The Popculturist interviews Danny Santos II, a photographer with lots of street smarts — because the ordinary street is his studio and his passion.
Think about the last time you walked down a busy street. What do you remember? If you’re like most people, you were probably thinking about where you were going or where you came from. If you were with someone, you might have been engrossed in a conversation; if you were alone, perhaps you were lost in thought. But most likely you weren’t really looking around at the other people in the crowd.
It’s an odd bit of cultural conditioning, that impulse to act as though the people around you don’t exist, and it’s one that can be hard to break. But if you can do it, if you stop and actually look around when you’re out, you start to notice things. Like the way that guy’s face over there is briefly hidden as he walks through a shadow.
Or the speckling of freckles across that girl’s face.
Or the juxtaposition of images as a bus passes behind a street performer.
You start to realize that there’s a surprising amount of beauty and mystery all around you. And with that realization, maybe you want to look a little closer.
Danny Santos II is no stranger to that impulse. Danny is a Singapore-based weekend shooter who has become known in the photography world for his street work, especially his ongoing series, “Portraits of Strangers.” It was actually Danny’s photography that inspired me to start shooting street, so I was very excited when he agreed to answer a few questions for me about his style and methods”
The Popculturist: Why Street?
Danny Santos: It’s very accessible. Just go to an area where there’s good light and good people traffic and you have the whole street at your disposal. Plus, nothing beats getting that really good shot within an uncontrolled, unpredictable environment. In the streets, nothing cooperates with you… not the weather, not the subjects, not the situation… but when luck suddenly shifts to your side and everything comes together for you to capture that elusively perfect street shot, the wait and hard work becomes all worth it. And you’ll want to shoot more.
The Popculturist: Why Orchard Road in particular?
Danny Santos: I remember the first time I saw Orchard Road, I was just completely amazed by its energy and variety. It was unlike any street I’ve ever seen… although I really haven’t travelled that much. But yeah, I can still remember my excitement I felt… and this was before I even started photography. A few months later, when I discovered street photography, Orchard Road was the first thing that came to mind. It’s a beautiful street, with beautiful light, and beautiful people. What more can you ask for?
The Popculturist: What is it that draws you to approach a particular person for a street portrait?
Danny Santos: As long as it’s someone that I think stands out of the crowd, I go for it… whether I’m fascinated by their beauty, or intrigued by their mystery. I like to create portraits where you just want to get to know that person or wonder what their story is.
The Popculturist: What are you thinking about when you’re out shooting?
Danny Santos: I’m always thinking about the next keeper shot. What or who will it be? I’ve learned to always observe what’s happening around me and try to anticipate any potential keepers. I’ve missed so many good shots because I let my mind go blank, making my alertness level slump to zero — the next thing I knew, one hell of a keeper shot just passed me by.
The Popculturist: How would you describe your method?
Danny Santos: I always mix it up. I don’t stick with one method only. Sometimes I see a good spot with good light and I camp in one place until I get that one good shot. Other times I walk around in very crowded areas and see if I can catch that one face that stands out of the crowd. When it rains, I just grab my umbrella and walk into bad weather. And lately, I started asking strangers for permission to take their portraits. I’ve tried so many methods — some worked, others didn’t. I’m excited to see what my next method will be 🙂
The Popculturist: It seems like the tendency with street photographers is to work in black and white, but the bulk of your work is in color. What is it about color photography that attracts you, especially with respect to street?
Danny Santos: I really don’t have any preference between color or black & white photography. I always try to see which treatment the subject of the photo will be represented best. Some work better in color, others in b&w. If the colors adds to story of the photograph, they stay in color… otherwise, it can potentially be a distraction, in which case its better to have it in black & white.
The Popculturist: You describe yourself as self-taught. What idea or technique that you’ve learned has had the biggest impact on the way that you shoot?
Danny Santos: I think it’s developing the right attitude for your chosen genre of photography. Shooting in the streets looks easy to do, but it’s really not. It requires a tremendous amount of patience, discipline, and a go-getter atittude that will allow you to shoot even when you’re scared. But just as anything that you invest some hard work on, when you get the results you want, it’s all worth it.
The Popculturist: What do you wish someone had told you when you were first starting?
Danny Santos: I wish someone had told me way before I started… to start early!
“Urban Warrior” © Danny Santos II. All Rights Reserved.
“Stranger 7” © Danny Santos II. All Rights Reserved.
“First Good Street Photograph” © Danny Santos II. All Rights Reserved.