I recently visited Los Angeles for a week of photography. It was a blast. I went for 2 reasons. First, to do a few model photoshoots and secondly, but more importantly, to participate in a street photography workshop hosted by my friend Valerie Jardin. You may know Valerie as the host of TWiP's Street Focus podcast. An extra benefit on this workshop was the host of The Candid Frame podcast, and well know street photographer, Ibarionex Perello was a co-host.
I have been on 2 previous workshops with Valerie, one in Minneapolis and the other in Paris, but I had never met Ibarionex. However, I am a regular listener to his podcast.
Like most workshops I planned it out in advance - got my flights, booked a loft in downtown LA through AirBnB, and made Facebook contact with the other workshop participants. At the same time I reached out to professional models through social media and scheduled urban / hip fashion editorial shoots. One of the reasons I booked a loft with rooftop access was this was my model photography studio. Lots of natural light & big spaces. The perfect vibe for what I was looking for.
OK, like in the past Valerie communicated regularly / effectively and let us know the schedule, where she was staying and other planned activities. Because I knew Valerie from previous workshops I stayed in touch with her, so I had a good handle on what to expect. I booked my loft close to hers and others so we could hang out together as needed.
I wanted to travel light. I was going for 2 different types of shoots, so I packed carefully. The weather was questionable so I probably overpacked on clothing. My camera kit consisted of:
- Nikon D600 (for the model shoot, but also to take out for street photography)
- Lenses - AFS Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 (street photography), AFS Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 (model & street photography, & an AFS Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 (model photography)
- Sony A6000 (street photography) with extra batteries
- Canon A35F rangefinder film camera with 12 rolls of various films (for street photography) - please child, I still shoot film
- Fujifilm Instax Mini with 5 boxes of Instax instant film - even when I travel I need an instant camera
- 2 Nikon SB-600 speed lights with Elinchrom Sky-Port triggers
- 2 small light stand for the speed lights
- A Silk travel tripod
- MacBook Pro with Retina Display & a WD Passport 2 TB external drive
Believe it or not, I got all of this kit into a camera bag & my checked bag. Not bad. AND the good part, I used everything.
I did the model shoots early in the week in both the loft and the rooftop. This was totally groovy and took up the earlier part of the trip. I'm a studio shooter, but here I used natural window light, outdoor direct sunlight & speed lights.
OK, OK you're here to learn about the workshop. There was an informal dinner / get together planned the evening before the start. As an added benefit, she scheduled an informal street photography walk in Hollywood. We met at the classroom area, I introduced myself to the participants, met Ibarionex and then headed to the metro station for a train to Hollywood. Totally a blast, and I spent most of my time walking and talking podcasting stuff with Valerie. It's cool to have social media contacts that are also world class photographers that you can call your friend.
Hollywood was fun, but totally plastic & fake. Perfect for street photography. After the Hollywood walk we all went out to dinner at a DTLA institution I found for the group the first evening there. It was cozy.
Day 1 was a meet up & presentation by both Valerie & Ibarionex at Simple Studio at 905 S. Hill Street. If you are a studio photographer like me, trust me, check this place out. You would never know if from the street, but it's a full service studio. Anyway, both presentations were excellent. Valerie talked about he art and process of street photography, and Ibarionex talked about watching the light. They were very complimentary.
Presentation over, and we were off. We spent the morning through early afternoon walking along Broadway street, through a LARGE central market (where we were treated to an organized street protest / parade on immigration rights - a cool street photography opportunity), and then up to Olvera Street & the tiny Latino market. Finally we ended up at the Union Station and caught some super nice photographs in the station at a perfect time of the day where light was flooding in all the windows. All of these locations were well planned and provided a perfect backdrop for street photography. I particularly enjoyed the street protest / march and Union Station. With that the Day 1 walk was over, and a group of use (OK, all of us) went to a local Mexican restaurant for yummies.
After dinner most of the group headed back to their hotels. Me, silly boy, I went back out on the street. I headed north (I think) for another couple of hours shoot on the street at night.
Day 2 we met at Simple Studio to dropped off our computers. We thhen headed off to LA's fashion & flower district. I expected a blast of color and people and wasn't disappointed. When we got there it was pretty dead which gave us a chance to get a lay of the land. Within an hour the place was buzzing. We agreed to meet up at a set location and a set time, but then we went off on our own or in groups.
I slowly walked through the area and made my way around skid row, some back alleys and just observed the going on's. Ibarionex had taught us to watch the light, so I parked myself in several locations setting up for specific shots, primarily as people walked by. It was a slower pace to street photography than what I was used to, but it was fun. I also walked into a back alley covered with graffiti, and walked by several hard boys that I think were doing a drug trade. I couldn't let that get in my way of photographing the cool street art so I just nodded as they looked me over. Next, I met up with Valerie and she told me to head over Santee Alley which was CRAZY. Santee Alley reminded me of my days in Hong Kong. It was a square block or two of tightly packed storefronts, street merchants and pop-up shops selling everything from t-shirts, make-up, suits, sunglasses, lingerie, nick-nacks, you name it. I picked up 4 really fun LA styled t-shirts that I'm going to use in a photoshoot. It was a photographer's heaven.
Once done we headed back to the studio & did post processing and a photo critique of our 5 best images. Valerie and Ibarionex helped everyone select our best images before the critique. Ibarionex talked to me about the images I selected and helped prune them down. Really good advice. Although I'm an accomplished photographer, I mainly focus on fashion / model photography so I enjoyed the assist on the street work.
The photo review & critique was outstanding. I wasn't surprised how good the images were from all the participants. There were several photos I would enjoy owning or having on my office wall. I wanted to go back out and shoot. Anyway, with that done we were finished. We said our goodbyes, got contact information, and then we were off.
However, later that evening several of us hung around and decided to go out to dinner with well know, LA street photography Rinzi Ruiz. It was fun briefly talking with him. Oh, yes before dinner several of us met up in my loft and recorded a short segment for Valerie's TWiP Street Focus podcast. We just chatted about the workshop. That was fun.
Overall, the workshop was excellent. I knew it would be and I wasn't disappointed. Not only did I get a chance to hang out with Valerie, but I also got to meet and chat with Ibarionex. I also met some really cool street photographers from NY, Portland, Northern CA, & Southern CA. It was a good mix of participants with different skills, but a common interest. I made some new friends.
Here are some tips / observations from the workshop:
- Come prepared to learn. As mentioned I'm an accomplished photographer, but mainly with controlled lighting and the ability to direct the scene. When it come to street photography I'm somewhat of a noob. I took notes, and listened carefully to advice of others. I walked away with more knowledge than I started with.
- There are no rules in street photography, but there are some basic principles. The main principles for me is lighting and composition. It's easy to take LOTS of photo, but just slow down and focus on lighting and what's in and around your frame.
- I mentioned this in my Paris workshop blog post, and I'll say it again 1) be in walking shape because you will walk, and 2) when on a workshop do photography or photography related things 24/7. Sleep when you get home.
- Don't leave early, and if you can arrive early. I enjoyed the opening day walk and the podcast / dinner after the workshop. It was completely relaxed.
- Talk and get to know the other participants. I have some good friends that I stay in contact with that I met on workshops. Seriously, this is a receipt for making good friends. I would love to meet up with a couple of my friends from my Paris workshop again!
- Stick with the group but wander off as needed (just let the host know you are wandering off). Explore what's around you. You may never get to some places again. Look behind you for photos.
- Pay attention to the presentations and critique sessions. Yes, yes, I know you want to get out and shoot, but believe me, you will pick up some nuggets of goodness. I particularly enjoyed looking at the photos that others took in the EXACT same place I took photos but they go something completely different.
- Don't be a dick. Talk to those around you, smile, enjoy yourself, be humble, don't be a distraction. Seriously, you are spending money and time to do something you should be enjoying, so enjoy yourself.
It was a blast, and I'll do it again. By the way, here are some photos from one of my model shoots and from the streets. Enjoy