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Street Photography with Venture Outdoors

By: Suni Lynn Lee, Volunteer Photographer
I consider myself a street photographer, so when I started volunteering as a photographer for Venture Outdoors, I couldn’t believe my luck. Specifically, my primary job with Venture Outdoors is to tag along with trip leaders on various events and attempt to capture in photographs what people see and experience as they explore some of Pittsburgh’s most fabulous outdoor venues, which pretty much defines what a street photographer does.
According to Wikipedia, street photography is “photography that features the chance encounters and random accidents {that occur} within public places.” I like that definition because to me, street photography is not limited to streets or even urban areas, and an encounter does not necessarily have to be with people. Actually, chance encounters and random accidents can happen anywhere and with anything. You just have to get out there and hunt for them.
Without doubt, the Venture Outdoors events and activities I have participated in to date have opened the door to some really interesting street photography. What immediately comes to mind is one of the very first events that I photographed, which was a neighborhood night hike on the Northside.
During the hike, the trip leaders took us to Randyland in the Mexican War Streets district. When we arrived, the sun had long since set, so I was shooting in full darkness. The area was lit only by street lights and the flashlights some participants were carrying, forcing me to shoot with ridiculously low shutter speeds and a high ISO, which is pretty much always a recipe for failure. Although I seriously doubted that any of my photos would turn out, I captured the following picture:
Suni Randyland
I like this particular photo not just because I think it is an interesting shot but also because I think it captures an experience, that moment of discovery when the people in the our VO group emerged from the relative darkness of the side street and were confronted with the unique and colorful façade of the building before us. For me, never before having visited Randyland, coming upon this scene, especially at night, was a treasure that I couldn’t resist trying to photograph despite the low light.
After examining the outside of the building, we met Randy, who led us into Randyland, which I can only describe as a wonderful work of art that defies definition. It is an enclosed and brightly painted courtyard containing a fantastic collection of odds and ends. Everywhere I looked there was something incredible to see—gargoyles peering down from above, a suit of armor standing guard in a corner, a bevy of swans swimming by. I did my best to photograph what I was seeing and got this shot of a frat of clay roosters sitting on a low rock wall.
Suni Randyland 2Again, I was working with very poor light, so I had to take this photo with a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second, at ISO 3200 and a 4.0 aperture setting. That I caught anything at all at an 1/8th of a second is a miracle, but that’s the way it is with street photography. You just have to shoot what you see, and then see what you get. If you’re lucky, you get something; if you’re not, you walk away happy because you know it was better to shoot and fail than not to shoot at all.
My photo of the roosters is not a perfect picture, but I like it, flaws and all. Specifically, I think it captures the ambiance of Randyland: bright, colorful, odd, interesting, and (thanks to the soft focus and shallow depth of field) somehow surreal.
In October I was asked to shoot the neighborhood pumpkin fest in Brentwood, an area of the city I had never before been to. It was really my first experience of walking into a large crowd of strangers with the goal of pointing my camera at their faces and taking their pictures. I was nervous and a little intimidated. But I quickly learned that most parents generally welcome the opportunity for someone to take photos of their children. Within minutes of my arrival, I had captured this adorable photo:
Suni Baby
Who could resist this baby? I love it that the little guy is looking right at me. His eyes are almost dead center in the picture, and something about the way he is looking at me, makes it almost impossible for me to look away. But when I do look away, I find a second point of interest that isn’t immediately obvious. Playing second fiddle to the main subject is the look of love and tenderness on the dad’s face, which is the real reason that I like this photo. It’s not just a picture of a cute baby. The photograph tells a story, but in a slow and subtle way. You have to look at it for a moment to discover it.
I took over 400 photos at the pumpkin fest, and though the photo of the baby is one of my favorites, the one that wins top honors in my book is this one:
Suni Kid
This boy, too, is looking right at me, and his eyes are also centered in the picture. But that’s not what wins it my top prize. I love this photo because of the look on his face. I think I captured something of his experience, something real about what he was feeling at that exact second. It looks to me as though the face paint has magically transformed him into an actual superhero. Now he is Batman! He is the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader, a superhero on a mission!
I think at this precise moment he is the embodiment of childhood, still in possession of that imaginative ability not just to playact his character, but to become his character. Well, either that or he’s really pissed off that I’m taking his photo!
Stay tuned for more from Suni Lynn Lee in the coming weeks and read more about her accounts as a volunteer photographer!

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