Street Photography Tips From Sony Artisan Ben Lowy: The Breakdown with Miguel Quiles

in this episode of The Breakdown I am here in New York City with Sony Artisan Ben Lowy, and we’re going to talk about some tips for shooting street photography. Welcome back to The Breakdown my name is Miguel Quiles and I am here in New York with Mr. Ben Lowy Sony Srtisan. And so tell everybody a little bit about yourself. Well.. I’m a Gemini and I like long.. what no! lol.. I have done a lot in photography in terms of like working in different genres over the years, and that’s kind of what I like about photography, and having a camera, for me for my career, it’s been about a lot of experimentation. I started you know, doing conflict work for about a decade. I moved on to sports for a while, I’ve done fashion, right now I’m working primarily underwater, doing a lot of work with sharks, but you can’t do that on the streets of New York. No unfortunately.. Well there are some sharks, but not that kind of shark! Right? I always have been inspired by street photography by walking around, by seeing the city by using photography and street photography as an excuse to explore, to go down a different road, to look at places that I have no reason to go to. You know it’s harder to do with when, when, you’re working constantly, but there were a lot of times when I was younger, where I didn’t have as much to do. Yeah. Not as many jobs, and I would just find myself walking across the whole city, and really trying to create this work and it’s where you actually find out a lot about yourself. How your eye works, how you see, how you sketch and conceptualize. Your approach to photography. What you notice, and how your, you know, your mind thinks about image making. I am pretty, I’m like one of those people who stacks coins and makes sure all my wires are in like collected.Yeah! Even if they’re like behind. I believe that’s called OCD…yeah! Well I mean, I, I like to be organized, and it comes to you and a lot of my images. I like, especially when I’m really trying to compose a lot. So for me street photography when I’m not doing it as a photojournalist, or as a storyteller, then I’m just going to explore. For me it’s all that, the thing about photography is you are trying to control the serendipity of life in any, in any part of photography, you’re trying to compose and you’re trying to make an image, not take an image! everyone else, you know has their camera phone in their back pocket, they take, they take pictures, we as photographers, what, what I think kind of separates photographers from everyone else, is that you’re trying to make an image, We’re trying to construct it, not by moving things around but with your head which by putting yourself in the right spot and waiting for the perfect moment, and so for me specifically when I’m doing street photography, it’s about that organization and that composition, and moving things around so I get it just right. So I have definitely have a pretty anal sense of how I want to do that So it’s a lot about negative space, it’s a lot about light, and it’s a lot about waiting for that moment where someone comes in and inhabits that perfect spot in that light, or in that negative space, that makes street photography so poignant for me. I love Gary Winogrand’s work and that’s one of the first photo books I ever bought. When you look at it it’s about the content it’s about the expression. The people that he came across where composition wasn’t as important to him, and that’s where like the content came first, and for me I learned a lot about that when I was doing my storytelling work, but what attracts my eye is not that. Right! It’s, it’s seeing shafts of light within the city, it’s seeing these spaces that people inhabit. We could actually talk about that. That’s, that’s kind of like, I have three questions I want to ask you, and one of the questions is going to touch on that so, we’ll we’ll we’ll save that one for a sec. So let’s talk first, because what I want to do is I want people to be able to get like a sense of how you do what you do, so the general questions that I think lots of drugs right?… The general questions that I think a lot of people get or give are how do you approach your camera settings when you go out to shoot street photography. Generally speaking like what are you doing in terms of your settings, you know I actually sometimes think that my normal photojournalism work or my underwater work. I have kind of I really do like it with a shallow shallower depth of field, where you can really bring out certain details by getting rid of all the other I would call ambient details like background details that you don’t want. So I definitely shoot with a much wider aperture. So like a f/2.8 or… well I’ve shot f/2 or f/4 know underwater probably like f/5 f/6 … whereas more common, most underwater photographers shoot around between f/8 and f/11. Right. In the street you know it really depends, am I moving fast? Do I have time to think am I just stay in one spot and waiting for people to move through it, and then you really don’t know where your exact plane of focus is going to be. So maybe that’s when I’m like oh I’m going to mix this up, and put this up to f/22 or f/16 and just focus on one space and then everything else you know and have like a really big depth of field, where a lot is going to be in focus and then and just like, let it rip, it depends, if I’m really trying to get that crowd shot with many faces illuminated, Do I want to create? I love layers, I love having like a really strong background, a foreground and other things going on, then there’s a lot you can do with it, you can layer, you can layer with like you know, you can layer like, we you know, you have like leaves behind us. Like you can layer with that, but let’s say you don’t want the detail of the leaf, you just want it to be a green blob. Well then it’ll open wide, verses closing down, and I think you know having that creative control is great, so especially because I’m shooting raw. What I’ll do is I’ll find that great middle ground with the light. That’ll be my setting whether it’s f/8 you know 200th of a second at 400 ISO that’ll be that, and then I’ll, you know, I can still shoot whatever, and move it around, you know, one or two stops, and you know, with my aperture. Like you’re shooting at a higher shutter speed? If you are moving and your subject is moving, or moving across the plane that you’re photographing. Yeah. I want to shoot with a higher shutter speed, because I don’t want motion blur. Right if your subject is just coming towards you, you know, I feel like I want a higher shutter speed at least around you know 200 to make sure that I’m freezing, freezing emotions. Yeah! So let’s talk about lenses, and I know there’s always kind of this thing where people say for street photography, they just use 35 mm. That seems to be the the most popular focal length for shooting street portraits with street photography, but what do you tend to use the most then? What’s like your favorite focal length for city street? I mean definitely my favorite is is the 35mm I think a 35mm is wide, I mean 35 is wide enough to get most. Sometimes I wish I was like, slightly wider, but then take a step back right, you know when you take a step back from the 35mm it’s a 24, when you take at least my steps When you take a step forward it’s a 50mm Right? I mean you don’t have the same compression and you don’t have the same like this like wide open sense that you would get with a 24mm but it’s a good all-around lens when you don’t want to be changing too much. But again you know, it depends like, there are times where I’ve gone out and shot with a 135mm because I just felt like having this kind of long look at everything, and it’s a very different feel, it’s very, it’s less intimate, but then again sometimes when you shoot with 35mm, I’m not trying to get like this on a person, that is, is, it’s not my style and my approach to shooting so I think it’s a really good idea to play with different lenses when you’re out there. I mean I you know I travel with a 50mm and 35mm and those are kind of my, my, go-to. But like I host, you know I have, you know a wider lenses and I also have longer lenses, and it you know it depends how I wake up that day, and what I want to shoot. Right! Alright. So let’s talk about how you approach street photography creatively. So we talked about the lenses we talked about camera settings. Creatively what are you looking for and how, what would you recommend to photographers to look out for, when they go out to shoot their own street photography. Well you know for me street photography is an excuse to explore. Yeah. But it’s also a way to see, and try and see a world, that we already know exists. Like, let’s say New York City you have this preconceived idea of what already it looks like. So how can I be creative and try and show it a little bit differently, and so for me that’s what my exercise is like, how can I approach with my unique, you know proclivities for how I see, look, what can I do to create a make an image that is in a place that people already have this idea, of what it looks like! And I want to show something a little different. So you know for me light is really important. Negative space is really important using objects to help my composition whether that’s other people whether that’s things and reflections and really heavy foregrounds. So what kind of things are you looking at like, when you’re saying things, what is that? I’m looking at heavy foreground elements that I can use to place people within spaces, like even scaffolding is amazing because you can use it almost in a way, it is like cutting through and creating this actual golden rectangle and putting people within it you know a rectangle. I love doing that and it’s a real exercise in patience and waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for, yo, know you will never run out of people walking on the street in Manhattan! So that you know.. There’s, you know, everywhere I look I see a picture. I see, let me tell you that, everywhere I look, I see the potential for an image, and then I wait for that image to happen, and it’s a little bit different than waiting and reacting instantaneously. It’s something that happens in front of you, which is a perfectly good way and great, you know traditional street photography! It’s not kind of how my photographic mind works, if I see something and I say this space, this environment speaks to me about the city, and then I wait for a you know a denizen of the city, to have in that space Kind of reminds me of how people used to do when they shot film back in the day, because you only had you know 24, or 36 exposures so you didn’t go and just rattle off. I know, I know, it was this thing back in the day it was pretty cool, but it kind of reminds me of those days where you would go out, and you would be very judicious of the shots you took, and you could sit and you would wait for something to happen in the frame. Well I mean you know like Gary Winogrand, not necessarily judicious, died with 10,000 rolls of film, still, stills. And if you ever watched video or film of him shooting you know you choo-choos, you just just keep on going …just keep on going! And that’s one way to do it, you know, it’s just it’s not how I think, and I appreciate the photographers who do do that, but I’m always looking for some way to control the chaos, rather than just picking moments out of the cast, because that’s what it is, that’s what life is, life is chaos, and we as photographers, we’re trying to put the chaos into this little rectangle, and so that’s hard enough right and then to make it even harder is like.. Oh you know, how can I even make it more so? Alright everybody, so we just wrapped up a really fun morning of shooting. We will see you in the next episode of The Breakdown. Bye everybody.

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50 thoughts on “Street Photography Tips From Sony Artisan Ben Lowy: The Breakdown with Miguel Quiles

  1. Some questions I wish he'd asked:
    1) What catches your eye more in others' street photography: light or faces?
    2) You said everyone has the idea of what NYC looks like. So don't we see enough Manhattan street photography? Why not shoot in Newark, NJ, or Staten Island, where we don't have preconceptions?
    3) Do you crop in post processing?
    4) What is your approach to color in street photography?
    5) You said you won't get up in the face with a 35mm. Why not?

  2. I notice he is always looking down on his flip screen. I think most street photographers tend to use the viewfinder even if their cameras have a flip screen. I think on reflection (if you pardon the pun), looking down is better, as people won't notice you a taking their picture. It's also from a nicer angle I think. I'm gonna try that.

  3. damn I get some but miss many of the same shots in NYC. GRii, a6000, had Pentax now Nikon. Have been reluctant to turn up my ISO and shutter speed. Especially needing that and stopping down when I am really up close in middle of people and sometimes I have not stopped moving.. Thanks,

  4. Que talento y cuanta práctica para poder ver las fotografías donde nadie se lo imagina o se puede ver… que magníficas fotos y excelente fotógrafo.

  5. Great street photog tips here! I need to get out more and do some street photography 🙂 Hopefully this summer!

  6. Other than the F'ing word "sharp"…if i EVER hear photographers discuss their F'ing "settings " again, i am going to kiss them with a 2×4 to their face… I have been taking pictures, or is that MAKING Pictures, or Photographing, or is it Shooting…..since 1977…..SETTINGS…???? …who gives an F what the stupid settings were.?…If most stuff is in focus…f/8 or better…Shallow depth..??….5.6 or faster. We NEVER asked each other about settings…it seems in the last 10 years or so, people have become OBSESSED with Gear and Setting and "Sharpness…..what The F Happened…????

  7. I disagree with his opinion that regular people don’t “make” images, but take them. Look at where Instagram, and the genre of cell phone, or what’s known as iPhonography has taken the world of photography to, and what’s sparked interest in photography for many people. Most of my Instagram is dedicated to this type of photography under my user name of sandboxvet, or just look up iPhonography on google, for examples.

  8. It bothered me that the photographer did not make eye contact with the camera ( us out here ) and/or barely connected with the interviewer either.

  9. I would be nice to see more images (before and after post production) and not so much talking and discussions. I think.

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