I’ve said it before: The muse exists but she has to find you working. But that doesn’t mean you have to know you’re working.
I wasn’t going out to make photographs, I was walking to get coffee and parked a block up the street because that’s where I found a parking space, and I wasn’t sure there would be one closer. I got out of my car, took my camera which is something I always do (Nikon D610 with an old Nikon 20mm f3.5 AIS manual focus lens, gaffer-taped to the 12′ mark to make sure it stays there) set it up for the proper exposure (this time probably 1/2000 at f8 at ISO 800) which is what I also do automatically when I step out into any location. Knowing it’s set to 12 feet to use zone focus (guaranteeing everything will be sharp from six feet to infinity), I walked to get my java. I didn’t know I was showing up to make art, but alas I was. This is a shot that unfolded in front of me. It was crooked in camera and straightened in post as I didn’t shoot with the camera to my eye but at chest level.
Here’s the behind-the-scenes look, shots that will never get posted on an actual post to an photography site. Because good photography is good editing. Tight editing. Never showing your outs (unless creating a tutorial, like this).
There were actually three shots in the sequence that I made as I approached and walked past them. The coffee shop is at the far end of this block, my destination. I saw the boy leaning into his Dad’s arms, and shot the first frame but by the time I did, the boy is looking at me and my camera.
Then I made shot the sweet photo at the top of this page. Below are the two frames the came before and after it.
I kept on walking, didn’t look at my camera screen, and did a bit of acting–I photographed the For Rent sign on the building past them with the camera up to my eye, as a way of deflecting attention and creating doubt about whether I had made their photo. Street photography is a bit of a public dance, always moving, never giving away what we’re really shooting. Garry Winogrand famously did this by fumbling around with a look of confusion on his face, looking like he was trying to figure out his camera, all the while shooting.
I am always on the lookout for street photographs, but I’m not always going out to shoot them. I was just going about my life and this appeared in front of me. What a fleeting moment it was, that I was able to choose a parking spot some distance away, walk and be in that position exactly as that happened. What an odd coincidence of timing, that my stride met them at just that time. That’s the muse at work, right there.
Be ready. Don’t try to make the shot with an unfocused, unset camera. Have your finger on the shutter and ready for anything. Now you have the ability to make the shot, all the while going about your life.
Trust that when you’re ready, the muse will put you in place to where the moments happen, to get the shot. Then do a little dance. That’s street photography–making art all the while living our lives, going about our day.