Jeff Karp’s Beautiful Street Photography Finds Light in the Darkness

All images by Jeff Karp. Used with permission.

Jeff Karp is an exceptional street photographer. In a short period of time, he has amassed a strong, supportive following through Instagram. “I am so grateful and humbled by every person who chooses to authentically follow,” he says when speaking of his rise to success. This, however, is not someone who is solely focused on popularity. Here is a man who takes street photography very seriously. He is just as passionate about improving as he is creating – clearly evident through the images he makes. A street photography journey that’s still very much in its birth, Jeff tells us, “I work every day to get better”.

Jeff very kindly took time out of his busy schedule to chat to us about his experience in street photography so far…

Phoblographer: So, Jeff, how does a pediatric dentist fall into the world of abstract, artistic street photography?

JK: I made my way to street photography through Instagram. I started posting daily to the platform in the fall of 2016 with a focus primarily on Minnesota landscapes, details of surfaces in the urban environment, and architecture in the Twin Cities. I have enjoyed participating in daily theme based photo forums as part of the @JJCommunity. In February 2017, I was selected to be a JJ editor (@jj_editor_jeff) whose job is to review hundreds of images posted for the daily themes and to select my favorites to feature on my editor account. Quickly, I found myself selecting images where minimalism, dark negative space, intense light, and shadows were noteworthy. I also started to see images where human subjects were used effectively in a photograph to tell stories, depict scale, and generally bring the scene to life. By following hashtags of people posting these types of images, I learned of the various street photography community accounts and was instantly intrigued by the range of styles within the genre and the fact that the images were created candidly. In April 2017, I started my street photography journey in Minneapolis and haven’t looked back since that time.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you build a photograph. What are the core elements you need in order to feel excited and confident about the frame?

“I take my art seriously and try to curate a visually consistent and esthetic gallery”

JK: I really enjoy making photographs in intense, midday sunlight. I let the light guide me to potential scenes when walking the city. Once at a scene, I see how the light and shadows interact with the hard landscape and look for interesting leading lines, geometric shapes, sub framing elements, colour, and scale. I try hard to find scenes with minimal artificial lights, illuminated storefronts, and other elements that create random highlights within the dark negative space I aim to have in my images. I look for an uncluttered, distraction-free stage in the part of the scene illuminated by the sunlight. I tend to compose my scenes first and then wait for an interesting person or his or her silhouette to complete the frame. It is always exhilarating to see these elements come together candidly right in front of me.

Phoblographer: You’ve become extremely popular in the street photography community on Instagram. Was this always the goal or has the love come as a surprise to you?

JK: My goal with Instagram has always been to share my art with others, interact with and support like-minded creators, and improve my photography through feedback and studying the images of other inspiring photographers. I take my art seriously and try to curate a visually consistent and esthetic gallery that I feel represents me well. I have been very lucky to have the support of several large Instagram accounts that consistently drive traffic to my profile.

“I work hard during my photowalks to notice and explore public scenes filled with intense light and deep shadows”

Phoblographer: Your edits are so clean and beautiful. How have you managed to get such a compelling aesthetic in your work?

JK: I work hard during my photo walks to notice and explore public scenes filled with intense light and deep shadows. I often use aperture priority mode with exposure compensation to meter for the highlights thereby forcing the shadows to fall very dark. During post-processing on either my computer or smartphone, I further deepen the shadows in the frame. The light in my scenes is so bright that it tolerates these adjustments without darkening the illuminated parts of the frame. I enjoy bold contrast. I use color judiciously and will go with black and white if the color in the frame adds little to the mood or visual interest of the image. I try to make the story in the light the focus point of the photograph. I use dark negative space routinely in my images to produce a graphic, abstract feel. I do occasionally have point highlights within the dark negative space that I need to remove to decrease distractions and to keep an orderly clean image.

Phoblographer: How do you balance improving your street photography whilst also ensuring you give your followers what they want? In other words, do you ever feel that the need to be consistent limits your desire to take risks?

JK: I am happy with the growth I’ve seen in my photography over the last two years and still feel as though I am taking creative risks when making photographs on the street. I am very detail oriented and like seeing a consistent look to my portfolio of images. I enjoy the challenge of exploring new ways to push my photography forward while staying true to my overall aesthetic. I am confident in my photography point of view.

Phoblographer: You have a gallery titled “Digital Art.” Please tell us more about this concept and how you feel it differs to the rest of your photography…

JK: Unlike my street photography which occurs candidly, my digital art is created methodically on my smartphone using a variety of apps and a small but real human subject copied from my catalogue of street photography images. I have made a series of these images over the last 6 months while the cold, snowy Minnesota weather has kept me from getting outdoors to hit the streets. My digital art challenges me to find ways to see greater depth into my scenes, an area of growth for me when composing images in street photography. These images give me a chance to be a storyteller as well. My digital art depicts one’s journey into the unknown and explores motifs around uncertainty, hope, persistence, power, and despair. These images depart from reality but have visual elements that help them to work coherently with other images in my portfolio.

“The opportunity to make art through photographing the human condition in everyday city life is really rewarding and fun for me”.

Phoblographer: What’s your main motivation when going out and creating street photographs?

JK: My photography is a wonderful creative outlet from my daily work and busy family life. I go out to make images on sunny days as it improves my mood and gives me a chance to get some exercise. I hit the streets without any expectations or plan in mind. I block out the sounds of the city by playing music in my headphones and focus on seeing the interaction between light, shadow, and the urban environment around me. The opportunity to make art through photographing the human condition in everyday city life is really rewarding and fun for me.

Phoblographer: Which street photographers inspire you?

JK: I am not a formally trained photographer and have unfortunately had little exposure to street photography outside of Instagram. I have however been inspired by so many talented street photographers via our international Instagram community. When I first started making photographs in this genre during the spring of 2017, Brandon Wong (@_mrbw_), Valérie Six (@valeriesixlouis), Rinzi Ruiz (@rinzizen), Ryan Tacay (@phraction), Paul Baldonado (@paulie.b), Mark Fearnley (@mark.fearnley), and Jane Zhang (@janezhangphotography) were early inspirations for me and continue to be so today. Each of them excels in using natural light, contrast, graphic elements, negative space, and distraction-free composition to make visually appealing images that seamlessly guide viewers through the frame.

You can enjoy more of Jeff’s work by visiting his Instagram and website.

Dan Ginn

Dan Ginn is a content writer and journalist. He brings with him five years' experience writing in the photographic niche. During that time he has worked with a range of leading brands, as well as a host professional photographers within the industry.