Steven Brokaw Photography

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Photo Workshop with Valerie Jardin – Minneapolis Street Life

Participated in a street photography workshop hosted by Valerie Jardin, photographer & international photography workshop instructor, in Minneapolis, MN.   I’ve followed Valerie for a couple of years and finally decided to take one of her workshops.  I have been focusing on editorial fashion inspired, studio photography recently, but always enjoy doing street photography. 

The challenge with street photography versus studio photography is you can control everything in studio.  You control light, you control your creative team, you can direct your subject’s pose to get the desired look, etc.  With street photography, very little is in your control.  Your camera settings and where you shoot / walk-around is about it, but most things are variable.

That’s why I find street photography gratifying.  When you get the shot it’s not only a combination of your photography skills, but doing it with variables you can’t always control.  And of course sometimes it’s just dumb luck….

The workshop consisted of 2 days, but we also met up the evening before the workshop to socialize (I enjoy this part as well since I’m a social type of guy).  Anyway, the social time gave me a chance to make some good friends.  Anytime you have like-minded people who sit around talking photography…yep, I’m a happy guy.

Day 1 was a classroom orientation / basic tips on the mechanics, rules & etiquette of the genre.  Much of this I knew, but it’s always good to get refreshed and the points reinforced by a pro.   After about 2 hours we walked to the Mill City area of Minneapolis.  I was always lagging behind most of the walk because I ended up stopping along the way taking photos…I was getting the evil eye from the group…sorry about that.  Not only is it the Mill City are the location of the Guthrie Theater, but an open street market and some really interesting architecture.    We paired up and just walked around trying to find interesting people, lighting, objects, and composition.  It was fun.  Especially to see how different people captured exact same subject.  I had the chance to pair up with Rachel from Ames, Iowa.  She is cool and after 5 minutes I felt I had known her my whole life.

During this part of the street shoot we were encouraged to take candid and street portraits.  There were plenty of opportunities.  In some occasions I asked my subject if I could take there photo and in some situations I just pushed the trigger.  For this part of the shoot I used my Nikon D600 with a Nikkor AF-S 50mm F/1.4 lens.  I didn’t need the wide aperture outside.  I just wanted a smaller profile lens so I could be less obvious.  I shot in aperture priority with my aperture set at f/9 to get good DOF.  ISO set at 200 and on occasions cranked to 400.  Got some good shots.

We then went into the Guthrie Theater to shoot in the room with the big yellow window…wow.  That was so cool.

We then walked down to the Mill City Museum area and just walked in and photographed people dancing, a band and people just hanging out.  In this area I focused on taking photos of people interacting or just watching the action.  It was great.

We then headed over to a drinking establishment.  We did some photography in the bar and just hung out chatting about photography.  I also indulged my portrait jones and photographed all of my workshop colleagues.  It had started to rain so we just stayed inside.  After awhile we broke up and headed back to our hotels.  I took the opportunity to do some street photography in the rain with my FujiFilm X20.

Day 2 and we met up early at the Minneapolis Lyndale Farmer’s Market to photograph an active food market.   Again, I walked around with Rachel and we just took some random photographs of people exchanging money, kids running around & vendors selling goods.  It was tricky because the light was bright but heavy shadows were everywhere.  I used my FujiFilm X20 and it worked great. 

We met up for lunch and I had a chance to talk to Valerie about photography, her background and she also showed me a thing or two I didn’t know about my X20.  She has been using a FujiFilm X100s, which has many of the same menu options.  Much appreciated.   She recommended I work in RAW AND jpg and set my jpg to monochrome with a yellow filter to get more contrasty photos…a good tip.

After lunch we headed back to the library where we started and worked on post processing and talk about our images.  That was fun because I had an opportunity to see how other’s interpreted the exact same scene as I shot.  Also it’s always good to see other’s workflows.

Before I know it the workshop was over.  Darn it, I could have used another couple of days.  No problems.  After I said my goodbyes, I went back out onto the street for about another 8 hours.  I stopped by my hotel room to get my tripod, switch out my Nikon D600 lens to my Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8.  I did a bunch more street photography, but stayed out way too late at night taking after dark photographs of downtown Minneapolis.  I “think” it was safe?  It was a blast.

I would highly recommend taking workshops.  I totally dig meeting with other photographers, and especially when you have a top drawer pro leading the team like Valerie Jardin.  I done several of these types of workshops and I will do more.

After action report:

  • Don’t overpack.  I used just about everything, but probably didn’t need to speedlight.  I could have gotten by with the FujiFilm X20 during everything but the night photography so my camera choice was OK.  I probably should have taken a smaller camera bag,
  • Street photography is hard.  Especially street portraits.  Come on Steve, put on your big boy pants and ask people if it’s OK to take their photo.  I did, and got some good images,
  • Be careful walking around a city late at night.  I ended up in areas I had no clue where I was.  Good thing I had my iPhone with maps so I could find my way back to the hotel.  I guess I was a pretty easy target with about $5K of camera gear with me. 
  • Socialize.  When you are at a workshop this is 50% of the value.  Ask questions, talk people up.  I REALLY enjoy this part.

Remember, you are there to learn.  Get out of your comfort zone.


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