This is the first image I ever asked permission to take, and it was one of the first shots where I had started to become conscious of the direction and quality of light. It was August in the Mission in San Francisco. I went out for a walk with my camera late in the afternoon. I had no particular direction in mind, but noticed that the light was low and strong, so I suspected I’d be shooting either in open shade on the west side of the street (in, for example, the shade of a building) or with that hard, directional light if shooting the east side of the street.
For me, what usually happens in a situation like this is one of two things: either a) you take exactly zero shots and, within an hour, find yourself succumbing to the open door of a bar; or b) you take a bunch of crappy shots, knowing you’ll go home, import them (“Maybe something will look good on that big monitor”), delete them all, and then head to the bar.
But eventually, persistence pays off. If you go for enough walks (see yesterday’s post), you will eventually, definitely get some shots. Walking up Harrison, I saw three guys around 20th, on the east side of the street, jumping their bikes from a ramp onto a loading dock in that half-industrial, half-residential space between the Mission and Potrero Hill. They were all a bit older than one might suspect—20s to early 30s. (But then again, it’s San Francisco, where age seems almost always irrelevant.) I watched them for a couple minutes, then decided to approach one of them and see if they’d mind if I took a few pictures. What the hell, right? They decided that one of the guys, who called himself Moody, would be the best subject—as he could get the highest on the jump. (By the way, Moody looked a lot like Will Oldham.)
All I knew was that I wanted a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion, and that I’d have to shoot in continuous “burst” mode to increase the chances of capturing Mr. Moody at the height of his jump and in an interesting composition. So I switched to Shutter Priority mode and dialed in 1/500 of second—which, after looking at the shots of the first jump, ended up being not quite fast enough. Increasing the shutter to 1/1000 of a second worked (though it couldn’t’ve hurt to go a bit faster; the shot is still a bit soft…). I shot another jump, showed the guys the back of the LCD, and—with the exaggerated effect of the wide angle making it look more dramatic than it really was—they became somewhat interested. The shot here came on the third and last jump I shot. (I didn’t want to take too much of their time.) I grabbed Moody’s email address and sent him the shot later that night.
The lessons here: a) just look around and consciously make note of the light—the hard light creating the hard shadow on the wall is what, for me, makes this shot; and b) approach people. Seeing the light quickly gets easier and easier, but walking up to someone is still difficult for me; I approach only about 5–10% of the people I would really like to shoot. But it gets easier, too, and the worst thing that can happen is they say no. You’ll get exactly what you would’ve gotten had you not approached them to begin with: nothing.
On second thought, I suppose the worst thing that could happen is that you’ll get robbed, shot, and left to bleed out on the sidewalk, but the chances of that are pretty low. Especially around the holidays, one would think.
Metadata: ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec., 17mm on a Canon 17–40mm f/4, Canon 40D