Jack Simpson Gets Beautiful Street Photographs with His Fuji Cameras

I have always had a very strong desire to create… I’ve pursued being a musician, graphic designer, sign painter, and now a professional photographer where I seem to have found my creative calling. Photography has allowed me a means to create in any setting while allowing me to express myself visually by borrowing inspiration from my surroundings and experiences. Photography is quick and efficient: a universal language that allows for an extremely wide range of styles, techniques, and approaches – the result is much like painting, but plays very well with my impatient nature.

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What photographers are your biggest influences? 

Jack Simpson: Stephen Shore, Harry Gruyaert, Fred Herzog, Vivian Meier & Saul Leiter 

How did they affect who you are and how you create?

Jack Simpson: Street photography has a lot of unwritten rules and these particular photographers, (especially the color photographers) played within those loose borders that define street photography while simultaneously putting their own creative signatures and experimentation into their work. Each photographer mentioned above allowed me to become comfortable with thinking outside the box, while experimenting and working in a way that still feels right for me as a creator. Most of the photographers mentioned worked with a slower painterly approach instead of a run and gun style utilized by so many candid street photographers.

How long have you been shooting? How do you feel you’ve evolved since you started?

Jack Simpson: I have been shooting street photography consistently and almost daily since 2011. I have evolved from quick snapshots and taking pictures of anything that caught my eye, to a much slower and more methodical workflow; scouting locations beforehand, and being very purposeful with my compositions. I have predominantly shot on digital cameras with occasional bursts of film photography and digital, preferring the easy workflow of digital. 

Tell us about your photographic identity. You as a person have an identity that fundamentally makes you who you are. Tell us about that person as a photographer.

Jack Simpson: I am a textbook Virgo with strong attention to detail. I tend to sort, categorize and keep things neat and tidy and this tendency often spills over into my photography. I have an irresistible attraction to visual anomalies, coincidences, juxtapositions, and things that seem to be out of place within my environment; photography provides a means to bring symmetry and order to the chaotic nature of the street. I also love looking for potential humor or something captured in a witty way. I would say I have a pretty good sense of humor, it was the most comfortable way for me to make friends growing up, I have been told there is a thread of wit & humor that runs throughout my photography.

Tell us about the gear you’re using.

Jack Simpson: I have used digital Fuji X-series cameras (XT1, XT2 & XT3) for the past 7 years. They allow me to carry a compact toolkit that draws minimal attention to myself and allows for manual manipulation of settings without having to access digital menus while working. I predominantly shoot with a 35mm focal length because it allows me to incorporate more of the scene without the field of view being too wide, complicating my desire for clean compositions. With that said, I have been gravitating to more telephoto focal lengths to create even cleaner less cluttered compositions, and this also allows me to be able to move in closer to my subjects without being intrusive with body proximity. 

My approach to street photography has been heavily influenced by my wedding photography where I seek to create clean creative compositions with minimal clutter and extraneous elements in frame. 

Natural light or artificial light? Why?

Jack Simpson: While my professional work utilizes an array of artificial light sources, for my street work I am strictly natural light. I have used off-camera flash in the past for candid work but the workflow is cumbersome and a distraction for me. 

Do you feel you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why? How does the gear help you do this?

Jack Simpson: I am a creator; I want each of my photographs to carry my own stamp/signature on them which I hope becomes more distinctive and recognizable over time. With each photograph I produce I aim to show the viewer something unique; composed from my own mind (with the assistance of the unpredictability of public spaces) My gear helps me achieve this in that Fuji X series cameras are extremely easy to use, giving me the ability to change settings quickly. Being able to manually manipulate dials and aperture rings allows me to stay present in the moment and does not hinder the creative process.

What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically?

Jack Simpson: Mentally, when I’m creating candid street photography I always try to keep an open mind and trust my instinct – if I hear some commotion or see something that has potential I gravitate towards it – I’ve learned over the years that even the most mundane street corner has the potential to produce beautiful poetic moments. 

Being present is very important to find great shots – certain scenes play out in very predictable ways, such as a dog being walked that is approaching a flock of birds – I know that dog will lunge for those birds 9 out of 10 times so my job is to orient my lens for a unique point of view and pre-compose the shot to make it aesthetically pleasing (I believe most street photographs fail because of poor figure to ground relationships and that is why I’m very big on finding the right spot and waiting.)

The subject matter of my street work is wholly unpredictable, so initially, I tend to seek out distinctive uncluttered backgrounds that are free distractions. This initial scouting provides me with a stage for the unpredictable elements to enter later ie human, bird, vehicle etc..

Mechanically, I am always checking my light sources & exposure, putting the sun at my back so my scene and subject are illuminated. I am often experimenting, so some days I will be slowing my shutter speed down with an ND filter to capture motion. I prefer to not shoot with a shallow depth of field except for night shots. Most oftentimes because California is sunny year-round I am under exposing the highlights to deepen contrast and crush the shadows to add drama. If I’m dealing with a completely erratic subject such as a flock of birds I will switch my camera drive to burst mode. Otherwise, I am in manual zone focus so the shutter is instantaneous without having to hunt for focus prior to the shot.

Please walk us through your processing techniques. Also, tell us about how you’re achieving your look without Photoshop if you’re comfortable with that.

Jack Simpson: I prefer minimal editing adjustments in Lightroom with basic color correction, contrast and saturation adjustment. I do find the visual aesthetic of digital files to be quite sterile and I work with some curves adjustments to achieve a more harmonious balance of tones.  

Tell us about the project or portfolio you’re pitching to us.

Jack Simpson: My current ‘Streets’ portfolio (see attached images) is a collection of candid photography with a focus on juxtaposition, color & coincidence in public spaces. The urban landscape offers an immense well of poetic possibility and it is where I’ve come to feel most connected to my creative spirit. I have spent the past decade mining the avenues and alleyways for artful moments, and snaring unique mixtures of color & light into frame. If street photography is in fact 99% failure, my portfolio celebrates the 1% where all elements of the street sing in harmony.

What made you want to get into your genre?

Jack Simpson: The spontaneity and unpredictable nature of the street has always attracted me to be there waiting and watching for the next poetic moment. It never ceases to amaze me what the random shuffle of the street will produce from one minute to the next. 

About Jack Simpson

“Former San Francisco City paramedic turned professional photographer, Jack Simpson, has been exploring color, contrast, and coincidence via candid street photography for a decade. His initial interest in street photography began in 2012 and has since paved the way to transitioning into a successful career in commercial and fine art wedding photography. 

His photography started to become noticed while working as a documentary photographer for a local ambulance provider in San Francisco. His work provided a comprehensive inside look at metropolitan EMS response from behind the yellow tape where news cameras and the general public were forbidden. 

In 2017 an on-the-job injury during his Fire Academy training had abruptly put an end to his aspirations to become a fire medic and it was then he retired from paramedicine and switched careers into wedding and event photography full time and then later into commercial work which now is heavily influenced by his personal street photography.”

All images and words by Jack Simpson. Used with permission. Be sure to follow Jack on Instagram, Twitter and his website. Want to be featured? Click here to see how.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.