7 years ago this month Di and I went to Paris with our baby daughter and our 6 year old son. We left our house, we took our son out of his school to try homeschooling and we looked forward to our baby’s first foods being in the land of gastronomy.
It was the beginning of a new life for Di and I, creating a business together, and our first project was a book on Paris at Dawn.
Paris for us was the beginning of everything. It was the start of our new life, and it awakened in us the idea that if we were courageous we could do anything, and a life lived in the pursuit of creativity was both possible and our life’s calling.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” Ernest Hemingway, A Movable Feast
Thank you Paris for all you have given us, and our kids.
I was up very early this morning. In the streets of East London I watched the pre-dawn sky change colour, from the magnificent midnight blue to ever lighter shades of blue. Colourful ribbons of pinks and yellows burst across the sky, and little wisps of purple and blue clouds appeared and disappeared at random.
There is some warmth to the early morning air now, an exciting sign that spring is here and we are entering my favourite period of life in London. Warmth, sunshine, and it feels like everyone is opening up as they come out of their winter hibernation.
Today I am not offering any big challenging teachings – today I want to give you something easy, something light and joyful. We have to be light and joyful sometimes right? Especially with the thing we love so much – taking photos and being creative!
First thing – today I want to focus on the subject of spring. What could be more joyful for us creatures who are emerging from the dark cold of winter into this light-filled nature-filled spring time? I know not all of you are in a springtime area, but I think you can sympathise, right?
Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’
Second thing – as you know, photography is not just about the aesthetics. It’s about capturing and evoking emotion. How many ‘pretty’ photos have you seen in your life that have created no lasting impact. ZILLIONS. Even if your subject is gorgeous and wonderful, you still need an additional element – lighting, an interesting expression or something that will invoke emotion.
My challenge today is to encourage you to go out and capture the feelings of spring – ebullient, hopeful, sorrowful…whatever they may be. And if you’re not in a spring-zone, then you can capture any mood created by a season.
I thought this is a perfect challenge for people who struggle to get emotion into their photography. If you start with something pretty simple like this, then you can build up your confidence to capture some more complex emotions.
Now – let’s explore some themes that we could bring into our spring photos.
You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.
Spring is a pretty hopeful time me thinks. Light pouring into our lives after a time of relative darkness. That’s why I think this photo of the daffodils feels like a ‘hope’ photo.
I am definitely up for some renewal right now! In fact, I believe in having regular times of renewal and rejuvenation. But unlike that feeling of renewal at the beginning of January that seems to come, I believe, from a place of guilt or panic (Must improve my life! Must get fit and start saving!) the feeling of spring’s renewal feels fun and frivolous, and very creative. A time to play with your photography, a time to experiment and explore.
Desire for adventure
In winter, I plot and plan. In spring, I move.
Having grown up in a different era where I could go out and play unattended for hours at a time, in a place that was basically summer and spring-like all year, there is something incredibly evocative for me seeing my kids in nature. But don’t we all have that nostalgic feeling when we see kids playing in nature; even my London-born wife who didn’t have the kind of outdoor adventurous life that I did feels wistful at the sight of our kids muddy and playing with sticks.
Even if it’s not about kids there is an opening up of the spirit when spring arrives. You stop hunkering down in the cold, and possibilities, ideas, thoughts of adventures start to flow. So adventure feels like a good theme for your photographs.
This photo below could be called ‘young love’. To me it is all about that feeling of beautiful weather and being finally outside, being with someone you like a lot, plus that playfulness that young couples have.
To get these kinds of shots you have to (respectfully) really look at, and notice, the interactions between people. So not just what they look like, but the dynamic they are creating together. You have to look, notice and then step forth and be brave and click when you see something interesting.
Spring has a definite feeling to it; the air somehow changes, people’s mood changes, and to capture not just an individual mood of something, but the the mood of a place is a great thing to practise in your photography.
I mean think about it, right. Every day you go out of your house and there is a mood or feeling created by the time of day, the weather, and any other extraneous events going on. Like when it’s dark there could be a sinister feeling, or an earthy atmosphere at the beginning of autumn.
For me there was a palpable mood the day after the Brexit referendum, for example, or the day after the US elections. When there is a collective contemplation about an event that also seems to change the atmosphere.
The sheer vitality of life
Sometimes it can be displaying the sheer amazing aliveness that spring brings into our lives. Waking up the soil, bringing millions of flowers, plants and trees into a dazzling life-affirming display.
As with everything, though, there is always an edge, an opposite
To all of this life and vitality there is also the reminder that darkness, loss, winter, are also part of life. I think this photo hints at that edge, the darkness that is looming after the burst of colour and life.
The delight of spring light
Gotta love all that light in spring. Especially as our days get longer. Here is a very typical shot for me. Light and shadow – the shadow creating a nice contrast to the beautiful light, and that contrast makes the light more intense and more delightful.
I also love interesting lines. Can you see the horizontal lines which, although not straight, are creating structure in the photo? Then the last element is the contrast of the old crumbly wall and the beautiful delicate flowers, which is another ‘typical’ thing I do. Contrasting old and new, fresh and decaying, light and dark. The contrasting elements always help to enhance the other, making them more ‘decaying’ or more ‘fresh’ looking.
The play of light and shadow, though, is what makes it a good shot, as you can see here. This is a similar composition but not as good.
Can you see how the set up in the two photos is almost the same – the ancient crumbling wall contrasted with the pretty vibrant flowers. I ‘organised’ the elements of the photo along horizontal lines, almost rule-of-third-ish. But of course the difference with the last photo is the absence of incredible light!
As if I need to tell my regular readers how important light is! You guys totally know don’t you?!?.
So I hope you enjoyed that! I hope it makes your feet itch and you want to get out and take photos.
I am wrapping up a very exciting week where I launched my new book. It arrived from the printer on Monday (you can see me ‘unboxing’ it here.) It was super thrilling to see all this work we’ve been doing come to fruition. Can I say too that it is an awesome, awesome book, really my best yet?
You can still get one of the last books that I have of East London at Dawn right here. But they won’t be available for long as my stock has almost run out!
Have a great day, and happy photographing! As always let me know what you think! Comment below, I love hearing from you.
On my workshops, taking photographs of strangers seems to conjure up a wild mix of terror and excitement. Most people are naturally drawn to photographing people, and I understand. I love it too.
I think it’s a tremendous honor to photograph people, as they go about their lives and reveal themselves in such interesting ways to us.
I’ve already written about fear and photographing strangers, so I won’t go over that again (street photography really is an ‘inner game’). But I will repeat this point, in case you are feeling a little nervous. Just remember that:
“Most people love to be noticed. Taking someone’s photo says to them: “I see you and you interest me”. For the majority of the population, that’s an exciting and affirming act. That’s your key.” Me
Here are five ideas to help you get awesome photos out there on the street – tips from me as well as from other photographers I love.
“If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, it’s a street photograph.” Bruce Gilden
In this post I’m talking about two different styles of photographing strangers. One is street photography – which is a “type of photography that features subjects in candid situations within public places. Street photographs are mirror images of society, displaying “unmanipulated” scenes, with usually unaware subjects.” Urban Picnic Street Photography.
The challenge with street photography is actually making a great photograph. Maybe 1 in a 1000 is worth looking at again. Trent Parke is famous for shooting thousands of images to get a few good ones. (I love his feeling for light. Incredible.)
The other type is street portraits, where the subject knows you are taking their portrait. They are most likely posing for you or allowing you to capture them in situ. This is how I photograph most, it’s just my personal preference as I think I’m drawn to people’s faces and I love exploring their facial and physical expressions.
This is a nice comparison of the two styles of street shooting, and here I am classifying street portraits under ‘documentary photography’:
Bottom line – do what you love! Do what thrills and excites you. No right or wrong answers here.
Photographer: I quoted Bruce Gilden above, a street photographer who is famous for (usually) photographing his subjects very close up, without their permission, using flash so that the light is very harsh. The results are pretty intense, so you can almost see people’s life history in their skin, see his site. I’d say his methods are pretty controversial.
2. Don’t be (too) dazzled by the humans and their behaviour
Sorry to say this but most street photography, and street portraits, are boring! I think one of the reasons is that we get dazzled by the humans we see around us and think they are being way more interesting than they really are – meaning our photos can end up being too obvious or just quite dull and ordinary.
Humans are usually pretty private animals – and yet it’s amazing how easily people reveal so much about themselves as they go about their day to day lives. I think most people are so wrapped up in their world they forget about people around them. So, as photographers, when we start paying attention to people we can fall into the trap of thinking they are being more interesting than really, objectively, they are.
It can also be a super intense experience photographing humans – especially ones you don’t know. Often the adrenaline starts pumping as you enter the orbit of strangers and again you get overwhelmed by the experience of photographing strangers, rather than by the uniqueness or compellingness of the shot.
So the aim is to get away from taking the ‘obvious’ shot. There has to be a certain je ne sais quoi about the person you are shooting. There has to be something about their person that makes your mind think – interesting…. And really that’s a lot to do with your own personal intuition. Trust it!
With any portraits – it’s always good to remember that people will have their barrier up initially, the ‘person’ they show the world. And everyone has their photo ‘pose’. You need to get beyond that, because that is very unlikely to make an engaging photograph. So you need to wait for their mask to drop, and it will, usually quicker than you think. Just keep watching them or photographing them. It’s like unpeeling like an onion, getting down to the deeper layers of a human being.
Look for what the story the person is telling you with their eyes. Eyes give so much away about how a person is feeling. There are also striking, subtle gestures that people make with their hands, legs, bodies. It’s extremely hard to hide anything for long.
Photographer: If you’ve never looked at Vivian Maier’s photos, I would totally recommend you do. Her work only became widely known after she died, a tragedy as it’s some of the best street photography I’ve seen, especially as much of it is from a time not as well documented as our current one. Love her colour work.
Photo project: Brandon Stanton Humans of New York project is a good example of how we are drawn into learning about those people who surround us. I listened to this interview with Brandon and his key advice on approaching strangers was: be confident – anything less than total confidence will stop people from trusting you.
3. Pick a theme
One of the easiest ways to get started is to pick a theme – like the amazing street photography of Eamonn Doyle who shot old people passing by his house in Dublin. All the photos from the subsequent book were shot within a half mile radius of his home (excitingly for those joining me for my Arles photo retreat, Doyle has an exhibition at the Arles photo festival, plus here are some other great street photographers showing there.)
I like how Doyle explained his vision for his work:
“The one guiding idea was to strip away the visual noise of the street so that the people emerge in a different and hopefully more surprising way.” Eamonn Doyle
Having a theme gives you a focus if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of just stepping out onto the street and taking photos.
Other interesting themed projects are Stan Raucher, who photographs people on the underground all over the world, and Tirzah Brott ‘Women of a Certain Age’. Brott’s project reminded me that even though it didn’t sound particularly original idea, it was in fact not something that has been done that much. I think there are certain parts of society that are very well photographed, and some that aren’t. There are some people who are ‘seen’ more than others, and that’s an opportunity for us photographers, to seek out the ‘un-seen’.
So, inadvertently, I’ve taken a lot of photos of people taking selfies. It’s such an intriguing concept to me, people photographing themselves and totally controlling what they look like.
4. Photography as poetry
“Living in modern and crowded cities make photographers forget about poetry as a part of their lives. Gazing upon street scenes through our lenses reminds us of our lost innocence.” Ako Salemi
I think all photography is a form of poetry. Photography is about rhythm and creation and recognition of beauty. What I believe is so special and important about street photography is when you get away from being overwhelmed by the human experience and into the natural flow and spirit of the humans around you – that’s the poetry part.
Photographer: I love Ako Salemi’s photos, particularly This,this and this from his story asking Iranian professionals about the nuclear deal.
I also agree with what photographer Andrew Hinderaker says, that his photos are like finding little gifts around the city:
“But my favorite photos aren’t so contrived, they are little gifts that you happen upon, some weird moment, or some strange interplay of light reflecting off buildings in midtown, for instance. I look for subtle moments, gestures, people interacting. Generally I just shoot and move on, but I love that having a camera basically gives you a license to go up to anyone and ask them what they’re doing and why.”
5. Photograph what scares you
There are people who are easy to photograph – their demeanor is so open and friendly and warm that you move easily toward them and photograph them. My suggestion is – don’t just go for those people, that’s the obvious shot!
Now think about those people that you stay away from because there is something that scares you, or a place (OK have to state the obvious here – don’t endanger yourself OK!!!). People you are super intrigued by, but maybe their energy is less encouraging. Step towards your fear, rather than away from it. You will be surprised that more often than not their response will be positive.
This, for me, was actually the most scary photo I’ve taken on the street – for some reason I was totally intimidated by shooting these French guys, but I got over my fear and I did it! And I love this photo:
Thanks for reading this and I hope it has given you some ideas or inspiration for your street photos. Taking photos of strangers is such a cool and fun thing to do when you get into the vibe of it. I can’t recommend it enough.
And please do share this with anyone you know who loves photography, sharing is so helpful! I also have a very cool free creative photography e-course for everyone who signs up to my newsletter 🙂
Plus – I’d love to know what you think of my post – and what ideas you have for taking photos out on the street? Comment below.
Greetings from a balmy Rome. Today I wanted to take a look at Ernst Haas, my favourite photographer and, hands down, the biggest photographic influence on my work. When I discovered his books in the 80’s I was blown away by the beauty he discovered in the most mundane views or objects: lines on a street, a shaft of light, a burst of vivid colour. Haas was a prolific photographer, working across multiple genres, but much of his photography involved creating very simple but stunningly compelling photographs, ones that are heavy with texture, beautiful light, sumptuous colour and most importantly, intense feeling.
Haas’s passions and way of seeing the world felt very similar to what I was naturally drawn to, and though my work isn’t particularly akin to his, there is definitely a strong influence. I cannot encourage you enough to look at his work.
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself” Henry Miller
Haas’s simple photos of lines on the street and reflections completely opened up my view of photography. To see that mundane things like this could be considered interesting powerfully struck me. I know we see this in abundance now but to create something beautiful from mundane objects is actually pretty hard.
Of course it’s harder to take simple photos. To begin you need to find things that fascinate you and pay close attention to them. Examining what they are, what elements they are made up of. Taking things down to their simplest elements is very difficult. But that is what makes it interesting. It then comes down to feeling, how you feel about what you are looking at, what textures, colours you can draw out of what you’re photographing. What is the light doing? Every part of the photograph communicates something, and the less there is in a photograph, the more weight and meaning each element has.
2) How to dream with open eyes
“You become things, you become an atmosphere, and if you become it, which means you incorporate it within you, you can also give it back. You can put this feeling into a picture. A painter can do it. And a musician can do it and I think a photographer can do that too and that I would call the dreaming with open eyes.” – Ernst Haas
When you are looking around you and are taking photographs, you are entering a different state of mind. You are detaching yourself from being absorbed with your own mind and thoughts, and you are doing what Haas suggests, ‘dreaming with open eyes’. Haas was then able to see the beauty and feelings of things outside of himself – here of lights and lines.
For me it’s almost like remembering the best moments in my life, like time has slowed down. I remember the sunlight filtering through the trees onto my face as I lay looking up at the sky as a small child in Greece – the feeling of looking at the early morning sunlight coming into my bedroom and the texture of a cotton cover on my skin, as I lay in bed with my new girlfriend; the lines of shadow created by the blinds on the floor as I sat exhausted with my wife as she was in labour with our first child.
Photography is capturing moments of feeling, for yourself but also for others. And what the best photography does for me is create a sense of a memory, perhaps of something you might have experienced, or a connection with the photographer, of their memories, their experiences, their moments.
3) The world is just a jumble of….. interesting shapes, lines and more shapes
“Bored with obvious reality, I find my fascination in transforming it into a subjective point of view. Without touching my subject I want to come to the moment when, through pure concentration of seeing, the composed picture becomes more made than taken. Without a descriptive caption to justify its existence, it will speak for itself – less descriptive, more creative; less informative, more suggestive; less prose, more poetry.” Ernst Haas from ‘About Color Photography’
This is one of my favourite Haas photos. In so much of his work you can see an interest in lines and shapes. And that interplay of lines and shapes, combined with colour and light, are what make them so intriguing.
When you get into looking at things, you start to see them more individually, less as a whole view and more as singular objects almost floating around in space. Here Haas was using many interesting shapes and lines – pulling the scene together and contrasting them creates a slightly disorientating, but ultimately pleasing, collection of shapes for the eye to see, and therefore a great photo. This comes from the discipline of careful looking.
4) Feeling of colour
Before I saw Haas’s work I didn’t realise that you could feel colour so intensely from a photo. Just like you can feel in your body the emotion behind a dramatic expression on a photo of someone’s face, you can also feel everything else in the photo – and colour is no exception. I suppose it’s like how struck we are by a beautiful red flower or the pinks and oranges of sunrise in nature. Everything that we see, and so everything that we photograph, has the power to make us feel.
Light for me is the number one consideration for photos. Most photographers are obsessed with light, it just comes down to priorities. Perhaps growing up in Southern California has made me more obsessed with colourful, dramatic light. Usually I vere towards wanting amazing light, but it can also be looking for an absence of light, looking for shadows, looking for what is happening, and the sensations that are created in low light. I talk more about light here and here.
6) Reality is subjective
“The camera only facilitates the taking. The photographer must do the giving in order to transform and transcend ordinary reality.” Ernst Haas
This is another of Haas’ interesting compositions, a seemingly disjointed photo, with various shapes and colours and different light sources (the ambient light, the light from the bar, the reflected lights on the car)
To take this photo you have to be looking and waiting and watching. Breaking down the world into different parts, finding shapes or colours or views that interest you and waiting for other elements to come together into the frame. If I find one interesting element I stop and look around, if I find two or three I am definitely waiting around for something else to happen – perhaps for the light to change, or someone to walk into shot. You won’t always get it, but start with looking for one interesting element and work from there.
“In every artist there is poetry. In every human being there is the poetic element. We know, we feel, we believe.” Ernst Haas
7) The fun you can have with a reflection
Haas did some pretty epic reflections. I love reflections and I love how Haas took it to a whole new level. He’s using shapes again, interesting shapes to contrast and place and change the view. Because that’s how we see the world, isn’t it? Not as one straight forward view but by multiple angles, layered and busy. Haas had a great ability to reflect in his work some of the chaos that our eyes see, before our brain has worked on it and made it easier to understand.
Haas warned against seeking too much direct inspiration as it “leads too quickly to repetitions of what inspired you,” and instead recommends you to “refine your senses through the great masters of music, painting, and poetry. In short, try indirect inspirations, and everything will come by itself.”
I think of it like the roots of a tree drawing water and nutrients from a wide area. Bring multiple sources into your own creative filtering system. I go through phases of looking at other people’s work, but I don’t feel bad if I go months without looking at another photographer’s work, because sometimes other photographs are interesting and inspiring but other times it’s confusing and not helpful for me in creating something distinct and original. Of course that’s not the only way to be – this is just what works for me. So I read, listen to music, walk, talk to people. Live, basically. That’s what does it for me.
“Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.” Henry Miller
But also! Don’t think too hard about it or take anyone’s advice too seriously or dogmatically. No-one has the answer that’s right for you!
“Style has no formula, but it has a secret key. It is the extension of your personality. the summation of this indefinable net of your feeling, knowledge, and experience.” Ernst Haas
9) Forget about art
“One cannot photograph art’” Ernst Haas
By this I take the idea that there is no one way to create art. There is only living and feeling and looking and learning. And wrapping this all up into expressing yourself. Art is what is decided when people start looking at what you’ve done, after you’ve taken the photograph, not before.
10)“Colour is joy” Ernst Haas
I love working in colour, it’s excites me. I have said many times and will continue to bang on about this – what you should be concentrating on in your photography, or any creative medium, is the things that excite you. Haas introduced me to a vast world of colour photography – but what is so interesting about his colour work is the feelings he got from his colours. It’s like he is completely connected to what he is photographing and you feel you are there, in the picture.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
There is something deeply cathartic about seeking out simplicity. Life is complicated enough: a strange combination of long stretches of the mundane and a mad puzzle at others. I like to seek out things that pierce the bubble of life, that remind me of simple pleasures. And Haas did that brilliantly. You don’t need to go to far flung places, or look for ‘interesting’ people or things to photograph. You could just take a drive and see what happens…..
There is a weird cycle in photography, and in the art world. Every now and again the mood seems to be to reject beauty. It is as though by celebrating what is naturally beautiful you have been taken in by something that is too easy to admire; it’s not challenging enough (as though we need more challenges in life, jeez!) But Haas rejected this, and I admire him for that. Even when his work fell out of fashion (he was a super famous photographer in the 1950’s and 60’s, but the art world fell out of love with him from the 70’s onwards. He is nowhere near as famous as he should be, and has become more of a photographer’s photographer, because I think photographers realise how amazingly hard it is to photograph is such a consistently beautiful and simple way ).
But what’s fascinating too is that it was not just straightforward beauty that he was photographing. Everything has a story, perhaps an edge or complexity that reflects beauty in real life. Life is not straightforward and neither were Haas’ photographs.
13) Photography can create movement
(Another) thing I love about Haas is how he continued to develop and push his work to explore different ideas and themes. There are many famous photographers who get known for a style and then get stuck there (and plenty of non famous ones too). It’s easy to find something you are good at and just focus on that, almost like you are holding on to it for dear life. But as Haas said:
“Don’t park. Highways will get you there, but I tell you, don’t ever try to arrive. Arrival is the death of inspiration.” Ernst Haas
Haas’s experimentation with movement in photography was a style he worked and developed over many projects. I love how the colour and the story of the photo seem to be enhanced by the movement. Again, simple, colour and shape driven. Beautiful.
So I thought I’d finish with a some ideas on how you can get into an Ernst Haas inspired photo mood. Ask yourself:
What simple things totally fascinate you? What could you go out into the world and truly and deeply examine? I love photographing lines on the road, and how they can take you somewhere, or nowhere at all (thanks Ernst!). I also go pretty crazy for reflections.
Perhaps for you it could be:
the look of bare feet in grass
street lights at night
texture of the hair of your dog
Examine these things. Thinking of them as mere objects, not what they are connected to, what their purpose is, what they are. Just think of what you see in your gaze and your imagination. And then when you are totally happy you have looked and examined closely enough, then you are ready to get out your camera and start to experiment…….
And for further inspiration, some good articles about Haas here and here. A lot of the quotes I took from Haas are from this article that he wrote about his philosophy of photography on the Ernst Haas estate website. There is also an Haas exhibition on at the Atlas Gallery in London until July 4th of an early project ‘Reconstructing London, visions of the city after World War II.’
I’d love to know what you think of Haas’s work and what you’ve learnt from him. Send me an email or comment below.
The Wonders of Exploring the World With Your Camera
“One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller
A few evenings ago I left my office in Waterloo to head home to see my rambunctious kids and have dinner with my wife. The evening had an interesting feel to it, a misty, wintry fog hung in the air but around the edges there was a burning glow of spring light. It was an intriguing clash of seasons and so I diverted my journey to go explore the river and take some photos. I got a few nice shots but my brain was not playing ball, it felt disturbed. Running through my mind was a blog my wife and I had been working on for another website, all about the art of seeing. I kept looking at things and seeing the words clash in front of my eyes. Compositional rules started to play out in front of me, like a mad cartoon replaying over and over again on my eyeballs. It was almost too much.
I wanted to start with this because for me it’s so important to hold the ideas and suggestions that you are absorbing in your photography learning, very lightly. Too much thinking can make you, as I was, stilted and stiff. What I am always trying to encourage people to do with their photography is to loosen up, relax into themselves and their own creativity, enjoy the process. Nothing I have to offer is so weighty that it needs to be adhered to like dogma. It’s just small ideas, small prompts, small inspirations.
So, with that in mind I wanted to offer some thoughts and suggestions on finding your subject when you travel.
What are you looking for?
I am not a travel photographer or photojournalist, and so I am not looking for a comprehensive vision of a city for my dawn projects. The prep for that kind of photography is totally different. I am an artist, so I am looking to capture my vision of a place or of the city. Of course I want to photograph what makes a place iconic – there is a reason that the view of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero is well photographed: it’s awe inspiring! In those places I am looking for something different. A different light, a different angle, people…something that will be just mine.
Unless you have a very specific assignment or project you are working on, here are some questions to ask:
What kind of things am I interested in about this place?
What kind of things do I want to capture?
What drew me to this place?
Is there anything I hoping to find here?
And then, allow for that but not be too confined by the answers. You are on a journey, an adventure, you want to discover new things as well as making sure you get what you came for.
One insanely important thing to me when I plan my Cities at Dawn books is that I don’t want them to have a touristy feel – that I only captured the ‘surface’ of the city. I want them to be picked up by a local who then says – yes, this is my city! For instance, like how I photographed the water that is incessantly pumped out of the gutters in the morning in Paris. It’s not something you may notice but when you see a photo of it, you are reminded: of course! This is what it is to live in Paris, seeing these thin streams of water cleaning the streets. Looking not just for what is photogenic, but what it is to be there.
How much to prepare
I am a big fan of just going off and exploring and seeing what I can find. I don’t want to limit new discoveries by a pre-organised shot list. But sometimes arriving in a new place can be overwhelming and trying to get a grip on it can just be too much. So I like to get a bit of a sense of some fall back places that I want to photograph. I use Google Earth a lot, firstly to explore and then pin a bunch of interesting places onto a map.
The picture I am trying to paint here is one of balance. You need some organisation to keep you feeling sane and focused, but you need to also have a relaxed attitude so you are open to the new experiences that travel will present.
Start taking photos before you go
I like to start a new photo project when I am in the middle of something really good elsewhere. Perhaps it’s like that salesman maxim: the best time to make a sale is when you’ve just made a sale. Or (another one from my wife): how Ernest Hemingway would try to finish his writing for the day in the middle of a really good piece of writing so it was easy for him to get started the next day. If you are trying to start fresh every day then the blank page / empty memory card can feel overwhelming intimidating. But also when we are feeling creative, when we are in the flow we are more likely to have interesting ideas.
So, if I am not already working on a project back home I like to make sure I get one started before I leave. Or at the very least have a few photo walks to new places. Gets me in the mood.
Going beyond the exotic
The challenge with photographing in a new location, particularly one that is massively different from where you are from, is you can get completely distracted by what’s new to you (but not new to the world, we are no longer living in the age of exploration), and you end up taking tons of boring photos. What will give you the ability to create unique photographs of a location is how quickly you can get into the feel of the place and see it in a fresh, true and honest light.
I really enjoyed this podcast with photographer David du Chemin, who explains this issue really well – he talks about ways to combat your excitement in being in a new place so that you don’t just take all of the standard shots (look, elephants!) He suggests getting your intrigue at the exotic things you see out of the way quickly (more elephants! men with interesting headdresses!) so that you can then start seeing what’s really there, what’s really going. When you can see the place in an objective, fresh way you will find something unique to you.
To take great photos, first you must feel
I read this is a great interview with photographer Steve McCurry by travel photographer Oden Wagen recently and I love a couple of the points that McCurry makes. First:
“A picture of a guy in the street in New Guinea, with a bone through his nose is interesting to look at. But for it to be a really good photograph; it has to communicate something about what it is like to live with a bone through your nose. It is a question of the moment to reveal something interesting and profound about the human condition.”
Ansel Adams talks a lot about the feeling behind your photographs, and I think a lot of photographers forget that. Photographer Joey L (his surname doesn’t seem to appear on this site) in his tips for travelling as a photographer talks about not being a looky-loo and just snapping away, particularly in developing countries. Spending time connecting with your subject, travelling slowly, and most of all being human is the best way to get good portraits. (Joey L also has some great other travel tips, like make your fancy, expensive camera look old to limit possibility of theft).
Follow what fascinates you
When Wagen asked McCurry the question of how you can create original work in this heavily photographed world, I thought it was a great response –
“In time, you start to develop your own way of seeing and then it’s your own personality coming through the camera. We are all unique individuals; we all have our personalities. We all have our own voice, and our own style. If you look at the photographers whose work we admire, they’ve found a particular place or a subject, dug deep into it, and carved out something that’ll become special.”
This makes me think of Irving Penn’s ethnographic studies of tribesmen and workers around the world and Sebastian Selgado’s work on the forgotten communities around the world in Genesis (great Ted talk by him here where he talks about the project.)
You know the pen in some form has been around for quite a long time and yet writers always seem to have something new to say. And think about fashion, I mean, jeez, how many different styles of trousers can you make? A lot it seems…
I particularly like the concept of ‘digging deep’. You know you don’t have to come back from a photo trip with 1,000 photos of everything. 200 photos of one or two subjects, where you have dug deep into a subject that has really caught your imagination will reap more fruit for you long term than lots of photos that you (or anyone else) are unlikely to look at again. Quality not quantity.
Go off the beaten track
In my work I have noticed that I am drawn to the juxtaposition in cities of beauty and grittiness. It was particularly obvious in Paris, such a beautiful city but with lots of stark contrasts – graffiti (which I like to photograph) and dog poo (which I do not). So I find it’s always worth while digging a little deeper into a city and finding alternative views on what you will find there. When I make it to Berlin I want to go on this night time, underground art tour. For several of my trips to Paris I stayed in the area dominated by north and west African communities in Barbes Rochechouart. It’s quite a rough area in the city that few tourists experience, let alone visit (this is an interesting perspective on the area) but I really liked exploring. It gave me a totally different perspective on the city, the country and its history (great North and West African markets, amazing food like tagine and kebabs in the cafes and restaurants). It reminded me a bit of Dalston in London (although the latter is fast being taken over by the hipsters, so it’s unlikely to stay like it is for long.)
This is where the practice of seeing is really powerful. And you need to push yourself on this one. What’s on the overpass up there? Is that an abandoned building? Where does that little alley go….? You have to work harder than the tourists, harder than the other photographers who are also wandering around, you have to be more relentless in your search. Don’t settle for a few nice shots, go for something no-one has ever seen before. And I am here to tell you that it’s possible.
Think about doing a project on people
The easiest way to get involved and to get to know a culture is to talk to people. Maybe you have an idea before you go, or you get one when you are there, but having a subject to focus on is a really awesome way to dig deep and develop your photography.
The whole journey is the trip
I think sometimes we can get a little anxious about achieving things in our grown-up lives and in our productiveness-obsessed culture. We think OK – I’m off to Rome. We pack our bags, get on a plane, get to the hotel – rush rush rush – we have breakfast, and then off we set to take our photos. But by then you’ve already missed so much. As soon as you’ve made your decision to go on a trip you’re on the journey. The thoughts of the place, the ideas you come up with on where to shoot, your investigation of the culture, that is all setting you on the path of your journey. Your vision of your world at home has already changed as you start to mentally prepare for what is coming. Today I am London, playing in the park with my kids, chatting to my neighbour, but deep in the recesses of my mind I am wandering through the streets of Istanbul listening to the voices as I get lost in the back streets. I won’t be there until the end of the month but I have already started my journey. And so I must always have my camera with me.
Every experience you have, everything you see becomes another filter on your camera. That’s how you change as a photographer.
Don’t take crazy amounts of photos
I know the temptation to always have camera in hand, or even to spend more time looking through your viewfinder than being in a place, or being in the moment, as they say. But that really limits your potential for great photos. Firstly, it’s like a barrier between you and the place, it’s much harder to fall into conversation with people, to notice things when your camera is out, right there. Have your camera available but not always stuck in front of your face.
Secondly, you can’t absorb the culture when you are just thinking of it as a series of photos, and having an understanding and a feeling for the place will be communicated through your photos. That will be what creates the power of the image and evokes feelings with the viewer. As Maya Angelou said:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Thirdly, and this is shocker: life isn’t just about photography! Enjoying yourself, relaxing, having a good time also need to be part of the trip (and if you really need an excuse then think the more relaxed you are, the better your mood, the better the photos.)
The photos in this blog post are from my Venice at Dawn project. I chose this selection because I like how they show the more unusual views of the city. The abandoned building I found whilst wandering along the eastern edge of the island, the brilliant little gas stations that appear on the shoreline, the main tourist drag eerily empty of people.
So there we go, some of my thoughts to get you in the mood for travelling with your photography. I have a bunch of photo workshops coming up that you are always welcome to join, in Istanbul,Rome,Venice, Paris and of course my wonderful home city of London.
If you have any questions about them, myself or Diana are always happy to answer.
And if you need any advice please do email me . I love hearing from you. Or comment on my blog 🙂
Finding the confidence to make brilliant portraits out on the street
About ten years ago, on one of my dawn escapades, I came across a homeless man who was asleep in an alley. He had covered himself in magazines and newspaper to keep warm. Lying on his chest was a magazine-spread of a lady’s buxom breasts. It was a perfect photo.
But I was struck by anxiety – was this crossing my internal ethical line? He was asleep, not participating in the photo. Was I using his misfortune and the naked lady who was keeping him warm, to make fun of him? I battled internally for a few minutes and then I walked away.
I still think about that photo and wonder if I made the right choice. Sometimes I think I should have taken it, but most of the time I know I was right not to. And the reason I start this post with that story is that I think that it’s really important to consider your ethical line when you are taking photos of strangers.
The world is your oyster when you are a photographer, and you have the right (often enshrined in each country’s law, not in Hungary though!) to take photos (although usage is a different matter. See the P.S. below).
Considering the people you photograph and their right to be represented fairly is essential, in my view.
Last year my family and I were at an exhibition in an empty car park in London. My kids were having a great time running up and down a ramp. Suddenly a man appeared and started taking lots of photos of my daughter.
My wife approached him and asked him what it was for. He said “ohhhhh, I am a new photographer, it’s just for my website.” Even though she is married to a photographer my wife was really nervous about approaching him. I eventually went over to talk to him and told him it was definitely not cool to photograph someone’s child without asking them first and, secondly, to be so vague about usage.
You should always give your subjects the courtesy of knowing where the photos will be and what for if they ask – particularly if you’re photographing children.
So once you have your ethical code in order, I would like say that photographing strangers is awesomely fun! Not only can you get great photos but you can also meet some really cool people. It’s a brilliant way to penetrate a new culture and get under the skin of a new place. And for the most part, people like to be ‘seen’, to be noticed and that’s a point to focus on.
Be friendly, polite and hopefully relaxed, you will rarely encounter someone who doesn’t respond in kind. And for those that don’t want to be photographed – just smile, apologise and be on your way. Don’t try to force the issue, or wait until they aren’t noticing.
Everyone has their own style My style is more environmental portraits. I am not a ‘street photographer’, although I occasionally delve into that territory. Street photography is a candid genre, focusing on capturing moments of life – not creating or pre-visualising a shot but seeing and capturing what’s happening out there on the street right now (the street photographers collective In-Public have a good explanation)
My style is to take portraits on the street, which fall into three categories, which I am going to explore here:
Portraits I ‘find’ and ask permission to photograph
Another (yes, another!) amazing thing about shooting at dawn is the fact that when you encounter people they are usually really friendly (and drunk) and want to know what you are doing wandering the dawn streets with a camera.
The photo, above, was a very typical experience for me. Two inebriated young men fell into conversation with me and wanted me to take their photo. They decided to climb this tree (it was completely their idea not mine) and I got this shot, one of my favourites from my London book.
Now I know many people don’t feel safe wandering around alone at dawn – I totally get it. I probably feel more confident alone because I spent the early part of my career living in Los Angeles. The city not only has horrid crime statistics (America’s great gun culture), but feels really hostile because everyone is in their car, not engaging with each other and making themselves feel even more paranoid and frightened of each other.
When I moved to Europe it was like a great big sigh of relief. Walking around on actual streets does a lot to combat people’s fear of strangers. That’s not to say I haven’t had any dodgy encounters (I love that English word, dodgy).
But of the hundreds and hundreds of mornings I’ve been out, I can only remember two, and it was intimidation not actual violence, so fingers crossed, it stays like that. The upshot being, take out a friend or two (or five!) if you feel a bit strange wandering at dawn (or join me on my workshops!)
I do a lot of these posed portraitson the street (my entire Belly Project is exactly that – over 100 bellies of strangers). You would be amazed by how many people will pose for a photo (even people who aren’t drunk). Amazed!
There are people who are just perfectly happy to be photographed, and those who are down right exhibitionists and hams in front of the camera (both my son and my wife are of the ham variety), but there are only a small, very small proportion of people who hate being photographed. And that’s OK. So – remember that the maths is in your favour.
If you are new to photographing strangers I would start with this type of photography. You need to work up the nerve to ask the person but once you have their permission, you won’t have that fear of them noticing you and smashing your camera (that’s a fear by the way, very rarely a reality even for hardcore street photographers). So you get to relax and then work on composing your shot.
I usually smile at someone I want to photograph If they seem welcoming I will approach them, tell them what I am doing and ask if I can photograph them. I try to say something about why I want to photograph them – “You look like you have an awesome belly! I love your hair!”
Although it’s hard not be scared, I think it’s important to seem fairly confident so that people trust you. Taking things slowly, being relaxed, not rushing – are all ways to imbue your approach with confidence.
I came across the above scene in Paris and was mesmerised. I was super quick (you are not setting up a tripod for this kind of shot). Now, what would have happened if the man had turned and seen me? I would have smiled and gestured ‘OK?’
If he wasn’t happy I would have apologised and walked away. That simple. At the very worse you can always show them the photo and delete it if they are truly unhappy (although this was shot on my still amazing Hasselblad on film, I presume most folks in this modern age are, you know, shooting digital :))
So if you are scared of doing anonymous portraits like this, or street photography, think what’s the worse that can happen? And then work out what you would do if that were to happen.
Elliott Erwitt is an endless source of inspiration for me. I love what he says:
“It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception. You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organising them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy.”
Portraits I ‘find’ and ask permission to photograph
I often come across a ready made amazing shot with people in it. But I know that if I just snapped they could notice, and it would be weird. Can you imagine me coming across these two lovers lying on this empty bridge and chatting, then putting up my tripod and taking a photo? Weird! So of course I just asked them.
Now you will notice that this photo is in Paris. I don’t speak French. So if there is a language barrier (I admit I do just break into English), I just point to my camera and smile. Again you would be astounded by how most people are perfectly happy to be photographed if you are warm and friendly.
Even in such an intimate moment as this. I sent the couple in this photo a copy and they were both very appreciative.
Now a few other thoughts / ideas / tips:
Attitude is everything. Being friendly, open, polite and relaxed is the best thing to focus on when you are out taking photos.
Don’t hide your camera. I know quite a few street photographers who advocate hiding your camera (and many who suggest otherwise – but that just feels really creepy to me). Be honest. Be human.
Have a few lines prepared. Sounds strange, but have a few lines prepared for people you’ll talk to, like: “Do you mind if I take your photo? I’m working on a photo project about fur coats.” Then when you are out and about you’ll be less likely to stumble over your words.
Have a purpose: If I could sum up my purpose as a photographer I think it is ‘beauty in the every day’. I think my purpose is to show people the incredible beauty of what’s right here on our doorstep which I hope will lead you to feeling more connected to this wonderful world, and loving it more.
I have always been fascinated by light, I’m a bit of a loner, I love empty/quiet places and I love nature. So that’s what you see when you look at my work. My passions and my personality shining through.
That’s when you know you have really got somewhere as a photographer, when people can look at your work and see your personality.
I recently came across the photographer Ruddy Roye and I love his work. He calls himself a ‘Humanist/Activist Photographer’ and has found fame by shooting what he is most passionate about: people who are usually ‘unseen’ (he has an amazingInstagram account).
In this great interview on Longreads he said he thought about something that Eugene Smith said, and that propelled him to focus his photography in a different way:
“You know, there are enough photographers photographing the pretty things, and not enough photographing the things that aren’t as pretty.”
He then decided that “I want to introduce white America to people who they might never have met, and I want them to fall in love too.”
In the interview he also talks about how he engages with his subjects. He’ll often chat to them and get to know them before he shoots them. Sometimes he finds a subject and ends up not photographing them, just chatting. Just being human.
And that’s something we photographers sometimes forget. Humans love connecting, so just be human.
When you have a purpose photographing strangers on the street is much easier. It’s easier to talk to people, to communicate to them why you want to photograph them.
It doesn’t have to be something really epic like Roye, it can simply be that you find people interesting, you want to show people your vision of the world, that you care about people being seen in an engaging, interesting, compelling way.
And this is where ethics comes in again. I think people can feel your purpose, they can sense if you are a genuine person and you have their best interests at heart (unlike the rather misguided photographer who was shooting my daughter).
Deciding on your purpose before you go out helps set you up for when you start shooting.
All of this advice is rubbish though…if you don’t practice, practice, practice. By doing it over and over you will find your style, what you are comfortable with, how you like to photograph strangers, what attracts you and what doesn’t.
I promise it gets easier and easier every time you do it. There are endless opportunities out there for you so just try, fail, try and fail, try and end up with something really special and completely unique that you created.
Be polite and friendly
Remember most people like being noticed for their uniqueness – and will welcome you photographing them
If someone isn’t happy to be snapped, just apologise and walk away
A smile and a relaxed attitude will take you far
Remember your humanity
Have a purpose
And after all that…STOP thinking. Once you have thought all of these things through, and done some mental preparation, then just forget it all and get on with it. And again I use this Picasso quote “To draw, you must close your eyes and sing”.
Anthony and Diana
PS a note about usage and permission
In most countries you only need people’s permission if you are going to sell the photos or use them for commercial gain. Photos for art and editorial usage usually don’t require individuals’ permission (but there are exceptions – like Hungary! Where it’s now illegal to photograph anyone without their permission).
There are exceptions, particularly for children, so always check out the law in the country you’re in. I have yet to find a website that covers all countries – here is one for the UK to get you started, and remember laws change all of the time
Plus, when you are travelling it’s important to be aware of cultural sensitivities before you blaze out there, camera in hand. There is a tonne of info out there on the web. Load up on knowledge and that will also help you feel confident as you go out to shoot.
“The question is not what you look at but what you see.”
Henry David Thoreau
When we are confronted with a beautiful scene our first reaction is to take a photo. “Done – can’t wait to show my friends. Let’s get lunch.” This is what I would call the obvious photo. A snapshot.
What do I mean by the ‘obvious’? Well, in photographic terms (mine) the ‘obvious’ is what is seen and taken as a snapshot by 95% of the population (or 100% of tourists!) It is what is right in front of you, not what is behind, above, below, beneath and all around you. It is usually very beautiful and worth a snap, but like most things that are beautiful, it may have many parts and aspects that make it so.
Most of my work is shot in cities, where people with camera phones and other photographers are in abundance. Cities create a good tension because I am always aware that every view or building that I photograph has not only been copiously photographed, but is probably being photographed at the very second I am pushing the shutter button. It reminds me to push myself further, to see something new, to find a different photographic path.
So what can we do to obtain that special shot that no one else will? Here are a few super simple tips I like to use:
1. Deconstruct the scene
My favourite thing to do is to de-construct a beautiful scene and make it my own. A simple example is a landscape, say with a vast range of smoky mist-capped mountains beyond a winding river valley (Ansel Adams comes to mind). Really nice you say. Indeed it is. Who wouldn’t want that photo – it’s what we are there for, right?
Now stop. Look again ‘inside’ the scene: see that tree with light playing just on the top half and the way the light reflecting from the water illuminates the shadowed side of the tree opening up the dark. If I captured just that small part of the scene wouldn’t that also be a good photo? Maybe even better?
The only difference between the two photos is you. You make it yours by seeing it. And your vision is like no one else’s. You have made something special because you are ‘seeing’, and you saw when everyone else was enraptured by the obvious. Most people won’t see that tree or the light play on it. Most people are not aware that there is more to the scene for whatever reason; time, interest, mood, etc. As a good photographer you cannot help but to ‘see’ that piece of the obvious and make it yours.
2. Look in the opposite direction
Here’s another way. One late sunny afternoon I found myself on Westminster Bridge with twenty other photographers and we are all taking the photo (below) because well, the light was awesome.
I then started to look around as the light was fading. To my left, I saw this ice cream kiosk and behind me St Thomas’ Hospital in that epic light, but it had a different quality as it fell on the buildings and the people scattering in different directions.
I thought to myself how beautiful the hospital looked as the sun faded. And I loved how the light inside the ice cream kiosk began to get brighter relative to the daylight, like it was glowing. Which is a better photo? It all comes down to personal taste, but for me the better photo is the one only I saw.
3. Look for the photographers
Although Venice is one of the top touristy cities, I was really surprised (or am I, having spent many years dodging them?) that tourists seem to confine themselves to a few well worn routes. Venice still has a quite serenity. But what happens if you want to shoot St Mark’s Square, for example? My dawn advantage was, for once, limited. It was the one place where photographers were already up and shooting. One morning I shot the square with the most spectacular sunrise I had ever seen. A few Venetian Carnevale characters emerged, posing in front of the canal, bathed in pink light. In front of them was a scrum of photographers, snapping away like paparazzi. I didn’t want to miss this incredible light, and looking around I realised the best photo for me was of the photographers photographing. The less obvious.
(By the way, I went back to St Marks Square after a night’s rain and got a lovely shot. Rain puts photographers off in a big way!)
4. Shoot the third thing
I came across this quote about writing a few years ago and it struck me as a concept that could also apply to photography. Victoria Coren wrote about advice she had received from her father, the late writer Alan Coren:
“Don’t write the first thought that comes into your head, because that is what everyone will write. And don’t write the second thought that comes into your head, because that is what the clever people will write. When you hit on a third thought, pick up the pen. That one is just yours.”
5. Don’t be afraid not to shoot
Sometimes I go out with the intention of shooting, particularly for my dawn projects, and never take any photos. I took my family to Paris for several months to shoot my book Paris at Dawn and each morning I’d arrive home with warm fresh croissants. The first thing my wife would say was, not thank you for the croissants (!) but how many shots did you get? I think she was computing it all in her head, like hours worked = shots taken = % of project finished. I would often say none, didn’t even take out my camera, and her face would fall. Over time she realised what was going on. I did get all the photographs in the end. Some mornings there would be 3 rolls of film, sometimes none, and sometimes just a couple of shots.
Unless you are on assignment there is no pressure to shoot. I think telling yourself you will only shoot something that really inspires you is a great discipline and makes you work harder to find something unique and original. Getting you beyond ‘the obvious’.
I talk a lot about when I go out to shoot early in the morning how empty the streets are of people, that the city is completely deserted. Well, it not absolutely accurate – I do meet some people in my wanderings and on workshops, here and there. And the one thing they all have in common is they are all glad to be still conscience after a long night out and get to see the sun come up.
Often these all-nighters want to talk (as people do under the influence) and want to know what I’m all about. After I explain that I’m out taking photos, a good majority of them insist on being photographed (especially when I was shooting for the books!) Really. It’s true. And to prove it, below are just a few of the people I’ve met at dawn.
I have never ever met anyone in the morning that gave off bad vibes – in reality it is the reverse; people are having the time of their lives!
Those people who choose to be up all night partying, or walking, talking, holding hands and being lovers – the sunrise is the finishing touch to the perfect evening.
Paris is particularly an all-night party place at almost any time of year, but especially in summer, when it seems almost silly to be sleeping indoors when you could be out in the most beautiful of city enjoying good times with friends and meeting new loves.
Dawn has much to offer the scenic landscape photographer but there are also chances for some great people photography.
My five favourite unusual spots to photograph Paris
When I was picking my next city to shoot at dawn after London I was super resistant to Paris. I had been to Paris on a few weekends with my wife since I arrived in London from LA in 2000. To me it was a pretty, dinky little city that was good for eating but not for a photo book. Not like the sprawling, ever changing, diverse city of London that I had fallen in love. After all Paris all looks the same, right? The architecture is so uniform, the prettiness so precise – what could I find there that was would help me create something unique? Well it turns out that I was wrong that it was all made up of chocolate box type views. There is plenty of edge to Paris, you just have to wander off the beaten track. Here are some of my favourite finds:
I discover a city by wandering. Getting totally lost and looking around. I might check out a place on google maps before I leave, but once I am on the road I don’t want to miss anything by staring at my phone, I want to really see what’s there. That’s how I came across this awesome disused railway line hanging over the streets of eastern Paris. Over grown with fruit trees and bushes it was an amazing find. Apart from the lingering memory of taking a bunch of mini-plums home to my family and my 6 month old daughter swallowing one whole (she was fine, only her parents were traumatised, especially me as I had to investigate her expulsions for the next several months searching for the plum stone) . Apart from that – I love the photos I got there.
I am a total sucker for reflections. Reflections and lines and interesting shape formations. So you can imagine my joy at discovering this insanely mirrored, glassed construction on the western edge of Paris.
I know graffiti isn’t a place, but I wanted to add it because – firstly it’s everywhere, and secondly it’s a reminder to me that you can shoot the same view, the same building, the same sunrise as millions of others – but if you can find a different angle, if you can see the view in a different way you have the chance to capture something unique. I also love how you can hold the two very different sides of Paris together in the same photo – the beauty and grit. Paris has an amazing street art cultureand given it’s constantly changing it’s also a great way to capture something unique and ‘off the moment’.
My love of reflections rears itself again here and it’s because of the canals that runs through Paris. This is a great, new-ish hip area of Paris – nice bars, galleries, trendy young folk hanging out on the banks of the canal – so it’s worth an evening visit. At dawn it’s got some great glassy, still water and interestingly shaped bridges. I particularly love this reflection shot.
My family and I stayed in Barbès-Rochechouart for several months whilst I was shooting Paris at Dawn. It’s an intense, densely packed area, rough around the edges with great north and west africans shops and markets – as well as few dodgy characters hanging around the street corners. What was interesting to me about this was how the architecture was the same here as every other part of Paris; dainty, impractical balconies, pretty uniform buildings, but instead of gourmet cheese shops & charcuteries it was shops selling big boxes of fresh mint & coriander (a wonderful place to walk past in the morning) or tiny shops stuffed with harissa and saffron. It was not like the manicured Paris I had seen so often on my touristy trips here.
And a few unusual foodie tips…..
My family and I love to walk around the back of Gare du Nord to ‘Little Sri-Lanka’ for some amazing cheap curries & melt in your mouth parathas. This was our favourite place . We were also blown away by the shouldn’t-work-in-a-million-years-but do crazy pizzas at Pink Flamingo. Chicken Tagine, Paella, Cuban pork with fried plantain are some of the most amazing pizza sensations I’ve ever had – and I LOVE pizza.
Lastly the really awesome Le Comptoir Généralis a social entreprise, super hip spot that has good drinks, great atmosphere and African street food plus hosts events like a weekly farmers markets, African fashion fairs, kids story-telling & disco sessions and blues nights. Social entreprise is a pretty new and unusual concept in France so it’s well worth taking a look.
What are your favourite places to photography Paris? I’d love to know 🙂
Paris is such a wonderful city and regardless of what the guidebooks say July is a great time to be here. We are staying in the 15th arr. on Rue de la Convention in a brilliant flat on the 7th floor with a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. It’s a really nice neighbourhood with a great street market three days a week.
I’ve been up at 0430hrs every morning, almost, wandering and exploring the city and loving it. The weather hasn’t been great – there have been many grey mornings, but that is no excuse not to go out and try to get a shot. When the sky is clear you can predict exactly what the effects of the rising sun will be, but when it’s cloudy it’s a gamble, and you can never tell if something spectacular will happen, a parting in the clouds with a sudden burst of rich colour stabbing through is always worth the wait and effort and that has happened twice this week.
I’m shooting 120 film with my Hasselblad so I won’t have any posts with Paris morning shots until I do a bit with the digital. What I will do is post some non-morning photos from afternoon wanderings.
This shot has nothing to do with the dawn project. It is just cool…I think. What say you?
I’ll chalk this one up to my huge Ernst Haas influence. Look him up, awesome stuff.