By: Suni Lynn Lee, Volunteer Photographer
Another Venture Outdoors activity that presented me with some unexpected street photography was a meeting I had at the Sarah Heinz House on the Northside in preparation for the recent Annual Leadership Meeting. I arrived a little early, and, while I waited for the meeting, I took out my camera and explored the area around the school. I didn’t have a lot of time, but I found this scene:
street
Had it not been for the guy in the bright orange ski cap walking up the hill, I don’t think I would particularly like this photo. It’s kind of hard for me to explain why, but basically, I think this photo has what I call “the payoff,” that is when an element or elements in a photo lead your eyes to a specific spot, and when you get there, you find something interesting. In this picture, everything in the photo brings my eyes to the white strip of snowy sidewalk, and when I get there, I see the man.
It’s not the best example of a “payoff” in a photo, but I think because the man is in the photo, it gives the photo meaning. It also causes me to spend a little more time looking at some of the other interesting elements in the photo, namely, the oddly placed stop sign and the colorful mural to the right.
Speaking of the mural, after I captured the scene of the man walking up the hill, I snapped this shot:
sign
When I first got home and downloaded my photos, I didn’t give this one much attention. However, a few weeks later I looked at it again and decided that I liked it a lot. I particularly like capturing bright colors and bold patterns, so I can see why I took the shot. But what I think I like best about this picture is that it’s not just a photo of the mural. The fact that I framed the shot to include a part of the tree and the street as well as the speed limit sign shows both that the mural is outdoors and its relative size. I also like the way the tree and the sign seem to act as a counterbalance to the image of the man in the mural.
Whenever I see photos of any type of sign, intuitively I think that somehow the photo is trying to tell a story. Signs, after all, are specific, direct communications with the viewer. In this picture, the posted speed limit is almost impossibly slow, and when taken with the colorful images in the mural, I think the message is, “Slow down! See what is in front you! Enjoy life!”
And that’s an interesting thing about photographing signs – they can tell a story, but the interpretation of the story depends upon the other elements included in the photo and is unique to each individual viewer.
One of the very best things about volunteering with Venture Outdoors so far has been being able to photograph events in downtown Pittsburgh during the holidays. The “Twinkle Lights and Hot Chocolate” hike began after dark, so we got see all the Christmas displays in their brightest and most glorious state. One of the first photos I captured, and one of my favorites of the night, was this one of a little boy in our group peering at the holiday display in the Macy’s window:
kid
Capturing this photo was challenging for me primarily because the action was happening so quickly that I didn’t have a lot of time to adjust my camera settings to best shoot the scene. I actually missed capturing that first moment of delight on the boy’s face when he ran up to the window, saw the toys, and then glanced back at his parents. Luckily for me, however, something in the window caught his attention, and he remained still just long enough for me to get a decent shot.
The other holiday hike I photographed, which began in the afternoon, guided students from a local high school through the Christmas Market at Market Square, past the tree at PPG Place, and around the Santa’s of the World exhibit before ending in Point State Park. As the group passed through the tunnel into the park, I snapped this scene:
 
people
One of the things I particularly like about this photo is usually a photographic no-no. Specifically, the sky is completely blown out, which means that it contains no color, no clouds, no details whatsoever. In fact, the sky is so blown out that it’s nearly impossible to see where the sky ends and the page behind it begins. And that’s really what I like about the picture. Because the sky and the page seem to merge together, I think it increases the depth of field in the photo, accentuating the visual effect of the kids walking out of the darkness and into the light.
When the high school tour ended, I left the group and decided to return to PPG Place to see the Christmas tree at night. As I walked back through Point State Park, all the holiday lights that had not been on earlier came on, and I captured this shot:
park
I took this photo just as the sun was setting, so the quality of the light brought out the richness of the colors. But I also like the fact that the small blue Christmas trees form a bright little circle of interest right in the middle of the picture.
I arrived back at PPG Place just in time for what I call “The Witching Hour,” those 45 minutes or so of rare and magical light that occur around sunrise or sunset. It’s hands down my favorite time of the day to take pictures, and I was not disappointed. I was enthralled with both the natural light and the scene, happy to have my camera in my hands. I took a whole lot of photos. This is one of my favorites:
night
As the sunlight faded, the blue tones came up, slowly painting the sky a midnight blue. In contrast to sky, I think all the Christmas lights seem warm and inviting. To get this picture at a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second, I had to set my ISO up to 8000, which I think softened the scene, giving it a velvety look and adding to its ambiance.
All of these photos I have shared with you have two things in common: I took all of them with my Canon 5D Mark III without a flash or a tripod, and they are all examples of the kinds of subjects you can shoot during Venture Outdoors events.
Whether you’re looking for new areas of the city to explore, or you want to practice taking photos in the evenings or at night, I think it’s kind of hard to beat Venture Outdoors activities for providing a wonderful diversity of photo opportunities. Especially if you are a street photographer, you never really know where your VO trip leader may take you or what chance encounters or random accidents you may discover along the way.
You can see all of Suni’s Venture Outdoors photos on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/jo-outdoors/albums