A couple staggers past a closed business along a San Francisco sidewalk.
To me, this photograph has a sort of strange and somewhat perverse quality — like a scene from some bizarre circus or suggesting a madhouse or a dream. It is, admittedly, something of a construction — a construction by means of limiting what is shown of the surroundings and by means of a shutter speed slow enough to blur details and create a fantastical quality. It didn’t hurt that the postures of the couple are somewhat awkward and strange.
As is so often the case for me when photographing in places like this, my attention first went to the architecture and the wild colors and patterns painted on the closed shutters of this shop. That would be somewhat interesting, but hard to make work as a photograph on its own, especially when shooting handheld. And then this couple appeared, walking (sort of) along the sidewalk, hanging onto each other. Set against this incongruous background, they become something quite different from what they actually were.
Man with guitar walks past a Chinatown souvenir shop at night.
When photographing in the “street” you never quite know what will show up, when it will happen, or how quickly it will appear and disappear. And you have very, very little control over the elements that might make a photograph — you can sometimes pick your point of view, perhaps create a composition out of the static elements, watch a person approaching who might put a point of focus in the scene… but they you simply have to work with whatever happens. I think this can be even a bit trickier at night, since not all of the interesting things take place in light that can easily be photographed.
Here the first focus for me was the gaudy, colorful, and well-lit interior of this open front store in San Francisco’s Chinatown district. There is some interest in that subject alone, but frankly it can be a pretty static thing when not populated by people. As I looked at this storefront and pondered how to make a photograph out of it I noticed a man wandering up the sidewalk with a guitar, a literal strolling minstrel. At that point, he became the important element, and as he passed I attempted to time several exposures that placed him in interesting places in the composition.
Tourists on a late-night walk pass closed Chinatown shops in San Francisco
This is (yet another!) night street photography image made on one of my summer night walks in The City, in this case between roughly Union Square and almost to North Beach. A group of us meets up to photograph these subjects every so often. We begin before sunset and then continue walking, watching, and photographing right on into the night.
I recently read a nice description of part of what is appealing about photographing the street at night. In the daytime everything is more or less evenly lit, but at night small groups move into and out of the light, becoming “spotlighted” against the backdrop of the night. In places where we might see undifferentiated subjects in the daytime, subjects that pass though localized pools for light acquire more importance, and other elements of the scene recede. Here a small group of slightly uncomfortable-looking tourists shuffles past the closed up storefronts of Chinatown. Something about the group does not look entirely comfortable with their surroundings.
Night photograph of a closed Chinatown shop, San Francisco
In early September I again joined a group of folks who like to photograph San Francisco urban and street subjects after dark. Most of the group met before sunset, did a bit of street photography, joined for dinner at a place along the edge of Chinatown, and then headed out for a couple of hours of photographing in the urban nightscape. Once again we passed through Chinatown — hard to resist when we were already there! — and on down into areas closer to Market Street.
Late in the evening it was time for me to head back to my car, so I said good-bye to the rest of the group and headed back the way I had come, walking alone this time. It was now much later, and this area pretty much shuts down — surprisingly so for a Saturday night in The City. But this meant that the earlier crowds were gone and the scene was a lot quieter and slower. When I passed this corner earlier the shop was open and there were quite a few people around, but now the shutters were closed and the green light washed over the urban landscape of sidewalks and steps leading up toward a dark alley. After years of doing night photography the “old way” — tripod and long exposures — I’m still amazed that I can wander out and shoot stuff like this using a small handheld camera these days.
I saw this little architectural vignette when I took an impromptu side trip up a set of stairs while walking around downtown San Francisco. I’ve been to and photographed the general location — near Moscone Center — in the past, but that wasn’t my plan this time. Near the top of the stairs I happened to notice a bit of wall with a combination of soft colors and hard angles. The colors were the first focus of my attention, but as I looked at the scene more closely I noticed that squares are everywhere, small and large and interlocking with one another.
This is an odd little corner along the edge of a downtown gas station near a freeway off-ramp in San Francisco, photographed early on a morning when some fog was still breaking up over this part of the City.
I suppose it is fair to ask what this photograph is “about.” (Though I often think that a photograph simply “is” rather than being “about.”) The soft yet directional light, slanting in from the right of the frame, is the first thing, but the mass and odd angles of the two towering build boards as another. Three is bit of work-play, too, with the text on some of the signs seeming either random or interesting or perhaps both. Whole words appear painted on the wall, though they make little sense absent the context of other missing words. A small sign announces, “Air and Water.”
The shadow of a passing person on a bright yellow wall, San Francisco
I had been walking along a busy San Francisco street as I traveled from the Caltrain Station up toward Market Street, photographing people and structures and construction zones. Right near Moscone Center I took a detour up a stairway leading towards the “Zeum” and the area around it.
It was still early morning and the low angle light struck a very brightly painted yellow wall where a staircase led to the upper level. I was working on ways to photograph this color (trickier than it seems!) and the angles of the stairway and the shadows when a person fortuitously walked across behind me and added her shadow to the scene.