No Flash Corner Goes Global

I started 2point8 nearly four years ago, while shooting No Flash Corner. Happy to see the concept has gone global, and that people are making really interesting photographs that are quite different than mine.

My favorites belong to a flickr photographer named Fernando Cipriani, who shoots in Buenos Aries. He uploaded his take on naturally reflected light + street photography to the No Flash Corner group, and it really stands out.

Here are a few selects, one of which has been my desktop for the last few months. Salud, Fernando!

For background on how to make your own photographs with dramatic (free & natural!) lighting in an urban environment, check out the No Flash Corner article in JPG Magazine, the How To, or Explanation.

Waist Level Democracy, a Guide

(This is meant for beginners. For you old hands, spy chicken.)

To overgeneralize, there are two sets of variables to consider when shooting on the street.

Ask Permission
Shoot Candidly
Use a Face Camera
Shoot Prefocused, from “Hip”

Asking permission can alter things greatly, but sometimes asking yields fantastic, unpredictable results. And shooting candidly might mean you’ll miss a portrait you could later stage, by asking permission. I used to only shoot candidly – now I do both, depending on the situation.

Mr. Cameraface

Not mine, mine's all beat-up. If you want to keep things candid with a camera to your eye, it’s best to learn how to move fast. If you’re not fast enough to bring the camera to your face and need to photograph from the hip, your pictures may look like they were made by a ten year old. Neither of these is a plus or minus, necessarily.

Sometimes I shoot with an old Rolleiflex. It’s a beast to work with – extremely narrow depth of field and occassional light leaks. Framing objects in motion is tough because of the image reversal on the ground-glass.

But lately, the camera’s been a blessing. It’s so democratic. I can approach people, get close, and photograph them in a way that achieves tacit permission, while keeping things candid. They see me, I see them (both by looking directly at them, and via the ground glass), and my intentions are clear. It’s obvious that I’m photographing. There’s nowhere to hide.

. Unlike a face camera, I’ve found that the Rollei doesn’t affect the scene much. People are far less threatened or reactionary about it. If I need to gain permission, I can usually do it without speaking – with a nod, or a glance & a smile. Which means I can usually get closer, and be slower – the Rollei’s pretty slothy when adjusting focus and aperture.

There’s a specialness (or an officialness) to the camera that people seem to recognize. You don’t see people walking around with them. Kids ask what the heck it is. And because I can get closer and stay longer, I often use a strobe to get the most of what’s there.

. Shooting with a waist level camera is difficult to explain, and it’s taken me two years to get comfortable with it, but it feels so much better than quickly snapping pictures from higher up. It requires patience, thoughtfulness and a kind of openness that’s new to me, as a photographer who once thought speed was everything.

There’s historical precedence, of course. Diane Arbus, Larry Fink and Rosalind Solomon have all primarily used waist level cameras (and each studied with Lisette Model). Basically, if you see an uncropped street picture that’s square, chances are it was made at waist level.

Cat Show (1)If you like flickr, there are a few people who post street work from waist level. I love Stuart Isett’s portraits from China. Check out Mike Peters & Michael Cinque. Howard French. John Brownlow has some night strobe shots, too.

You don’t have to shoot black and white with an old camera. Right now, I’m prefering color and flash. If you wanna give it a whirl, lots of people like starting out with the Yashica Mat. Good luck!

Last 3 photos © MDM, 2006-2007

Unbiased Format Resizing for the Web

Updated Again: with formula and a script for Photoshop:

If you photograph in a few different formats, choosing a width & height for web resizing can be pretty arbitrary. For, I settled awhile ago on a width/height of 750/500 pixels for 35mm. Yeah, it’s bigger than it needs to be, but detail’s fun, too.

So what does one do about squares or 6x7s? After mucking around, I realized I wanted each format to have the exact same “square footage” rather than bias a particular format. I don’t know what the formula is, but here are the results for achieving an image (in three formats) that’s 375,000 sq. pixels.

Square Footage (in pixels)

Ideally, there’d be a quick javascript web-app. You could feed the form one value (for your preferred format) and the rest would be automagically filled-in.


Update #1: Andrew Moller writes-in from the UK with the formula!
Excellent! Thanks, Andrew! Click it for full-size.

Update #2: Chap Lovejoy sent in a resizing script (bicubic) for Photoshop based on the above formula which works great. It’s preset for an area of 375,000 pixels, but it’s editable, if you want to open it in a text editor and change it. To install, drop the script into C:\Program Files\Adobe\Photoshop (CS or CS2)\Presets\Scripts\ on a PC, or Applications> Photoshop (CS or CS2)> Presets> Scripts, on a Mac. Thanks, Chad!

Download: Resize to Area Script for Photoshop by Chap Lovejoy

Way to go, Interweb!

Street Lessons

As someone who’s most comfortable photographing on the street, I find it interesting to see what happens when I work in a more traditional, assignment-based environment. Meaning, how are the skills I’ve developed on the street transferable to a place like a stadium? Or how might my street skills lead me astray?

At the risk of being ____ or sounding ____, I made a list of a few things to note for next time. I thought I’d share them with you, in case you’re making a similar leap, from the street to more traditional photographic arenas, pun intended.

1. When you’re kneeling on the sidelines beside a guy in a National Geographic shirt, don’t automatically think he’s a photographer for National Geographic just because he has a huge camera and appears to know what he’s doing. He wears that shirt and walks around looking angry so people will get out of his way.

2. Just because all the other photographers are sequestering themselves in a small space (on the field or in the press box) doesn’t mean you have to stand with them. Wander. Have a good look around. If someone tells you you can’t be there, apologize and move on. Poke your head inside open doors – see what’s going on. Inquire about everything. Be friendly.

3. If you don’t have the gear or the interest in taking telephoto action shots, don’t even try. Trying will frustrate you and will be a waste of time. Those big grey lenses that require their own monopod are worth more than your ___. Go back to wandering around. Talk to people. Find a story. What happens behind the scenes when no one’s looking?

4. Make sure you know what you’re doing with your gear. Pre-program manual settings into your brain (or write them down on a cheat sheet). (When are digital camera manufacturers going to allow custom programming – and easy toggling – of manual settings?) This’ll help when you’re moving between the field, the stands, hallways and lockerrooms.

5. Canon TTL flash metering is frustratingly useless around highly reflective surfaces. Remember this and do everything manually, like the old days. Then put the digital camera away and shoot film, it’s better.

6. Hustle. Work up a sweat. When you pack-up your gear, you’ll probably miss the best thing ever, so pack your gear and leave quickly, without looking back. Leave no unphotographables.

7. Keep in mind that if you’re setting-up more formal shots with your subjects, there may well be a row of photographers with telephotos standing behind you, waiting for you to clear out of the way with your little wide lens. Be quick and cordial, but get your shot.

8. Your mom would want you to do a good job and not to forget to eat, so bring some water and an energy bar or something, K?

9. When you get your film back and compare it to the digital shots you took, and you wind-up to throw your digital camera across the room, aim for the couch.

10. Take notes!

How To: No Flash Corner

Here’s a map of “No Flash Corner“, a place I consistently photographed for a year. If you’re interested in a combination of extraordinary natural light and the serendipity of street photography, it can’t be beat. Trouble is, it’s seasonal, and extremely fickle. If it’s the slightest bit foggy, it’s just any other corner in the city (with a swell neutral backdrop).

No Flash Corner Map
(The intersection of Post & Grant in downtown San Francisco.)

Obsessions are a chance to dig deep into new knowledge. I learned more about photography by consistently photographing that one spot than from doing anything else, before or since. I spent weekends there and came home with nothing. Other days were more successful.

The spot is best in June and July, but those are two of the foggiest months in San Francisco. When the sun’s out, the light is strongest and the bright spots are at their widest. Earlier or later in the year, the spots are smaller, and faster moving, and there’s more variables to wrassle. Here’s a map that shows exactly how it works.

The yellow line shows how things work from April through September. When the sun reaches a point in the sky just north of Post (sometime between 4&6pm, depending on the season), it’ll reflect off the mirrored building due East of noflashcorner. Your subjects, if they’re standing in the right spot, will be brightly lit from two directions at the exact same time. In the fall (the red line), light reflects off a blue-mirrored building (the light isn’t very strong), and bounces down on noflashcorner and three blocks of Grant St.

If you have a flickr account and end-up shooting there, add your pictures to the “No Flash Corner(s)” pool I set-up for capturing global locations with stellar reflected light.

If you like betting on weather, crowds, and whether or not you’ll be lucky enough to align the right subject with the perfect light, give it a shot. Leave the tele-zoom at home and let me know how it goes!

Video: No Flash Corner (1) on Vimeo

Smudged Notes from Pocket

This morning I found a scrap of clean paper in an alley and took some notes as I tried to make pictures (didn’t really make any). Here they are:

  • If you’re out walking, and it’s early or late and the light’s good, walk with the light. Meaning, if you have a limited amount of time, make sure that you’re walking with the light to your back, so you can go slow and let it all unroll in front of you. Otherwise, you’re like a three-year old salmon, bucking the sun stream.
  • Travel light – even if you’re only out for an afternoon. Keep your gear simple. Leave the camera bag at home, even. Free things up, see how it feels.
  • A few times this weekend (like always) I saw great pictures that I didn’t take, or chose not to take, or failed to take, or whatever. And it felt really good to let them go. If you pick everything, there won’t be any fruit next year. It’s corny, I know.
  • If you’re not having fun taking pictures, at least enjoy the fact that you’re outside and walking a few miles and being active under the ozone hole. Say hi just because. Meet some people. If you see someone twisting a map this way and that, offer help.
  • If, in your thoughts, you ask yourself “should I take this picture?” and the subject is inert, like a building or a plant or something that will be there tomorrow or the next day, say “no” and walk away. If you’re asking, it’s probably not going to be something that you’ll miss. Inert can be good, second guessing yourself isn’t.
  • Construction zones. If you’re looking to take more pictures of people, but find it difficult, look for scaffolding. You might find one of those sidewalk skirters, where there’s a divider and a place for pedestrians to walk. If the light’s good, you can stand on the other side of the divider, and photograph people as they funnel through. I’ve never tried this, but it looks like a good idea. Sure, this is cheating a bit, but it helps to start somewhere. Walker Evans made his photographs on the subway with a camera hidden in the folds of his coat and a cable release threaded down his sleeve.
  • Photo 101: 1/1000th@f2.8 = 1/500th@f4 = 1/250th@f5.6 = 1/125th@f8. And the difference between shade and sunlight is usually four stops. This stuff is simple, but it’s taken me a long time to know it, unflinchingly. It’s finally starting to sink in.
  • One more thing: If you’re in a spot where you’re photographing people who happen to be walking, and you’re in that river, be sure to look for eddies where the flow spins back and settles. Simply, if you’re photographing one kind of motion (people walking) keep your eyes out for people who have slowed, and are still, or for people who are running. Extremes provide contrast.