Late last year/early this year (2018/2019), three photographs from Bali Street Photographer were exhibited by Don’t Take Pictures. I’ve been following Don’t Take Pictures for years. So, being featured in one of their exhibits is a huge honour. Especially since the team over there is held in high esteem and continually curates impeccable photography work in print and digital media.
Why Don’t Take Pictures?
Don’t Take Pictures’ philosophy compliments Bali Street Photographer’s mission. The name itself is provocative and oxymoronic at the same time (given the context). So, what’s the meaning behind Don’t Take Pictures?
The title, Don’t Take Pictures, references the language of modern photography. Over the years, the term “taking pictures” has begun to be replaced with “making photographs.” The change signifies a distinction between the widespread use of cameras in the modern world and the more systematic, thoughtful process of creating photographic art. At Don’t Take Pictures, we strive to celebrate the creativity involved with the making of photographs. ~Don’t Take Pictures
Here’s Bali Street Photographer’s mission statement (from the About page).
To see rather than look. To create rather than take. To explore rather than visit. To connect rather than separate. ~Bali Street Photographer
The Featured Photos
These are the three photographs that were in the exhibit. All made by Bali Street Photographer.
Woman carying a basket at Pasar Ubud exhibited by Don’t Take Pictures – Bali Street Photographer
Please visit the Seeing Red online gallery and learn more about Don’t Take Pictures.
I contribute and support a few online photography forums. I enjoy seeing other people’s photos. I learn new things, see new perspectives, and get inspired. I definitely value people’s constructive feedback.
Recently, I started to comment on a photo in a street photography group when I read some feedback that disturbed me. Here’s an excerpt from the comment that bothered me.
Unfortunately, for me, your image doesn’t really succeed . . . The man isn’t doing anything interesting.
Here’s an excerpt from what I posted about the same photo that was being critiqued.
Hmmmm, a couple master street photographers immediately came to mind when I saw your post.
Quite a disparity, yes? Almost opposite ends of the spectrum. If anyone says that your photos capture people that aren’t doing anything “interesting”, you are in good company. You are in company with master photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson (HCB), Saul Leiter, and William Eggleston.
If you love the mundane and banal, please share your links with the rest of us. Want even more mundane photography? There’s a whole genre dedicated to unremarkable (or remarkable depending on your perspective) landcapes–New Topographics photography.
Here’s my nod to New Topographics in Bali which I exhibited in Ubud a couple years back–Balinality.
Feature photo: Balinality or just another day in the life at Pasar Ubud, Bali?
I always enjoy launching a new photo series. My goal for this new series is to share street photography of places outside of Ubud, Bali. A sort of Bali Street Photographer (BSP) on the road if you will.
The hero image for this post was taken last week (end of February 2019) at an open market at Car-Free Day in Surabaya. Car-Free Day is when the city of Surabaya shuts down one of the most scenic & busiest downtown streets called Jalan Raya Dharmo. This event is held every Sunday.
Surabaya is Indonesia’s “second city” and is located in East Java. Java is Bali’s next door neighbor to the west.
Today, after running some morning errands. I was stuck in the middle of a huge traffic jam in the centre of Ubud. That usually means one thing–upacara. In other words, there was a Balinese Hindu Religious procession in progress.
Rather than waiting in the hot sun inhaling exhaust from dozens of idling vehicles, I pulled over. I took out my camera and began walking towards the Ubud Palace. I wasn’t disappointed. I stumbled upon an elaborate & beautiful Ngaben procession in progress.
Street Photography Tips
It’s experiences like these that have taught me some valuable street photography skills. Besides having a camera with a clean lens, charged battery, & spare memory card, these soft skills can make or break the decisive moments.
“Mark was very friendly and took time to understand my level photography skill and interests to ensure that he provided the right level of guidance on the tour. His knowledge of the market and interactions with the local community helped ensure I got some great shots on the day. Definitely a worthwhile experience if you are visiting Ubud!”
~Mat Bell from Melbourne Australia
It was my pleasure guiding you and your family around the pasar. I’m glad my skills and knowledge were a match for what you were looking for. See you next time!
How do we really know what ultimately influences us to compose a picture before clicking the shutter?
Should I be like all the other street photographers, or should I be different? How can I be different–is this even possible?
If you’ve been into street photography for even a short time, these two questions should have crossed your mind by now. We humans are influenced by many conscious and not so conscious factors. How do we really know what ultimately influences us to compose a picture before clicking the shutter? Is it our individuality or because we’ve seen it done by someone else?
Here are four heuristics I practice to be a more unique photographer.
The double-take test: If I’m going to photograph in a well known place, I look to see what photos are already out there. I take notice of what images make me look twice. Then I try compositions I hope will make people do a double-take. E.g., it can be looking at the scene upside down to discover a unique perspective, pointing my camera in the opposite direction of everyone else, or finding a spot off the beaten path that hasn’t been snapped yet.
Research the masters: Looking at the masters is always inspiring to me. But, their work gives me more than mere inspiration. Take Saul Leiter for example. His photographs allow me to put myself in his shoes. When I do that, I can ponder, “What made Saul so special? What made him stand out? What was Saul thinking when he decided to stand where he did when he pressed the button? Why did he approach who he did when he captured a portrait?” Perhaps we may never know the answer and leave it at that. Or, we can see if the answers are out there in books, interviews, and documentaries. The bottom line is that we can let the masters impassion us to be unique.
Inside job: Some times it’s who you know. A good number of my favourite photographs (the ones that break the mold) are pictures of people I know. I’ve photographed priceless moments of my wife in Surabaya, my barber in Ubud, my tuk-tuk driver in Chiang Mai, my waitress in Bhutan, my scuba instructor in the Maldives, and my media colleague in the Philippines. These acquaintances, former strangers, and friends give me an inside angle that can literally serve as a backstage pass for street portraits. Use it, but don’t abuse it. Your relationships are privileges not potential exploits.
Be yourself: Being yourself requires meditation time away from the camera. Spend time reflecting and searching for your true self. One way to do this is to detach from your ego. Start practising street photography for the joy not the ego-based competition. Be mindful or your surroundings and empathetic to people. Once you start shedding your ego and become more mindful, your individuality and creativity blossoms. When this happens, your uniqueness and personal perspective will be reflected in the art you create not the pictures you “take” or “shoot”.
“Just as a good story should have a beginning, middle, and ending, so a good photograph benefits from having a foreground, middle ground, and background.”
~John Hedgecoe Emeritus Professor of Photography at the Royal College of Art, Queen Magazine, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, Vogue, and Life.
During one Pasar Ubud Tour, I was asked, “How can I create more depth in a street photo?” My favourite go-to technique to create depth is layering–not to be confused with Photoshop layers.
So just like Mr. Hedgecoe says above, think about creating a photograph on the street that has someone right in front of you (1-2 metres), someone slightly further away (3-5 metres), and someone or something in the background 6+ metres away.
I found the best way to do this if you’ve never tried layering yet is to do what Eric Kim suggests. Kim will manually set his focus to 5 metres (middle layer). Then, pick a spot with some people passing in front of you at various distances and start clicking. This is when the magic happens. You should have a set of exposures with people blurry (first layer), in focus (middle layer), and in the background.
Pro tip: For analogue and digital cameras, set your shutter speed to at least 1/60 or 1/80 of a second and aperture at F8 or F11 so that your middle layer subject is in focus. For digital cameras, you can try setting the camera to aperturepriority with F8 or F11.
Above: Going crazy with layers at Bali Spirit Festival 2018. Reflections always add another dimension.
Above: An unconventional street portrait of a hat vendor in the foreground framed by a Balinese woman in the middle layer.