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How to photograph the street: Compose and wait 

click to enlarge © SEAN CAYTON / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
  • © Sean Cayton / All Rights Reserved
One of my favorite photographers is National Geographic photographer Sam Abell. His work is quiet, melodious and thoughtful. See an interview with Abell here.

One of his tenets in photography is to compose a picture and wait for the moment. That is a great strategy when you’re photographing on the street.

Last week, I visited New York City with my family. I decided to photograph the morning commute on Wall Street.

One of things that makes photographing in a big city like New York so great is the quality of light and shadow, especially on a sunny morning like the one I witnessed.

click to enlarge © SEAN CAYTON / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
  • © Sean Cayton / All Rights Reserved

Big buildings create light and shadow like no other place on Earth. It’s truly wonderful to photograph in this light.

I wanted a sense of the city and I also wanted to capture the light that evokes such a strong mood. I spent several hours there looking for it. I had in my mind a picture I wanted and I looked and looked for it, never finding it until the end of my time.

Then, there it was on a street corner near the stock exchange. I shot several frames. First trying to capture the quality of the light and then I began working on the composition. Although I found a horizontal image in my edit that I decided I like more.

click to enlarge © SEAN CAYTON / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
  • © Sean Cayton / All Rights Reserved
Still, the vertical composition suited this shot since I could see the tall building rising up into the sky line.

Finally, I waited and photographed as commuters made their way along the sidewalk. This is what Abell means by “compose and wait” and it’s a great way to make a street photograph.

I didn't get the photograph I really wanted, but I still like the results and it's a nice illustration of Abell's lesson.
click to enlarge © SEAN CAYTON / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
  • © Sean Cayton / All Rights Reserved

What strategies do you use when photographing on the street? Have you tried this one and did you find it worked for you? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy shooting!

Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout.

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