Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

Matinee: 'Walking With John Free' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

25 January 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the seventeenth in our series of Saturday matinees today: Walking with John Free in the Streets, a 26 minute monologue from 2012 on practicing the art of street photography.

Free's done that for 30 years, inspired by many of the photographers we've already presented in our Saturday Matinees (which we're beginning to think should be worth college credit).

"I'm trying to lift everybody up," the former Marine says. He's done that with classes and workshops at USC, UCLA, Pasadena City College, Newport Art Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Current offerings are listing on his Web site.

In this short film, he gives us a tip. If your photos aren't good enough it's because you aren't close enough, he quotes Robert Capa. "And why aren't you close enough? Because you're afraid!" he barks.

"Take my test," he suggests. Pretend you are invisible. Now how close would you get?

To help you get closer, he proposes what he calls a 20-degrees shift solution. "Never face your subject." Shoot around the subject. And just include the subject in the sequence.

It's a fun excursion as he evaluates various opportunities. "There's always something fantastic going on anywhere," he enthuses. Too bad a few stills weren't sliced into the film to show us the result of his efforts. But you can view a gallery of his street photography on his site.

In the film, our frame-by-frame analysis reveals he's working with a Nikon F3 High Point and a 50mm f2 Nikkor at f4 or f5.6 with what appears to be a yellow filter, implying black and white film. So he discusses prefocusing and cocking the shutter, two problems you don't have with an autofocus dSLR.

On a subframe dSLR, that might be 35mm lens (you can apply the equivalent of a yellow filter in post processing to brighten up the greens and yellows). Interesting that he would prefer a normal focal length over wide angle for street photography. A wide angle focuses closer and with the hyperfocal distance set, you can just about skip manual focusing. An autofocus 35mm lens would also eliminate that delay.

Even without dealing with the gear, though, he admits -- even insists -- photography is a hard task. If you get one good shot in a hundred, he says, you're doing good.

You have to practice, he suggests. Don't guess. Work harder.

He works quickly. Focus, fire. Step away. Look behind. Look around. Focus, fire. Walk around. It's a cross between stalking and the Dance of the Confused Tourist. But he gets away with it.

His monologue can get a bit strident but when he engages a subject, he's charming. In this short film, he not only talks about doing it, he shows us how it's done.

BackBack to Photo Corners