This is a simple bit of minimalist street photography. I was walking along a San Francisco street late in the day, with low light slanting across the fronts of buildings from the left, when I saw this tie-off for a rope to a flag mounted higher up on this wall.
A women waits alone at a crosswalk for the light to change, San Francisco.
One thing that might surprise some folks about my street photograph is that I do not think that it is unrelated to my nature and landscape photography. I think that it all connects together as “photography,” whether the subject is a mountain or a building, a bird or a person. I also believe that photographing more than one type of subject — which some might regard as a dilution of vision — actually makes me better at seeing all kinds of subjects as photographs. Shooting street, where things often happen quite quickly and in the midst of a lot of visual stimuli, forces me to be “on” all the time, to see potential subjects quickly, to recognize things that work instinctively, and to look for juxtapositions. And photographing natural landscape subjects informs the way I see the urban landscape.
One obvious potential thread in urban photograph is the juxtaposition of individual figures against a constructed and sometimes massive and impersonal urban landscape. I often look for these “stages” and then watch for people to appear and populate them. This location can actually be a fairly busy street corner, but here I first found the massive stone building, then waited for the scene to clear with the exception of the solitary woman waiting for the light.
Shadows from a fire escape fall across the front of a San Francisco building
I made this photograph late in the day back in early September, on a street photography shoot with a group of like-minded folks in San Francisco. We met in the late afternoon, wandered about for a while in the beautiful late-day light, then broke for dinner before going back out to photograph after dark.
One one hand, you could probably find a similar scene in many other cities. On the other hand, it also evokes the architecture of San Francisco, where buildings are packed tightly together, often with seemingly little regard for their aesthetic appearance when viewed from the street — with the result being very utilitarian facades, often featuring metal gates, fire escapes, and sometimes a worn and weathered appearance. This street runs almost directly east-west, so late in the day the sunlight was falling across the front of the building at a low angle and casting strong shadows.
Tourists on the sidewalk in front of a brightly lit souvenir shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown district
Another evening in San Francisco, another photograph of people walking along the sidewalk in front of a Chinatown shop. These are becoming something of a theme, or so it seems. I’m not exactly certain where I made this one, but I feel like it might not have been along the main tourist area of Grant Street — but I’m prepared to be wrong.
My approach is to look for good light first and to then find a composition and people to fill it. Some interesting elements, like the stairway at the right, are nice, too. I’m always looking for spots where light spills onto the sidewalk, offering the potential to illuminate passers-by when they enter the scene. It is even better if street lights or the lights of another shop provide just a bit of front light to fill in the shadows. Aside from the way that all of the people managed to position themselves across the frame, I think I owe the woman to choose to wear the red dress on this evening.
A man walks into the sun on a San Francisco sidewalk
After more than a month filled with colorful photographs of autumn foliage in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, I’m going to cleanse my palate a bit… with a black and white street photograph. I know it seems odd and even inexplicable to some that someone who photographs the natural world and likes to spend time there would also be attracted to photographing the constructed world of urban streets — but I do. In some ways I think of this other universe as more of an extension of the same way of seeing that attracts me to natural landscapes. These are simply urban landscapes and they are populated by people rather than animals. The same light falls on the city and on the mountains. In addition, photographing street tunes up my visual sense, forcing me to quickly see and respond to compositions, light, and subjects.
On a couple of occasions this past summer I joined a small group of like-minded photographers to wander around parts of San Francisco making photographs at night. We generally assembled in the late afternoon, photographed first in the daylight late in the day, grabbed a bite to eat, and then headed back out into the evening to photograph street scenes under ambient and artificial light. Here I headed up a street into the late afternoon light, focusing initially on the backlit subjects and the lengthening shadows, and then this fellow walked into the scene.
This photograph comes from another evening spent doing street photography in the late afternoon and on into the night in downtown San Francisco. The plan was to meet up with a small group of like-minded photographers who like urban subjects and the magic of the city at night. The other arrived before I did, and we finally caught up with one another on a street in a non-tourist area of the Chinatown district of San Francisco.
This street has fascinated me for a long time. Most often I’ve passed through in the morning, when produce trucks line the streets, and the sidewalks are crowded with people doing their shopping. At those times I often feel like a bit of an outsider, interjecting myself into a community that is not my own, but I’m attracted to many things about it and I return frequently. On this evening visit the neighborhood had a very different feeling. There were far fewer people out and about, and the shops that are so busy in the morning were now closing down one by one. Tables of merchandise were cleared and put away, sidewalks swept, shutters rolled down, and one by one the shops closed. Now, without the crowd of people, a different visual quality appeared, with the primary elements being the colors of the shops, signs and awnings, and the shapes of and relationships among the scattered tables, bins, and shelves.
Two men wait on the sidewalk for the traffic light to change, San Francisco
Taking a brief break from the stream of photographs of eastern Sierra Nevada fall colors — I think I need to rest my eyes! — I’m next sharing a couple more San Francisco street photography images from early September of this year, when I joined a group of fellow photographers to wander about in some downtown areas. We started in the late afternoon, with the plan of shooting in the sunset and twilight and then continuing right on into the night. This photograph comes from a later hour, shortly before I wrapped up for the evening.
We eventually ended up in San Francisco’s Chinatown district. This is, of course, a popular tourist area during the daytime, but it has a different character in the evening as the shops close up. From here we wandered down to the Union Square area, where there are almost always crowds of shoppers, tourists, and people passing through. At about this point it was time for me to head back to where I started, so I left the group and started back toward my car, stopping occasionally to make a few more photographs. In a way, this photograph is a bit of a lie and a contrivance — though all photographs are such to some extent. Here, in a rather busy area, I spotted the two men along at a corner and by choosing my composition careful (and quickly, this being street photography!) I managed to exclude the rest of the bustling scene and place them against a sort of amorphous form of the back ground building and in front of the geometry of the cross walk.