I’ve had a passion for photography since I was young. I can remember being amazed at the magic of taking snapshots with an old Polaroid that I picked up from a yard sale one summer. My father was a photographer and encouraged me to take photographs, sometimes even letting me use the “better” camera equipment. At a young age, I entered my first photography contest at the local fair and won first place! Naturally, this encouraged me to pursue photography even more.
If we were ever out hiking or driving somewhere, I usually had some type of film camera with me and would often stop to explore and take photos. For me, photography has always been a way to explore and it often leads me to my next adventure. Whether it is an excuse to check out an old abandoned building or simply a reason to get out of the house, the two always seem to go hand-in-hand. It has been a gateway to many different places and things that I never would have imagined being part of. For example, two months ago I went to New York City with the intention of shooting street photography and found myself literally in the middle of the People’s Climate March, capturing history. So while I enjoy the visual stimulation from looking at photography, I find greater appreciation in the story behind the image, whether it is my story or someone else’s.
In high school, I decided to take part in an introductory photography course. I had an excellent teacher and was fortunate enough to be part of one of the last classes at my school that studied photography in a dark room. I am a hands-on person and absolutely loved working with film, Ilford photographic paper, orange lights and chemicals in the dark. Even after the class ended, I was allowed to continue to use the darkroom and spent hours working on photography projects. However, street photography was still foreign to me.
It was not until my junior year in college that I really took an interest in street photography. I had signed up for another photography course and had been given the assignment to go out and try to take a decisive moment photograph. For those who are not familiar, this is the quintessential style of traditional street photography where you capture a spontaneous scene at the just the right moment, with just the right composition and lighting in a way that conveys some sort of question or meaning to the viewer. This was certainly not an easy task to jump into. But I was inspired by the examples of work from Henri-Cartier-Bresson, who many consider the father of street photography, and I was determined to give this unique style a try. That weekend I grabbed my camera and headed into nearby New Haven, CT for my first walk on the streets.
The photo above was one of the first shots of the day and one of the first street photographs I ever knowingly took. This moment happened in a fraction of a second when I bent down and thought “hey, this mirror could be an interesting focus point.” As soon as I did, the man pictured had walked behind me and asked “Is the mailman in there?” I had already pressed the shutter before he could finish his second word. I was shocked. I just acted on instinct with no plan whatsoever. It just happened.
That is street photography. That is usually how it happens, it just does. You frame a potentially good composition, focus in, get your meter right with the aperture and shutter speed you think will be best and snap a photo when you think the lighting or movement in the image will have the most impact. Sometimes this happens in a split second, other times you may need to be more patient and wait for the split second to come.
Street photography, in particular, while causing me to be quick on the trigger, has actually forced me to slow down, think about my next move and take in my surroundings. I almost always shoot in manual mode and even manual focus, choosing to use zone focusing, a technique that involves setting the depth of field so a specific distance range that is in focus and shooting primarily within that range. This is particularly helpful for me as I find my eyesight not being as precise as it once was.
This next image was a quick snap while walking through a courtyard at Yale University still on that first outing. Their parents were right there and it was the first time I had to explain myself. This is an issue many street photographers have to overcome, but typically there are no issues if you are abiding the law and clear with your intentions. Sometimes you may be asked to delete the photograph, which I will do openly so that the person can see it. I do not mention to them that I have two SD cards in my camera, instantly backing up every image. In this case, I explained that I was working on a class project (an excuse I often use to this day) and quickly showed them the photograph on the LCD screen. I asked them if they would like a copy, which they did, and I was sure to email it to them when I returned home. They were very pleased and wrote back to me that they wished me success with my photography. This is not the first time this has happened and I have found that street photography can also be a good chance to meet new people and make new connections!
I really like this particular photo because I think it does a great job of showing the scene as it was. There are different types of street photography, for example, some can be artistic and some can be more documentary. I think this particular image could be considered both, with the image development (selective color) adding more of the artistic feel.
I like that I chose to selectively color the leaves, something that is often not seen in traditional street photography. Street photographers often choose to shoot color or black and white, but certainly not both. Personally, I shoot in RAW format and prefer to develop my images as black and white. I find that it typically has a more artistic, simplified feel that keeps the focus on the composition, shapes, lines, and lighting, eliminating often distracting colors. I probably also prefer black and white because though not officially tested, I do seem to be colorblind or at least color deficient. That being said, if color lends to the photograph, which I believe it does in this case, I will use it.
I think it is important to experiment. Many people will say stick to a style. But we have the technology to easily try new developing techniques, so I think it is important to try new things sometimes. If you focus your style more on the composition of the image, then developing your images using new or different techniques will not be an issue.
Photoshop is a tough subject among street photographers and perhaps a topic for another day. However, I think it is an excellent tool that when used properly can help achieve incredible results. Ever since photography was invented, there has been a development phase that has been crucial to the outcome of the image. That said, editing should typically be a formality in street photography. Most of the time should be spent out shooting (something I am still working on) and the remainder should be post-processing.
Often, street photography can involve getting close to unknown people. This is something that is typically not an easy task for most people. As can be seen in the image above, I was very close to this individual. This photo, also taken in New Haven, came about when I saw a man sleeping on the side of a building. My friends did not understand what I was doing and stayed well on the other side of the street. This is a common problem for street photographers. I could not explain why, but I just had to walk over and take this picture. So I walked up to him slowly, taking a full scene shot first and moving in. You never know if the scene will change and with digital cameras I feel you should take limited advantage of the increased shot capacity.
I was about a foot and half away from this gentleman when he naturally awoke to my lens in his face. I believe this image truly captures the feeling most of us have when we wake up in the morning. But in all seriousness, I was not sure how he would react and I stood my ground despite his friendly smile. After speaking with him, he allowed me to take a few more photos which all turned out photographically great! However, I think it is this particular image that truly captures a moment and a feeling that can be conveyed to the viewer.
Many people unfamiliar to street photography often think that it literally means it is photography taken in a city on the street. If this were true, it would be difficult to shoot street photography in New England! Decisive moments happen everywhere and I’ve seen some great examples of street photography outside of the city. Any place people gather, parks, farmer’s markets, festivals, fairs, flea markets, and even locations without many people, can all be excellent opportunities. The shot below was taken in the countryside with no one else around. I was with my wonderfully understanding girlfriend, trying to capture some landscape photography as the sun was setting and this scene just happened. I was already positioned and framed up and when I heard the bike coming, I knew this would be a great opportunity. I checked the focus, increased the shutter speed and took the shot. There is opportunity everywhere if you look hard enough.
On that note, I’m grateful for THIS opportunity to share my work with you. It has been a pleasurable experience for me and I hope for you as well. If you want to get into street photography, I strongly recommend educating yourself on techniques, looking at other street photographer’s work (see my Pinterest board on street photography at http://www.pinterest.com/taborchichakly/street-photography/) and most importantly getting out and shooting! It does not matter if your camera is a phone, a point and shoot or a DSLR. Know it inside and out. Have it with you and be ready to capture the next moment!
About Tabor Chichakly
Tabor Chichakly is a street photographer based out of New England, United States. He currently works as a web developer and online marketer. He has a strong passion for photography as well as music. When he is not taking photos, his guitar can often be heard late into the night.
Tabor Chichakly uses his difference to make a difference by capturing the incredible seen and unseen moments that surround us in a way that is both artistic and captivating. In addition, he is helping to make a difference in the genre of street photography by searching for and promoting street photographers around the world every day.