We have a guest blogger today!
Danny Santos II is a fresh talent from the Philippines who’s currently residing in Singapore. His street portraits have taken the online photo sharing community by storm, and we have the priviledge of his insights on how to shoot street photography as well as an interview! Enjoy!
What subjects and genre are you specializing in?
My subjects are strangers I find in the streets, and the genre I’m try to specialize in is both street photography and portraiture.
How do you define your photography style and signature?
I’m not sure if I have a style… I think I’m still in the process of developing it. I always like to experiment with sunlight, but then I also like shooting in the rain. And when the wheather is in between sun and rain, I like shooting portraits because of the overcast sky. I’m not sure if I’ll ever stick to justs one particular style.. maybe just for a while, then I’m looking for other styles again.
Which one photographic piece of equipment would you say is the most critical to you?
I’d say it’s my 85mm lens. I have a love-hate relationship with this lens. When I first bought it, I was kinda disappointed. I found the focal length awkward to use in the streets.. it’s wasn’t long enough, but also not wide enough. I couldn’t come up with keepers with it, so it stayed in my cabinet gathering dust. After a couple of months, I decided to give it another try and be very patient with it… eventually, I started to figure out how to use it and got one keeper after another. Now it almost never leaves my camera.
Do you have a favorite lens?
The 85mm f1.4, as described above.
Can you briefly describe your walk-through from capture to display?
I always shoot in RAW. From there, I import all the shots to Adobe Lightroom to screen the keepers, and whenever necessary, adjust the exposure, add vignette, and crop the shot. After this, I export to Photoshop to adjust the contrast, and whenever necessary, apply selective highlights and shadows using channel selections (this is equivalent to dodge & burn), enhance sharpness, and convert to black & white. That’s about it.
What inspires you most?
I guess it’s the thought of creating a photograph that’s worth looking at and smiling about… that beautiful everyday moment which would have otherwise gone unnoticed. I’m reminded by a quote I read from the famous street shooter Robert Doisneau: “The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.”
How do you decide on location or subject?
For the location, I always look for good people traffic, good potential background, and good light. I think having these things in a location increases your chances of getting a good photograph. For the subject, on the other hand, I always look for someone you wouldn’t mind looking at. They don’t necessarily have to be aesthetically beautiful (although that helps a lot), they should at least have character, you know. As long as they don’t look normal, and as long as I feel that their look will translate well in a photograph, I start shooting.
Which ONE photograph that you’ve created that you’ll consider as your favorite and why?
I think it will have to be the two girls running barefoot in the rain.
I think I really got lucky with that… not only were they barefoot, they were running in synch! That for me is the exact definition of being at the right place at the right time.
What’s your current project?
I’m currently working on my “Portraits of Strangers” set where I roam around Orchard Road every weekend and take close-up head shots of strangers with their permission. I’ve always wanted to kind of transition from shooting street to shooting portraits, and this project is my personal effort to do that.
The project has been going on for quite a while now, and I’m almost done since I now have about 82 out of 100 strangers. You can see all the portraits I’ve taken so far in my facebook page here or in my flickr set here.
Please provide our readers three quick tips to be successful in your field and genre.
1) Keep shooting and keep experimenting. A lot of my keepers were a product of “happy accidents”.
2) The fear will never go away. Just shoot through the fear, and when you get that keeper, your going to want more.
3) Relentlessly look for inspiration online and in books. It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut where you won’t know what to do next. Constantly looking for inspiration keeps you looking forward to learning and trying new things.
5 Tips on Shooting in the Streets
by Danny Santos II
“What are some unwritten rules of street photography according to Danny Santos?” Well, my answers were really more like tips than rules, and they’re not according to me but more like stuff that you will just learn eventually the longer you shoot. I decided to share my answers here and expand further. There are a lot more useful tips you can find online, but I believe these 5 tips is a good place to start with. So here goes…
#1. Perfect photographic moments in the streets come only once in a blue moon… but when it comes to you, it’s worth the wait. So have the patience of a saint.
I remember one weekend when I was shooting for about 2 hours with no single decent shot. I was tired, demoralized, and about to call it a day when suddenly this blue angel showed up in the middle of the crowd, walking almost aimlessly while texting in her mobile. This one shot made my day. It was enough to quench my photographic thirst for the rest of the week.
There were times where I’d go for 3 to 4 hours with no good shot to show for. I used to get so frustrated about it with fist up in the air, but nowadays I know that’s how it is… sometimes that’s what it takes for you to get that “keeper”.
#2. To capture that truly unexpected moment, sometimes you have to be unexpected yourself. Be discreet by blending in the crowd.
Try not to stick out like a sore thumb by wearing conspicuously bright clothes or constantly having your camera right in your face. Relax, put your camera down, and be an invisible observant by being just one of the casual street walkers. Raise your camera only when you’re a second away from taking that candid shot. Take a few clicks, then put it down again.
Some street shooters push the envelope by being so obvious to their victim subject so as to provoke a reaction towards getting photographed. That’s also a way to get that keeper shot if you’ve got the balls for it. Bruce Gilden is a good example of a photographer with balls of steel.
#3. Don’t hesitate, just shoot… in fact, shoot like crazy.
Great street photographers like Garry Winogrand and Trent Parke were very trigger-happy shooters. Winogrand could finish a roll of 36-exposure film just by walking from one block to another. He was able to publish 6 books in his lifetime. On his untimely death, he left behind 2,500 undeveloped rolls of film, and an additional 6,500 rolls that developed but not yet previewed – over 300,000 photos were undeveloped in total. 3 more books were published after that.
Trent Parke once said “You shoot a lot of shit and you’re bound to come up with a few good ones.”And indeed he shot a whole lot… and got way more than a few keepers.
Learn from them. I remember one night I shot like crazy while walking in the pedestrian lane in Orchard over and over again, trying to capture a good silhouette shot from the headlights of the cars on red. I didn’t care what the other people were thinking of me. Eventually, I got my keeper:
However, please don’t take this as a recommendation to just recklessly shoot anything that moves with the hopes of getting a few good ones. You have to know what kind of image you want to create first, and determine the circumstances where you can get that image, then intelligently shoot like crazy.
#4. The fear will never go away. Learn to deal with it and shoot through the fear.
I’ve been shooting for about 2 years now and I still get scared shitless most of the time. That feeling is always there that sometimes I would ask myself “why am I doing this to myself again?” The fear and paranoia will not get better… what DOES get better is your ability to consciously decide to shoot anyway despite the possibility of getting slapped in the face by the tough-looking chick you’re about to photograph:
Don’t get too reckless, though. I don’t want you to get slapped and blame me for it.
#5. Relentlessly look for inspiration. The more you immerse yourself with great photos, the higher your expectations of your own photos will be.
I’ve been there… on my first few clicks from my new DSLR, I thought “that’s not bad.. that’s not bad at all.” And a few more clicks and I had the ability to create stories out of my shots to justify its existence. At this point, I can still remember my girlfriend shaking her head saying ‘no.’ Then after a while when I get to see all those other awesome street shots on Flickr, and I get back to my early stuff, I realize how embarrassingly bad I actually was.
One important trait of a photographer is that ability to effectively curate his own work. In order to do this, you need to raise your personal standards. In order to do this, expand your horizons by relentlessly looking for inspiration from the classic masters like Garry Winogrand, William Klein, Helen Levitt, Henri Cartier Bresson, Daido Moriyama, Elliott Erwitt, and Philip-Lorca Dicorcia to name a few. For modern street photography, there’s Trent Parke, Matt Stuart, David Solomons, Nick Turpin, Matt Robinson, Matt Weber, Lukas Vasilikos, Nils Jorgensen and so much more.
The more familiar you are with what a good street shot looks like, the more discerning you will be of your own shots, the better you will be at judging if you’ve got a keeper. This way, you don’t show off your mediocre work.. everyone has a lot of that. Only show the ones that make your heart leap… the ones where you can proudly attach your name to.
Thank you Danny for sharing your insights, inspiration, and vision to our readers. Street photography is a genre that everyone should be able to dip their toes into and it’s an endless supply of interesting subjects for any aspiring photographer. Getting comfortable shooting strangers helps photographers build confidence and trains you on how to build rapport and communicate with your subjects better as well.