Captain Shutter

Street Photography by Pete Ansara

Archive for the tag “film”

A Tale of Two Cities

Uke Man

No I am not speaking of  the novel A Tale of Two Cities written Charles Dickens in 1859, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. I am speaking of Seattle, Washington and Los Angeles, California.

I had the liberty of shooting each of these cities a few days a part. By way of location, Seattle is about 30 minutes from my front door. LA/Burbank on the other hand is a quick 2-3 hour flight away. I visited my son, his girlfriend and her family while in LA. Because we were so busy I did not have the ability to do any street shooting until about 6 hours before my flight left. I ended up shooting on Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood. If you ever want to go there, I would fly into Burbank airport and not LA. I would stay near Universal Studio (recommend the Hilton). Located directly down the hill from the Hilton is the  Los Angeles County Metro Rail system. It is an underground system that is surprisingly, clean, safe and cheaply priced. In 2 stops or less than 5 minutes you can be in on Hollywood Blvd. using this system.

So here is my take on both cities:

1. Hollywood

Back in  the late 80s and early 90s I was stationed at Norton, AFB in San Bernardino, CA, less that an hour from Hollywood. I visited often on the weekend with my son and daughter and friends. There was always something to do and things to see. We always topped of the night with a slice and a coke. I found a quote on a travel blog that said, “The boulevard was originally a seedy area in the 1980’s (tourist just posed pictures at Grauman’s Theater and Roosevelt Hotel and Walk of Fame and just leave) but a gentrification campaign was done in the 90’s and today it has a number of attractions.” Okay, yes it has attractions but not sure about being something different from when it was when I last visited. The same attraction that were there in 1992 remain there today with a couple of additions:

Bob Hope Square (Hollywood and Vine) (2003)
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre
El Capitan Theatre
Hollywood Sign
Frederick’s of Hollywood
Hollywood and Highland
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Wax Museum
Janes House
Kodak Theatre
Masonic Temple Home of Jimmy Kimmel Live (2003 for Kimmel)
Musso & Frank Grill
Pantages Theatre
Pig ‘n Whistle
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Odditorium
Capitol Records Tower

The texture, sound and smell of Hollywood is the same. It hasn’t changed! It is still the same old dirty place I have always known. The boulevard is still filled with aggressive suited up Batman’s, Elvis’ and other super hero’s that demand you hand over some payola for a picture. Snap and don’t pay and ye shall receive free of charge a bit of attitude, a snide comment or an “F” bomb because you wear a Boston Red Sox hat. I received the ultimate high-five from Bat Woman or Cat Nip Woman or something below.

High Five

So does this mean that Hollywood is not a good place for street photography? Heck no, just be prepared for the ultimate in verbal exchanges and straight forward harassment. And do not be naive. The bottom-line is that there is a certain level of “street” that goes into LA or most big cities. There are lots of opinions on how to approach certain street situations and certain circumstances. Just don’t be an idiot. Be calm, cool and collected. Have some class and swagger about you. In the end, the best advice is use your judgment. The likes of Bruce Gilden, street photographer extraordinaire and others have opinions about this. Many people disagree with them. I would strongly recommend you check out Bruce at

2. Seattle

I have live about 30 minutes or so just south of Seattle for the past 13 years or so. I know Seattle well. I know the streets well and what generally to expect at any given moment. Just like Hollywood, the sights, smells, sounds and textures remain the same year after year. What changes are the scenes and the people who are random moments captured in time once you push the shutter button. What you see and capture is a moment of an experience. You can never bring anyone the experience, you can only show the experience in a picture. I generally shoot in an around Pikes Place Market. Just like Hollywood Boulevard it has lots of people and things going on. A couple of distinguishing traits between the two are:

a. A noticeably big difference in the presence of law enforcement. Noticeable in Seattle are bike, foot and horse patrols. In Hollywood, I can only recall one Sheriff’s car parked around the 6000 block in the 5 hours I was there.

b. No money, no picture!. If you frequent Seattle you would generally see the same street performers. My all time fav is a group called “A Moment In Time”. You can see them in front of the first Starbucks, rain or shine every weekend. You can see them in brief right here: There is never any outright badgering for money, by any street performer in Seattle! In Hollywood, it is a way of life.

c. A sense of community and safety! Seattle has it!

d. Cleanliness. Seattle has it!

e. Fresh air…need I say?

I am not here to bag on Hollywood. The facts are the facts. Sure you can disagree. I have no problem with that. You are what you believe! The whole point of this blog is to share a bit of perspective, share a few photos and maybe provide a few tips. So for those of you interested in street photography here are a few pointers:

Generally, I say Get up close and personal. If you are the introverted type you can overcome your fears of shooting on the street without a bazooka lens held 5 blocks away.  The more you shoot, the more you will overcome your shyness. A lot of getting a good shot is luck and being in the right place at the right time. Every once in a blue moon I get someone who has an issue and has something to say. I haven’t been hit yet. You can always say something, like, “I’m sorry”, or “I was taking a picture of the apple tree behind you.” or something like that. Just be ready and shoot it!

If the light blinds you, shift directions. Normally, if you are shooting something with the sun in front of you are destined for some crappy pictures. If the light isn’t right it isn’t to be…plain and simple. Look for light play on shadows off of people, buildings, fixed objects like bicycles tied up on a parking meter or other fixed object. If it recently rained, look for puddles and reflections. Change your body angle, up and down and side ways. Look at the puddle or something that will give a reflection from a distance or up close and personal. Always be thinking! Remember that the right garbage can in the right light with the right reflection can be a cool image.

Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). Remember that things do not always have to be perfect! The image does not have to meet certain rules to provoke thought and a wow moment. The scene can be out of focus or have some movement in it maybe because you forgot to put your camera on the right settings. This just makes you more aware and a means to improve you picture-taking. KISS also means that you do not need necessarily a gee golly whiz camera with all sorts of bells and whistles that you have no clue about. Try your camera phone, or a simple point and shoot or even dust off the old 35 mm film camera you have in a box in the attic! Yep, they still develop film. And if you use C41 processing, no matter if it is color or black and white, Costco will develop a 36 exposure roll for and unbelievable price of around $5 scanned to a disc!

Step right up and line it up! Lining things up when your just starting out can be a challenge. Read books, check out websites and blogs on basic composition. Look at the masters, Robert Doisneau or Henri Cartier-Bresson. Study them. Look at their images. Take something from them and feel the emotion when you hit the streets. In the end, I say the best way to line and frame things up is by using the edges in your frame, like a building or something else in the background.

In the end, remember what comes out of your camera, comes out of your soul! There is no how to book on street photography. The best advice I can give anyone is to study others both good and bad. Take the points and tips that help you. Live on the edge a bit. Come out of your skin. Be soulful about what you shoot. Shoot first to please yourself…it will patch the hole in the heart if you have one. Remember that people have opinions. If you show your images, people will have opinions. Take the good with the bad, whatever that may be. In the end, you are who you are! Remember Henri Cartier-Bresson‘s famous words…“ Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” Just shoot it!

I will leave it to you to tell yourself which photo’s are from Seattle and which from Hollywood.

Suits Walking

A Moment In Time



Darth Vader

Decisive Moment

Space and Time



Nice Tats

My Pup

You Name It

Go Mom!

Bald Eagle

Come On Boy




What you lookin at…Willis?




Flying Dog Changes the World

The other day I was in Seattle at Pioneer Square. It is a cool place to relax, watch people and take a few snaps.  There is a storefront wedding photography business close by. On a Saturday, I generally see people in wedding garb posing somewhere in the square. I have also see other photographers taking family and portrait shots. It is a decently photogenic location. If you just wait a bit something is bound to happen that makes the perfect random photo. Henri Cartier-Bresson calls these opportunities The Decisive Moment. Bresson lifted a bit of text from  the 17th century Cardinal de Retz stating that, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment”. He further stated, “Photography is simultaneously and instantaneously the recognition of a fact and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that express and signify that fact”. Good stuff to ponder.  I observed this couple playing fetch the stick with their dog repeatedly (thank goodness). I kept snapping to try to catch this speedy guy in mid-air. It took about 10 tries but wallah, I captured that one random or decisive moment that Bresson speaks of.

On The Run

Next I stumbled across a photographer shooting a model with 20’s garb. I asked what they were doing. They casually stated that they were friends and were out and about taking “fun shots”. She noticed my camera, Leica M4 loaded with film. Since they were having fun I asked if I could take a couple of shots. She said she “approved” because I had a film camera.


The Other Photographer

These opportunities are all around you. So carry a camera wherever you go. Hang out at the park or somewhere you know that has lots of activity like people walking by, playing fetch with their dog and so on. Keep it simple; an inexpensive digital camera works. You camera phone works too. You do not need anything fancy. Jot down a few things that you would like to capture. Don’t neglect the everyday subjects as everything is everyday if that makes sense. Take the opportunity to learn. Ask other photographers questions and search the web for information. For example, if you have a camera phone, there are free photo apps out there that can be fun to use to enhance your images. Experiment, experiment, and experiment some more! Use different settings on your camera if you have them. Read your manual or research on-line to use creative options. And last, snap, snap, and snap some more you may catch that “decisive moment”.

If you had only one shot left in your camera with an understanding that whatever you snapped a picture of could change the world in the most positive way, what would you take a picture of? Why?

A Little Perspective on Street Photography

I have been shooting on and off for over 35 years. I was the guy on the junior high field trip that brought the instamatic and extra film. Back then like today, you really don’t need much equipment or instruction to start snapping. Today’s technology has so many advances that I am almost afraid to see what is next. I still shoot film and lots of it. My trusty Leica M4 has never failed me. It requires no batteries, just a bit of film. My son tells me that I am just stuck in time. I am not sure how he can say this. I shoot digital too.

Just the other day as he was admiring my Leica. I described to him various types of films, grains, color vs. black and white, etc. Astonishingly, he looked in my bag and pulled an old flash extension with flash cube. It was an old Agfaflux C with Sylvania Blue Dot Flashcube. After I explained its purpose, he thought I was joking began laughing hysterically. Oh well, what the shit does he know.  For those of you who as perplexed as he, I thought I would add the history of the photo graphic flash

Have you ever seen one of these?

So, what is street photography? I’ve seen lots of definitions and observed lots of images from “masters”. I am not sure if there is a precise answer. I shoot lots and have my own simple definition: Street Photography is the capture of a random act in a public place. An act need not be active like a person running down the street or a dog jumping over a puddle. It may be passive, a person in thought, a man sleeping on a park bench or a dead bird lying on a sidewalk. There is no subject matter. It is not necessarily journalistic or storytelling by a series of images. There are no rules. It is about you seeing and reacting in a moment of time.

There are many known photographers; Gary Winogrand, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and less mentioned but one of my favorites, Robert Doisneau who gave us thousands of frozen whimsical moments. And more recently, an unknown master discovered at an auction with the sale of discovered negatives (mostly medium format) named Vivian Maier. Vivian shows us that there are those of us that are less recognized but with talent that religiously and passionately snap random acts in public places. Her work is simply phenomenal. I am now studying her work. You can read more about Vivian here at this link,

Street Scene from Vivan Maier in Chicago

Street Scene from Vivian Maier in Chicago

Taking a Nap by Vivian Maier

I could sit here and write as many do about technical composition, geometry of the framing and other things that quite honestly I would rather save for another time for those that may be interested. The truth be told is that I just love looking at and studying the works of those that are famous and of work of those that are well I guess like me to gain different ideas and perspective. When I shoot those random street moments I shoot both digitally and by film. For a little of my personal perspective, I will share a bit of perspective when I shoot film.

I purchased my first proper camera in 1977. It was a Canon AE-1. Before that though, I was stationed with the USAF at King Salmon Air Force Station, Alaska. Besides protecting the air against the Russians (cold war was still on) among the few things one could do at a remote station was use the hobby shop dark room. So, before I even began shooting with that proper camera, I started assisting this old crusty sergeant in the dark room mixing chemicals and developing his film. Not long after he introduced me to shooting with his camera a Mamyia 645. I was privileged I think to be indoctrinated into photography in this way. I was hooked from there.

I am not hooked on any one type or style of photography. Unlike music, I like it all. If I travel to scenic locations I shoot lots of landscape stuff. If I am more urban, which I mostly am I shoot lots of street. I use several types of black and white film. Primarily though, I have been using lots of Ilford XP2. It is a chromogenic film that is C-41 processed which means it is processed the same as color film that anyone can process cheaply at the drug store or Costco. I mainly like it because it is cheap and you can get it developed pretty easily. You will find many folks who have bad things to say about this film. I could care less. Use what floats your boat and forget about ridiculous opinions.

I like shooting with film because I am thinking more. In my Leica M4 I mainly use a handheld light meter to measure light unlike a digital camera where it figure out everything for you. Doing this make one think more. You have to set manually shutter speed and aperture. Your brain has to work fast so you can capture great shots. Sometimes you don’t trust the meter because there is a mix of lights and darks so you compensate. There is 35 years of experience behind the thought  of it all. And even after 35 years do I think I am an expert! No! So, Let me show you a few:

Java Man

Initially, I saw a boxer. I have a fondness for boxers. I recently put my pet boxer down after 12 years. I just plain ole love boxers. Yep, that is what I saw initially until “Java Man” walked into the scene. In his left had he is carrying two cups of coffee. Not one but two! Why? Who in the heck knows. You could say he was on his way home from Star Bucks. It is about 30 feet away and to the left across the street. No doubt you can see he is on a mission. Besides the coffee he has a rolled up Sunday newspaper (yep it was taken on a Sunday). So, I know he is on a mission. He is on his way to sit and read the paper. What is the young man sitting on the bench thinking? What is his loyal boxer thinking? Who really knows. Only you can make your own conclusions! This is the beauty of taking a random act photo (RAP for short).

Pat Down

How did I come across this scene? Just like any other. I hear lots of commotion. The civilian to the right was a loud mouth. His buddy to the left was scared straight. Both had a bit to drink but the little guy on the right was a loud mouth and causing a disturbance. The police began a simple pat down on the guy on the right as he was talking to him. I took a few shots and left. As I was there though, I could not help but wonder about the police officer to the left straddling his bicycle. He took no defensive position. He appeared uninterested as you see in the image. One guy in the background looks on. I wonder what he is thinking. What about the two civilians with the officers? Who are they? What is their story? Where are they from? Do they have a job? Do they work at Microsoft? Hey, don’t judge a book by its cover!

Standing Tall

I could not resist taking this one. A horse patrol officer looking up and sitting tall on his trusted steed. What is he looking at? Me? No, I am to stealth, not that it matters for this one. As I look at this I am wondering about the tourist to the left snapping one-off. He’s taking a shot of the ass end. Can you believe it? Or is he shooting at the market across the street? I haven’t a clue but, if I had to guess I think he’s shooting the horse and officer. I like that it is an everyday scene in Seattle. People conversing. People strolling. What is going on here? Make up your own story. Give it your own twist? That is the beauty of taking a random photo.

There are lots of way you can approach taking a random photo. Oh yeah, there are some rules. These rules are more opinions of others who have the same passion as I. They love and feel connected to people and what happens randomly on any street corner, anywhere, anytime. If you have an old 35mm lying around or you need to dust off your digital then do it man! Do it now! Get connected with everyday life in your own way and your own time. You don’t have to take photos from 100 miles away. Get in the scene. Be part of it. It is up to you!

Aim High!


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