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Out of the Box \ Mar 30th 2017

From the Office to the Street: The Story of a City Photographer

Working in an office is not for everyone. For some the flickering screens and fluorescent lighting will never replace the fresh air and natural sunlight. Nevertheless, the writers of the Wix Photography Blog (and especially me, Julia – nice to meet you!) feel very lucky: we get to explore so many interesting images and stories when talking to Wix Photographers, that it’s almost as if we were on a never ending tour around the world. Whenever I see a photography website fully dedicated to a genre, a place, or in this case – both, I cannot help wondering what brought the artist to the streets, and what drove them to fulfill their passion?

Today, I’d like to invite you to hop on board with us on a virtual trip to the city of Tel Aviv, Israel. Lay back, take in the atmosphere, and meet the person behind documenting Tel Aviv’s every little corner. Meet Wix user Ido Biran, aka Tel-Avivi, and discover why his first photos were taken from a ladder, how he gained 20k followers on social media, and has managed to make a living off what he loves the most.

My ON and OFF romance with photography

Hi Ido, it’s really nice to meet you! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.
Thanks, glad to be here.

Tell me please, when did your romance with photography start?
Truth is photography has played a crucial role in my life, going from one extreme to another. As a kid I used to make home movies about my family. I got my first stills camera when I was 20, and went on a 4-month train trip in Europe. That was an amazing experience, during which I shot nearly 120 rolls of film! When I returned home, I kept exploring the cityscape, only this time I was mostly drawn to street art. I even created an exhibition in the cinematheque dedicated to graffiti made with stencils.

It almost sounds like it was obvious photography is your life calling.
It was quite the opposite, actually. The first shift I made from still photography was during my university studies – I wanted to become a cinematographer. After another exhibition and working for TimeOut Tel Aviv, I suddenly realized, that photography was not getting me anywhere. I decided to set on a completely new track and become an architect. In 2008 I flew to LA and completed my diploma in architecture. For several years I hadn’t even picked up my camera even once…

So for several years you hadn’t taken a single shot?
I felt so drained during my studies, and LA has always been a tricky location for street photography. There are plenty of streets, just without people to fill them. I moved back home and started working in architecture and interior design. I wanted to focus on my career so much, I was afraid to pick up the camera.

What brought the photographer inside of you back into the world?
After nearly two years in an office, my head gave way to my heart. I just couldn’t resist the urge to go out there and capture the moment. No more computers, no water-cooler talks, no aircon fights… From working indoors and planning buildings, I switched to exploring the world from the outside.

Chocolate banana flavored ice cream

Ido’s iconic “Shoko-Banana” could easily represent my career objectives in the near future. Photo by Ido Biran

Wow, sounds like a very sudden shift!
Yes, it was quite impulsive. I had no idea what I was going to do, I just started wandering around the streets of Tel Aviv with my camera… I realized I have a great passion for documenting this city, so before I even knew what was going to happen in the next few years, I registered the domain of my current website www.tel-avivi.co.il (“tel-avivi” in hebrew means a resident or a person from Tel Aviv). Somehow, my online photography persona was ahead of me on that one.
That was three years ago, and the rest is history 🙂

Tell us about the process you went through during those years.
Believe it or not, it all started with a second-hand ladder I bought online. I had this idea to capture Tel Aviv’s street signs from an eye-level perspective. The first months I’d scour the streets with only a camera and a ladder in my hands. I captured hundreds of signs, and experimented with offering local businesses postcards and merchandise related to the sentimental connection people have to the streets they live in.

Street sign postcards from Tel Aviv

Street signs on postcards – how come no one thought of this sooner? Photo by Ido Biran

How did that evolve into what Tel-Avivi is today?
Slowly my focus moved to the street level. I captured Tel Aviv’s daily life, street art, architecture, unique cars, the beach, the ports, the people… Everything that creates the endless bustling maze that is Tel Aviv. At some point, I have accumulated thousands of photos depicting practically every corner of Tel Aviv like a mosaic.

With time, I felt the urge to go higher and higher, to see the city from above. Inspired by photographers from the 20’s-30’s, like Zoltan Kluger and Rudi Weissenstein, I started climbing on high-storey buildings, parking lots, hotels, construction sites… all to capture the cityscape from a bird’s point of view.

Tel Aviv cityscape from a rooftop

Tel Aviv from a lucky bird’s point of view. Photo by Ido Biran

A social media star

Today you have more than 20K of followers on Facebook and Instagram.
As I shared my work on my personal account or in Tel Aviv related Facebook groups, I realized there is a massive interest and longing for these type of photos. Whether it’s from people who live here, used to live here, would like to live here, or simply street photography enthusiasts – I received positive feedback from all over the world that encouraged me to continue. Eventually, I opened up dedicated pages on Facebook and Instagram.

Do you have a social media strategy to promote your art?
Back then? Not at all. I just wanted to share the photos I love with the world. But during the last couple of years, I had some insights that helped me form a more effective approach. I’ve come to realize that every social post has a limited “life expectancy” of about 12 hours on average. After 24 hours, the post probably stops showing on people’s feeds, and there’s a huge drop in the amount of comments and likes. Since I want to keep the engagement levels high, I post generally twice a day – once in the morning, and once in the evening.

How do you decide what to post on Facebook vs Instagram?
In the beginning, I would choose the photos I thought most people would like for Facebook, and the artsy ones I’d keep for Instagram. But since Facebook and Instagram joined forces, I don’t think there’s a major difference. Due to time constraints, I find it easier to post the same photos on both channels automatically. Everyone can choose where it’s more convenient for them to follow my updates.

Agreed, this image will look great on both Facebook and Instagram. Photo by Ido Biran

Do you manage to bring traffic from social networks to your website?
That’s a tricky question. I’ve noticed that whenever I include a link to my website in the caption, it gets less engagement. Now I’m pretty sure that Facebook’s algorithms prefer link-less posts that don’t let their users wander astray (at least the posts that weren’t paid for….). Since I prefer having higher exposure and engagement for every single post to improve my “branding” so to say, I decided to stop linking every single post. People can always find a link to my website in my bio or ‘About’ section, and I’m sure they do so.

What is the main purpose of your website?
Well, basically it serves for every purpose there is. It’s my gallery, my business card, my studio, office, my store (when I decide to sell prints).

Now that you mentioned selling… Do you think it’s possible to make a living as a street photographer?
It’s not an easy road to take, but if you’re good at what you do and passionate about it, I’m sure you’ll make it. What works for me is combining various opportunities: I sell prints (promote them via Facebook or my website), I teach here and there, I organize street photography tours every Friday, I work for the light-rail construction company documenting the process, I used to work for Tel Aviv municipality advising tourists… I basically get to mix a little of everything that I love about photography, Tel Aviv and architecture, which is amazing.
Sounds exciting! How did you get to organizing street photography tours?
It all started with an exhibition. A new community-oriented art gallery offered to organize an exhibition of my works in return for a favor – giving back to the community. So I started a free photography tour to anyone interested in exploring the neighborhood with a camera. People subscribed through Facebook, and it was a huge success. When I finished my commitment, I offered the tours on a pay-as-much-as-you-want format. Today I run the tour for a set price. I think it’s a great example of finding a personal niche and shaping it into something profitable.

Priceless tips to master street photography

Take us through your process: how do you plan a street photoshoot?
I never make plans. It’s always spontaneous and intuitive. I wait at the bus stop next to my home, and just wait for the first bus to take me. I get off without knowing where I am. Guess you could say that my destination is unknown, both physically and metaphorically. I wander and wait for interesting moments to find me. Every single place has something fascinating to show: whether it is a trash bin, a street sign, a tree, the sidewalk, or a colorful combination of all of the above. You have to watch closely and listen carefully, before you can pick up the moments you want to take home with you.

Do you have a technique that helps you find the perfect shot?
Aside from spontaneity, there’s one method that has helped me to create some of my best photos. I try to locate an interesting composition that could be a nice photo on it’s own. That is my mise-en-scene, just like in a theater, I’m waiting for an actor to make an appearance and fill the setting with meaning. I stabilize my camera and wait for the missing element. It can be an interesting person, a loving couple, or even a unique car, or a stray dog. I click every scene without judging, and then pick the best shots at home. This one with the red Fiat, for example, was actually chosen from more than 50 different shots I took at the same location:

Tel Aviv Hayarkon street 96

The chosen one out of 50 shots. Photo by Ido Biran

What do you think about digital processing? Do you edit every photo?
Not at all. I try to do the least amount of editing as possible. Sometimes I add saturation and contrast to highlight the colors, or crop the image to straighten it a bit. I rarely remove elements from a photo – only if something is interfering with the main story the image is telling us.

Would you say the gear used for street photography is different from other genres?
The main difference is that street photographers use a 35mm or 55mm lens without zoom. Why? Because it’s the best imitation of what the human eye can see. Wider lenses, or narrow ones with zoom do not comply with our natural ability to see. That makes our gear very light and easy to carry. Also, it’s less intimidating for strangers and attracts less attention. What’s even more important – the photos come out very realistic.

Do you ask your subjects for permission before taking a shot?
It depends. If someone is just passing by, or if there’s a crowd, asking for permission isn’t actually possible. But if there are 2-3 people “inside” my frame, I will definitely ask if they agree. Street chess players are a good example. If I get a green light to shoot, I always wait a couple of minutes, otherwise the photo won’t come out as authentic.

Walking in the rain? Do it with style. Photo by Ido Biran

Final words of inspiration

Anything else you’d like to advise our readers? Perhaps related to their online efforts?
Yes. Remember how everyone says “less is more”? I often see photographers overthinking their websites’ design, but truth is – you need to keep it simple. Make sure your website looks stunning, that it has all your contact details, your best creations in the galleries, a contact form, social icons… And that’s it!

Oh, and by the way: why did you choose Wix over other platforms?
You know, the new editor is so convenient to use. Once you get the hang of it, you can easily create or update your website with no fuss. Also, Wix hosts a large community of quality photographers, I think it’s a good idea to be one of them 🙂

Thank you so much, Ido, for your time and your precious tips! Last words of inspiration for our readers?
JUST DO IT.

For more beautiful images of Tel Aviv see: 

 

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