Creating standout images is a matter of presence for Matt Coch. Whether it’s pausing to notice the Empire State Building reflected in a puddle, marinating in the soft glow of museum exhibits, snapping pedestrians illuminated in a momentary geometric sliver of light, or catching a tourist playfully accosting a scantily clad mannequin outside a Long Island clothing boutique, observational outings are a discipline for the 42-year-old streetscape photographer who meanders and shoots for at least an hour a day, every day – smartphone in hand and shutter finger at the ready. We first came across Coch as a contributing author to the mobile photography enthusiast group, We Are Juxt, and are excited to share some of his experiences, tips and memorable encounters in the following Q&A. Coch, who has 27,674 followers on Instagram as of May 22, shoots his mobile photos using the iPhone 5s and Nokia Lumia 1020.
“No matter how busy, tired, uninspired, or sick I may be, I make myself go shoot for at least an hour,” Coch told us.
Sometimes that means hopping on a random subway train and getting off in an area he’s never explored. Other days, it means wading knee deep in frigid water while thousands of bathers rush into the icy sea for the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge; navigating the frenzied mirth of the annual Mermaid Day Parade; or traipsing through Washington Square Park in the middle of a snow flurry.
The result is an arresting mélange of fleeting moments, ranging from intimate to gritty, candid to playful, artistic to epic. When viewed through the lens of a longtime local with an eye for detail and about 15 years of professional photography experience under his belt, the Big Apple doesn’t seem so big as it does intricate, personal and authentic.
Favorite smartphone camera feature and why:
My favorite smartphone camera feature has to be its sharing capabilities. I can take a picture and share it worldwide seconds after capturing it. I don’t have to wait until I get home and download images onto my computer. The immediacy that mobile photography brings has been game a changer.
Name a few of your favorite mobile photo editing apps:
On the iPhone I use Snapseed, Filterstorm, and VSCO Cam. I do minor tweaking in either Snapseed or Filterstorm – things like cropping, contrast or saturation adjustment. If I’m going to use any kind of filter, I will go to VSCO Cam. Most of their filters are subtle and have a nostalgic film quality that I like. I also shoot with Hipstamatic on occasions, and when I do, I’ll usually shoot with it exclusively for a few days. It’s just a way of mixing it up and keeping things fresh and interesting.
On the Nokia Lumia 1020, I use Proshot and Fhotoroom. I use Fhotoroom for my editing adjustments and Proshot for shooting. With Proshot I can make a custom camera preset and save it as a tile on my home screen for quick access. Right now I have two presets, a color and a black and white. It also allows me to shoot native images up to 12 megapixels.
So many of your shots are in the moment. You clearly have a sharp eye for detail and a knack for picking out scenes that other people might look over. Any tips to share?
I’ve always enjoyed people watching. Observing how people interact with one another and within their environment. Actually capturing that consistently in a photograph definitely took time to develop.
Capturing a fleeting moment within an image often involves a lot of anticipation. Sometimes it’s about predicting what will happen next. Sometimes it’s just about being open and observant. Sometimes it’s just about being in the right place at the right time.
The best advice I can give anyone is to shoot. I have set aside at least one hour a day, every day, for the last four years to walking around and shooting. No matter how busy, tired, uninspired, or sick I may be, I make myself go shoot for at least an hour. It can be challenging some days to get motivated, but the only way to get better is by doing it.
You’re kind of a master at puddle reflection shots. Tell us more about that.
I don’t use any special tools. It’s just a matter of finding the right angle on the right puddle and having a lot of patience. Sometimes it’s a waiting game. Waiting for the right person or shape to enter the frame at exactly the right spot can take awhile. Then you have to actually press the shutter button at the right second to capture it. So waiting for all those elements to come together can keep me standing on a corner for quite some time. The light is very important too. I always try to shoot a puddle that’s in the shade and whatever the water is reflecting in sunlight. It usually makes for a more dynamic image and allows for good silhouettes. I’ve been shooting those type of pictures for so long that I actually have some favorite spots that I’ll continually re-visit after a rainfall. There are too many places around the city that have poor drainage, but they make for great puddle shots.
What does photography mean to you on a personal level?
Photography for me has become a way of life. It pushes me to go neighborhoods I might not otherwise travel to. It makes me strike up conversations with random people I might not otherwise talk to. It also makes me more observant of my surroundings and helps me to better understand how I see the world around me. I’ve learned a lot about myself through photography.
Did the events of 9/11 have any impact on your work as a photographer?
For a while after 9/11, the police were harassing people taking pictures, so if you were on the subway taking pictures or anywhere questionable, they would give you a hard time and wouldn’t let you take pictures. It happened to me and a lot of other people. It took at least a couple of years, a lot of protests and a lot of people fighting back about it. The police had to be educated on what constitutes the legality of taking pictures on public property, and still, that took a long time for them to accept it.
Tell us about one of the most memorable images you’ve captured on your smartphone:
One picture comes to mind right away. I believe it was one of my first candid photos with a smartphone. It’s of a young boy looking out a window at a subway station in Brooklyn. I shot it using Hipstamatic and it rendered a beautiful black and white image of a quiet, contemplative moment. After I took that picture I began to realize not only what I was actually capable of capturing with a smartphone, but I also learned the ease of being able to hide in plain sight when taking pictures with a smartphone. It was truly an “Aha!” moment for me.
In your opinion, what makes a great photo?
I think a great photo tells a story. It communicates a thought or feeling. In an age where we are inundated with imagery, I think the strongest photos are the ones that can arrest the viewers’ attention, give them pause and make them think.
A random place that you unexpectedly ended up in your photographic meanderings, and probably wouldn’t have visited intentionally:
There are too many places I’ve found myself in and around NYC that I probably never would have gone if I wasn’t out exploring and taking pictures. Too many to list. Sometimes I will just randomly hop on a subway and take it to the end of the line or get off in an area I’ve never been and just start walking around. That was one of my goals when I started taking and sharing images. I wanted to document and share my meanderings through the various neighborhoods throughout New York City.
Someone interesting you have met during your photographic excursions:
In New York you’re always meeting interesting people – that’s one of the great things about living here. With so many people of different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, and beliefs, you would be hard pressed to go anywhere and not encounter someone interesting.
When taking candids, is it a challenge to do it discreetly so as not to cause the person(s) to look up at you, and still get a good shot?
For me, candids are all about capturing an honest moment. So when I’m trying to capture a candid, it’s relatively important that my subject is unaware. The second anyone knows you’re taking their picture, everything changes. Peoples’ body language will change. They’ll usually smile, or pose in some way, and whatever the dynamics were that drew me to that situation is lost. It’s almost like looking at someone through a two-way mirror. You are observing human beings interacting in their “natural habitat” but as soon as they know they are being observed, the mask goes up.
I think capturing these types of images lends itself to the mobile phone and the city environment. You see plenty of people walking around with mobile phones today - so many that they are almost invisible. And in a crowded city it’s relatively easy to blend in on any corner. With people rushing around and just being involved in their own personal daily life they’re usually not paying that close of attention to me while I’m standing there composing a picture. The best advice I can give is not to announce you’re taking a picture by standing with your arms outstretched holding your phone to your eyes with two hands while looking directly into the screen. When it comes to capturing candid moments, subtlety is always your friend.
One man I met is named Joe (not pictured in this article), who lives in the Iron Triangle neighborhood of Queens. He has lived in this neighborhood all his 87 years. He is also the only current resident and the city is evicting him along with everyone else who works here so they can basically put up a shopping mall. It’s rather a long sad story and Joe has been fighting this for years but he knows it’s a battle he eventually will lose. I never would have met Joe or known his story if I wasn’t out exploring taking pictures.
A certain shot you’d like to get, but haven’t been able to yet:
I don’t know if there is a specific shot I’d like to get; most of my street photography is about randomness. Random encounters, places and fleeting moments. I do have several projects that I’d like to work on that I haven’t been able start or complete, mostly due to lack of time.
Ever bump into any celebrities while out and about photographing the streetscape?
Ha ha! Yes, on occasion I’ve run into celebrities. Most recently I passed Peter Dinklage, Tyrion from “Game of Thrones,” walking down the street.
There are so many great quotes! One in particular that I like, because I think I can somewhat relate to it, was by the famed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.
When he was asked what his relationship was with his camera, he replied:
“To me the Leica is a sketchbook, a psychiatrist’s couch, a deep warm kiss, an electromagnet, a memory, and the mirror of memory.”
About the photographer
I’m a Brooklyn, NY-based photographer with a deep passion for documenting my city and sharing it’s many stories. From everyday life on the streets to portraits and candids of the people I encounter daily. It’s all part of my visual journal as I explore and document the various neighborhoods of New York City.
About the ArcSoft Photographer Spotlight:
ArcSoft is proud to share our fifth post in our ongoing spotlight featuring pro, semi-pro and amateur photographers who have talent, unique perspectives and special skills to share. As an imaging technology company, we are passionate about photography and we are equally passionate about promoting beautiful work created by inspired people.