As a New Yorker and street photographer, Ashley Noel (@nyroamer) of the Alpha Imaging Collective is always wrapped in the hustle and bustle of the city. Sometimes her shooting is planned out, and other times she has to work spontaneously to capture a moving moment before it's gone. She shoots with Sony Alpha full-frame mirrorless cameras and a few key lenses. Since she’s always on the go, she's come up with a simple, minimalist workflow, seldom using Photoshop or other processing software, to ensure her cameras and lenses are readily available and she can quickly access and share her photos with her 61K followers on Instagram. See more about how she manages to capture life in The City from beginning to end.
Before: Camera & Lenses
Before Ashley Noel sets out to photograph the streets of the city, she selects which gear she will take with her. Sometimes her shooting sessions are entirely spontaneous, and other times she has a vision in mind that she’s trying to create.
“I shoot with a Sony α7 II and recently my go-to lens has been the Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master,” explains Noel. “It’s a newer purchase for me and I absolutely love that lens. I just think it's so perfect for what I do as a predominantly street shooter. I do also have the 28-70mm, but mostly I'm using this 85mm. It's just so helpful for what I'm trying to capture from a street photographer’s point of view. If we’re in the middle of a snowstorm then I’ll be sure to pack some extra batteries just in case, but there’s not much in the way of gear preparation for my type of shooting. I have a very simple and mobile kit.”
When it comes to additional preparation before she begins shooting, it depends on where she’s photographing and if there’s something specific she’s trying to capture. For the most part, as a street photographer, her shooting style is pretty in-the-moment.
“I shoot so much on the go and spontaneously, so much of my work is just me always having my camera with me and if I see a moment that grabs me or speaks to me or just sort of resonates, I will quickly whip my camera out and try to capture it as best I can. If I’m heading out for a job or something, I will just stick my camera and both lenses in my bag where it’s easily accessible. Then if I see something I can just grab it out on the spot to catch the moment.”
If she does have something particular she wants to photograph, or if she’s traveling outside of her homebase of NYC, she might have a goal in mind and do a little more research about the place to formulate a vision on what she wants to get while she’s there.
“There have been a few times, like in the summertime for example, where the light is just so beautiful and I know I’d like to get that pre-sunset golden hour, so in this case I’ll sort of go out with a goal in mind. If that's the case, then I usually am just carrying my camera – but not around my neck because I’m not a tourist, I’m a New Yorker.”
She continues, “If I’m going on a special trip somewhere, I might have a vision beforehand that I’ve planned out in my head. I do more research when I’m traveling, sometimes even just by looking on Instagram and seeing interesting shots. I like to have some places in mind that I would like to capture in advance so I’m not completely aimlessly wandering. Maybe even just a certain vantage point that I want to get.”
During: Camera Setup
“When I’m out shooting,” explains Noel, “I have my Sony α7 II in JPEG and in terms of my settings, mostly on Aperture Priority. I just love shooting this way with the Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master. It’s so great for shallow depth of field and that creamy, smooth bokeh that provides the background separation from the subject. It’s so beautiful. I like to have Aperture Priority as my go-to setting because I can dial in the depth of field and look for the light.”
When Noel first started out in street photography, she was looking more at capturing stationary objects like architecture. Now her interests have evolved and during the time she is out on the streets shooting, she’s always looking around for that perfect moment in motion to capture.
“I do feel that I started out maybe more with an appreciation for stationary objects,” says Noel. “I still appreciate architecture and everything like that, but I feel like my interests have transformed to challenge me. I would say it’s a little easier when I’m just capturing a stationary subject. Now I gravitate toward street photography because I get to quickly and candidly capture life and movement. There’s this window of time to capture a movement, and I’m trying to tell a story with my images in this blink of an eye. You need to respond quickly to the moment in order to get it and I love that challenge. Sometimes I have something in mind, and sometimes I don’t. I just go with what’s resonating with me at the time.”
As she’s photographing, she’s not a very high-volume shooter. She tests out a spot and knows pretty quickly whether or not it’s going to work. She also knows that she needs to strike a balance between getting the shot she wants and also staying out of the way.
“When shooting street photography, you don't really know what people are going to do. I’m a more passive, quiet kind of person. I see other people with their camera right out and up close to people and that’s just really not my style. I prefer to keep a low profile and not invade anyone’s personal space. With street photography, I feel there's a lot up to chance. Sometimes you are just waiting for that moment. You're shooting more spontaneously because you're relying on people as your subjects, but not in the same sense as a wedding photographer where you’re directing them more.”
“There's a very delicate balance because I would like to keep a low profile and not upset anybody, but I also know that I have to shoot fast. So with street photography, it's a waiting game. I’m cognizant of those thought-provoking shots, and then I just have to wait for the right moment and move fast enough when it arrives.”
After: Transfer, Edit & Share
After she has finished shooting, she heads back in and reviews her photos to see if there are any that catch her eye.
“The very first thing I do after shooting is look very quickly through all of my shots. Remember I’m a New Yorker, constantly on the go and doing most things as I’m on the move. So I’ll be on the Subway reviewing images and I’ll use the Sony app to transfer them to my phone and take them directly into Snapseed to edit. I’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to editing my shots. I might just do something basic like sharpen it a little bit or brighten it just a tad, but I’m not getting into any super fancy edits. I might crop for Instagram if it’s one I plan to post.”
When it comes to choosing which shot to share with her 61,000+ followers on her Instagram, she says her approach has changed. She doesn’t simply lean to what’s popular on social media. “I’ve had an Instagram account for probably five years now,” she says. “I feel like I used to choose whether or not a photo was good based on terms of social media and how well it would perform. Now as I’ve become more of a critical student of photography, that’s no longer a concern of mine. If it’s not representative of my style then I won’t post it on my account. I choose what to post based on my love for the photo and if it speaks to me. I post it with some of my go-to tags, like street photography and city tags, and of course, because I shoot with Sony cameras and lenses, I post with tags like #BeAlpha.”
She keeps her favorite shots readily available for her on her phone, but she does copy all of her photos onto her MacBook where she keeps them all stored as backups.
“I like to have my photos easily accessible so that’s why I keep my top shots on my phone. Once they’re on my computer, there are so many to dig through I often end up never seeing them again. It all goes back to organization and efficiency. We live in such a digital age that I know I should just separate my files and keep my most important ones with me on my phone. I make folders on my phone so it’s less to go through and my favorite photos don’t get lost in the shuffle.”