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Interview with a New York street photographer

Street photography has always been challenging for me and I have only tried it when traveling abroad. Recently however, I had the privilege of chatting with Michael Jacobs about street photography. To make things even more interesting Mike lives in New York and for me, this was a most interesting combination: an interview with a New York street photographer.

What is street photography for you?  What are some reasons why you are attracted to street photography?

I have always been a people watcher. I find their faces, composure, lack of it, eyes, expression, body types, clothing, their relating to others, their attitude, what I think they are thinking…all fascinating.

New York – Women talking on the street
New York - Women talking on the street

What are you trying to capture in your pictures? What are you looking for…are there certain feelings, or shapes or moods that you are trying to capture in your pictures?

My brain works fast. I have good reflexes and the camera is an extension of my mind, eyes and the finger on the shutter. I often react, go by my gut. Though sometimes I do take more time to compose if I don’t think I will miss a particular shot I am trying to take.

Do you think New York makes street photography different? Do you think that if you would live somewhere else, you would look for different things to capture in your photos?  Is there something particular about New York that makes your pictures special to you?

New York has it all. All economic groups of people hustling and bustling, the energy, the acceptance of more or less than the norm, tourists, and enough grittiness that you know this is real.

New York – Teenagers talking
New York - Teenagers talking

Plus lots and lots of people here walk. You can’t say that about all places. This one important aspect gives me lots of opportunities for great shots of people.

What would a gold mine be without gold? I’m “mining” great shots here in New York.

Of course I have taken photos in Cambodia, Paris, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Boston, but I was a foreigner there. Yet it’s people who make the shot…anywhere.

Here I am a native and I am on home turf. I have a certain comfort level.

How do you take your pictures?  Do you do it as you walk around, do you sit down somewhere and wait for the perfect shot? Do you always carry the camera with you…or you do it occasionally?

I take my camera with me just about everywhere I go. I feel like the time I don’t have it with me, I will be missing a great shot. If it’s not convenient to have my larger Panasonic Lumix GX7 and camera bag with me I take the smaller self-contained Panasonic Lumix LX7.

I walk and take photos as well as stay put. When walking I often will do a stutter step and stop for a second and capture a scene. I will also hang around a street corner or suitable spot and get into a good position and stay put.

There are also some particularly good places I like to visit and re-visit.

I try to stay incognito as best I can. But I do often like to get very close to people.

I use lenses on the “normal” end when walking around. The  equivalent of using a 35 or a 50mm lens on a DSLR. My camera is a mirrorless one. If I am more stationary I do use a portrait lens on occasion.

How do you select your best pictures, what are you looking for when you say, this one is great and this one is not that great?

I have several criteria for selecting my favorite photos:

  • I look for emotion in the subject(s).
  • Irony in the situation.
  • Humor.
  • Unusual characteristics, hair, clothes, expression.
  • I try to use the shots that are composed well.
  • If it’s a bit out of focus I figure if the subject matter is strong enough I still might use it.

I am not a trained photographer. I do think I have a good eye, sense of fun, a very active imagination and I like people.

I have a good eye for what is good…I will go through a day’s “work” and cull out the ones I like, put them in a folder then go through them again before I pick out what I want to go on the website.

Some photos, I think, are really cool in many ways: composition is good they tell a story, the person has a look to them, a great hair do,  unusual. Other photos maybe are not as good, but they capture an emotion, or a look, or are just interesting, or tell a story.

Resources

Michael Jacobs posts his New York street photos at: facesofny.com

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