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Orange Is The New Black by Saadia Mahmud

Gulf Photoplus’s annual photo festival was underway and even though I had missed a good portion of it, I was determined to participate in the last three days somehow.  So still jet lagged, I crawled into Steve Simon’s Workshop “The Passionate Photographer” grudgingly. My thoughts at the time? This was probably a big mistake. How could anything top the experience I had in Venice?

The first half of the workshop was spent getting the participants ready for the street shooting event. We went through the 10 steps that Steve has laid out in his book the “The Passionate Photographer”, discussed some technical aspects of shooting on the street and showed up some of his images from his travels / projects. All quite enjoyable.

Having said that, I have been shooting street for a while now. I have researched and read a lot of material on shoot street including Steve’s book. I know the steps and while sitting in the classroom setting, I mainly enjoyed viewing his images and listening to him speak.

But I was in no mood to shoot. Our first location that afternoon was the Dubai Souk. I have been to that location a lot. I mean, a lot. I really didn’t think I could get excited about any of the locations that I knew we were going to – ordinary fare I thought.

As we huddled in a group before the shooting session began, Steve re-iterated a few things he had said earlier that day and for some strange reason resonated with me.

“Sometimes in order to get powerful images, you need to be selfish. Shoot by yourself. Stay in one location and work the scene there”.

Ok. These are things are I know. But I don’t always follow it.

And then he threw a curve ball..

 “For every image you shoot, I want 20 more of that same scene but from a different perspective – even for street portraits”.

Say what?! Even for street portraits? I have never done that. Usually I take a couple and move on. Twenty images for each street portrait was a bit excessive I thought.

So I stand in the corner in part of the souk and the for the first few minutes, just struggled with myself. What to shoot? How will I go ask someone for a portrait and take 20 images?

At this point, I am thinking I can work a scene at least. Stay in one place for an extended period of time and see what happens. I am shooting randomly, not really excited and then I see a glimpse of color. The color orange. And something clicks in my head. And I start following that color.

I shoot for myself. I shoot selfishly. I stay in one place for a long time. I mean a long time. 45  minutes in one location. Trust me that’s a long time for me. Usually I move around after 10-15 minutes. I just didn’t move. I thought either I will have rubbish or something interesting will happen. I am just going to have to risk it. Most of the time, in a workshop like this, I would be terribly concerned that I should have what I considered good images but for some reason this time I thought “Let me do the exact opposite of what I normally do”.

What I focused on was what I picked up from both my previous Venice workshop (led by David Nightingale and Bobbi Lane) and which was re-iterated by Steve as well. “Shoot instinctively and once you are done doing that, shoot the opposite”.

After a while, I got one usable image, then a second one, and then a third. And the switch turned on and I began to shoot with enthusiasm, in a very focused manner, just tracking that color and seeing what I could do with it. And I began to see it in places I had not see before and possibilities started to grow. I found a common thread that began to tie my images together. 

In two hours, I shot over 1500 images. The next day we had the first critique session. 10 images per person. To my surprise, my images had merit and were received positively.

Then it was off to the second location in Satwa. And I did exactly what I did the day before but with even more enthusiastically.

Towards the end of the evening, I got tired and sat down at Ravi’s. Steve came along and had an encouraging chat and convinced me to shoot “one more roll” (that’s 24 more images) and I grudgingly did (and got amazingly unexpected frame) – so I shot another 36 images. The more tired I got, the more I experimented. Maybe shooting when tired is a good thing! I ended up with over 2000 images!

The next day there was another critique session. One for the images shot the day before plus 6 images from our existing portfolio.

Again my images were well received and I was thrilled. It’s good to be encouraged and to receive honest positive and constructive feedback on your work.

For me, the most valuable aspect of this workshop was not only the gentle nudging from Steve to shoot differently but the amazing critique sessions we held. To this point, all the street workshops I attended focused on the techniques involved in shooting street but with minimal feedback. This workshop was the first one with such an organized in-depth feedback process incorporated within the duration.

Every day, Steve, along with the rest of the class participants, reviewed a selection of each other's best work from the previous day. We go the opportunity to share ideas and offer constructive criticism with the discussion centering around discussions on what makes a memorable image and ways in which we could maximise the impact on an image on the viewer.

The benefit of not only getting Steve's input but also getting the participants to actively comment on each other's image was a tremendously valuable experience.  The number of times that Steve took one of the participant's images, applied a crop and some basic edits to completely change the way we could maximise the story telling impact of that image was also awe-inspiring.

I had already gone through a similar process in Venice with Bobbi Lane and David Nightingale with regard to Travel and Portrait photography and I was really happy to be able to get similar feedback on my street stories as well.

In short,  if you are someone who is serious about shooting street and documentary style, if you get the chance and have the inclination, I strongly recommend this workshop.

v027IntroSaadiaOrange.mp4 from Steve Simon on Vimeo.


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