street photography

Natural light portrait

Natural light portrait of artist Nikola Bartenbach in Austria.

portrait of Nikola Bartenbach

portrait of Nikola Bartenbach

I am currently in Austria working on a few personal projects. One of those is portraying local people and recently I photographed artist Nikola Bartenbach.

This was photographed with no light modification. He was standing in a doorway with a dark garage behind him and the light just wrapped around him like this. Finding the right light for portraits is often times easier than one would think, or maybe I have done it for long enough to where it just seems to be like that.

When you are on the road and can’t bring light modifiers or don’t have access to any being able to see the light is essential. Travel portraiture mostly relies on the right light but the same practice can be applied to a more organized portrait. Just spending a few minutes looking around the area and locating a spot that is naturally suited for a portrait can make all the difference.

Editorial publication in Naturally Danny Seo

Lots of new work in the summer issue of Naturally Danny Seo

Over the last months I photographed a piece on LePrunier, a Sacramento based brand that makes plum beauty oil, a story on GT’s Kombucha that featured GT Dave, the founder of the brand and a travel story about my very own, Santa Barbara! The Santa Barbara story featured great local spots like East Beach Tacos, Garde, Jake and Jones, Make Smith Leather, the Lark, Satellite, Bibi Ji, Lotusland, Auto Camp and the Hotel Californian. And last but not least my good, artist buddy Nelson Parrish.

Check out the tearsheets below:

Photographing 20 Strangers in Isla Vista

Step out of your comfort zone and photograph 20 random people on the street.

I studied photography at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara. Known for educating students on the highest level of technical skill when it comes to photography there was one (amongst others) infamous assignment that dealt with approaching a stranger in order to photograph them. This was obviously not intended to teach a technical but a communication skill. It also forced you to deal with your fears and doubts. It challenged your comfort zone. It was called 25 Strangers.
Basically you had to produce a portfolio of 25 random strangers. Build a pop-up portrait studio in a park, photograph the strangers in a bar, at the pool, the retirement home or at the law firm on the corner of your street. I don’t remember the specific rules of the assignment but I put up a white background and had each of my strangers add a word to a sentence on a small chalk board and then I photographed them with the chalk board. I called it: 25 Strangers build a sentence. Surprisingly they didn’t. The sentence was grammatically and logically just … not a sentence. No idea what went wrong there…?

Anyways. The other day I remembered this assignment and decided to revisit it. 15 years and many strangers in front of my lens, from celebrities to homeless people in the back alleys of Mumbai, later I figured I should be a lot better at this. But it still was challenging the comfort zone a little. No control over the situation and you have to talk a random stranger into taking their portrait.

So Hugo and I went into Isla Vista on a Friday morning and approached a bunch of strangers. Isla Vista is a blend of University students, homeless people and middle aged surfers. Generally a demographic open to random experiences. This worked in our favor I think. Still, it took a little time to get groovy with.

The amazing thing about doing this was people opening up and telling stories. As you can see in the video some of the strangers shared memories, vented or maybe simply wanted to chat. It was amazing to see how quickly one can dive a lot deeper into a community by simply striking up a conversation with random people on the street. And using a portrait project like this is of course the perfect ice breaker.

I do this type of thing on assignment all the time but it is different when you go into your own community and when there is no agenda or story that you need to tell. Just letting your ego go, the creative juices flow and welcoming any input with open arms. Fun!