“It’s easy as 1, 2, 3. It’s simple as do re mi. A, B, C … ” The Jackson 5 released their number one hit in 1970, forever the first song in any alphabetically ordered list of chart-topping hits. This past year, San Francisco-based photographer William J Simpson (a.k.a, @jackthestreet, one of my “7 Instagram Street Photographers To Follow In 2017”) began his series “The ABCs of Street Photography,” in what is sure to be similarly ranked first in any alphabetically ordered list of street photography tips and inspiration.
He’s currently on P, about 60% of the way through the entire 26-letter English language alphabet. Originally posted to his Instagram story (and kept in a Story Highlight under his profile bio), each successive letter is the first in a word that acts as a tip, accompanied by an explanation, all overlaid on one of his own images that serves to illustrate and provide inspiration in regard to the tip—a good thing, given how prolific and skilled a street photographer William is. It seems to have become an ongoing project for him, one he keeps chipping away at with updates to his Story with a pace that should have him finished at a point later this year.
In the meantime (with his blessing) I’ve decided to document them in this post as a Part 1 of “The ABCs of Street Photography”—too good to wait to share until all of them are out! At which point, of course, I’ll follow up with the concluding Part 2. Street photography may not be as easy as learning to have a 70s-era grade school crush, but William’s tips and inspirational images will surely help in attempting to tame the beast. “Sit yourself down, take a seat. All you gotta do is repeat after me … ”
“Align elements of the foreground and background to create unique visual effects.”
“Seek out bright backdrops that create silhouettes of your subject.”
“Look for similar shapes, colors or repeating themes that can be grouped and arranged in the frame.”
“So often we observe street life from several meters away. Instead move in close, set your camera to macro and look for interesting details.”
“Search tirelessly for scenes of emotion. Some of the greatest photographs ever made have a strong emotion as the core focus.”
Fill The Frame
“Composition can make or break a photo. Pack the entire frame with content, emotion or other dynamic elements to draw the viewer in.”
“Use lines, shapes and forms to bring harmony to the frame. No rule states your shots have to include street life or people.”
“Photographing from high angles such as rooftops and balconies can add drama to your images. Find ways to include geometric elements such as the curvature of staircases into your composition.”
“Look for peculiar, distinctive and unique characteristics in your environment. Seek to compose your photographs including those idiosyncrasies as a primary or secondary subject.”
“Placing items together side by side for comparison or contrast.”
“Take a knee and change your perspective. Low angles can add drama or gravitas to your subject. Placing your camera on the ground and aiming it upward can also produce interesting results.”
“Compose your frame with content in the foreground, middle and background. Focus on a stationary subject and wait until other subjects come into frame.”
“To capture motion, lower your ISO and adjust your shutter speed to below 1/60 a second. Experiment by setting your camera on a stable surface like a curb or ledge and lock focus on a stationary subject so that all moving elements in frame will blur.”
“Aim to capture photographs that leave room for interpretation. String together a series of photos in sequence to tell a story.”
“Can you find opposing subjects on your route? Look for stark contrasts whether it be characters, emotions or colors.”
“Ask yourself: what is the purpose of this photograph? Humor, social commentary, great lighting, interesting occurrence? Always strive to create photos with meaning.”
Make sure to follow William on Instagram as he continues to add tips and inspiration alphabetically in completing the ABCs of street photography—and, importantly, not simply for taking notes from the screen, but taking action out on the street.