Saturday, January 30, 2010

That cafe thing



Every since the digital age caused me to jump back into photography several years ago, one of my favorite haunting grounds in my street photography quest has been coffee shops. I'm lucky because Ann Arbor has more than its share of coffeehouses and cafes. There are several Starbucks, a couple of Sweetwaters and at least two Expresso Royales, including this one downtown on South Main Street where the photo above was shot.  

I dropped in there the other day at lunch for a cup of coffee and a muffin. It is one of those marvelously lit places, with strategically placed overhead spots and even lamps at some of the tables. As I sat there watching this guy sort through his mail and bills, I knew I had to try to sneak a shot. The key was to get him when the light from the lamp was hitting his face.  Because of the low lighting, I snapped my 50 mm F1.4 lens on my Canon 7d and cranked up the ISO to 400. This shot was exposed at F 1.8. The 50 mm is a beautifully fast lens, but it is a fixed focal length so I couldn't "zoom in" on the subject. Instead, I ended up doing about a 50 percent overall crop on the photo, but the 18 megapixel 7D left me plenty of room to do that and still have a nice size print.

Shooting in cafes is a bit awkward and, I suppose some people might think, intrusive. It calls for discretion or, at the opposite extreme, straightout boldness. I prefer stealth, but I have been know to be bold. One of my favorites from my own photos has long been a shot I took of a bunch several old couples sitting around a table at the Manistee Bakery & Deli in Manistee, Michigan. The light was golden, the mood and setting perfect. As I sat there at another table watching them from another table, I knew this would be a missed opportunity if I didn't act. So I quietly stood up, put my camera to my face and took a photo, like it was the most natural thing in the world to do. My only regret is I did not share the photo with this group of friends. It I had to do it all over again, I would have walked over, shown them the photo on the camera's LCD and asked them if they wanted me to email them a copy. 

That's what I did when I shot yet another favorite photo of mine, of a girl in a hat doing her homework at the Sweetwater Cafe on West Washington Street in downtown Ann Arbor. I had just been out shooting an anti-war march through town and stopped in for a cup of coffee. She was sitting a couple of tables over, right next to a window that was casting the late afternoon light on her. I couldn't resist. I managed to fire off several frames without her seemingly knowing it, then walked over, introduced myself and showed her the photos. Of course, I was worried that she would think I was some old pervert, but I explained how the light was coming in on her and how much I loved her wonderful hat. She seemed flattered. 


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