Saturday, June 18, was the 7th annual River Street Festival in Troy, a free 8 hour event with food, music, and vendors. This year the weather cooperated beautifully — maybe a bit too beautifully if you ask my sunburn — fortunate because the highlight is the street chalk drawing competition hosted by the Arts Center of the Capital Region. Congrats to Brian Barker who won 1st place in the adult category, unfortunately I don’t have a photo of his work.
All Over Albany sponsored an entry, and you may recognize Casey’s beautiful chickadee print. Yep, she had donated a few prints to Art for ALS too. That’s her above, doing her thing, her theme was a bird sitting on Albany’s iconic Egg. The chalk art is more stunning each year, but the whimsical entries get a lot of attention, like one 12 year old’s Angry Birds interpretation.
The River Street Festival boasts three stages, a main stage, local stage, and one for the kids. Add great food carts to the restaurants already on River Street, a beer truck, local crafts vendors, and a gorgeously sunny afternoon and you end up with a lot of people. If you follow my friend Sebastien, you’ve read that he’s trying his hand at street photography with some new gear. It’s something I’ve been working on for a while now also, in fact I’ve been a street dilettante ever since I grabbed a DSLR, but I’ve been a bit more focused for the last year or so. The reason I haven’t written much about it is that frankly my results just aren’t that good. But the crowd at the festival gave me a chance to practice.
Street is one of the least gear-obsessed genres of photography; sure there’s a certain reverence for Leicas but there’s not the constant prattle about lenses, high-ISO performance, ballheads, frames per second, or polarizing filters you get in, say, nature or sports photography. Just pick up a camera and go. That said, allow me to indulge a bit. Sebastien bought the shiny Fuji X100 to have a smaller, more discreet package; I’ve gone in the entirely opposite direction and not only haul out the huge, loud, ugly 5D, but throw a flash unit on top. It says yes, I’m taking your picture, and you’ll even know exactly when I take it. No tricks, no shame, no hiding it. In fact, I think trying to be at all sneaky is an admission of guilt in itself, and there’s nothing wrong with taking photos of people in public.
But that’s the beauty, almost any camera short of maybe a pinhole can work and there are as many different approaches as there are photographers. On the 5D I have the Canon 28-105mm USM lens, which is nothing special, in fact it’s a discontinued kit lens from Canon’s mid-range cameras. For street shooting, I set it at 35mm (I’d like to use a 35mm lens but the zoom is nice for quickly switching style), set the camera to shutter priority at 1/200th (max flash sync speed), dial down the flash exposure by 1 stop, set ISO to give me at least f/9, and put the lens into manual focus. Wait, what? Daytime flash, manual focus? The flash is just enough to fill in and take a bit of the harsh edge off midday shadows, and no matter how fast your camera and lens, autofocus will slow you down just enough that you may miss “the moment”. At f/9 and higher, I can preset the lens, a.k.a. zone focus, and get a depth of field from somewhere around 5 feet to infinity. From there, all I have to do is frame and shoot.
Okay, sorry about all that. I had a good time shooting at the festival, and am happy with some of the results. The idea, for me, is to freeze some part of the human condition, maybe someone who looks interesting, or a scene that says something about either the people in it or the people viewing it (preferably both). On top of that, it should be aesthetically appealing, which is where the real difficulty lies. It’s hard for me to evaluate whether or not I actually did any of that, because I was there and have my own memory of what was happening at the time. I don’t think I’ve quite hit the mark yet but hopefully the photos are at least fun to look at. Some of them are much better when you click through and view large, consider these previews.
So that’s the River Street Festival. As always I have a slideshow with more photos, and you can see Sebastien’s set too. We walked together mostly, which must have been a little extra bizarre to people watching us photograph them or others, since we chose some of the same subjects. The Exile in NY has a set and Flickr user pearl.higgins has some nice photos of the chalk art from an artists’ perspective too, and I’ll update as I see more photos — also when I find out who the other winners are. I hope you enjoy looking at the photos as much as I enjoyed taking them.