My name is Ted Waitt, and I’m an editor at Peachpit Press / New Riders. Since 2004, I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with Scott Kelby, as well as his extremely talented and hardworking team in Florida.
For many years now, Scott’s blog has been the first thing I read every day—and I suspect I’m not alone. I’d like to thank Scott for the opportunity to blog here. And I’d like to publicly thank him for all of the opportunities that working with him has afforded me over the years. Thank you, Scott.
I’ve had a DSLR for just under three years now. I don’t shoot nearly as much as I’d like, but I do venture out in San Francisco somewhat frequently. These solo, meandering photo walks are often as much about taking pictures as they are a chance to just get out of the house and see the city. Often I return home empty-handed, so to speak, but that’s okay. And every once in a while, I come back with a decent shot.
About a month ago, a former colleague recommended me to a friend who was starting a holiday photo blog called Photo Advent. The idea behind the blog was to get someone to contribute one image each day—along with a “lesson learned”—as a kind of holiday gift to the photo community. I agreed to do it, though it seemed a bit of a stretch that I’d have much of a lesson to give, and I haven’t ever really shared my photos much beyond posting them to Flickr.
I honestly thought the post would go up, a friend might see it, and that would be it. Well, that’s exactly what happened…except the friend was Scott! He liked the shot and asked me if I’d repost here as a guest blog. So, without further ado, here’s that post (slightly edited):
Metadata: ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec., 17mm on a Canon 17–40mm f/4, Canon 40D
This is the first image I ever asked permission to take, and it was one of the first shots where I had started to become conscious of the direction and quality of light. It was August in the Mission in San Francisco. I went out for a walk with my camera late in the afternoon. I had no particular direction in mind, but noticed that the light was low and strong, so I suspected I’d be shooting either in open shade on the west side of the street (in, for example, the shade of a building) or with that hard, directional light if shooting the east side of the street.
For me, what usually happens in a situation like this is one of two things: either a) you take exactly zero shots and, within an hour, find yourself succumbing to the open door of a bar; or b) you take a bunch of crappy shots, knowing you’ll go home, import them (“Maybe something will look good on that big monitor”), delete them all, and then head to the bar.
But eventually, persistence pays off. If you go for enough walks, you will eventually, definitely get some shots. Walking up Harrison, I saw three guys around 20th, on the east side of the street, jumping their bikes from a ramp onto a loading dock in that half-industrial, half-residential space between the Mission and Potrero Hill. They were all a bit older than one might suspect—20s to early 30s. (But then again, it’s San Francisco, where age seems almost always irrelevant.) I watched them for a couple minutes, then decided to approach one of them and see if they’d mind if I took a few pictures. What the hell, right? They decided that one of the guys, who called himself Moody, would be the best subject—as he could get the highest on the jump. (By the way, Moody looked a lot like Will Oldham.)
All I knew was that I wanted a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion, and that I’d have to shoot in continuous “burst” mode to increase the chances of capturing Mr. Moody at the height of his jump and in an interesting composition. So I switched to Shutter Priority mode and dialed in 1/500 of second—which, after looking at the shots of the first jump, ended up being not quite fast enough. Increasing the shutter to 1/1000 of a second worked (though it couldn’t’ve hurt to go a bit faster; the shot is still a bit soft…). I shot another jump, showed the guys the back of the LCD, and—with the exaggerated effect of the wide angle making it look more dramatic than it really was—they became somewhat interested. The shot here came on the third and last jump I shot. (I didn’t want to take too much of their time.) I grabbed Moody’s email address and sent him the shot later that night.
The lessons here are: a) Just look around and consciously make note of the light—the hard light creating the hard shadow on the wall is what, for me, makes this shot; and b) approach people. Seeing the light quickly gets easier and easier, but walking up to someone is still difficult for me; I approach only about 5–10% of the people I would really like to shoot. But it gets easier, too, and the worst thing that can happen is they say no. You’ll get exactly what you would’ve gotten had you not approached them to begin with: nothing.
On second thought, I suppose the worst thing that could happen is that you’ll get robbed, shot, and left to bleed out on the sidewalk, but the chances of that are probably pretty low, one would think.
So that’s pretty much it. Thanks again to Scott for the opportunity to share the post and the picture!
Here’s the ol’ Twitter handle if you’re so inclined: @TedWaitt. And if you’d like to check out a few more shots, here’s a small, fairly random set on Flickr.
And, of course, be sure to check out all of Peachpit’s great stuff at peachpit.com ;)
Nice blog post, Ted! I, too, have a bit of fear approaching people that I find interesting to shoot. So I usually stick to people that know me. Maybe someday I’ll change. Watching Jay Maisel do it on Kelby Training was eye-opening! That man has no fear!
Great pictures on Flickr as well. Thanks for sharing!
Got you on the FB “Like”! :)
I didn’t think Scott was ever going to post last night! I stayed with it though.
Ted, thanks for blog , advice and warning! (John, u got me)
Hahaha! Ken, you have many more “first posts” than I will ever have! I just happened to be up tonight. What did your totals on the blog post from a couple of days ago mean? John=2, Ken=342 First blog posts from last year?
Yea, a joke, Scott is going to ban us. :(
“On second thought, I suppose the worst thing that could happen is that you’ll get robbed, shot, and left to bleed out on the sidewalk, but the chances of that are probably pretty low, one would think.”
Where I come from, going out with a DSLR is pretty much asking to be robbed.
I like the shot, it was really good, and I totally share your pain in approaching people…
Ah, and no you are not the only one that checks Scott’s blog first thing in the morning, ask Ken… It’s usually the last thing I do during the day, so I read the last post comments and the new post =)
“Shoot and you’ll get better”, it’s amazing how much truth this statement has.
Pedro, would you take photos in the same places you say you would be begging to be robbed in? I find those types of places the most interesting places to shoot real street photography. Not everyone can get away with doing this. I guess it helps if you are familiar with the neighborhood and know a few people. How do you approach that?
Go to the traffic boss of the área, ask him for permission and maybe you’ll be ok. But really, anywhere of Rio de Janeiro you are at risk, from downtown to the suburbs…
In fact, that’s how several photographers manage to take photos in slums in Brazil by paying a fee to the local drug traffic.
I’ll make note of that. I’d love to visit Rio one day, didn’t realize it was so bad.
Thanks Ted. A good reminder to go out and shoot, not just for “work”
I only approach only about 1–2% of the people I would like to shoot. That means I have room for improvement :)
Inspiring post and a great shot Ted!
I knew I had read this before somewhere. I’ve made a resolution to shoot more people this year than I do rocks and trees. You see, I have a problem going up to people and bothering them for a photo too, but I must overcome it. Just think, a lot of people would love to have their photo taken and would find it as a huge compliment. Get good at finding those people, be patient and persistent. Like Jay Maisel said, (paraphrasing) “take your time, sit down, watch people and let things unfold in front of your eyes.”
Well put and my thoughts exactly.
Agree, Shireen! Well put, Damien. Been thinking about giving myself a project/assignment for street portraits. Will let you know how it goes….
Getting robbed, shot and left to bleed out on the sidewalk is just a small price to pay to get a good shot, I always say. Look at it this way, it’s a two-for-one: how many shots does a photographer have in their portfolio of themselves bleeding out? A good self portrait is one that tells a story, so I say go for it. :-)
Don’t you hate it when that happens? The ambulance ride is so uncomfortable though.
Oh well, if someone robbs your camera and you loose all the shots, is not that worth it…
Very nice post. Thank you for sharing your process of getting that shot and what you have learned. It is helpful to ‘see’ the process of others as they continue their journey of developing their skills.
Nice job, Ted!
Try not to get robbed, shot, or anything else… we’ve got books due!
Sounds to me like you have a penchant for bars. When you feel your spirit flagging try slipping into an AA meeting.
Duly noted, Gene. Thanks.
ted – an excellent post! thoughtful and well thought out. i’ve always appreciated your sensibility, your straight forward and down-to-earth approach to creativity, photography and people. i once heard someone say that” rhythm is to music, as composition is to photography.” man, you’ve got rhythm …and even more, you’ve got soul. i’m inspired. thanks.
Thanks for the kind words, Chris!
Good Blog and I like your photos
Nice post — it was short, concise and to the point. Persistence is the key to getting good at anything.
Totally agree that it is hard to shoot your home team. While mine is just high school I often have to remind myself not to get involved in the emotion of the game. Recently our basketball team was having a terrible night, playing bad and just starting to delve into thuggish behavior on the court. At the end of the night my pictures were as bad as the play on the court.
We get a lot of tourists here in Los Angeles, and I hate it when they try to “sneak” a photo. I’m fine with anyone that asks, and will even pose with/for them. As you said, letting someone see the LCD and get involved in the process can be a help. And emailing them a photo is a great idea.
When I’m shooting I often have the big dog along, who is both security and a conversation starter. I met an amazing old woman who didn’t want me to take her photo. But she agreed to pose with the dog, then let me shoot her while we had a long talk. I not only got some good shots, it was a lovely experience.
Thanks for the thoughtful post!
Great post! and an awesome image
I’m not trying to offend the author, but this post doesn’t measure up to the usual fare in this space. It isn’t particularly well-written and the single image doesn’t seem very instructive. I get the whole ‘you’ll be rewarded if you approach potential subjects’ idea but the execution didn’t do it for me. Just my two cents.
#1 rule: no whining
I actually found the post refreshing. It is one thing to have an expert explain and teach you something and it’s another thing to have a “student” share their experience.
Not only did I learned from the post that one should ask before taking pictures of another person, but one should also allow the person to see the photo (LCD) and email them a copy of it.
It was an awesome post.
Great post, Ted. I sometimes struggle with approaching people on the street, but my resolution for 2011 is to take more photos in general but specifically, more photos with actual homo sapiens in them ;) I totally identified with your post…thanks for the bit of motivation to get out and shoot today!
Moose Peterson did set the bar with the first guest blog this year, but Ted makes some great points and observations about his photography experiences. We can all learn from each other! As Ken said, the First Rule of Photoshop Insider is No Whining! :D
I was referring to Ted Waitt….
Thanks for the post! I often walk the streets looking for something interesting to shoot and most of the time come home empty handed and discouraged. Having read this, gave me an optimism and encouragement to keep roaming the streets and look for great opportunities.
Great post, Ted. Approaching people these days is always so difficult. Too much paranoia in this world. It could be a great moment with great light and if they are receptive and give you an email address they can have a great image! Sometimes I just want to practice technique and go to a local high school game and I always get asked who I’m shooting for… then when you say your just shooting for yourself you always get a funny look or even asked to leave. (Why would anyone ever want to just take pictures for the sake of taking pictures???) But, you are right… you never know unless you ask first. Thanks for the simple reminder today!
But…you’re Scott Diussa! They should be honored to have you take their photo! Maybe if you carry a pocket-sized portfolio and offer to send them a copy?
Next time you’re in LA and want someone to shoot, I’m volunteering!
LOL! That’s funny! :-)
Scott I know what you are saying. I got kicked off the sidelines while shooting a middle school football game. They said I was a safety risk. The whole country is paranoid about photographers. Great post Ted. Keep on plugging.
Ted! Your post was one of the most-viewed and well-received of the project. Even though it was short a few contributors, we still consider the first Photo Advent project a great success thanks to people like you. Thanks again!
A very nice and inspiring post. I’ve never thought about it like this. I usually carries my camera with me when I’m heading out. You never know when the BIG shot “finds” you. I like your photos on Flickr too.
Ted, I live in SF. I would love to go on a photowalk with you anytime you name. Sometimes there is courage in numbers!