Adventures in street photography, By Dan shallenberger
When you’re holding your newborn son, you feel like you have all the time in the world. Then you wake up the next morning and your newborn son is 18 years old and a senior in high school. I have a lot of wonderful memories of us together, especially since we have always had a lot in common. But memories related to photography will always be at the top of my list.
You see, his name is Hayden and he’s a very talented photographer. He actually makes me want to be a better photographer myself and pushes me to think outside my box. So when we had a chance to take a father/son trip to try street photography for the first time, and in Miami none the less, I knew it would be an amazing adventure!
It all started when a good friend, Craig, from Jupiter, Florida suggested we attend the Miami Street Photography Festival being held during Art Basel. I looked it up and thought this could be an exciting way to attempt some street photography, something we’d talked about a lot but never really tried. Craig is a very accomplished street photographer and not only said he would help us learn some tricks of the trade, but also put us up in his condo for a long weekend. Check and check! Then we found out another friend of mine, who is also a very accomplished street photographer, was joining us and we could not have been more excited! A few weeks later, we were standing in downtown Miami, ready to start what ended up being the best adventure of my life.
When we returned home, I looked back on our trip and really tried to absorb what I learned from this adventure and three things really stood out. So, that’s what I want to share here.
There are many styles of street photography
I always thought that street photography was exclusively getting in someone’s personal space and capturing images of their life while they wave their fist and yell at you to stop. That’s not always the case though. In fact, that’s rarely the case. I learned that street photography can be anything you shoot while out and about capturing images of daily life in general. Now, my styles are just that, my styles. Other’s might have different names for these same styles, but this is what I personally experimented with.
The first thing I tried was just what I thought street photography solely was, capturing moments in life. I started off slowly because I’m normally a somewhat shy person that does not want to bother, or even be noticed by, other people. But once you have the camera in your hand and the right mindset to just do what you have to, you see moments all around you. It is definitely intimidating to watch and stalk strangers and take photos as stealthily as possible, but I found myself flinging my camera up to my face often trying to capture the fleeting moments I saw around me. I was probably still a bit more candid than more bold photographers, but I found myself diving in and grabbing moments that I thought were amazing.
“…I did some experiments with street portraits. Now, if you told me when I started this adventure that I would stop complete strangers on the street (or beach) and ask to take their portrait, I would have thought you were insane.”
The second style I found myself shooting was more artistic. Sometimes these shots had people and sometimes they didn’t. I just looked for interesting compositions, patterns and contrast, and beautiful light. One thing my friend Craig suggested trying was to find a good composition and wait for it to get better, like when the light changes or someone walks into it. Sometimes I waited a while, and sometimes just a few moments. One shot in particular I saw an interesting pattern on a wall and wanted to capture the right person walking in front of it. Amazingly enough, just a few moments later a pretty young lady was walking that way with a scarf and dress that I felt was a match, so just as she passed I raised my camera and snapped three photos. One was a keeper!
Lastly, I did some experiments with street portraits. Now, if you told me when I started this adventure that I would stop complete strangers on the street (or beach) and ask to take their portrait, I would have thought you were insane. But once I got my mind into “street photography” mode, I was excited to try this. What a blast it was asking random people if I could take their portrait! I wasn’t always successful, but when I was, it was so much fun not only getting a nice portrait, but meeting new people. This one couple I met was from Germany, vacationing for the first time in the United States. What an amazing experience!
You can shoot street photography anywhere
When my son and I first set out to capture some images, we started where everyone thinks they have to go for street photos… downtown. Unfortunately it wasn’t a very fun experience. Between grumpy tourists and downright aggressive locals, it became our least favorite place to shoot. We walked around for a while but felt very intimidated to even raise our cameras, let alone start snapping away. I did, though, shoot a couple of scenes from a distance that I felt pretty good about.
When we were finished with downtown, we headed up to where it turns out it was easy to shoot, the Wynwood Art District. There were so many opportunities there because it was full of people walking around the streets having a good time, dressed a bit crazy and distracted by all of the art and activity. The people here just didn’t seem to care that we were taking street photos, with some almost enjoying it! Heck, I even had a guy walking down the street stop me and ask me to take his photo! This is when I started getting very excited about this location and we spent the rest of the day there having a blast capturing images.
The next day we headed to the beach. Not just any beach, but South Beach. Turns out it’s pretty much like every other beach, but it was so much fun finding great photographs all over the place. We soon ended up at South Pointe Pier, watching cruise ships head out on their own multi-day adventures. From there, we walked into the city and stopped for dinner before ubering back to the train station to end the day. This entire beach adventure was stuffed full of street photography opportunities and we took well advantage of it!
“…Sometimes these shots had people and sometimes they didn’t. I just looked for interesting compositions, patterns and contrast, and beautiful light. “
Heck, even in between the fancy locations we found street photography opportunities everywhere, such as on waiting for an uber, riding the trains, and walking up the subway ramp, all during the day and at night. It was crazy how many street photos are there for the taking if you just keep your eyes peeled and camera ready.
Spending photography time with your child is time well spent
This was the best part of our adventure. Hayden will graduate high school this year and it’s really hitting home that he’s growing up and becoming an adult. During this time, I constantly think back and wish I spent more time with him doing things we enjoy. Having the opportunity to spend this time together now, adventuring and experimenting and learning and just having fun, was absolutely priceless. I’m so proud of how much he came out of his shell during this adventure. When we left for Miami, I wondered if he would even have a good time because he’s definitely more shy and introverted than I am. On the plane returning home, though, we were laughing about how I lost him twice because he wandered off searching for wonderful photos and how bold he was with his camera around large groups of strangers. I learned a lot during this long weekend and made a lot of great memories, but my most valuable memory is seeing my shy son be so bold with his camera and ignite a passion for something we can share together for hopefully many more years to come.
I’m very excited for our next street photography adventure… maybe New York, maybe Chicago, or maybe just take a walk down the streets of our neighborhood! No matter where we go, though, we’ll have a good time. FP