Scott Firestone: Chicago Street Photographer

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Scott Firestone is a hobby photographer from Chicago who was recently selected as a finalist in the 2017 EyeEm Photography Awards, the largest photo contest in the world. We asked Scott to share a few words about his photography and the city he loves to photograph.

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Give us a little insight into your photography background?
I’m a 37 year old hobbyist that started taking photography seriously only about 9 months ago. Last fall, my now wife and I took my 10 year old to this artsy Halloween parade, and I was really disappointed with the low light limitations of my camera phone. I had an old Canon AE-1 in high school and college, and I was curious to see if that early interest in photography was still there. So I decided to cautiously dive back into the SLR world with a cheap, used Nikon D60 that I soon realized was a bit too long in the tooth. A few months later, I upgraded bodies, bought a 35mm prime lens, and started carrying my camera absolutely everywhere.

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What makes Chicago a great place for photography
My commute every morning takes me through some of the finest architecture anywhere in the world, and initially I was really interested in capturing Chicago urban landscapes mostly on my way to and from work. The style is popular particularly on Instagram right now, and I was trying to emulate the things that appealed to me as I learned composition and editing skills.

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Over the last few months, I’ve become more interested in capturing the diverse people and unique neighborhoods in the city that I think a bit underrepresented by other photographers, at least from what I can tell on social media. It’s still a lot easier for me to stick around the Loop before and after workdays, though, so much of my work remains in the downtown area of the city.

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Ultimately, I’m perfectly happy if I am able to represent a unique perspective of an amazing city with my photography, whether it’s through its street scenes, its buildings, its skyline, or whatever. I take photos for my own pleasure, and I do not limit myself to one genre at a time. I’ll even take some more touristy snapshots just for the hell of it, because I just never know if there’s a lesson in there to help me improve my photography.

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How do you feel about selected as a finalist for the 2017 EyeEm Photography Awards and can you talk about that shot?
The EyeEm award is really just astonishing to me, to be quite honest. I knew the work of some of the people I am competing against prior to the competition, and it absolutely floors me that I’m on a shortlist with them.

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The picture they selected was at a location that is relatively popular with Chicago Instagrammers, but this was an important picture to me for several reasons. It was the first time that I wasn’t just trying to “get one” from a location, but had a preconceived idea of what I wanted it to look like.

I had just bought an ultra wide lens that week, and knew that it was essential to the composition I had in my mind which included the architectural elements boxing the parking ramp in. It also drove the lesson home to me that there are so many elements and variables that go into each photograph. Even if a spot has been shot a lot, who cares? Just take your photo. You might get shortlisted in huge international competitions!

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Who are some of your favorite photographers or influencers that you admire?
Right now I’m especially motivated and inspired by street photography greats such as Bruce Davidson, Saul Leiter, Fan Ho, Constantine Manos, Ara Guler, Ray Metzker, Elliott Erwitt, and a few more.

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What do you love about the photography subjects you focus on, and any advice for other photographers?
Street photography is quite challenging both technically and on a personality level for me, so I really enjoy pushing myself like that. It’s quite a rush to take a candid photo of a stranger that you think might really be a keeper, but I have to always remind myself to detach from the emotions I felt while taking the shot and assess it as objectively as I can as to whether it conveys a worthwhile story.

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Architecture photography hasn’t been giving me that same thrill lately, but I certainly am not abandoning it. I look of course for interesting people and unusual scenes, but just as often am captivated by the way light works its way into the urban canyons and underneath the elevated tracks. I’ve found that using aperture priority mode, burst mode, slightly underexposing while shooting in the during the day, and getting to know a single prime lens well have really helped me evolve and seems to result in fewer missed shots.

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The most important thing to me about photography is that a camera is just a tool to freeze a framed two dimensional perspective of the world around you, and as long as the tool you do that with results in shots that make you happy, that’s what is important. Do it for yourself. Focus on observing and composition, not megapixels and sharpness ratings. And definitely do not base your self worth on how well your photos perform on social media.

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Thank you Scott for taking the time to share with us a little bit about your photography. You can see more of his work on Instagram.