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The landscape photographer’s perspective on city shooting

The smell of wet earth, the rustle of tall field grass in the wind, the sound of dry twigs crunching under my feet as I make my way to where I will be shooting. These are the triggers for my senses where I spend 90% of my time shooting. But as an instructor at the Out of Chicago Summer Conference, I am placed in an environment nearly the complete opposite of that so what is a nature and wildlife guy supposed to do? Let’s explore how I change my shooting style when I venture into a big metropolitan area like Chicago or New York City.

The first thing I do whenever I get to a large city where I will be shooting is to STOP! I stop everything and just take it all in. I slow down and just be a part of it for a little while. I stand on a corner or against a building and just watch the flow of people and machines. I start to pick out the rhythm of the neighborhood I’m in, and then like kids playing double Dutch jump rope, I jump in when it feels right. 

For me it feels right when I start to notice the little details in my surroundings, colors, textures, shapes. For example I found some interest in the colorful signs of the “El” in Chicago, and how in may locations they contrast against the rusted and weathered ironwork of the posts in which they are attached.

In addition to details I start to look for “chunks” of the skyline to shoot. It is nearly impossible to shoot the whole skyline, so I focus in interesting sections of it, and how the shapes combine to form a patchwork of steel, glass and stone.

And like exploring the woods and shoreline in my home state of Michigan, I like to explore the city by getting off the main streets when the conditions look favorable. In a large city this is best done with a group or with a local who can assure you that you are in safe surroundings. While this side street in Chinatown in New York may have looked “sketchy,” it was anything but. People were agreeable and many were kind enough to offer me stellar deals on colognes, designer leather goods and even luxury watches all at well below cost 😉

And finally one last quick tip for anyone new to shooting in the city — don’t fear the people. Most people, and by most I mean like everyone, could care less if you are taking a photo and they happen to be in it. Now if you are walking up to people and putting your camera in their face that might not work out well without some sort of conversation first, but if you compose a shot in the street and wait for a passerby to walk into the frame for the photo then you will be just fine. If they look crossly at you just look back at them, smile, and say, “Wow! You made that picture perfect!” and they will likely smile back and carry on.

So there you have it, just a few quick tips on shooting in the city when you are used to shooting in the woods and wilds. 
I hope this helps some on your trip to Out of Chicago and I hope to see you there!!

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