Interview with Street Photographer Rinzi Ruiz

Hey Rinzi, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions.
Let’s assume you have to introduce yourself in three sentences. What would you say?

Hello, my name is Rinzi Ruiz or Street Zen if you’re familiar with my blog, I currently live in Burbank, Ca, and I realized a few years ago that photography is my passion. My past profession was in graphic design, art direction, and management and I’ve been involved with the arts and anything creative for all my life. I’m self-taught but I’ve also taken a few  photography workshops and am inspired by and learn from other photographers and the greats in photography which motivates me to get better.

So you are currently working as a photographer? Or is (street) photography just your passion?

Right now I wouldn’t consider myself a full-time professional photographer but I have worked some gigs here and there since I lost my full time job. My goal since then has been to learn the different types of photography so I become well-rounded and then try to focus on a few to make a profession out of. I started on my path into photography only 2 years ago so I know there is more to learn and experience. My passion is photography and my love for street photography fuels the passion. Street photography is something I can do everyday and anywhere. That aspect has helped me to learn my cameras, focal lengths, learn about light, and learn more about people. Day by day it helps me become a better photographer.

Speaking of gear, let’s get it over with. :D What equipment do you use on the streets and why?

I started out using a Nikon D90 and would carry around a bag with lenses mainly the 24mm, 50mm and 85mm. Walking around all day or even a few hours with that much weight can be tiring. I still use them from time to time depending on the lens I want to use but most of last year I was shooting with the Fujifilm X100. It was lighter and stealthier than a DSLR. It didn’t attract so much attention and I suppose it’s because I didn’t ‚look‘ like a photographer. The X100 is quiet. So quiet that folks don’t even know I took a picture. Also the 35mm equivalent on the camera is a good focal range for street photography and even street portraits. I just recently acquired the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 with the 35mm and the 18mm but have used the 35mm more since I got it first. I’m enjoying this camera and have written about it on my blog. For street photography, ultimately it doesn’t matter what camera you use but just know the camera really well to get the best out of it.

So to really know your camera you have to be out shooting a lot. How often do you wander the streets with your camera and how do you decide where to go? I often feel the urge to photograph and don’t know exactly where to go. So I look on Google Maps which area of the city looks interesting and then I go there.

Absolutely, it’s all about practice, practice, practice. I’m able to wander the streets more often than I did when I had a full time job so I go out quite frequently now. Before I could only go at lunch, after work, or on weekends. I generally head towards the downtown area of Los Angeles but if something catches my eye as I’m driving I’ll park and walk around or if a place comes into mind as I’m driving then I’ll head there. I like exploring so sometimes it’s just going down a road I don’t usually take. I have spent a lot of time shooting in downtown Los Angeles so I’m trying to expand the radius and get to know other sides of LA. I usually just use Google Maps for directions but I think that’s a great idea.

Street Photography is often thought of in black and white. Scrolling through your images on flickr I can see that the majority of your work is also black and white and only few photos are in color. Why is that and how do you decide when to change to color?

I suppose it’s because the early greats could only shoot in black and white so going through their photos has influenced my work. Black and white photos from the past and even the present gives a sense of timelessness and nostalgia. It sort of feels more like art in a way. It’s simple and elegant. It restricts the elements to the light, the shadows, the tone, and the composition. Those are some of the reasons I chose to work primarily in black and white.Working in black and white and seeing tones better actually helped me see color better too. I only use color when it makes sense because color does have the ability to distract the viewer from the focal point. Sometimes it’s because of the color that I even took the photo in the first place so if that’s the case then I’ll leave it in color. For me there has to be a good reason for it. I’m seeing that primary colors tend to catch my eyes but when I process I’ll convert it to black and white, work out the tone, and then see how it looks again in color. I’ll compare and stare at them for awhile. If I think it doesn’t work then I’ll choose black and white.

Speaking of the early greats. Which photographers, past and present, influenced you or do you really like?

The great photographers from the past that have influenced me the most and that inspires me the most are Ray K Metzker, Gary Stochl, Roy DeCarava, and Elliot Erwitt. They have images that have brought tears to my eyes. To me the photos are great not only because of the image itself but because of the fact that they were able to be at the right place at the right time and skilled enough to be able to get the shot. At times I’ll try to go into their mind as they are in the environment and ask myself questions like where were they standing, how long were they there for or did it just happen as they were walking by, why did they choose that angle? I think that in street photography most of it is just being there and then being aware of the things going on around you. All those photographers had that „eye“ which others don’t. The way they composed their shots, the way they used light, their timing, and the people and places they photographed are simply amazing to me. Going through the pages of their books makes me want to go out and practice more and see if I can „see“ things and react as well as they did. The current photographers that have influenced me are Frank Jackson, Alex Webb, and Craig Semetko. I’ve met Frank Jackson and Craig Semetko and they’ve influenced me through their work and through their encouragement. Their styles are different but both have particular skills and ways of seeing that I’ve learned from. In reality, almost all the photographers that I’ve met or whose work I’ve seen in the last year has had, in one way or another, some influence and I’ve learned something from them. It’s so nice to have such a large community of street photographers from all over the world who are open to sharing experiences, discussing interesting subjects, teaching and learning.

When you go out shooting, do you have a specific subject in mind? Or are you just open to anything that happens?

I’m more just open to anything that happens and anyone that crosses my path. There are a few things I keep in the back of my mind as far as subjects as part of a series or subject matter that I want to build on so that when I see something that relates to it I am conscious enough to see it and take the picture. When I first got started and even now there would be certain images or photographers that inspires me so I keep them or the photo in mind and go out and try to see things the way they did. I’m still learning so I like to experiment and try different shooting methods so I suppose if there are any subjects I have in mind they are to continue learning how to see and to continue honing my craft.

Let’s take a look in to the future. What are your goals for the next two years and how do you plan to make a living?

That’s a great question. Right now I’m just open to what can happen while I study and shoot. Because I had a full time job doing both were limited to spare time. I didn’t get started shooting consistently and seriously until mid last year and then had more time and started shooting even more after the job loss. So, my goal is to continue to learn and become proficient in the different aspects of photography. I’ve mostly worked with available light so the studio setting is still something I’d like to get more experience with. I’ve also shot more documentary style so experience in setting up sets and shots is a skill that I’d like to be able to get better at. So, a lot of practice. I do want to make a living in photography but I do understand that it takes time and hard work. I’m positive that something will come of all that’s happened to me and all that I’ve experienced in the last few months and I feel that I am headed in the right direction. I’m grateful for all the support and encouragement that I’ve received from family, friends and everyone that I’ve met in the photography community. I suppose my dream job, like many out there, would be to be able to travel and get paid to take photographs. I’m open to that and any work that involves people and photography.

That sounds nice. I wish you all the best for your journey.
I love photo books, but my collection is still very small. Do you have any recommendations?

Thank you.
I love photo books as well. They’ve been a great source of inspiration for me. I suppose the ones I’d recommend are Ray K. Metzker Light Lines, Photographs of Gordon Parks, Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project, Fred Herzog: Photographs, Roy Decarava: Photographs, Elliot Erwitt Snaps, Saul Leiter: Early Color and Frank Paulin: Out of the Limelight.

Let us dive into post production. Which app(s) do you use? Do you have some special tips for post processing black and white photos?

Sure, well, for my street photography I pretty much process all my images just in Lightroom 3. I haven’t yet upgraded to 4 but will soon. I try to keep things simple and it does what I need. For my black and white photos I pretty much just use the basic adjustments and tone curves and do it by eye. It’s a pretty short process and takes me a few minutes. I don’t use presets much but if I do it’s one I made myself to speed up my workflow. Sometimes I use Alien Skin Exposure 3 to maybe add to a specific photo and the film looks are great to play with. There’s a few tips I’ve learned that has helped me. As long as the photograph taken is properly exposed, you can do more with the photo. Don’t over do it. Seeing in black and white is seeing the light.

I found that Silver Efex Pro 2 is even better than Alien Skin’s Exposure 3. You should try it.
Have you ever felt the urge to shoot film?

I’ve also used Silver Effects Pro but I really don’t use apps very often. I have a film camera that belonged to my mother. It’s a Canon AE-1 with a 50mm 1.4. I used it in the past and still use it from time to time because I am a photography enthusiast but I shoot primarily with digital and I like it. I enjoy my digital workflow and I take advantage of the technology we have today with digital cameras. I’ve got complete control over the entire process from shooting to processing in my computer. I don’t have experience in the darkroom so with film I’d have to leave it up to the person or machine to decide the final outcome of my image. At least that’s how I think about it. I may shoot more film at some point and I’m talking to my friend Japan Camera Hunter, Bellamy Hunt, to see about a specific one I found so we’ll see. As far as the discussions between digital and film for street photography, I think it doesn’t matter. Both have benefits and drawbacks and both have something that people getting into photography can learn from.

What question would you like to answer, that I didn’t ask?

Well, we have covered quite a bit so I suppose what I can add are a few tips to your readers just getting into street photography. 1. Know your camera. Even if it’s a point and shoot camera, really knowing how it works can produce great images. 2. Study the photos of the greats in photography. Try to get in their heads and ask questions like „why?“ and „how?“. 3. Shoot often and bring your camera everywhere. This helps getting over the fear and helps you „see“.

Thank you very much for your time, Rinzi!

You can find Rinzi on Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and he also has a portfolio website.