I know I'm probably being bitchy but the first thing to do if you want to have fun street shooting and you want to spend less time thinking and strategizing and logisticizing, just choose one camera and one lens and leave all the other crap at home. This is me. This is all I take. One camera and one lens. Why? Because my brain works in mysterious ways and I'm going to guess yours does too. If I bring two lenses my brain is constantly evaluating possible shooting scenarios and trying to wedge them into one lens profile or the other. Wide? Long? In between? How long? How wide? How in between?
If you have one lens on one body you certainly get to know that lens. Especially if you are a "prolific" shooter. Do it enough and the scenes appear like magic, ready made for the focal length you just happened to bring. You know the old saw that goes, "When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail?" Well when you have a 50mm lens on your camera everything looks like a normal lens shot. Your mind likes formalist restrictions as much as kids love boundaries. Wanna hedge your bets because you're a bit scared? Bring a zoom as your one lens and then you'll have it covered.
But don't do what countless legions of rank hobbyists do. They load up a Tamrac or Tenba bag originally designed to hold microwave ovens and assorted furniture, with every piece of camera gear they can find. In goes the wide angle zoom.....because you never know. In goes the mandatory 70-200mm f2.8 zoom (just the right aperture and weight combo for mid day street shooting). And, just because people have an irrational need to "cover" all the in between focal lengths, in goes the 24-70mm f2.8 zoom. But of course none of these is a real macro lens so that's the next thing to go into the bag. And having read someone's gear site recently, all the filters go in the bag. Polarizers, "protection" filters, gradient filters, and wild filters that I don't understand. We're talking bags that tip the scales at a good 15 to 20 pounds. Good news for chiropractors but bad news for photographers. Adding weight to your shoulder is like adding bags of concrete to the trunk of a Prius. All of a sudden the gas mileage goes down dramatically. By the same token your imaging productivity also drops through the floor. You'll want to rest more and leave sooner. None of which is conducive to being there and making images.
I know all about the "Strobist" thing. Love the little flashes. Love the SB-900's and the 580ex2's and the fl50r's, but let's just go ahead and agree to leave them at home. If you're fly fishing you don't generally dynamite the stream. Let's use the same logic when shooting real life. Just bring your rod and reel and some waders and go looking for images that fit. Flashes work best when you have a photo in mind and you have the time to set it up and recreate your alternate reality. Using flash for documentary or street photography is like "bringing a handgun to the opera." (Credit to Henri Cartier Bresson for that one....).
Tripods are only acceptable for street shooting at night or with view cameras. That's all I'll say about that. If you are hauling a 4x5 or 8x10 out and around your city you already know what you need and you probably don't want any advice from me.
Next up. Let's dress for success. You won't be interfacing with clients so you can leave the pressed chinos, button down, and dress shoes at home. But you do need the willing complicity of various people you meet so you'll have to look a bit respectable. If it's 95 degrees and the humidity is in the 90% range you need to dress right or you'll drop quick. Let's start at the top. If you don't mind looking like the kind of guy who still wears a calculator on his belt and makes his own trail mix at home you should go ahead and opt for the bucket hat. It'll protect your head and the tops of your ears. And you'll feel fine, fashion wise, about wearing it to Sea World or one of the fabulous water parks. If this isn't you then let's go with a light weight and light colored baseball cap. Black ball caps look cooler but they get a lot hotter and that pretty much defeats why you're wearing it in the first place. The visor will keep the sun off your face while the rest of the cap covers the rest of your head. Toss some sunscreen on those ears or your dermatologist will yell at you down the road.
Next up, let's talk about sunglasses. My best advice here is to not wear polarized or colored lenses. A pity too since I have a beautiful pair of Revos I bought in the airport on the way home from the 2000 Democratic Convention (I covered it for a newspaper) in LA. But the glasses strike out on both counts. Too much color tint and very polarized (are there degrees of polarization?). Too bad because when I wear them everything in the world looks better. But that's the point, your eyes should be calibrated to your camera. Who cares if the screen looks sexy if it bears no relationship to the images you're capturing? Same thing with the sunglasses. It's like having a really great preview with no way to get there in the end.
I've got an old pair of RayBan Wayfarers that fit the bill. They're neutral, non-polarized and they save me from squinting and getting those little lines in the corners of my eyes.
Next we're into controversial fashion statements. I like shirts with collars. They protect more of your neck and they look better. So, if you are overcome with heat and exhaustion and you just happen to be down the block from the Four Seasons Hotel you'll feel better about flopping down in the Lobby Bar and sucking down a Margarita while you wait for your energy to return. And the staff will feel more comfortable too. Living in Texas and working outside a lot for the last twenty years I've discovered that time and research have largely made the cotton T-shirt obsolete. Cotton sticks to your skin, is heavier and wick moisture much more slowly than some of the new, super lightweight nylon blends being used in what are being called, "technical shirts".
I've gone both ways on successive 105 degree days and I'm here to testify that the synth stuff is miles ahead when it comes to breathability, moisture wicking (and its attendant evaporative cooling powers) and general comfort. I'm wearing a Columbia shirt in the photo but I don't like the styling all that much. The sleeves are too long and I don't need two big pockets. The medium sized shirts are also cut too fat. Do the manufacturers really believe that everyone now is five foot eight with a 40 inch waist?
I've narrowed it down to one brand and one shirt. My current shirt of preference is the Ex Officio Trip'r. It's a short sleeve, blocks UV radiation, has a vent in the back and one sleek pocket on the front. I just bought out their current stock on Amazon in white mediums. It's wonderfully comfortable and I could put it under a navy blazer and go into a restaurant without a moment's hesitation. It is also the coolest (termperature-wise) shirt I own. I get white. It reflects the most heat. If I were heading to the desert I'd get the long sleeve version for more protection. The pocket's not too big but will hold an extra CF card and your driver's license and Amex card. Now you're all prepared. Except for the bottom half......
Golfers know a bit about comfortable. I wear thin, nicely tailored Alan Flusser golf shorts made out of cotton. Somehow they're just right. The shorts variant I abhor are the ubiquitous "Cargo Shorts" which would even make a buff, 23 year old model look like crap. Cargo shorts are sometimes given out as punishment in more enlightened societies. Try not to be caught dead in them. They scream, "I bought these at Costco/Sams/Sears/Old Navy because they are loose and hide my bulk, and I can bring a big fat wallet and all my batteries and my iPhone and my iPad and a box of matches and a flint and a flask and a screwdriver set and........" They do serve one important purpose. They keep stylish young woman from breeding with geeks. Sometimes. Just because we are photographers doesn't mean we need to look bad.
Amazing thing is that decent short pants cost about the same as monstrous short pants with hundred of pockets. The Swiss Army knife comparison does not apply to all things. Your pockets really only need a credit card, a small bit of paper cash and, if you live in a police state, your ID card. With current cameras you're good with one battery in the camera and a nice 8 or 16 gig card nestled in the right slot. Don't make walking a chore by loading up your britches.
I won't even mention go into the folly of wearing "photographic" vests, especially in the Summer and especially over a nice, Ex Officio shirt.....just don't do it. Not for street photography. Save it for the Outward Bound adventure or the software engineering team building exercises.
What should your assistant wear when you are out shooting in the street? I don't know. I guess it depends on how she'll be spending her day because she shouldn't be traipsing around with you if you are out shooting your art. As Elliott Erwitt, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand would all tell you, shooting art is a solo gig. (Guess Gregory Crewdson didn't get the memo...). Maybe the assistant has gone to a career fair. And you sure don't want to bring along your spouse or your kids......
Now we've come to the shoes. This part is tricky for me. I'm a sandal wearing southerner who loves to feel the hot breezes on my feet. Also kinda goes with the rest of the outfit but feet are infinitely varied and somewhat fragile so I'm willing to compromise and sanction the wearing of running shoes or cross training shoes with short, appropriate socks. Nothing over reaching. Whatever you wear on your feet should be comfy and discreet.
I know that artists as a rule hate to hear this, and photographers wedded to their dark, cool caves, even more but; shooting great images in the streets means moving around alot, paying attention and being ready physically. Not only ready to carry gear and pounce but ready to be socially conversant. And all of this means you should be in good shape so you're not panting and sweating buckets while asking polite permission to invade someone's space and steal their soul with your magic box. If you are wavering from the heat there's no way to nail a great shot.
Even though I'm a swimmer and stay in pretty good aerobic shape, when the thermometer heads skyward and the grass starts to turn brown I add two or three days a week of three to five mile walks to my exercise schedule. I do it during the hot times. I always carry a camera. I want to be in good enough shape to spend time in the heat looking for people and stuff I want to photograph. That way the physical stuff goes to autopilot and the looking and shooting are unfettered by discomfort.
Now, admittedly, this is my personal take on shooting in the Austin Summer. Everyone will have their own fashion point of view and, as long as I don't have to stand next to you, I really don't care what you wear. The stuff I've picked works for me on a wide ranging social level as well as a survival level so I'll stick with it. Funny that this particular blog got started when a famous photographer e-mailed to let me know he'd passed through Austin on a plane change. He was amazed that it was 95 degrees with very high humidity. He mentioned that murders rise the closer you get to the equator. I think we could cut down on the hot weather murder rate just by changing people's shirts. But as you no doubt know by now I'm pretty opinionated and you have to take everything I say with a grain of salt.
The Fed Ex man was here earlier today delivering two more white shirts. Just in the nick of time. I'm photographing a swim meet that starts on Friday afternoon and goes till sunset. Should be in the mid 90's with enough water in the air to fill a pool. Might have to break out the soaked bucket hat for this one. That way I'm sure my kid won't want to come up and ask me for money for junk food.
Marketing Note: If I survive the swim meet I'll be meeting people and signing books over at Precision Camera in Austin on Saturday, from noon til 2pm. Bring a cold drink and drop by for a chat. I'll be the guy with the nice tan.........
Be sure to drink some water and save the beer for the end.