On The Power of Being Cordial & Flashing A Warm (But Sincere) Smile

By |2012-01-22T17:56:44+00:00Jan 11th, 2012|

The City of New York.

Gajillions of people walking here and there and everywhere. They’re walking fast and they’re not in any mood to have their cadence interrupted or slowed down. I know this because I am one of them. It’s how we are. We’re notorious for it.

Now, as a photographer – especially one who is setting up his tripod on the stairs leading down to the Essex Street subway station to get some brackets to tone-map, this flies in the face of what I just warned you about. Here I am, blocking the entire staircase down, praying that no one walks through my frame. The first six brackets flew by. Phew!

The latter three brackets took seconds. Seconds upon seconds. They felt like minutes. Sure enough, on the last bracket (about 45 seconds), two pedestrians walked up behind me, looking to get down to the station. It is at this point when when a lot of us approach a fork in the road.

The first path is one of entitlement and is always bound to end badly. I could have turned around, taken a typical new york tone and said, “just wait a minute, I’m almost done” and return my attention to the camera. This almost always is a poor path to take.

Instead, I took the path of being cordial. I smiled and introduced myself. I subtly pleaded my case, explaining that I just needed about 40 more seconds and asked if it’d be ok for them to hold up for that time.

They thankfully obliged and we started chatting. The friendliness makes you accessible and available – it opens the door for curiosity. These strangers felt comfortable now and this helped pass the remaining seconds by allowing us to engage in some small talk about this image that I was taking.

Before we all knew it, the brackets were captured and I happily folded my tripod, wished these two pedestrians a good day and carried on.

My father always told me, “you get more with honey than with vinegar”. With photography, especially when you are frequenting public areas, this is such a valuable lesson to learn and practice.

In terms of the shot itself, I went with the Canon 14mm prime lens to accentuate the linear distortion of all the straight lines in this scene. I tilted the camera down because I loved how the hand rails flew into the frame.

I processed the image in +onOne Software Perfect Effects, adding some tonal contrast for detail and then selectively brushed in some saturation and brightness on the stairs and lower pathway to help guide the eye through the frame.


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  1. Eric W.A. Boehm January 11, 2012 at 11:45 am - Reply

    Great story to go along with the image. Well done.

  2. Shane Srogi January 11, 2012 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Engaging on the Streets of Manhattan, rare and bold. Great shot too. The lines are perfect.

  3. Nicole S. Young January 11, 2012 at 11:49 am - Reply

    We all know you're too nice to be a typical New Yorker … you're one of those rare "nice" New Yorkers, the kind you would only see on the Discovery channel, videotaped from a guy hiding in a blind on a balcony somewhere.

    The Honey Badger

  4. Steve Beal January 11, 2012 at 11:53 am - Reply

    You've apparently been to the +Chris Robins school of public photography ;)

  5. Elaine Bastajian January 11, 2012 at 11:59 am - Reply

    Wait 'til you've been in Portland for a while +Brian Matiash :~) I moved here from L.A. five years ago and was immediately struck by how nice people are here.

    I've been smiling at strangers since high school (that was a loooong time ago, lol), and had become accustomed to having very few of them smiling back.

    But here in Portland, people actually beat me to it, and sometimes they even say hello!!!

    I definitely agree with your dad~~I've been saying that for years :~)

  6. Ron Bearry January 11, 2012 at 11:59 am - Reply

    Great story and photograph. I need to get over being shy when setting up on the street. I'm slowly getting past it.

  7. Richard Kralicek January 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    cite: "you get more with honey than with vinegar" you're so right …

  8. Andrew Savage January 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    Nice little story. People are nice, and that's something you realise every time you interact with strangers.

  9. Kirk Jordan January 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm - Reply

    needs people:)

  10. Mike Marin January 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    I really enjoy your stories and shots. This is a great shot

  11. Bradley Duncan January 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    +Kirk Jordan I know what you mean. By the story above, it's obvious that that isn't what he wanted. Though, I think some blurry silhouettes down stars would have been awesome. (Not that he could easily time that right.) Either way, great shot!

  12. Damian Vines January 11, 2012 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    Wow, just Wow, on all accounts of story and photographic excellence.

  13. Grant McWilliams January 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    "On The Power of Being Cordial & Flashing "

    Good think I kept reading.

  14. Alan Mimms January 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    The miracle is that you could write an entire post on this subject and have people think it's a good, novel idea. I grew up in the deep South. I wonder if it's just because of that. But I believe being cordial and engaging and chatting with people is just an obvious thing to do – even when you want nothing from them. I'm glad you had a positive experience, and I wish you many more!

  15. Nate Parker January 11, 2012 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    well what occurs to me is that you could have most certainly made a perfectly luminous and well balanced frame with much less time using the currently capable sensors and software, perfectly well knowing that perhaps you opened yourself up to the community to see what comes of it. Or perhaps some streaking (ghosting) of humanity might have added something in itself?

  16. Nate Parker January 11, 2012 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    wicked nice though!

  17. Christopher Harnish January 11, 2012 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    I have always been a bit nervous in situations like these, but I have actually found more often than not that most folks are cordial enough if treated likewise.

  18. Chris Robins January 11, 2012 at 7:49 pm - Reply

    +Steve Beal you know i was right behind +Brian Matiash when he took this shot. and, i told him i would hold the traffic…like you, he declined. you are both too nice. that is why i have a man-crush on you both. I will post the image of brian taking this shot.

  19. Mari Wirta January 11, 2012 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    I have never enjoyed staring at a subway entrance for so long… it's crazy to me how you could make this so visually appealing. Fabulous work and your post is 100% spot-on.

  20. Mark Neal January 12, 2012 at 4:00 am - Reply

    Nice post Brian. It's the old "Spoon full of sugar" technique. Being friendly usually works. And the shot is great. Your converging lines really draw the eye.

  21. Jim Denham January 12, 2012 at 5:26 am - Reply

    +Brian Matiash Great post, advice and wonderful image Brian! Well done!

  22. Dave January 22, 2012 at 11:28 pm - Reply

    Great advice, great picture. Top post!

  23. Homage to Brian Matiash. February 20, 2012 at 6:37 am - Reply

    […] it a tribute to one of my favorite photographereducators out there, Brian Matiash. Brian used a similar photo during a recent OnOne webinar he hosted. When I had the chance to shoot a similar shot in […]

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