The Magic is In Front of the Lens and Behind the Camera–Shooting Street Portraits with an Older Camera

Posted: July 13, 2017 in 35mm, black and white, boulder, family, nikon, photographer, photography, portraits, portraiture, Uncategorized
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I work as a professional photographer in Boulder, Colorado, shooting portraits, business headshots, and commercial projects for clients like the U.S. Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force, food and drink for Whitewave/Silk and American Homestead Meats, and event coverage for companies in the cable industry.

On a recent day off, I decided to take a stroll down to the Pearl Street Mall, the local outdoor shopping area in downtown Boulder, and figured I’d build my portraiture client list by photographing people on the mall, getting their email, and offering to send them a photograph. In the email, I asked them if I could add them to my email list where I offer tips to great phone photography (something they’re probably interested in) while promoting my services.

The truth is, while my business clients are regular users of photographs, many people sometimes think to do family portraits or couple portraits, but that’s where it ends, with a thought. They never actually order a portrait session.

OUT ON THE MALL FOR STREET PORTRAITS

On this day off from client work, I took out a Nikon DSLR that is 9 years old, a D90 which debuted in August 2008. Why I brought that instead of my D810 is that I wanted to shoot with a vintage 1970s-era lens, the Nikon 55mm f1.2 non-AI manual focus lens for the soft backgrounds it produces, since I would be working on a crowded outdoor mall, and the information at Nikonians.org about its lens compatibility with my digital bodies says:

NO!
Definitely do not use, for it may damage the camera body. Also, warranty will be void.

That didn’t sound promising. But I was determined. So, I mounted the lens on my backup body, a D7200, and it mounted but it was tight to attach and once attached, the aperture ring wouldn’t budge.  Hmmm.

That mount seemed ridiculously tight. It took a good strong twist to mount it. Definitely not a normal mount. I thought, I’ll do a test with it, and then another one with the old D90 that I had laying around, knowing that at f1.2, I wouldn’t be needing the latest sensor capability for low light performance–I’d be shooting at base ISO (200, in this case) since I was working outside wide open.

The test with the D90 looked as good as the D7200, though it was a 12mp image instead of a 24mp. Good enough for what I was working on. And if it damaged the body, oh well, not much lost since that’s not my go-to camera . (It looks like you can get a D90 these days for under $200.)

So, with that 55mm f1.2 Nikkor S-C extremely securely mounted, I hit the streets.

And then I approached people, folks who looked like they were in a good location to interrupt them. Sitting somewhere, or chatting in the shade. Here’s what I found and created, with the promise to send them each their portrait. psmfamilyBW-kennethwajda
This couple got two images, I liked them as a package. She replied: Thank you so much for the lovely portraits. What a great treat to meet you and let you make these portraits of Pieter and me. Yes, we have been in love since we met in the summer of 1965 in the Netherlands, where we grew up. I will certainly think of you when we need a beautiful family portrait when we are all together in Boulder for a happy family get together. I will also recommend you to our friends. Until we meet again. With warm wishes, Susanna.pearlolder
If I hadn’t made them, would they ever get made? It seems a shame that they might not, and I’m proud to have made them.pearlolder1
This guy was working on the mall. pearl6
These three were sitting in front of an ice cream shop, and looked like a photogenic trio.
psm-kennethwajda--1
Visiting Boulder from Italy and very flattered to be photographed.
pearl7
She tagged me in this Instagram post.

pearl5

7-12-2017 11-25-06 AM
The ice cream on their faces were what drew me to them.pearl3
Someone was trying to get a photo of them with a phone, when I offered to shoot it for them.
fashion-kennethwajda1
A couple out on the mall with their dog, who was too old to make it into the photo.
pearl2
A dapper man who engaged me in talk of photography.
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A couple of friends out for happy hour drinks.
Monique-Tracy-1
A grandpa and his grandson sharing a bit of time watching street performers.
gary-kennethwajda
She wouldn’t hold still long enough to get the three of them in the same plane of focus, so this is the result.familypsm-1-kennethwajdaThey were heartily laughing, which is how I approached them: “I love your laugh.  Can I photograph you?”
peters-kennethwajda1
Another guy interested in talking about photography.michaelportrait-kennethwajda
She’s into photography and was talking about my camera, and her interest.
psm-kennethwajda-1
A daughter and her father sharing a coffee break.

couple1
Two friends cruising the mall, who I asked to photograph them together.
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The only one that I kept in color instead of black and white was a young woman at a local taco joint, while I was waiting for my burrito, who asked about my camera and mentioned that she likes photography. I asked her if I could take her portrait with the light coming through the broad windows of the shop.
girl
These were all made with a 9-year-old camera body, (a senior citizen of the camera world!), that no one into camera models would take seriously. I took care of that with a small piece of black gaffer tape over the model number. Problem solved!

The people who I photographed loved their portraits. I asked them to please tag me in any social media posts. And of course I included my contact card at the bottom or each of my emails. And now, I have their contact information for my growing list of contacts. These are new contacts to people who have now seen my work, who like my work, who may need anything from family photographs to business images–someone might be the CEO of a company.

kwemailsig2

Portraiture is all about the connection to the subject in the image that we create, the emotion we draw out–not just the technical quality of the camera. I wrote this story because I think sometimes we feel we need the latest and greatest, and we really don’t.

It’s really not about the camera. We need something proficient for what we want to create. The D90 is from 2008 and the 55mm f1.2 is from 1972. Good gear matters, but it doesn’t have to be the latest in all cases.

It’s about creating art out of beautiful, wonderful subjects.  And these people certainly are.

Kenneth Wajda is a freelance commercial photographer and film producer in Boulder, Colorado. You can see more of his work at KennethWajda.com.

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Comments
  1. David O. Garcia says:

    I am so far behind the times. I need a card JUST like yours, with a photo, and email, Good idea on building a client list, but I bet you had fun doing it.

    Like

  2. mike says:

    If you’re feeling really brave, you can take a dremel tool to the aperture ring of that lens and carve out a little space for the coupling tab on the camera body. If you’re feeling brave *and* precise you might even get the carving correct so you can meter correctly. Basically a DIY AI conversion.

    Like

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