Finding Inspiration with Saul Leiter

I have dozens of photo books that I’ve accumulated over the years and most I’ve looked through once upon first receiving them, which really is a shame. So, recently I’ve been trying to revisit these. Yet another way to find a bit of inspiration. The first book I made my way back to was Saul Leiter: Early Color.

If you’re not familiar with Leiter I’d urge you to google him and his work. He started shooting black & white and color street photography in the 1940s and by the 1960s was well knows as a fashion photographer. However, in his spare time, he still continued to explore the streets of New York City and Paris creating exceptional images. He printed some of the black & white shots but left the color slides tucked away until the 1990s. So glad these were revisited because they are phenomenal.

As you can probably tell, I’m enamored with his work. It’s full of fantastic color, layers, reflections, mood and has a bit of an abstract quality. Which got me thinking…how can we parlay what he did so well with street photography into our favorite subject – architecture?

Not a huge leap to make sense of this as reflections, which inherently create layers, are one of my favorite architectural photographic subjects.

Let’s first take a look at some of Leiter’s work…

Just look at all those great layers and depth created simply by using reflective surfaces. In the first image, there’s obviously more than reflections…the man in the bottom right and the awning at the top in the foreground give a bit of grounding. But your eye continues to travel through the image, layer after layer, trying to place how each person is oriented within the environment.

In the second image, the lettering and the framing or metal on the door or window are your foreground elements but the majority of the image is purely a reflection of the city behind him. Again, with multiple layers of people making their way through the city.

Digging through my images for architectural examples, seems Paris is full of inspiration for this type of shooting, lol. Below, a couple of shots more focused on the architecture but using similar methods to what I just discussed.

Then, trying my hand at Leiter’s more street approach.

Paris really is magical 🙂

More from Leiter…

Here, he’s shooting through a storefront window and using the mirror on display to frame his subject walking by. This is what we first notice as it’s the most colorful aspect of the image and feels the most in focus. Then your eye moves through the many, many layers of city behind and other things on display in the store, some of which also reflect more of the city. I feel like you could look at this for an hour and still keep discovering new things!

A couple of my attempts…

Next from Saul…

A shallower depth of field with everything being reflected in some surface, likely a window. Again, a couple of attempts by me…

Perhaps, not exactly the same but you can use the inspiration and techniques of others to get something that evokes a similar feeling.

One final example from Leiter…

This is a bit easier to do architecturally as it’s a matter of including a portion of your subject and its reflection in some kind of reflective surface by getting super close to that surface.

The whole reflection aspect is only one way his work can be inspiring and you can take as a bit of an assignment with your architectural subjects. Take a look at more, particularly the way he uses framing, with and without reflections. Much to be learned by studying his incredible body of work. And if you find this interesting check out this documentary, In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter, on Amazon Prime.



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