Street Photography workshop in Venice and Verona with Adam Marelli and Eric Kim

Earlier this summer I decided to do something out of the ordinary, something which I have never done before. Something social, exciting, inspiring and creative all at the same time.

For the last seven years I have been interested in photography (a bit on and off though) and I have spent a decent amount of money on camera bodies, lenses, filters, tripods, bags, backpacks, and all sorts of accessories which I rarely find myself using. I have never taken any photography courses. I have read only a handful of photography books, and I have had difficulties with being inspired and staying creative.

I have tried mostly all sorts of photography: landscape, seascape, architecture, nature, sports, macro. Usually – after a period of time – I have lost my interest in the genre that I tried to focus on – and the reason is simple: a landscape is a landscape. You can spend an eternity to plan the perfect shot – all it requires is patience. The same applies to the other genres as well. They aren’t very challenging or demanding. And I’m not a very patient guy either.

The one genre that has always fascinated me, but, which I never had the guts to really try by myself is street photography of people in the street. You can never plan what people do, how people react, if they smile, cry, run or whatever. And every moment and expression is unique – it only happens once. This genre is totally unpredictable and it is the absolutely most demanding type of photography I have ever tried. You have to stay focused all the time, always watching your surroundings (backgrounds) and the people (subjects) who are in your surroundings as well, and then try to solve the puzzle and get all the moving subjects in the correct place, at the correct time, preferably with the correct gestures and/or expression. And then you also need to be close enough and your camera needs to be configured correctly so that you can click the shutter without worrying about settings immediately when everything falls into place right there in front of you. Let’s not mention the correct lighting as well.

This is not easy. Believe me. People that say “just go out and take pictures of people – how hard can it be?” don’t have a clue.

To learn this type of photography and how to compose correctly in the streets I decided to sign up for Breathe the Streets of Venice and Verona – Introduction to Design and Composition Workshop by Adam Marelli and Eric Kim.

Considering the amount of money that I have spent on camera equipment through the years – the money I spent on the workshop was by far the most valuable investment I have made in regards to my photography hobby. A new camera body still takes pictures, and a new lens still takes pictures. Yes, some pictures might be sharper and have a higher dynamic range than others. But that doesn’t change the fact that the content of the picture is by far the most important thing in a picture, and if the content or composition sucks, well, then the picture sucks no matter what equipment created it.

Learning from great instructors who had two totally different styles of shooting were very valuable as well. If anything, I felt that the week I had in the workshop was too short to learn everything.
I am definitely attending more workshops in the future.

Eric Kim really thought me how to approach people and to not be afraid to actually connect with people in the streets. Just watching Eric work his way through a crowd of people and how he gets everyone to do what he wants is just incredible. I have never seen a human being that gets along with so many strangers in such a short period of time – ever. Even with the language barriers that were apparent he pulled of everything so smoothly. It’s just a sight to be seen. Very impressive!

Eric Kim – Thanks for pushing me closer up to people, for all the honest critiques and tips and for all the 1-on-1’s that you gave me. That was exactly what I needed.

Adam Marelli opened my eyes in regards to composition. The way you use the backgrounds and subjects as elements within a scene and how you try to arrange all the elements perfectly together is just amazing. Some of the tips that I received from Adam was so good that I find myself browsing through old photographs that I took to actually learn from my own mistakes, and, how I can improve myself based on how I previously composed my pictures. Adam’s approach to street photography is the total opposite of Eric Kim’s style. I could always see Eric Kim taking pictures of people in the streets but I rarely even noticed Adam taking pictures when we were walking around. Adam was also very good at connecting with people, and also used time to actually get to know people, to know their story, show his interest and become friends with them. To actually approach people on this personal level and to connect with them and then take their picture is an amazing quality which I some day hope that I can develop myself.

Adam – Thanks for all your inspiring words, compositional techniques, critiques and 1-on-1’s. Just seeing you communicate and connect with strangers was very inspiring.

The workshop is a very nice memory and something I will remember for the rest of my life. Not only did I learn a lot and become very inspired, but I also made some great friends as well. Thanks for…

Eric Kim – The fun times, talks, laughs and your positive attitude
Adam – The great and helpful guy that is so easy to talk with
Stacy – The laughs. I’m not sure if I can put your humor in words here 🙂
Arnulf – Your good mood and your quick and funny remarks were great
Fabio – Your hospitality is first class, and the food and wines were amazing
Glen – The storyteller. Your stories were very entertaining, and I miss them
Richard – Seeing Cartier-Bresson in action was very fascinating. Thanks for the talks
Stewart – Your witty jokes and your good mood were very refreshing

Until next time…

Eric Kim made this short video from the workshop

 

A few shots of my own from the workshop (with more to come):

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  • beautifull photos!!!!!!!!!!
    all of them!!!

  • Nice site and beautiful pictures! I liked the expression of the asian girl sitting on the stone, but I wished the cola bottle wasnt in the picture. Its a little distracting. You could remove it, but I guess then it wouldnt be called a street photo anyomore.

    Are you less afraid now in approaching people with your camera? Has the workshop helped you get rid of most of your fear, or are you as me, still hesitating when you want to photograph strangers?

    • Hi Stian,

      Thanks for your comment. Much appreciated! I got that picture exactly as she was turning towards me to probably see what I was doing (I used a 50mm equalent lens there, so I was at a decent distance). It was a candid shot, so the coke bottle stays, and I don’t do image manipulation (remove or add things in post, or do severe cropping or change aspect ratios).

      The workshop helped me a lot in regards to understanding how people react when someone take their photograph. I am not afraid to get close and personal with strangers and photographing them any more, and the experience also helped me to understand how to approach people (strangers) in a better way as well, not just for photography, but in general.

      It is quite different to do street photography up close and personal in Italy (and especially Venice) compared to Norway of course. We northerners tend to have a large private zone compared to many other countries. Oslo is a very good city for street photography, the city is busy enough so you don’t get noticed from 10 meters away by everyone. Trondheim, where I currently live, is a lot more challenging. There are far less people in the streets and they notice you coming from what feels like a miles distance. I almost feel like I have to sneak up on people in Trondheim to be able to get a candid shot at all. So it is a lot more challenging and difficult.

      I also feel that it is much easier to do street photography in cities where I don’t live. Trondheim is my hometown, and I feel like that makes it a bit more difficult. It gets much more personal in a way. I know a lot of people here, and have family here, and that kind of makes me hold back a little bit.. The thought of going around and taking candid shots in the streets while my friends and family see me is something I’m not too comfortable with for some reason!

      I lived in Oslo for the last 3 years until this summer, and I have been to Oslo a few times since then as well, and I am much more comfortable shooting the streets there. Simply because it is much easier to be anonymous in Oslo compared to Trondheim.

      But the experience from the workshop is the best experience I’ve had for many years. I learned a lot about composition and people in general. I’ve got some great new friends as well and we all stay in touch and are already talking about a reunion of some sort, and the places we visited was also incredible. I am definitely going back to Venice again soon, but I’m going to avoid the holiday season when the city is packed with tourists.

      • stiansmollerfotodotno

        Hello! Sorry for replying late and thank you for your long answer. As for me, since I am born and lived in Oslo almost all my life, I dont find it so comfortable to photograph strangers here. But I am not sure if I will find it more comfortably in Trondheim either though. I try to go out and photograph people once in a while, but find it cumbersome doing that alone. I think its easier to go out with two or three, so we can back and motivate each other. And its more sosial and fun than going out alone.

        Maybe I should try to attend a workshop too!

        And speaking of being social: If you are in Oslo, dont hesitate to contact me if you want 🙂

        • I know the feeling. I lived in Oslo for 3 years recently and while I lived there it was also more difficult for me. I guess it’s just much easier when you feel like a tourist or visitor some place than when you live there.
          Going with someone definitely makes it a lot more comfortable, possibly for you and for the subjects as well. One person with a camera might be more intimidating than several people with cameras. If you are going alone it is very important to be very polite and just wave and say hi to people if they notice you. The last time I was in Oslo (and walked around photographing people and the new area down by Tjuvholmen) I actually said hi to people or talked to them in English. I found this to be much more comfortable than speaking Norwegian… Strange – but whatever works 🙂

          You should definitely attend a workshop. I am attending more workshops in the future myself. Not only to learn, but also to travel and see new places with people that don’t mind that you stop and take photographs. And to make new friends and build a network of people with a common hobby and passion.

          I’ll contact you when I’m going to Oslo next time. I’ll add you on Facebook – makes it so much easier to stay in touch.

          • Yes, I agree with you on most of your points. Although, I usually prefer the approach of street photographer Thomas Leuthard when photographing people. It all depends on the situation of course, but in general I find it more comfortable to photograph people without making eye contact and just walk away. If they want me to erase the photo they will probably go after me, and I will of course delete the picture. But I wish I had the guts of Thomas Leuthard and Eric Kim, because I hesitate to often when I am approaching the subject I want to photograph. Especially if they notice me before I am ready to shoot. But the main reason for my approach is that the pictures doesnt looked posed. If I ask someone to take their picture, their expression will usually not be as natural. I have done that several times, but I am generally more satisfied with peoples expressions when I havent asked for their permisson. Although, I like best pictures when the subject LOOK in the camera, I am usually not confindent enough to wait long enough for that to happen. It just feels awkward to point the camera to loong to someone. This is something I will have to be better at, because eye contact makes all the difference. And I must be more brave; too many times I have not raised the camera because I felt I was crossing their intimacy sone too much. For example, only once have I dared to photograph people who are kissing each other. The picture can be seen at http://www.stiansmollerfoto.no/galleries/gate/ I am only posting my street photos of people that are easy recognisable at my blog. For my subjects privacy I dont use flickr either.

            Great that you have added me on Facebook. Talk to you later!

            • Yep, I agree with you Stian. It depends totally on the situation. Some times I wave and say hi (if I get eye-contact and if it feels right for the situation) and some times I just see straight through the person/people, as if they were air and non-existant. It depends on my mood, the place, situation and the reaction. I hesitate alot myself, especially here back home. It’s very normal “for all of us”. Eric Kim is probably an exception to the rule, he just does it without thinking that there is a person there. And he is amazing with people as well. He has no problems connecting with people without even being able to speak their language.. He’s so positive that people rarely takes what he does in a negative way. I wish I could do the same myself, but I can’t, I’m just not that good with people I have never met before.

              If you have to ask a person to take their picture, just take their picture and keep taking pictures until they relax and don’t expect you to take their picture 🙂 You already got a “OK” and after the person is done posing it is still OK to take a picture. I’m not too good at this myself, but I’m just sharing what I learned at the workshop 🙂

              Can I ask you what focal length you are mostly using when you shoot in the streets?

              By the way, those are some very nice photographs! You are really close on some of them as well. Good job 🙂

              • Yes, I have seen alot of videoes on youtube with Eric Kim, and I follow him on Facebook. If I had the same guts and attitude as him, my portfolio in street photos would been much bigger. Therefore, I photograph other genres as well, and I think photographing other genres helps me to be a better photographer. I have only photographed seriously for a year, so I have alot to learn. But the most challenging, but also the most rewarding for me is street photo.

                Thanks for the tip. I guess its better to ask someone about permission to take their photo if that is the only option. I just wish I had the balls to do it more often 🙂 I think its easier to ask if I am not alone – and also more fun.

                When out in the streets, I use Olympus OM-D EM5 with either Panasonic 20mm 1.7 pancake lens or Olympus 45mm 1.8. I prefer the latter because it focuses faster and I can have a more comfortable distance wheen shooting. I also like blurry backgrounds, and I never prefocus with a distance scale.

                If you shoot strangers and must focus quickly, are you confident with manual focusing? Or do you have a set a focus distance like 1.5m and a high aperture, so your background wont be so blurry?

                • The OM-D EM5 is a brilliant camera 🙂 You should definitely get the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 as well! A friend of mine (from the workshop) has the OM-D, that lens and a Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 (manual focus) and I tried it while we were on that workshop, and it was a brilliant system. It was sooo much more responsive and quicker than the Fujifilm X-Pro1 (with 18mm and 35mm) I had at that time. The OMD is one of the best bang for the bucks cameras at the moment I think.

                  Manual focus.. I am learning still 🙂 I love the rangefinder style of focusing. It is quite similar to the split-prism manual focusing of old film SLR’s, and it is actually quite quick to focus. I also use the distance scale a lot, not only to zone focus but If I am planning a shot and approaching someone I always “pre-focus” the lens while I am moving toward the subject and then do precision focusing when I take the picture. If you aren’t familiar with how split-prism or rangefinder focusing aids work then just search for it on Youtube, it’s not like focusing a AF camera manually where you almost have no assists at all.

                  I find it liberating to be able to manual focus. And I am not that worried about precision focusing. Many of my photographs from Italy for example, where I used the 18mm, was pre-focused – f/8 at 1,5-2 meters. Pre-focusing a 50mm (which I am currently using) is a lot more difficult. To be able to pre-focus effectively on a full frame camera you need a 35mm or 28mm.
                  For example, on my 50mm lens now if I set it to f/8 I have decent focus between 3.4 meters to 9.5 meters.

                  It is much easier for me to quickly focus now than when I got the camera. It seems like muscle memory is a big part of quick and effective manual focusing. After a while you just know how much to turn the focus ring to get the subject in focus. It’s strange, but that’s how it is. The focusing tab on the lens also helps me to always know where the camera is focused without having to see the distance scale itself.

                  The biggest advantage is when I am shooting late at night (dark evenings). Autofocus can be a pain to work with then, but manual rangefinder focusing is a breeze. It is quite different. I guess you just have to try it to know if it’s something you’d like or not… I loved manual focusing with a split-prism from the first day that I tried my grandfathers SLR from 1978 and from that moment on I wanted a digital camera with similar manual control – and there is only one company that offers this today.

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  • Liana

    what a dream…Venice and a camera and teachers… wow I’m sooooo envious!

    • It was an amazing trip with amazing people!

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