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Only One Shot

June 22, 2017

            These days, the number of shots a camera can do per second in burst mode is apparently a big selling point. I can see the advantage of using burst in certain types of photography such as sports, rodeos, auto races, or other fast moving events. Even some types of photojournalism could benefit from high-speed bursts.

            With street photography, though, I find burst mode unnecessary and impractical. One would think that it would be useful in street photography; people are often moving and catching them at the right moment is critical to getting the right shot. Although burst mode is not a camera feature I pay much attention to, I have tried it occasionally while on the streets. What happens to me, however, is that I raise the camera to take the initial image of an emotional or behavioral moment I observe. Then as the camera continues to fire away, I get shots as it’s being lowered again – blurred images of sidewalks, legs or feet. Not very useful or interesting. Although digital images don’t cost anything to take, process or develop, it’s a waste of time and space on the camera card not to mention the time it takes deleting unwanted images in post. And if I keep the camera to my eye as it fires, I run the risk of the subject in question seeing me. I’m not afraid of being noticed, but I don’t want to insert myself into the moment I’m trying to photograph. I’ll leave that tactic to the Bruce Gilden’s of the street photography world.

            Eric Kim, whose blog I read regularly (http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/01/07/timeless-lessons-street-photographers-can-learn-from-robert-franks-the-americans/), described the methods used by one of my favorite photographers, Robert Frank, whose book, The Americans, depicted rural America in the 1950s and was/is one of the most influential photography books of all time. “…when [Frank] had photographed cowboys at Madison square garden or socialites at the toy ball, he had made many exposures of the people and the scenes that interested him, no doubt hoping that an editor would find one of use. But now, with the knowledge that he had plenty of materials, a full year to work on [The Americans], and no one to please but himself, he responded more immediately and intuitively.”

            That sentiment is described more fully in the catalog essay about Robert Frank from Phillips Auction House Just days before reaching Louisiana where this iconic image Trolley, New Orleans was taken, [Frank] was arrested for suspicious activity. He found the experience humiliating, but it amplified his compassion and sharpened his perspective while he photographed "[I] became like a cop watching people, observing them, stealing." His photography style became casual, but acute, with constant movement, quoting his friend Allen Ginsberg "First thought, best thought. .... When one releases a second time, there is already a moment lost." (https://www.phillips.com/detail/ROBERT-FRANK/NY040215/209?fromSearch=rob&searchPage=2)

            Since Frank already channeled Ginsburg to give credence to his photographic style of shooting, let me channel Michael Vronsky (played by Robert DeNiro) in The Deer Hunter to illustrate mine. When on a hunting trip with his buddies, Vronsky gives them the following advice when shooting: “Only one shot. You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it's all about. A deer's gotta be taken with one shot.” What he meant was to aim swiftly and correctly to take the prey cleanly and without suffering. When shooting street, be conscious and aware of what is happening around you so that you can see moments as they unfold. Know your equipment and settings well enough to get the shot on the first try. Be ready mentally and have the camera set for light conditions and what you want your final image to look like (e.g. shallow or deep focus range, high or low key, grain or sharpness, etc.) If you’re pressing the shutter again and again, you not only miss the moment, you could potentially destroy it.