Shots and Thoughts

Photos and comments as I explore my passion for photography. Written to and for myself as a journal to track major moments and minor observations as I continue to evolve my visual art. 

Matt "No Bullshit" Stuart

This last weekend I participated in a 3 day workshop with Matt Stuart, part of the StreetFoto San Francisco week. We had 14 students from around the US, Canada and Latin America, with Joe Aguirre assisting Matt. A quick recap of the workshop as it was pretty deep and has taken me a week to digest (spoiler alert highly recommended):

It was an intense 3 days of work physically, mentally and emotionally as Matt had us engaged 110%. He started off with a review of each students work, a good opener as we shared some of our best work together. Matt committed to a “no bullshit” workshop, both from him and us. This was quite remarkable as it let all of us shed any worthless comments (Super! Awesome! Love it! Cool!) and deliver honest, direct feedback. Matt held us to it by holding himself to it. The result was clear, direct communication that was real and authentic. Not easy, not fun but 100% truth, 100% of the time. I would recommend this workshop for both beginners and advanced students.

Tough. Insightful. Honest truth.

I appreciated that Matt had a clear point of view about photography, art, shooting on the street, body language, etc. He did not hem and haw, but spoke his truth with conviction and confidence from shooting for over 25 years. His personality style is to be all in and with that comes mastery, a trait I admire as it only comes over time and experience. His feedback was spot on and delivered without anger, ego, etc. On a higher level it is rare today in the Insta photo world to find a teacher/mentor that is currently in the game of shooting every day. Hundreds of shots every day.

Overall schedule (will vary greatly by workshop location and attendees):

  1. Group intro and photo review

  2. Why, what and how Matt shoots

  3. Shooting in the street with assignments from Matt

  4. Editing and reviewing shots

  5. Discussion of sequencing and layout of zines, books

We also had cool evening lectures as part of the StreetFoto San Francisco weekend. Nice to see this program mature year to year, Joe Aguirre has been instrumental to the local and global success, maybe more next year? Matt did a new slide show of current and past projects, nice to see the direction he is headed as the definition of “street shooting” can be as big as you want.

SF | 2019 Matt Stuart

SF | 2019 Matt Stuart

So here is some of the Gospel According to Matt:

  1. No Bullshit as it is a waste of time. Deliver the news honestly and passionately, but not with anger nor attitude.

  2. Body language is important for street shooting. We discussed a lot around how to hold the camera, how to stand, how to show up in shooting street. Don’t hold camera down by side (looks like a gun?), don’t sneak hip shots, shorter camera strap so the time lag to bring up to shot is shorter, be humble in body language, NO sunglasses, etc. if you are tall use that in framing and shooting, same for short. No kneeling in street shooting, good shoes, keep your elbows in. A smile goes a long way. Watch how people move, their gestures (which often repeat themselves), how hands are positioned, touch, etc.

  3. Have a clear, positive vibe of why you are shooting so if there is any confrontation it is easy defused. Shooting for a project, love the light, cool glasses, student in class, etc. This lets you get close but also like an animal in the jungle people can smell if you are acting creepy. I actually used this when approach by a security guard during the shooting phase of the workshop, easily defused as I smiled and had a good vibe. Clearly key to check in with parents if shooting kids.

  4. First 10 seconds meeting someone sets the tone, last 10 seconds meeting someone sets the memory. Same with photo book layout I think. Start strong, shit in middle, finish strong.

  5. For street shooting Matt has three approaches:

    1. Fish: stay in one spot and let the scene develop. Check light and background, bad background kills many shots.

    2. Follow: track someone that is interesting and shoot a lot. Matt showed us a 1-2 minute sequence where he shot 40+ shots of a lady in hat with developing hand gestures.

    3. Fuck: jump on it as it is happening now, so always be camera ready.

  6. Matt was clear on his preferred camera settings: ISO 800, Shutter 1/1000 and then vary aperture as needed for bright and shadows. Set manual focus on 12 feet and pull to 4 feet as needed. He was shooting the Leica M10 with 35m lens, all day. I have settled on 28M, both Fuji and Leica.

  7. Shoot with the sun at your back as this puts the subjects in the best light. I really liked this approach as it was easy to remember and it works. This should work well in Kyoto with the E/W street lines.

  8. Most photos are ruined by background so watch this and set up the scene, especially when fishing.

  9. Graphic bullshit images. Yikes I love these but Matt was right that they are at best a 6/10 when done well. Most have no story, no emotional connection. Shoot it but look for an extended scene.

  10. yes, Yes, YES, YES!!! is a good vibe to set when out looking, make your dreams come true.

  11. For photo presentations start strong, shit in middle, end strong.

  12. Strongest image on the right hand page of zine/book.

  13. Book sequencing should not be obvious or heavy handed. Look for a shot bringing the heat into the next page. Matt reviewed his book with us and it was awesome to see the detail and depth that went into the layout, selections and sequencing.

  14. Think backwards in making a book or zine about postage, packaging, presentation. A white or off white color cover is tough to keep clean. A black page next to signing page helps reduce smear. Take control of your project as it is your best work: pick printer, paper, be on press if possible.

  15. Shoot early in the day, late in the day, rest in the middle when light is too direct and hot.

  16. Shoot a lot, need the data to process and review. A full day of shooting for me is +1000 images. 9/10 times you dont get the shot, so shoot!

  17. Never, ever just shoot one shot. Matt showed us a quick sequence he did following a lady in a hat where he did 40 plus shots in under 2 minutes.

  18. Fish where there are fish. Right?

  19. Sketch a shot to help frame and get ready for the scene to develop. Shoot some framing shots and see if moving a few feet makes a difference.

  20. Bad backgrounds, bad signage ruin street shots.

  21. Mystery, open shots are good, lets the viewer engage deeper.

  22. Shot the shit out of it when the scene appears.

  23. Slow down, breathe and let fish come to you.

  24. Watch for touch, hands, gestures.

  25. People repeat gestures in the street, so anticipate.

  26. Sometimes photographers need to undo the straight line framing we have been taught from childhood. Get loose, get fast, get close, get dangerous. Let go of the past.

  27. Look 30 feet ahead to anticipate people coming in the frame.

  28. Trent Parke, Christobal Hara, Saul Leiter

  29. No mom shots, no why are you taking my photo shots, no forced funny shots.

  30. Everyone zigs, you can zag.

  31. Forget sunsets and cathedrals shots, do better that good snapshots.

  32. 10% cropping is OK, fine to clean up the image.

  33. When asking for real feedback on your work, stay silent and hear the words.

The workshop was intense and powerful, it has taken me a few days to process. Matt’s direct feedback and clear point of view resonated with me as truth in street shooting. I took 1200+ shots, none were keepers, none to print, maybe one for IG. Time for more fishing, following and fucking (!).

Thanks to my fellow students as it was a good peer group, especially Dan Fenstermacher for adding to this post. Also a follow up session with Joe Aguirre was most helpful to think about how to put all this into action. Hint: next week Japan.

SF | 2019 Graphic Bullshit

SF | 2019 Graphic Bullshit

But I still like graphic bullshit images…..but can do more than that going forward.