5 Mistakes I Made: Shooting Street Portraits in Detroit’s Eastern Market With the Fujifilm X-T1

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Editor’s Note: This blog post was syndicated from Keenan Rivals. It and the images in the post are being republished here with permission.

Whenever you venture into something new chances are you don’t know everything… Many would deem this as obvious, but there are occasions when you see something and you think “I can do that”. It’s an ambitious thought, but it does happen occasionally.

That was me when it came to street portraits. Everytime I’d see a portrait of a stranger I told myself that was a photograph that anybody could take. In fact, I thought it was so easy that I didn’t even attempt to photograph them. They were beneath me, for amateurs only I always figured. As of late I’ve been paying attention to other street photographer’s work, whatever I produced last year I haven’t been able to reproduce. One thing I noticed that was consistent amongst people’s work were their street portraits. I’m in no way looking to replicate anyone’s style, but I feel like I lost my touch in a way, so I thought, why not start from the basics. Since I had a hard time candidly photographing people I told myself that I would make the situation more comfortable for both parties and simply ask to take their photo.

Detroit's Eastern Market, 2015

Detroit’s Eastern Market, 2015

To my surprise this was no basic task. After this experience I learned that every aspect of photography is art. There’s not one genre that is easily replicated, when you see a great photo, it’s likely that a great photographer photographed it. After my first failed venture into street portraits I told myself this would be the first style of photography that I would try to master. In order to do this I’ve went back to critiquing myself. Moving forward I’ll be attaching my GoPro to the top of my X-T1 and documenting my journey in taking better street portrait. Below is the first addition to the series as well as the mistakes I noticed during this session.

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1. Not Working The Scene

– In the video you can see that I’ve overcome the fear of asking someone to pose for an image. I’m not afraid to talk to strangers, however, once I get them in front of my camera I tend to take whatever expression they give me. I’ve learned that much of what is photographed is fabricated, but it’s the art behind it that speaks to the viewer, not the actual story. I guess in a way I use to consider this as cheating. The emotion I’m trying to display isn’t authentic, but I guess that’s why it’s considered art. I hope this is all making sense… When taking a photo, especially a portrait, you the photographer decides whose story you want to tell, the subjects, or the one you created for the subject. You’re the director, either way, their both authentic. In order to have the option between the two I should have have worked the scene better. I should have allowed the subject to pose instinctively and from their directed them into a photograph that I thought was more appealing or authentic to the story that I wanted to tell.

2. Paying Attention To Light

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– Whenever I asked someone to take a photograph I just took it wherever we stood. My only interest at the time was an interesting figure. If I found the subject interesting, I didn’t pay attention at all to the scene. There could have been unique shadows in the area, or a background that was more pleasing. There are always things to add to the photo, as well as subtract, as a photographer I need to be able to observe my surroundings.

3. Not Having An Opening Line

– Most of the time when I asked people to take a photograph and they questioned why I had no idea what to say. I stumbled and that’s a reason why I probably received as many no’s as I did (not shown in the video). I should have had a clear reason to why I was doing this, even if it was as simple as saying “I’m a student”. Being prepared to answer questions just gives people a peace of mind, most people don’t have a problem with taking a photo they simply just want to know why.

4. Lack Of Promotion

– The majority of people I photographed were older, which is a trend in my street photography. Being that they are sometimes twice my age I tend to think they don’t care about my photography. I’d bet more than half of them would love to view their photograph, which just increases my brand. Part of how I make money is through this website, so self promotion should always be a priority. Next time I’ll have cards, and I’ll converse more, get to know more about them, as well as share my own story. Building relationships with people in your neighborhood is vital.

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5. Saying Goodbye

– Watching myself say “Have a good day” over and over again as painful. Why was I dismissing the subject? If I ask someone to stop and take a photo and they oblige then there is no reason why I should feel like I’m bothering them. I think moving forward I’ll say do you have a few minutes, so that mentally I can feel better about holding them up. But either way, I don’t want to stop photographing until they say goodbye. One of the moments that stood out to me most was at the 45 second mark, I know for a fact I could have took pictures of her for a few minutes, I think this would have resulted in a much better photograph.

Hopefully you all like this series, I’ll try to implement these lessons I learned on the next session and we’ll see if it results in a better portrait photograph. If you have any tips of your own feel free to share them in the comments. If you’d like to see just the portraits from this photo walk then you can view them in my most recent post when I gave my opinion on the Fujifilm XF 18-55. Be sure to give the video a like and subscribe for my content.

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