Kevin Mullins’ Street
It finally happened… I met one of my photography idols, Kevin Mullins, on a cold November day here in NYC for one of his street photography workshops. I was so excited I thought it was supposed to be the weekend prior, but after a premature email to Kevin, I was reminded that it was the week later. Akin to a young boy on Christmas day I suppose.
I went into the day with the goal of learning more of the technical and “seeing” techniques Kevin uses to get such great pictures when he does his street and wedding photography. So instead of taking a ton of pictures I mostly listened and asked a lot of questions. I say that to then say that none of the images in this set are incredibly jaw dropping, and that’s by design. I’m writing this post to demonstrate one of the best takeaways from the day. It’s almost as if Kevin helped me both get back to some basics when street shooting, while at the same time addressing the “seeing” that we all strive for so we can produce stellar images. It also demonstrates how much shooting one needs to do in order to get a collection of fantastic images. One example Kevin gave was that of Elliot Erwitt’s book “Dog Dogs”
which has some spectacular candid images of dogs and their owners in some great situations. We further spoke about how it took Erwitt 15 years to collect enough worthy photographs to fill an entire book. So no, every time I go out for a street shooting adventure should I feel disappointed if I don’t come home with a full collection of great shots. Instead think of it as a process that you’re working up to, but there are some things you can do to keep you focused, and observing a bit better.
I won’t cover each section and every gem of knowledge Kevin imparts during this workshop, but the one I will mention is this. The first thing he told us is it’s a good idea to give yourself a theme when you go out and shoot to give yourself a chance at more winnable images, instead of just getting a collection of “snap shots”. This was a really important point for me, and something I’ve thought about a lot. But living in such a street photography mecca as NY, it’s easy to go out and take pictures of every interesting thing you see because there are so many interesting things to see. However, this doesn’t guarantee great imagery, and living here for such a long time it can grow a little monotonous just taking pictures of everything you see. So let’s see how creating some quick, simple themes helped me see things that I may not have seen had I not been looking. We’re essentially turning the thought process upside down to make the observation more purposeful to find things that normally wouldn’t have been there initially. Something that will also benefit wedding documentary photography.
The first theme Kevin gave to us was shoot the color blue. Yep, that’s right, just shoot the color blue and try to find something that is photography worthy. This was a quick example, and we had about 15 minutes to do so. When we commenced I told Siri set timer for 15 minutes, so I could make it back on time, and Kevin looked at me, laughed and said “you Americans” talking to your phones. I knew it would be a great day.
Looking to photograph blue I was immediately drawn to trying to figure out a way to use some of the blue digital advertisements to my advantage. Then I spotted this fella wearing his blue down jacket. After I took the first pic of him in front of the Viacom building, I was able to anticipate him walking in front of the second blue image, something I thought would make an image where those looking would say this is “blue-themed” image. The little splash of blue on his jacket from afar sort of makes it “blue themed” IMHO. Again, creating this theme helped create this possibility.
I must have stood in this location and took about 10-15 pictures trying to get the rising Samsung phone with the blue on the screen. I had observed the screen changing the advertisement from Samsung, to about 4 other different brands. I thought the blue in the phone over top of the NYPD “Blue” made for an interesting idea. Again, without having this theme in mind I wouldn’t have seen this idea. These are ideas, and demonstrations of what you can see if you have something in your head, first. I’d like to explore this one a bit more if the opportunity ever presents itself again.
A very mundane picture, but looking for blue it presented itself. Who knew there was so much blue being used to set up street vendors. Since I was looking for it, I was able to find it.
Again, I don’t believe any of those images are spectacular, but I wouldn’t have even seen the possibilities had I not been looking for them. Which goes to show how setting a theme for yourself allows you to see things you otherwise would have missed. I’m sure if I kept this theme for a couple of weeks, I’d be able to come up with at least a few fun, quirky, images I’d be proud to put in my portfolio. It’s a simple exercise with a very useful lesson to be learned. It even worked when we told us to keep the same them, but shoot in B&W. I still observed much better than I had in a while, which led me into some decent image possibilities and ideas…
The next little theme we played around with was playing with shadows and light using spot metering in our cameras. Using spot metering in this way is sort of a rebirth for me in certain respects. A getting back to basics that I kind of forgot about with all of the other “bells and whistles” that come on cameras nowadays. It was a fairly bright day in Times Square, and while the light was coming in from behind buildings a different angles, it didn’t create a lot of good opportunities, unless of course you were looking for it. None of the following images were photoshopped in anyway.
My last quick theme for the day, which I picked at random, turned out to be “The Essence of New York”. Something that was perfect for me since I’m a New Yorker, and am in the hustle day in and day out. Again, this really helped get both the observational and creative juices flowing to try and come up with interesting shots capturing this idea. Here are a few I came up with. I hope the images speak for themselves, or more importantly, NYC.
I’m so thankful to have been able to attend Kevin’s workshop. I learned a lot, and believe with a more concerted effort developing a theme, and sticking to it, will help improve my street photography. Also making it more fun and purposeful. I’m dreaming up themes as we speak!