Studio in the Street

Photo © Bob Krist

As a travel and location photographer, I rarely get to work in a studio, but that doesn’t stop me from looking for what I call  “studios in the street.”  These are interesting, found backgrounds—usually painted murals, textured walls, unusual facades—that make great backdrops against which to photograph people, either in posed portraits, or just grab shots as they walk by.

Last week in Miami, using some of the mystery gear that has many of you in a major tizzy (more about that later), I used the same technique. But before you going searching the EXIF information of these pictures, these examples are not from that assignment! So you can relax.

The takeaway from this post will not be some top-secret coded reference to the gear (seriously, there was an entire deconstructionist discussion on DPReview (or was it Nikonians? I forget)  on the use of the word “huge” in my last post that rivaled the bulls__t you’d hear in a post-doctoral seminar in Proust at Princeton!)

No, the advice I can give you here is in certain travel situations, it’s often a good idea to find an interesting background first, and shoot what comes along in front of it.  In the case of street murals, billboards, etc. I often just wait for some kind of activity–walkers, joggers, bicyclists, etc to occur in front of it, as I did below in Havana.

Or, if I find an interesting person who’s part of the city scene, I’ll often bring him or her to the background and use it as a studio backdrop, as I did with the musician in New Orleans above.

Photo © Bob Krist

So keep your eyes open on your next trip for studios in the street, and you’ll be surprised how often they can help you make pictures where they might not otherwise exist. It really helped me, much more than did the equipment, make some interesting shots last week in Miami, when the weather completely went south, or more accurately, went north on me.

Now, as for that equipment, hit the jump for my thoughts on that….

It’s pretty nice, but it’s not orgasmic, transformational, or life-changing. (At least not for me…I used to think I was a gearhead, but I am truly humbled by the level of hysteria excitement the prospect of new gear brings on in some quarters!).

One guy went so far as to contact the helicopter company to ask the pilot and ops guy what I was using, another accused me of using a green screen and phoneying up the whole thing (Yup, that’s just what I did, right after I  engineered the sub-prime meltdown), and in the worst insult of all, somebody else thought I was shooting through a plexiglass door or window in the chopper. Not to mention the dozens who have been studying the snapshot like CIA analysts might pore over a satellite picture of an Iranian nuke facility.

This is just a thought, but all that energy some of you have been expending trying to figure out what the new gear is, might be better spent actually making pictures!

If you put even a quarter of that gumption, imagination, and ingenuity being spent on gear-lust analysis into actual picture making, photography would enter a new golden age and the pages of Flickr would look like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel!

I’m just sayin’ :-).

This Post Has 41 Comments

  1. So right – Bob. You can say it so much better. The lust for new equipment (I can understand it), shouldn’t supersede lust for just getting out in the field (which you have to work to do, especially (!) with digital.

    1. Hey! I just wanted to know from the heli pilot which model whirlybird works best when carrying around top-secret Nikon gear! Really, I wasn’t trying to snoop… I ask this same question to *all* the copter jockeys I know.

      1. Hi Bob: No worries, but I did mention the helicopter, the Robinson 44, right there in the post:-).

  2. damn right about the gear talk ! with digital we’ve seen a new breed of photographers : corner pixel peepers and 100% croppers, it is just amazing. In a future post : please show us what you can do with a point and shoot, i bet nobody would believe you could shoot a “pro” picture with amateur gear ;-D. Love you “humble” approach

  3. Bob,

    I really love the image from Havana….one of my favorites! Keep up the good work.

    Cheers, Jeremy

  4. Bob,
    The last paragraph is brilliant!!!

    1. Thanks Arnie…I think it’s just common sense, but I’ve been way off lately! cheers, Bob

      1. Bob, You haven’t been way off, it’s the others who have been! 😉

        1. Yup, we should all relax and have some fun with this! BK

  5. Bob,

    Great post, and the last paragraph says it all. I hope the pixel-peeping birds will take note and fly away! I don’t always need or want the latest stuff. Arnie has the newer stuff, but I usually want something a bit lighter, so that when I’m in some strange position (standing on a rail with one leg and arm wrapped around the post) I can photograph one handed. Like you, Arnie and I say it’s not what you have, rather how you use it. When will they ever learn? When willll they e—ver learn!

  6. Solid advice and images.

    I tried something similar (a little reversed though) on a trip to Peru in this shot – – where I waited till the woman in the bright blue walked past the deep orange background (I apologize in advance for the oversaturation :)).

  7. Too true, Bob! When the D3 came out, the excitement lasted about a day before posts began appearing about the D3x or maybe D4 and what it would feature. We have cameras now that can virtually work miracles, and the cry is always “What’s next?!?!” Maybe these people are waiting for a camera that will actually go out and take pics on its own. Then they can just sit in front of the monitor and tweak the results to their heart’s desire.

  8. All I can say is ROFLMAO, I had no idea.
    You made my day with the Proust reference (son studying Philosophy at UW), it really started me laughing the rest just killed me. Best post to date Bob, and beautiful images.

    1. Ray: It’s great that your son is studying philosophy….giving our kids a liberal education is the only hope! Of course, I was a lit major and a philosophy minor, and look what happened! But it doesn’t have to turn out this way:-). Bob

  9. I’ll just do the best with what I got. Used to be a gearhead but when camera’s went up to over 3 grand I decided to just take good care of my D300 and click on.

  10. Yep, Bob,

    Great comments. Enjoyed the post (as usual).

    Especially enjoyed the comments re the gear heads. I agree totally – if folk used as much energy in image making as they did in talking about gear – imagine the output they could have!
    Still, I guess if they spend more time jaw flapping, it leaves the best spots to the rest of us.
    Keep up the great work.
    If ya get to Australia – run a session. It would be great to meet you!

    1. Willie: My wife and I have been planning a trip to Oz for a while now. Maybe in 2010, but definitely 2011. I’ll try to put something together. Bob

  11. Thanks to Bob for the post and all the previous comments, you have help inspire my next million dollar idea. A mini-UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) attachment for your camera. That way the gear freaks could program it to go out take the photos for them so they wouldn’t have to leave their computers and possibly miss the latest speculation about the new button on the new Nikon/Canon/Pentax/Sony/Olympus that allows the camera to produce hot chocolate while waiting for the sun to rise.

    1. Mark: I like that idea, especially the hot chocolate part! Bob

  12. There comes a time where we as photographers must realize it is our technique and vision that needs improvement not our equipment.

    Take me for example. I own a 5D mark I and a bunch of nikon and canon primes. If I can’t make stunning, beautiful and moving images with this equipment I certainly won’t be able to do it with the latest and greatest camera gear.

  13. It is hard for me to believe that I have now been shooting for over 50 years. I picked up a P&S Canon in Vietnam, and traded it for a Kowa SLR. Well when I came home I shot the Kowa until it fell apart. My first Nikon was the Nikkormat, and what I found out was that no matter how good the camera was, my work still wasn’t any good. I have owned a lot of Nikon equipment over the years, but in order to get good at it you have to practice taking pictures with the equipment. A lot of these who talk all about the cameras are like the fishermen who have all of the latest lures, but never go fishing. I was lucky, and worked for a weekly newspaper for 10 years. Not much money, but loads of fun.

    1. Sounds good Charles! BK

  14. Both are amazing photos, Bob. Please don’t take this the wrong way because I’m a huge fan of your work, but I have to admire the found shot in Havana more than the posed shot in Miami because it was real. I guess I would like the Miami shot as much or more if I didn’t know it was posed. It’s a great teaching tell, but sometimes artists get more credit and the work is more appreciated when they don’t explain their secrets. Although I certainly appreciate that you’re willing to share. Just a thought for the philosophy major in you from another lit major.

  15. On the hysteria around the new gear speculation… Dude, you could have saved yourself all of the grief by simply keeping your mouth shut about the “new gear”. It really helps nobody. In the final analysis the new stuff will be available whenever the new stuff becomes available. Folks get all wound up over speculation. The relevant decision is simply this: “Is the VALUE of waiting for new XYZ gear greater than the COST of waiting for new XYZ gear?”. For professionals who actually make money day-in-day-out the answer is typically – NO. We make investments in gear TODAY because we need to make money TODAY. For the hobbyist – it’s just an irrational craving for the latest and greatest.

    1. Brad: No doubt you’re right, but sometimes you need a blog post, and there’s not much happening, so you try to squeeze one out without blowing an assignment, and you start a minor s__tstorm. What I wanted to do was a nice plug for the chopper company, since they were so good.

      On the bright side, I managed to squeeze another post out of it writing about the reaction , along with some how-to advice. The tone, I thought, clearly had my tongue firmly planted in my cheek (I even included the smiley emoticon to make sure everybody got it), but geez, a lot of folks are soooo sensitive.

      I think the next post (three posts out of one deal where I couldn’t show a picture….not bad if you push the Sisyphean stone of bi-weekly blogging!) might be entitled, “Lighten Up.” BK (SMILEY EMOTICON GOES HERE)

  16. Hi Bob:

    Two things: I received your Spirit of Place calendar you sent to me as a runner up in the photo tip contest. Thanks! It looks great. We just got back from 2 weeks in the Caribbean and just got picked up our mail yesterday.

    Two: I think your work is great and as I’ve heard from more than one person about my own work: “Gee, you must have a really good camera.” 🙂

    1. Larry: Glad you liked it. Thanks for participating. cheers, BK

  17. That’s a good question re which whirly bird Bob was in. Hope I didn’t sound too didactic. Any time I use the word “should,” I know I’II have to eat my words later. It’s been really a tough business lately for photographers ( if it wasn’t before), so we’re all scrambling for that “edge.” Aside from shooting “poor man’s aerials” (Krist’s words for just shooting from top of buildings), I’II have to eat my words now, look up that very old cribsheet of mine called “Aerial Photography,” and actually get in a plane and try it. So, my apologies to Bob Elkind.

  18. I’ve only been following the ‘new gear’ chatter recently because: a) my only camera broke recently (a Leica D-lux 3) b) I was recently laid off, and want to spend my severance on my first pro DSLR so I can take a crack at actually shooting for a living, and c) was going to buy a d700 but there seems to be a lot of speculation saying it may be discontinued and replaced with a new model in February, so didn’t want to empty my checking account on a camera that may be discontinued until I see what actually shakes down in February.

  19. great photos bob, i really like the top one. the world is indeed our studio…so we need to be out there using it instead of researching cameras, but…i do enjoy hearing about your equipment choices. i remember meeting a photographer once whos work i admired greatly. he had a d70 with a 20mm on it that looked like it had fought 3 wars…it was funny when the subject of equipment came up between other photogs he always said you guys know more about all that than i do…maybe…but he knew a lot more about making meaningful,beautiful and touching photographs than everybody around him put together….and once told me he didnt feel he had taken a photo that was worth printing yet.

  20. Hi Bob,

    You were my first official photography teacher in SMA ’03. Many travels between then and now. Thanks again for the great send-off. I’ll be in Puebla, Mexico for the first time next month. I hear the tile on the face of old town buildings is marvelous. Thanks for continuing to be the consummate teacher with the reminder to sit and wait for it to happen in front of the “studio in the street”. Suspect Puebla is full of them.

  21. Great advice, Bob. Never thought of travel/street photography this way before, not explicitly at least. Thanks!

  22. Bob, I don’t think it’s appropriate of you to characterize the gear-enthusiasts when you played your own part, by releasing a mystery picture that ignited the fire in the first place. For you to tell people to “go shoot” and forget about this whole new gear thing, is hypocrisy. Aren’t you the one testing the unreleased gear and bragging about it? Please… Next time, man up and just keep it a REAL secret, and maybe your rant will be more credible.

    1. Banned: You’re absolutely correct, and you’ll see no further leaks here. Bob

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