I had the honor of leading a Street Fashion Photo Walk at this year’s PhotoPlus Expo in New York City. This was a two hour walk that was advertised as an opportunity for photographers to spend two hours with me on the Friday morning of PPE2018.
The Photo Walk Description
Street Fashion Photo Walk with Olympus Visionary Joe Edelman
Street fashion is a big part of the New York fashion scene and on this photo walk you will learn techniques to create dynamic street fashion shots and portraits in almost any location. Joe will show you how to find interesting backgrounds, identify great natural light and use reflectors to enhance the natural light. Joe will also share lenses and aperture to control your backgrounds, how to interact with and direct your subject, along with some simple posing tips for full length and portrait style compositions.
Scroll to the bottom to see finished images
Since my educational mission is to teach photographers about the HOWs and WHYs behind making great photographs, I frequently use my teaching opportunities to try and take photographers out of their comfort zone to experience new things and to develop a sincere appreciation for KISS IT – Keep It Super Simple. This photo walk was no different and I wanted to take the time and share with you my HOWs and WHYs behind how I planned the walk and shot my images that you see throughout this article.
I knew this would be a small group of photographers and since they were each spending $150.00 in addition to the cost of getting into the Expo, I knew they would be serious about learning and open to new ideas.
Photographers who attend events like this routinely list “learning how to pose” and “learning the best way to communicate with a model” as their two most important goals and these are followed closely by “learning more about lighting”.
While two hours sounds like a lot of time – it really isn’t when you are moving from place to place and teaching and photographing. I make it a priority to minimize my personal shooting time because I really don’t feel there is a lot of value in having people watch me take a photo if I am not taking the time to really break down the thought process.
My goal was to keep the locations close together, do short little demos and then give the attending photographers lots of time to shoot and interact one-on-one with the model at each location. I’d watch over their shoulders and give them suggestions or get them to try something dramatically different than what they are doing in an effort to get them out of their comfort zone.
The key to any good shoot is the preparation. I’ve been to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center many times, but I had never considered it as a shooting location and I knew that the blocks around the Javits center were not exactly picturesque. The High Line was an option, but it is also one of the most photographed areas of New York, so I didn’t want to do anything that obvious.
I made a trip from my home base of Allentown, PA to New York about two weeks before the expo to do my location scouting. Much to my pleasure I quickly realized that the lower street level of the Javits center was a complex of various concrete shapes and textures in the form of walls, curbs, sidewalks, pillars and stairs. These geometric shapes immediately reminded me of the fashion photos that appeared in Life and Look magazines in the late 1950s, 60s and 70s. These monochrome gray settings actually created great, simple backgrounds with very few distractions.
Location Scouting – Two weeks before the shoot
I also realized that weather could be a serious factor, since the photo walk was scheduled to take place at 9:00 a.m. on a Friday morning in late October, so cool temperatures were likely, and lighting would be unpredictable depending on the weather.
All of this information led me to decide that I would do the entire photo walk just outside of the Javits Center on the ground level, using the geometric shapes and simple gray color of the poured concrete as my background.
I understood that the light grey concrete would also function as excellent reflectors regardless of the weather. The concrete sidewalks also serve the same function – providing a nice fill to soften shadows under the chin and nose as well as helping to create catchlights in the eyes.
It was decided that my model would be the beautiful Gabrielle who I first met while doing a test shoot with a local makeup artist and whom I had just photographed for Olympus in this video about the PEN E-PL9.
She is tall and has striking eyes and since this was a street fashion project – I had to place more emphasis on the outfit and overall look and feel of the image. I had seen a photo of Gabrielle on her Instagram profile where she was wearing a white sweater dress with knee-high gray boots. I thought this outfit would be perfect to provide just a bit of contrast to the grey walls but still keep the color scheme somewhat monochromatic.
The next concern was Gabrielle’s hair. She has beautiful long hair that on a breezy day would quickly become a mess. Knowing that there was no way to predict the amount of wind that would be swirling around the Javits center the morning of the photo walk, I wanted a hairstyle that would be easily manageable and would not look windblown. With the help of my makeup artist, we decided on a high ponytail that would lift her hair up and back to keep it off of her face at all times.
I also knew that Gabrielle was very sensitive to bright sunlight and tended to squint in those situations. I experienced this first hand during our shoot in Dumbo, Brooklyn. So I brought along a pair of white frames sunglasses that I knew I could use to prevent squinting to simply as a prop on her head.
The morning of the shoot was cold. There was a slight breeze early on but New York spared us the blustery winds that often occur along the river. The day was very overcast which means that the sky was like a huge overhead softbox. The upside – no harsh shadows and very little squinting from my model. The downside – the soft even light along with my monochromatic concrete and white dress – had the potential for very flat images.
“All great photographs are the result of great problem solving.” This has always been my philosophy as a photographer. This photo walk was no different. I had gambled on the monochrome theme and as Murphy’s Law would have it Mother Nature provided very flat and uninteresting lighting. Since my original inspiration came from the black and white fashion images from the old Life and Look magazines – I decided to work in black and white and teach the attendees the idea of creating a fashion story based on this monochromatic theme. This fashion story would include images that showed the model and the setting. It would include three-quarter length and close-up shots as well.
This concept would give me ample opportunity to explain how to find interesting backgrounds in the most boring of places and how to find good light. Because we were on the ground level at the Javits Center we also were tucked away from the crowds of photographers entering the main hall and the rush of New Yorkers going by on the street.
The Gear & Images
I shot all of the image with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and an M.Zuiko 12-100mm F4 PRO Lens. It was important to be able to work quick and also have a consistent combination of shutter speed and aperture that would ensure no camera or subject motion and also softer backgrounds when using the longer focal lengths on the zoom. All of the images @ 1/400sec @ F4. I allowed the camera to set my ISO – YES – AUTO ISO. My ISO ranged from ISO200 – ISO500.
I worked a various focal lengths from 12mm (24mm Full Frame equivalent) up to 100mm(200 mm Full Frame equivalent). I did shots with some distortion and others with nice soft bokeh in the background. YES – soft backgrounds with an F4 lens on a micro four thirds camera!
I was able to shoot a few frames at the beginning of each set-up – here are the finished images: Click previews to enlarge
It is important to note that when I shoot with black and white in mind – I set my color profile to Monochrome in camera. I also increase the contrast in the Monochrome profile to +2 so that the images appearing on my LCD screen and in the EVF have the look and feel of Black and White images shot on Tri-X film, which was the go-to film in the 70s and 80s.
I do this so that I am confident that the way I am setting up my shot and exposing it will make a good black and white image. Back in the film days, a photographer would light and expose one way for black and white film and then light and expose a very different way for color film. When digital came along and the ability to click a button and suddenly have a black and white image – photographers started getting lazy and instead of creating great black and white images – the trend became using black and white as a way to save a bad color image.
Since I am shooting raw – the camera is of course still recording the color image, so I do all of my retouching for skin blemishes and fly-away hairs in Photoshop and then I use the Nik Silver Efex 2 plugin from DxO to do my black and white conversion. Settings will vary from shot to shot – but here are my basic black and white conversion settings that I used for this shoot.
A good learning experience is one that makes you think and step out of your comfort zone. It challenges your style and your likes and dislikes. Most importantly a good learning experience is NOT the time to be adding photos to your portfolio. I was fortunate to have a great group of attendees who embraced those values and went home with some new tools and skills to create with.
I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman