People in public. Originally posted in Oct. 2009.


Image from Rome. The Pantheon in the background. Circa 1994 ©2009 Kirk Tuck

My wife will tell you that I spend too much time reading photo fora on the web. I've begun to see that she's right because I keep reading the same stuff in new disguises. This morning a fellow posted a photo at the Strobist Discussion group. He was amazed to find that Cabella's sporting good store might have used an off camera flash to create one of their ads. Amazing. As though we advertising photographers had never used an off camera flash or taken lights outdoors!!!

But the thing that struck me recently is how cowardly people have become about their gear. I've seen ten or fifteen posts in the last week from (mostly Americans) people who want to know how to safeguard their equipment in such dangerous places as: Paris, France and Rome, Italy and even, gasp, Copenhagen, Denmark. The thing that strikes me as funny is that each of these places has a much lower violent crime rate than just about any major city in the U.S. And each of these cities is a pedestrian city where, even in the unlikely event of a crime being perpetrated, you are surrounded by helpful people ready to jump in and help ensure social stability.

The idea that your Canon Rebel needs be locked in a hotel safe or secured to your body with a special strap containing unbreakable wires (what a good way to be decapitated should your camera get stuck in a train door......) is laughable. If you are dragging that much paranoia along on your vacation you may need to invest in other things. Therapy comes to mind. More wide ranging travel is another.

The second kind of post that seems to come up, with annoying regularity, is the idea that, to shoot in the street, you must become a stealthy ninja and your camera should be so small that it becomes all but invisible at any distance beyond five feet. The idea being, I guess, that a hulking American, complete with baggy cargo shorts, a promotional T-shirt for their favorite NFL team, white athletic socks, and day-glo Nike running shoes (never used for that purpose), topped with a baseball cap, will be able to sneak through a crowd of well dressed Europeans and will be able to position themselves in just the right way to SECRETLY take startling good photographs.

Their ideal camera is silent with an incredible zoom lens and a very small foot print. Either that or a Canon/Nikon/Sony/Olympus coupled with a bag full of lenses. Which they are deathly afraid some grandmother from Provencal will slit their throat to own.

Face it. You'll probably stick out. Face it. People will see that you have a camera in your hand. And unless you are doing your tourism in the Sudan you'll see when you look around that almost everyone else has a camera or a cellphone with a camera, or a video camera. They're everywhere. They are ubiquitous. Believe me, people in the European community also buy and use cameras.

Back in 1994 Belinda and I headed to Rome for a few weeks of vacation and photography. I brought along one camera. A Hasselblad 500c/m and a 100 mm f3.5 planar lens. That, and a few one gallon ziploc bags of tri-x 120 film. I spent most of my time walking along shooting whatever caught my attention. If a person looked interesting I'd ask them to pose. Sometimes I'd just smile, nod and shoot.

Books on travel caution newbies to be constantly aware of their surroundings. Hypervigilant if you will. I discarded all that advice out of necessity. After every twelve frames I'd have to stop and reload the 120 back on the camera. Since I was using a waist level finder I often had to stop as the light changed and take incident meter readings. No one cared. Every once in a while an older gentleman would ask about the camera. Younger people ignored it.

After a long morning and the better part of an afternoon spent poking into the nocks and crannies of Rome (and there are many) I sat down for a moment,at an outside table, at the closest food vendor with a direct view of the Pantheon. The restaurant was a McDonalds. The couple in front of me was having an animated conversation. I looked into my viewfinder, framed the shot, adjusted the exposure and fired the shutter. It was not a silent camera given the size of the moving mirror..... The couple turned to look and I smiled and nodded. They smiled back and with their tacit approval I shot several more images where they looked into the lens.

No one was fearful. There was no conflict or even a hint of animosity or aggression from either side. And this is the way it has gone for me and other street shooters for decades and decades. If someone doesn't want to be photographed they'll let you know. If you don't push it they won't either.

I like the image above. With billions and billions of images swirling around out in the attention-o-sphere there is a very small percentage that are relational. I like images that either speak directly to the viewer or show relationships.

The first (and probably only) step is to conquer your irrational fears that: A. Someone is always trying to rip you off. B. That everyone who is photographed instantly turns into a serial killer and they are aimed at you. C. You won't have people's willing complicity.

If you are calm, relaxed and see other people as, well, just other people, you'll probably do just fine. You might want to practice photographing strangers by becoming a tourist in your own town. I find that a nice weekend of street shooting in nearby San Antonio is just the right "warm up" before a trip abroad.

Get comfortable outside your comfort zone!

Bon Voyage. Kirk

Quiet Photography with an older camera and a shiny lens.

Sundays are all over the map. Sometimes we're all going in different directions and sometimes they are quiet days that seem to exist just to regain our energy and have some mellow time before the start of another week.

A little while ago I spent way too much time thinking, talking and writing about photography but not enough time doing it.  It made me cranky and out of sorts. I figured a good Sunday walk would help take out the kinks.

In my mind I was looking for a sunny day so I could go out and shoot all kinds of contrasty stuff. The kind of images that make for good fodder in articles about sharpness and saturation.  But on this particular Sunday the sky was overcast and every once in a while there were little splashes of warm rain that left pockets of humidity in random spots around downtown.

I decide to go for a walk anyway. Just to clear my head. I looked in the equipment drawers and one comfortable, dependable and somewhat mystical camera called out to me and insinuated that I've have more fun if she went along.  It was my Olympus EP2.  The same one that went with me to West Texas and made such wonderful square images of Marfa and Marathon. The one with the paint wearing off.  My mood lightened. I put the ultra-shiny (disco finish) Olympus 45mm 1.8 on, shoved an extra battery in my pocket and drove close to downtown.

My intention to come away with fun or striking photographs kept blocking my seeing. The more I wanted to see the less I saw. When you are looking for a supermodel in a bikini dancing with reckless abandon in the middle of Congress Ave. you overlook all the quieter subject matter.  Your intention to find sparkle drowns out your ability to see something else.

I stopped and sat on a bench for five or ten minutes.  I closed my eyes and told myself that all I expected to get out of the afternoon was a good, brisk walk. (And maybe a cookie at the end, at Whole Foods...). I tried to take my photographer ego out of the mix. I reminded myself that, in the end, I was the only audience and it didn't matter what I saw or how I saw it.

For a couple of minutes I just concentrated on my breath. On the in breath and then on the out breath. Once or twice my mind tried to trick me into action. I let the thought that I was surely missing some unique visual opportunity interrupt my concentration on just breathing. But when I examined those thoughts and let them pass I went back to just concentrating on my breathe.

When I felt calm, relaxed and happy I stood up, tossed the camera over my shoulder and walked on toward Congress Ave.  Now I wasn't looking for anything special.  And now little details would peek out at me and I'd stop and photograph them.

As I finished my route through downtown, about a block from the end, I looked over the bridge that spans tiny, trickly Shoal Creek and saw the trees and the leaves. After last Summer's drought and the ample rain of the Spring they looked fresh and alive.  The rocks, the leaves, the trees and the little touches of color and texture.  That's what my walk wanted to be.  I just needed to get out of the way...