Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Preetma Singh outside Cushnie et Ochs, 15th St, New York

All good street style photographers, over time, develop their own distinctive, and recognizable street style signature. It's not just about the lenses they use or they settings they shoot at. It's not just about whether they shoot straight ups or candids, in portrait or landscape, still-shots or motion. It extends into the very color palette of their images, the amount of grain in their shots, the mood they convey, in short, the settings they use post-production. The photos on The Locals, for instance, are characteristically cool and wintery. Julian from Bleu Mode shoots in the washed out tones of a faded photograph. Vanessa Jackman pushes the grain on her pictures, lending them a distinctly impressionistic feel. I don't think I used to pay that much attention to this aspect of street style photography. I was more concerned with composition and depth of field. Now, I'm slightly obsessed with it, and mainly because I have discovered the wonder of Lightroom presets. Presets! So that's what they're all using! And it's not like they're employing them will nilly, one photo in this preset, another photo in that. No. They are cultivating a distinct visual brand, making their work virtually synonymous with one type — or possibly a few types — of preset. I don't know who's using which, but suddenly it seems like a code I can crack. I can see the immediate signature of them on the work of a photographer, and the absence of them on others. So that begs the question: what preset should I be using? How should I mark my visual brand? What does my signature look like? I like the classic film photography look, and I've been playing largely with old Kodak presets the past couple of posts, mostly in the 100-200 ISO range. But I don't want to enter into the garish domain of the "retro," those all-too-conspicuously manipulated filters that define the look of Instagram. 

Street style photography makes claims to authenticity and realism that, in a sense, go against the very idea of using presets. But the thing is, street style photographers tend to use presets that make their photos appear more real, more "untouched," more filmic. They borrow from the conventions of documentary photography, preferring just a touch of grain, just a hint of wear. Subtlety is important. Because the last thing a street style photographer wants you to think is that all they have to do is put a mediocre picture through a preset, and voila! It looks awesome. It doesn't work that way. Presets adjust the color scheme, temperature, and tone. They tweak. They don't reinvent. You still have to have a good picture to work with. I stand behind the claim that the art of photography happens behind the lens, not in front of the screen.    

I like this preset I used on market editor Preetma Singh. It's more subtle than the preset I used on Bryanboy yesterday, a little less contrasty, a little less warm, but still recognizably Kodak in its look. It's a slide film preset. I'm going to experiment with standard film presets in the future. What do you all think of this one? And can you even see what I'm talking about?

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