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FAQ frequently asked workshop questions about street photography

new york street photography by Markus Hartel

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this is actually the first time in ten years that I’m able to support myself by doing … prints with people in them don’t sell and galleries don’t bite… I could go on and on – the business in New York City is extremely competitive and bids for advertising agencies almost always lead to nothing. whaddya gonna do? fend for yourself, that’s what a man is going to do.

Like everyone else, I somewhat enjoy the gear part of, but for the most part I stuck to the M9 and two -gasp- Canadian lenses (35mm Summicron and 28mm Elmarit) for the past few years and I never really considered running an ad driven blog or web site for gear heads and nerds, and instead opted to post photos when I got them, photography is mostly for my own enjoyment after all.

Then some time ago a wave of people started to offer “ workshops” and I thought I could do something with a personal twist and started doing custom One-on-One NYC photo tours for individuals and small groups in February… the One-on-One tours took off nicely and for the past two months I did at least one tour every other day, in July I was booked almost every day… the camera basics are covered quickly and most people I met get a hang of the technical stuff easily.

The biggest question remains… how to approach people the right way -long pause- I’ll tell you that it is not your camera, the size of it, or the sound of the shutter… guess what? it’s you, minus the camera – and that comes down to your personality, your approach towards your subject and your street smarts. most of my visitors are surprised how easy it is to walk up in a non-intrusive manner to some stranger and snap away –even with a fill flash– and not getting hit over the head…

Now that we have the technical stuff squared away, a lot of participants would ask me about composition, THE second most important component where really shines… content is the first one, in case you were wondering… A great ground rule is the diagonal method and Lightroom has a crop overlay for it. secondly, try to avoid centered compositions like the plague, unless a symmetrical composition is desired. Of course this is merely a safety net and there are no fast, hard rules for composition and a blog post won’t cover everything, but you’ll get a good idea. another subject that’s generally better when avoided: people’s backs! Of course, there are situations where either one works, but it’s pretty rare.

Just like landscape, where one would try to get foreground, middleground and background into one frame, preferably using the hyperfocal distance. This is true for landscapes, of course. In the streets we use zone focusing at around f8 instead…

I like to fill my frame front to back and side-to-side, well, at least one side, as empty corners are just that, empty corners, nothing much to look at. Sure enough we all notice interesting subjects in the streets, walking by, but that merely creates street portraits of random strangers doing menial stuff. so that’s merely an exercise in getting closer, which ultimately is not a bad thing. that being said, over the years I added complexity by creating more layers in my photographs, reflections are a great example for this.

What a good street photograph ultimately breaks down to is moment-emotion-composition, basically a mini story within one frame, a photo that lets the viewer’s imagination run free. taking something out of context to create a new context is a great technique, tight crops work well for that. Or including an element that helps the viewer to see a new situation, oftentimes highly suggestive by nature. graphical (color) shots may work well, or patterns, or repetition of elements. yet, it takes a long time to recognize these things all at once and also be in touch with your gear to capture these moments quickly, especially when people are involved.

anyways, if that’s something you’re interested in, book a three hour walking tour with me and you can learn some of these techniques on-the-go and in person.

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A collection of New York black-and-white street photography from 2003-2013

About Markus

Markus Hartel is a (street) photographer, graphic designer and educator living and working in New York City.
You can purchase prints, or book a one-on-one street photography workshop directly on this site.

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