor, Looks, and Vibes

Melis is fond of quoting Rumi’s, “What you seek is seeking you.” It used to be anxiety-bomb-levels-painful for me to walk up to strangers and ask for a photograph. Would they be offended? Would they demand money? Wow, this is awkward, should I tip them or not…? They look busy, shouldn’t bother them…It’s unnatural when someone turns their camera on you, snapping! You’d just lose the moment.

Older street photographers complain there are now too many lawsuits and it’s harder to shoot strangers. But we still need to mindfully navigate the new world, and keep searching through the sea of anonymous tourists, looking for something uncommon among the common.

Now, I try to be present, make good eye contact with straight shoulders and open body language. I treat it like a professional business development meeting where we’re trying to find common ground. The jewelry goes really well with that outfit today, gave me a lot of inspiration. Or you can just start chatting with the subject, and over time they forget about the camera sometimes. Is there music? Knowing the local dialect/language with a good ear for right accents goes a long way too.

Bottom line, I’ve come to realize, if I don’t make it a thing, they usually won’t either. It’s a human moment where you need to borrow someone’s time with the geometry to make an expression. And when people look back at the expression, you hope they say, “This is true. You felt it right.¹” What you seek…

 

¹Seriously, did you read this guy’s bio? WWII POW escapee (three times), almost dying in the African bush from blackwater fever, an intense sexual relationship in an open marriage, and obviously Cartier-Bresson’s photo assignments in China/India (Gandhi’s funeral, the Kuomintang’s last years in power), he was a banger.