Candid photography – the new, old reality TV – By Markus Hartel
Producers and directors in television believed for a long time that scripted television was more interesting than real life. But somewhere in the late 20th century both cultural tastes and advances in technology gave rise to the reality giant. We were glued to the tube and invested in the lives of countless strangers. However, over the years, these shows have evolved to become creative packages from the minds of writers and editors, always looking to “improve on reality”. They are only taking their cue from a culture where ads are retouched, photos are digitally composed from multiples, the colors are tweaked, animated films bring in bigger box office returns and so-called reality TV is usually scripted…
Sometimes an unaltered, candid look at the world can be very refreshing. I discovered this about ten years ago when I first set foot into New York City’s concrete jungle. It doesn’t matter where you live, photographs are everywhere, as I once wrote “your grocery store, your parking lot, the street where you live, everything is game and a potential source for a great photograph.” Since then I have covered many, many miles on foot (and on the subway) and have captured countless slices of life in the city with my camera.
A great candid photo consists of much more than the old photojournalistic rule “f8 and be there”. Over the years I have learned to pay much more attention to details, such as lighting and intricate composition. The camera and lens doesn’t matter all that much, just use what feels right in your hands and travel light, if you can, as it is less tiring and allows one to focus on the storytelling aspects of street photography.
By far the most important aspect of a photograph is the emotional response of the viewer, the story that a photo can, better yet, should tell within one frame. And when that story can be captured as opposed to contrived, it is that more exhilarating. People from all over the world have emailed me that my photographs feel “very New York” and that the black-and-whites reflect a wonderful gritty facet that the city is so well known for. I wonder for how much longer that grittiness will last, as the city itself falls prey to an image makeover; so I try to photograph in the streets as much as my time allows me to do.
When I still used film, my preference was black-and-white film 99% of the time and I used a hybrid workflow, as I never liked working in the darkroom – early on, I scanned my film and adjusted everything digitally in Adobe Photoshop. In the meantime digital technology has grown a whole lot and I find digital cameras and Adobe Lightroom very liberating to use. In turn, I create a lot more color work than I used to, when my choice was between different film stocks, or dependant on me being in the mood to carry an additional camera body for color film. Nonetheless, my soft spot is still for black-and-white, as I think it oftentimes works much better as a narrative tool for still photographs of my chosen genre. Whatever the post processing choices I make, they are always in service to the authentic story I first snapped.
Speaking of narrative – an important editorial aspect that many aspiring photographers seem to leave behind, is how much of what we photographers see and how we shoot reflects our own personalities: curiosity and compassion, sometimes intelligence, a sense of humor, or irony. A good street photograph can oftentimes convey many nuances of those aspects of life in one photo. If I can make someone laugh, or gasp, or see the world around them a little differently (or see it at all) with my photographs, I have achieved my goal for the day.
So, for those who can’t take pre-recorded singing competitions, scripted conflicts of housewives or the same old rehearsed drama… I urge you to take to the streets for some “real” people watching and experience life as it’s unfolding. And just maybe, with a little skill and luck, you’ll be able click some postcards to remember your travels by.
About the photographs
Various cameras, Leica M6, Leica M8, Leica M9, Canon EOS 5D. Processed in Adobe Lightroom, printed with an Epson 3800 on Epson Exhibition Fiber paper
About Markus Hartel
Markus is a street photographer, people picture taker, and storyteller from New York City. Hartel is a geek at heart with a passion for digital technology. He currently teaches online Lightroom classes and holds candid photography workshops and One-on-One walking tours in NYC.
Discover more of Markus’ work here: http://www.markushartel.com
NYC Tours and Workshops
Join Markus for a 3-day workshop sponsored by Abe’s of Maine that will have you on your feet, walking and photographing in the streets of Manhattan. Limited to a maximum of 10 participants, this all-inclusive weekend is a photo immersion experience that ranges from advanced shooting techniques and getting the most out of your equipment to gaining invaluable editing skills in Adobe Lightroom. This is both a Photography and New York experience and we want you to gain skills and memories to last a lifetime. Participants will be staying at a top Hotel in Midtown Manhattan and be treated to fine dining as well as local eats, throughout the weekend.