Shoppers and tourists walk past Chinatown shops at night, San Francisco
Allow me to continue to indulge my (relatively) new obsession with handheld night street photography! This is yet another photograph made after dark in San Francisco, in a popular tourist area full of people, shops, and plenty of wildly colorful artificial light. This might look a bit like just a photograph of a crowd, but when I look closer I’m fascinated by the variety of faces and activities and ways of engaging that I see.
It was only perhaps a couple of years ago that I discovered that I can use small handheld mirrorless camera set to high ISO to photograph in the nighttime city environment. In the past this was sometimes marginally possible in very well-lit areas, but most such photography required a tripod and its attendant disruption of the scene — people behave very differently when they see a big camera on a tripod. But now it is quite possible to roam with a very small camera and produce viable photographs that can even be printed rather large.
Zoltar waits for his mark on a San Francisco sidewalk
Zoltar, in all of his flamboyant glory, waits in a sidewalk booth to give fortunes to passers-by. Despite his ultra-colorful appearance, not a single person stopped to speak with him during my visit.
I did not realize that Zoltar is actually a “thing.” Yes, you can look up “Zoltar Speaks” on the Internet and read all about him. (He comes in standard, economy, and deluxe models.) I remain perplexed about what he may have to do with the cultural setting of San Francisco’s Chinatown district.
Crowds of people walking past shops along Grant Avenue on a summer evening, San Francisco
To me, this photograph has a feeling of San Francisco. Yes, it is in a tourist location, but the crowded sidewalk, the diverse group of people, the somewhat old and (lovingly) worn buildings and sidewalk, the narrow street, the clutter… all contribute to the charm of The City.
There are a lot of small things in this complex photograph that I like. The center, though it is subtle, may be the man facing the camera and looking into the light of the store. But there is also the family with two children, one clutching dad’s hand and the other, barely visible, looking into that light. There’s more, but I’ll leave it to viewers to look.
People assemble in summer twilight at the corner of Clay and Grant Streets, San Francisco
This was a beautiful San Francisco afternoon and evening. I rendezvoused with some photographer friends in the late afternoon, and after a group dinner we headed out onto the San Francisco streets eventually winding our way into the Chinatown area around dusk. Fog was coming in, turning the ambient light a beautiful blue color, and street and business lights were coming on and producing contrasting warmer toned light.
In these situations photography is a combination of keeping my eyes open and responding intuitively and of watching for potential compositions and subjects and then waiting for the right characters to populate the scene. Certain places are more likely prospects: narrow streets with electrical light coming from both sides, storefronts, and corners. At the latter people often have to stop and wait for traffic to clear or to figure out where to go next, and they sometimes assemble into interesting compositions and stay there for more than an instant. Here, if I recall correctly, my first attraction to the scene was towards the glowing light in this corner market. I quickly noticed the line of people spread across the scene from left to right, and for an instant the man standing in light at the center of the frame looked up and somewhat toward the camera, and against a backdrop of mostly hidden faces his appearance jumped out at me.
A purple mask, eh? You may need to look closely at this small web version of the photograph, but if you do you may see that one of the people in the scene is carrying a furry purple mask. Don’t ask. I didn’t.
I’ll keep the commentary on this one to a minimum since I have already written a few times about the circumstances of such photographs. I made it on a summer afternoon and night walk through sections of downtown San Francisco. Here I was wandering slowly along Grant, the main tourist street of the city’s Chinatown district. By this time at night the crowds had diminished quite a bit, but most shops were still open. With fewer people on the street, there were better opportunities to find compositions that were less cluttered.
I cannot explain why, but I’m always attracted to patterns of shape end color and to interesting juxtapositions. The colors in this little vignette seemed remarkable to me, from the intense green of the painted brick wall to the red and white stripes on the awning and the bit of yellow above. And this wild color is juxtaposed with the dark tones and very square geometry of the metal gate in front of the doorway.
It may not be apparent, but this is a night photograph. Perhaps the glow on the inner door could be a clue, or the intensity of the colors under artificial illumination from street lamps and store lights. As I walked past I stopped only long enough to make a small number of handheld exposures, and then in continued up the street.
A police car approaches in a narrow San Francisco alley
This photograph is pretty much what it appears to be — a narrow San Francisco downtown alley between two major streets, a police car entering the alley (soon to followed by others), a stop sign painted on the ground, and an unusual combination of artificial light coloration and reflections.
This is one of the many street photographs that simply happens, and happens quickly. I was crossing the outlet of this alley, when I looked into it and saw the interesting lighting effects. At that moment the car turned into the alley, providing a focus of brightness at its far end. I raised the camera and photographed, barely having time to carefully compose, and a moment later a couple of police cars approached my end of the alley and i had to get out of the way.