One of my favorite things to do when I go on vacation is street photography, meaning not photos of streets, but photos of the action on the street. It really means action most anywhere; in stores, at famous monuments, etc. The only defining factor is that it is spontaneous and, for the most part, not posed.
In the early summer of 2015 my wife Linda, daughter Caitlin, and I went to London and Paris. These are a selection of the photos I took on the streets of these two amazing cities. Each photo I think captures an essence of the moment in a way that staged photos can’t. After each photo I have given some ideas of what I was looking for and what you can also look for when you do street photography.
Selfie Kiss at Versailles – © Marty Coleman 2017
The main thing about street photography is you have to be ready. No fumbling, no settings, no focusing even. You have to get that shot as if it’s a breaking news story, right now right there. In this case I had already noticed her bright red (and long) fingernails so I was attuned to her.
I also knew there was a rare empty space not filled with people behind her and watched for a moment to see if something interesting might compose itself. And when she raised her arm I knew what was coming and raised my camera.
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Stripes – © Marty Coleman 2017
Street photography is about visual stimulation. Your eye drives the process and you have to respond quickly. The decision-making has to be immediate or the moment has passed. In this case I already had my finger on the shutter button as I happened to see this woman with the bold striped dress coming towards me. I didn’t think about it I just pushed the button.
The other thing about street photography is the fun of not really knowing what you captured. The stripes were interesting, yes. But getting the other striped shirt and the person walking right between them was fun to discover later and it’s what makes the photograph as a whole visually stimulating to me.
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LOOK FOR CONTRASTS
Standing Nudes, Sitting People – © Marty Coleman 2017
Juxtaposition is a key element in the commentary in much street photography. The interaction between people, objects, environment, and light add to the visual conversation.
In this case the verticality and solidity of the sculptures played off the very slack and loose poses of the sitters. I loved the humorous juxtaposition of their poses and of the nudity vs clothing so I pushed the button. If you notice, the camera is not up at my eye level. I had it around my neck hanging to my stomach and took the photo from there. I could have chosen to raise it up, it wouldn’t have bothered me to be seen taking the photo, but having the sitters be midway between the sculptures was key to the composition and feeling of the image so I kept the camera at waist level.
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THERE ARE ANGLES AMONG US
Bride and Locks – © Marty Coleman 2017
Doing street photography means you are always looking for great angles. Sometimes that means you have to imagine what something would look like from a different angle from the one you are at. Keeping the camera at your face and thinking that is the only image available limits your choices considerably.
In this case there was no doubt I was going to take a photo of this bride on the bridge full of locks. The question was what angle would best tell the story? There was way to much clutter in the image when I was standing up so I squatted down very low and put the camera even lower, almost to the ground, to get the shot. This is one of the reasons an articulating screen at the back of the camera is essential to street photography, so you can see very low or very high.
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WHERE TO POINT
Two Sisters and a Ceiling – © Marty Coleman 2017
Not only is what height your camera is at something to consider, but where it is pointing as well. To limit yourself to only pointing forward or slightly up or down means once again you are limiting yourself and the possible images you can get.
Here I, along with thousands of others, were looking up at the ceilings in Versailles. But what I saw wasn’t just the ceilings but everyone else taking photos of those same ceilings. I angled my camera from my waist directly up to catch that phenomenon. In this photo I was walking quickly and just barely caught these two women out of the corner of my eye. I turned, snapped and moved on. I didn’t know what the image looked like until well after we were done with the tour and on the way back to Paris on the train.
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BE READY FOR THE UNEXPECTED
Bride and Groom at Notre Dame – © Marty Coleman 2017
In street photography something unexpected is always just around the corner. The best shots aren’t always going to be in main areas of tourism or activity. They more likely will happen as you are walking to or from those areas. Having your camera on and ready (and with the lens cap off!) is critical. I can’t tell you how many photos I have missed in my life because of one of these reasons.
Having your camera set to multiple photos at one time is also key. In this case, I saw the bride and groom walking down the street and kept my finger on the button until just the right time and then held it down. I got about 3-4 shots and was able to choose the best one from the bunch as a result.
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ANTICIPATE THE ANTICIPATION
Place to Kiss – © Marty Coleman 2017
When we walk around a city we see the fluidity of time and motion. As a result we often don’t see examples of anticipation. But the still photograph from the street can often capture just that right moment.
Here these two people were drinking and talking and flirting, all the while seeming to hem and haw about the funny sign right next to them. I got the feeling they wanted to kiss but weren’t sure how to go about it, especially when there was a sign directing them to do so!
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MOTION IS YOUR FRIEND
Four Portraits at the Musée d’Orsay – © Marty Coleman 2017
When you do street photography you are going to get motion. And motion means blur. This is not a bad thing. Blur is a tool of expression. It expresses movement, action, direction, energy. Don’t reject an image because of it but instead evaluate how the blur may help the image.
There is usually no more static place in the world than a museum. But people walk around them all the time and that means movement. Here I was able to capture a bit of both the action and the static at the same time. I had a number of other shots from right around this same moment, but this was by far the best because the blur of the woman in the stripes on the far left balanced out the strong and isolated image of the nude by Renoir on the right.
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ISOLATE TO COMMUNICATE
The Singer and the Thames – © Marty Coleman 2017
Isolation is another important element in street photography. Isolation means visual power and weight and it can be used to tell a story.
On the banks of the Thames in London I was watching the hundreds of people go by before I went in to see the Tate Modern Museum. This singer with his small speaker and music machine was entertaining the crowd. But all I saw was him alone next to this giant river. I set myself up to capture an image that showed how I saw him in the midst of the crowd.
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STREET IS STYLE
The Fascinator – © Marty Coleman 2017
Style is everywhere on the street. Ignore it and you miss a million fantastic shots. Find it and you will have a never-ending well of ideas and opportunities.
While we were in London we took the train into a certain station to transfer. When we got off we started seeing an unexpected amount of men and women dressed to the nines. I mean they were really going all out. If it had been on a weekend night it would maybe make sense. But this was at 9am on a weekday morning. What was going on? I didn’t know, but I knew I was going to have my camera ready to go. This woman was walking by with panache and purpose and I immediately angled myself to make sure I got a photo as she passed.
Later we discovered it was the Queen’s Day at the races and everyone was going to the station to travel out to the track.
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The Woman at the Seine – © Marty Coleman 2017
In staged photos we most often will see a lot of people smiling. But staged smiling usually only says one thing. What is great in street photography is to find true expressions that aren’t staged. That are a result of a person’s true feelings coming out.
Here that feeling is sublime joy and happiness. It can be felt in much more than just the Mona Lisa smile she has. It’s in everything her face and body is doing. Always be ready for that moment where you are capturing true feelings because those are what will let people know as much about a place as any monument or building.
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THE COURAGE OF THE PERSONAL
Mannequin and Walker – © Marty Coleman 2017
Street photography can get very personal. People can see you take photos, some think it is a violation, others couldn’t care less and you don’t know who will react how. If you believe in capturing the life of the street you have to be bold and courageous to do so. Sometimes that means you have the opportunity to ask permission but other times you do not.
I was walking near our Airbnb apartment in Paris early one morning, on my way to the cafe where I had been drawing each morning when I saw this scene. I was focused on the mannequin in the window with the sunrise reflecting off the building when this woman walked by. She had been looking down at her phone but looked up right as a took the shot. She was past me in a second and that was that. I don’t know what her emotions were about seeing me as I was taking pictures and I am not assuming I know. But I had to have the courage to take the photo without knowing that.
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SHOW WHAT IS SEEN
Seeing Versailles – © Marty Coleman 2017
Bold graphic elements are everywhere in street photography. Windows, doors, people can all be seen not as what they are but as formal devices to frame or direct an image compositionally. This is especially true if you are going to shoot in Black and White or are thinking in terms of BW when you later work on the image.
I didn’t see an image of Versailles here. I saw an image of how Versailles is to be seen. Finding a set of elements composed so they show a third person’s view is something for which you should always be on the look out. It tells a story much more effectively than just a photo of a place.
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LINES OF MYSTERY
Escalation – © Marty Coleman 2017
Lines direct one’s vision. Finding those lines and using them to create mystery or wonder is one of the joys of street photography.
We were headed down into the London Tube and I was standing behind this elegantly styled woman. All I could see were all these lines converging behind her and really wanted to capture that. Once again I simply took the photo from where the camera was hanging around my neck. Being low created a giant black shape in the middle of the image. We know it is her but visually it’s a void, allowing one to imagine what is behind even more than imagining her.
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THE GEOMETRY OF HUMANITY
The Poser in Paris – © Marty Coleman 2017
People are always posing for something. Street photography allows you to capture when people are posing, not for you, but for someone else.
We took a walk along the banks of the Seine and what caught my eye first was the profound geometry everywhere. The lines were formal and abstract and I was trying to find just the right combination of elements when I saw this woman posing for a caricaturist. She leant just the right amount of warmth and humanity to the otherwise severe composition so I took a number of photos. This one, with her gaze going completely off camera, was the one that really expressed how I saw Paris at that moment.
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TO FINISH UP
So, there you have it. A little tour of London and Paris. It’s probably a lot different from what you would find among tourist photos. But maybe these photos give you a different understanding of the two cities. One that is more about the mood and feeling of a place than a recitation of its monuments and objects. That is what street photography can do for you and your appreciation for a place. It is also what it can do for others who see the photos, giving them an idea of what it’s like to be in and around a city, to feel they know a place at a more intimate level.
Give street photography a try, you won’t regret. And by all means let me know how it goes and let me see some of your photos!
Each of these photos is for sale. Price is $50.00 plus shipping. Please contact me at email@example.com if you are interested. Give me the name of the piece and we can go from there! I can receive payment and ship internationally.
I started working with a drawing app, Sketchbook Express by Autodesk, on my ipad mini last year. The method was pretty simple. I had a total of 3 layers to work with. I started with simple photographic portrait as the base layer. I then did some finger painting on the layers above. I started interchanging layers and opacities, erasing and layering again, until I got something interesting. I got a piece of gear to use with the ipad called ‘pencil’ which is just a stylus. I sometimes use it but most of the drawings are still basically finger painting. The photos are of friends and family. Most are online friends, either on Periscope, the live video app, or on Facebook. Some are images they took themselves and others are screenshots I took of them while they were doing their live videos.
To see the slide show, just click left or right on the image. This is an embedded gallery from my flickr.com site.
I wasn’t expecting it, but they have begun to sell. If you are interested in having one done of you on commission, or in buying one you see, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
I sometimes forget to post my photography here, thinking it’s only about the drawings. But I like showing you the other aspects of my creative exploration and I think this is a particularly interesting series I have embarked on.
Starting with a photograph (sometimes one I or someone else has taken, sometimes a screenshot from Periscope) I layer line drawing, color and original photograph. I use my finger and work in layers to create the effect I want. Most of these have been done in bed before I go to sleep.
Let me know what you think.
If you are interested in seeing what I would do with a photograph of you, email the image to email@example.com, or post a link to the image here, and I will see if it’s one that I can work with. The more original and unique the photo the better of course! Don’t be constrained by the types of images you see here, send one you love visually and emotionally.
Images © 2015 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
Street Photography Not on the Street
I went to London and Paris in June of this year (2015)and went to a number of museums. When I am going through a museum I am not looking to take pictures of the art work. That’s pretty much a complete bore to me. What I like is doing street photography in a museum setting. I look for composition and juxtaposition. Some are taken with my 2008 Panasonic Lumix G1, others with my iPhone. Neither is great in low light so the grain is often apparent. I don’t mind that.
- Some are finely arranged, with my spending quite a long time waiting or maneuvering to get just the right shot.
- Some are hip-high blind shots I take as I am moving.
- Some are are about seeing an art piece without the distraction of the crowd.
- Some are all about the crowd and the feeling of the human space.
- Some are funny.
- Some are beautiful.
It’s one of my favorite things in the world to walk through a museum finding these images. I hope you like them.
Atrium, British Museum
Composition with Gun Chair and Boy
Composition with Leather and Dog
Composition with Nude and Suit
Composition with Nude and Stares
Running in the Circle of Books
Composition with Hidden Lego on the Elgin Marbles
Composition with Grate, LIne and Yellow
Composition with Selfie and Marilyn
Composition with Painting and Bra Strap
Composition with Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky and Walking Woman
Photographs © 2015 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
The Super Hero
Earlier during my cemetery walkabout, right as the sun went down, I happened upon a lone superhero starting her overnight vigil overlooking the city. She was strong and disciplined. I asked her how she got to be a superhero. She said she always wanted to be one and found that the local university had it as a major. She graduated in 3 years with a major in SuperHero Studies and a minor in Civil Engineering. Her day job is with the Army Corp of Engineers.
The Zombie Pirate Queen
During my cemetery visit I also met the Zombie Pirate Queen. She was desperately looking for something more to eat. I pointed her in the direction of downtown, telling her the bar scene was hopping there and she should find someone to her liking. She thanked me and ran off, but not before giving me her business card, telling me to let my wife know she sold Avon on the side and could give her a free makeover.
The Night Ninja
I was taking a leisurely midnight stroll around the cemetery when I saw Jack and the Night Ninja doing a bit of competitive grave robbing. I told them they could get a lot more work done if they worked cooperatively instead, which they did. In the end they made their deadline and planned to meet later at IHOP for breakfast.
The Night Ninja skulked around me for a while after she was done grave robbing. She wanted to know why I was taking photographs and if I worked for the NSA. I told her no, but I was lying. I finally got her off my back when I gave her a coupon I had to Ulta and told her they had a 50% off sale on eyeliner.
Unfortunately for the Night Ninja she never did get to have breakfast at IHOP with Jack. She instead met her demise at the hands of the Corpse bride who, in spite of being all in white, surprised the Night Ninja while she was checking her Snapchat. The Bride had just been left at the alter and hadn’t eaten all day so Night Ninja had an unfortunate end.
Sally and Jack
I met Sally in a corner of the cemetery where she was waiting for her blind date. She had been set up by her Sorority sister, Drusilla, with her younger brother. She was quite scared of being alone in the cemetery and was happy to know there were others around. When her date, Jack, showed up out of the dark, hand first, she got so scared she peed a little.
Later in the evening I saw Sally and Jack enjoying a romantic moment sitting on a tomb. Jack had a big smile but Sally was worried about finding a bathroom.
The Lady in Black
When I arrived at the cemetery she was the first person I came across. But she said nothing, she just looked watched me as I passed. Wherever I went, she was nearby, ever silent, ever watching. After the night was over I finally got up the nerve to talk to her. I asked her what she was doing in the cemetery. She stared at me intently, never blinking and said, “I am your eternal witness that these events were real.”
© 2014 Marty Coleman – All Rights Reserved
People tend to put professional photography into a very serious box. It’s used to show the worst of humanity and nature, a very serious thing. It is also used to show the highlights of both, which ironically is usually just as serious. It is true that in recent years, with the advent of the cell phone camera and the internet, everyday snapshots of very funny events and juxtapositions have proliferated. But in professional photography, seriousness still is given the top shelf on which to reside. It’s not that different than in cinema. Funny movies and comedic actors just don’t get the same level of respect and reward as do those that are serious.
But, in spite of that, we still have great comedic movies and actors. We also have some very funny photographers. Foremost among them in my mind is Elliot Erwitt. He is one of my all time favorite photographers. He spent 50+ years as one of the preeminent photographers photographing the world. He was a founding member of Magnum, the elite photography agency started by Robert Capa mid-twentieth century. He eventually became its president. He took some of the most iconic and important political and social photographs of that century. He was a VERY serious photographer. At the same time he was the least serious photographer you will ever find.
The perspective of Erwitt is not to be purposely funny. It’s to record a world that has interesting juxtapositions that can sometimes be very funny. They can also be poignant and stark in their irony and pathos as they reveal the human condition.
Dogs and other animals
No one has ever been better at capturing the humanity of the Dog and other animals.
New York City, 2000 © Elliot Erwitt
© Elliot Erwitt
Birmingham, England © Elliot Erwitt
Florida Keys, 1968 © Elliot Erwitt
Brasilia, 1961 © Elliot Erwitt
Nudes or Close
I have been drawing and photographing the nude figure since I was 17 years old in High School. As I matured, one of my goals in doing the nude has been to juxtapose the inherent sensuality of the nude with something that offsets it. It can be humor, a unique visual perspective or something disturbing. I want there to be an element that draws people away from the sensuality just enough to make them stop and think about it. I was inspired in that direction in no small part due to Erwitt and other photographers ability to do that so successfully.
Nude Students, Clothed Model, East Hampton, New York, 1983 © Elliot Erwitt
Nude Judging Contest, Bakersfield, California, 1983, © Elliot Erwitt
Managua, Nicaragua, 1957 © Elliot Erwitt
Priest and Sculpture © Elliot Erwitt
Nudists, Kent, England, 1968 © Elliot Erwitt
Naked Woman and Cat, 1952, © Elliot Erwitt
1977 © Elliot Erwitt
1977 © Elliot Erwitt
Sometimes Erwitt is just able to capture the perfect moment of absurdity, contradiction or surprise that makes you smile and laugh.
© Elliot Erwitt
Versaille, France, 1975 © Elliot Erwitt
© Elliot Erwitt
Pasadena, California, 1963 © Elliot Erwitt
Family Portrait, 1962, © Elliot Erwitt
I have focused only on what I think are his humorous pieces. He took photos of some of the worlds most important leaders and entertainers as well as some of the iconic national moments in America. If you like what you see here, do an information or image search of Elliot Erwitt. There are fantastic collections of his work out there as well as revealing articles and histories of his place in 20th century photography. He’s well worth exploring further.
If you want to see more of my ‘Photographic Sunday’ series, you can see it here.
You can see others in my ‘Artists I Love’ series here:
Recently I did a fitness photo shoot at Chandler Park here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was using the shoot as a scouting trip for a larger shoot I am planning with my PHOTOG group I help lead here in town.
I was originally thinking of the shoot as being runners and cyclists but then decided Yoga would be best in an environment of rocks, cliffs and tree roots.
I knew A friend of mine, BR, who had modeled for me before, was doing Yoga regularly and asked her if, once again, she would model for me. She was more than up for it and these photos are the result of our collaboration.
It was fun, but it was not an easy shoot. The landscape was rocky, with fallen trees, sheer rock faces and trails that went up and down at steep angles. In addition it was a hot and steamy morning that had us sweating from the git go. While I had to carry a camera and a few bags and that took some effort, BR did the bulk of the hard work, posing in intense yoga poses, climbing up and down high stone monoliths, balancing on very small spaces very high up. She’s a fantastic muse who inspires me with her courage, creativity, intelligence, beauty and fitness.
Around this same time I gave a lecture at my photo group called ‘The Photo Essay’ in which I explained some details of what constitutes a photo essay and what gave examples from photographers past and present.
I chose a small group of images from my Yoga shoot that I felt held together as an essay on the idea of the yoga practitioner being hidden in the landscape.
Yoga on the Rocks
There were a number of other photos where BR was not so well hidden. That group is titled ‘Yoga on the Rocks’. Here is a selection.
Through it all BR kept a smile (except when I asked her not to) and a great attitude!
Photographs by Marty Coleman
There had to be a million or so people around the globe watching and photographing the Bloodmoon last night. I was one of them.
My friends on Facebook seemed very happy when I posted these. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you, the Napkin Kin, also are happy that I posted here. Of course, they, and you, could go to a thousand other better photographers’ websites or social media sites and see much better photos of the moon. Why did they respond with comments like “Marty: Thank you for capturing this. Now I am happy. I was sad, that I missed it.”? I think it’s because relationship connections are what it’s about. Evette, who posted that comment, knows me. She knows I posted this to share with her and my friends. That means something to her. I am not a magazine, I am not a photo agency, I am not removed from her. I am connected.
It’s no different than when a friend of mine gets to go to a special event. If I see photos they took of it or read their description and feelings about the event, I feel connected. I am happy and grateful they shared it with me. I am experiencing it with them and through them. It’s not the same as just any old photo of the event by a stranger.
Linda mentioned as we were looking at the moon how many others on the planet were looking at the same thing at the same time. It’s an amazing thought. What takes that thought to the land of happy wonder for me is how many of my friends around the globe either saw it or felt connected by seeing my photos of it.
I think we live on a pretty cool orb. I love that we have been blessed to be conscious of it and intelligent enough to explore it, and the universe beyond, together. Knowing there is friendship and love at that heart of it all gives all that wonder and awareness the greatest meaning and value in my book.
As I’ve mentioned, I spent almost a week down in Austin, TX at SXSW (South By Southwest) Interactive at the beginning of March. I had my DSLR camera with me but I actually took a lot more photos with my iPhone and iPad mini than I did with my larger camera.
I led a 2 1/2 hour workshop on the first day titled ‘The Compelling Image in the Age of Social Media’. A lot of the hands on activities I had the participants do were related to portraiture and to composition using a simple cell phone. I also participated some in taking pics and below are examples of what I was teaching them.
Portrait Model for my Workshop at SXSW
Portrait with Eyebrow at SXSW
A simple front lit portrait is a great way to get a good photo without much work. Including the environment around the model helps identify her in an actual place, filling out her identity and giving a mood or feel to the image.
Partial Portrait Model for my Workshop at SXSW
Partial Portrait Model for my Workshop at SXSW
Heels and Guitar Shadow at SXSW
Portraits of people with just part of their face, or without any part of their face, showing is one of my favorite ways to emphasize character and style and place. I had them work on that idea of ‘partial portrait’ and also taught them how to take photos of strangers. I practiced what I preached in the middle photo, asking a volunteer at the conference center if I could take a photo of her necklace and earrings.
Gaming Glasses at SXSW
She was modeling and selling ‘gaming glasses’ at the Gaming Expo of SXSW. I had no idea what they were at first, I thought it was just a sunglass company selling their wares. But she explained that the glasses helped reduce glare, blue light and eye strain for gamers who are at the monitor or TV for hours at a time. That interested me because my daughter Rebekah the Neuroscientist (yes I am bragging) is also a fierce gamer. I took this woman’s pic and messaged it to Beka at the time to show her the glasses.
Woman with One Eye Open at SXSW
I was at the outdoor Subway lounge charging my iPhone and struck up a conversation with one of the Subway hostesses/models. She wasn’t in a costume at the time but she told how she had been earlier and how cool it was. The costume was designed by a hot and upcoming fashion designer in Austin who used nothing but Subway material for the costume. I really wanted to see it but that promotion was done for the day.
The lounge had this very odd plant block with flowers on top in the middle of it and I found myself trying to figure out how to place it in an image. I asked her to model for me with it in the background and she was open to the idea. If you’ve ever seen my photo-collages you know I do a lot of ‘one eye open, one eye closed’ images and I had her pose both ways. I later collaged the two images to get this one.
I went back the next day and lo and behold there were two models in the costume she had mentioned. I asked them if I could take photos of their backs (another part I take a lot of photos of) and after initially wondering ‘uh?’ said ok. I posed them on either side of the bizarre plant block. That combined with the symmetrical trashcans made for a pretty interesting image I thought.
Subway Models at SXSW
While I was in Austin I wanted to finally meet a long time Flickr friend, Kat. We have known each other via our photos for 6 years or so but have never met in person. She came and picked me up one morning and took me to a cool coffee spot in Austin not far from the convention center. We then took a short side trip around back where there were some brightly colored building so we could have a mini-shoot.
I took most of the pics with my DSLR camera but I took one with my iPhone so I could use them as a new example in my presentation about the capabilities and power of the camera in your pocket. Here are the pics, can you guess which one is from the cell phone?
Put your guess in the comments and I will let you know in a day or two which one is right.
SXSW at Night
At night the conference spilled out onto 6th street, the main entertainment drag in Austin. I wasn’t with anyone so I just wandered around looking for interesting scenes. Here are a few I caught.
Street Scene at SXSW
Robot Love at SXSW
Performers at SXSW
Grumpy Cat at SXSW
Two Reds on a Gray Day at SXSW
Rain dominated the weather for a few days of the conference. As I walked from the bus stop to the convention center early one morning I saw this woman in bright red pants brighten up what was otherwise a completely gray/brown landscape. When I turned after passing her I noticed the red sign in the distance and loved the balance of the two. I originally posted it on Instagram, that’s the reason behind the square format.
Composition with Mystery at SXSW
And of course in taking street photos you often don’t know what you are going to get. Here I captured a moment right between two people walking by. I was paying attention to the person all in purple but I caught a sweet spot right between that person and the cape leading the way. It’s an arrow and a mystery.
I really was focused on learning and networking and didn’t take nearly as many interesting photos as I usually do. Next year I will take more!
Photos and commentary by Marty Coleman