An interview with Danny Santos II

We are happy to bring to you the very first interview presented on the Seconds2Real website. We are honored to have none other than the incredible talented Danny Santos II as our first guest.

Danny Santos II is a street photographer from Singapore who is perhaps best known for his “Portaits of Strangers” series. Danny started street photography only two years ago. During these two years he has has gained a remarkable level of popularity. Numerous blogs are praising his work, he has about 2000 Facebook fans plus an innumerable amount of people following him via flickr or his personal Blog. In fact Danny became so popular, there are even people who want their portraits being taken danny-santos-II-street-style.

Best of all, the russian newspaper Pravda has a large gallery of his work online, how cool is that?

Within just two years Danny Santos has created a remarkable body of work, making him one of the best known street photographers of today. We hope our readers enjoy this interview as much as we did.

Tell us a little bit about Danny Santos II. Who are you, where do you live?

I’m a graphic designer by week days, and a photographer by weekends. I grew up and lived in the Philippines for most of my life, but moved here in Singapore last May 2008 for work. That’s about the same time when I bought my first camera and started shooting.

Am I right when I say that you are a street photographer?

I’d like to be called a street photographer, but I always really considered myself as just a photographer – I just happened to shoot in the streets. In addition to trying to capture the energy of the streets, I also like to get close and shoot intimate portraits of the people in the streets.

Can you recall the first photo you took that made you go WOW!?

Oh yes… it was of this street performer who hula hoops big buddha beads. I usually don’t shoot buskers, I always felt it was too easy and just doesn’t make for a good street photograph. But when I walked right in front of him, I noticed this bus who stopped on the opposite side of the road that had this printed ad that went well with the busker. My heart raced and took a quick shot. Later, I noticed other details like the taxi driver looking on. That was the first street shot when I thought “I can do this… I can shoot street.”

That was 2 years ago, and I still see that busker right now in the weekends whenever I’m out shooting. I always give him $2 for being my first good street shot.

How often are you out on the streets shooting? What is your favourite time of the day photographing in the streets?

I’m only able to shoot on weekends, though I wish I can shoot more often than that. I usually shoot every Saturdays; sometimes on Sundays too in case I didn’t get anything good from the previous shoot. I always go out late in the afternoon, between 3pm to 6pm where the people traffic is good, and the light is perfect.

When you are out on the streets, how many pictures do you come home with? How high is your rejection rate and – what is the most common rejection criteria, if you can distill it down?

I used to take hundreds of photos per session… and when I’d get home, I’d consider myself lucky if I get 5 good ones – I usually get less, sometimes none. So yeah, the rejection rate is pretty high. But nowadays, I’m more selective when taking shots, but the rejection rate is still a bit up there. The only rejection criteria I have is if the photograph looks normal – if it make you look twice, if it doesn’t pique your interest, if it doesn’t make you smile, it’s out. I’m not bothered much by mistakes in exposure or framing or focus; what really matters to me is the subject matter of the photograph and how other elements like light and geometry come together to make it even more interesting.

What is your opinion about taking photos of other, in many cases unknown people without asking them first?

I think there’s a very thin line between being acceptable and being rude. Although the act of photographing strangers in a public place without permission is totally legal, I’m aware of the fact that most people value their privacy even in a public place. That’s why I always try to be as quick and discrete as possible, hoping that I remain unnoticed; and if I do get noticed, that the subject wouldn’t feel uncomfortable about it. I try to make it as painless as possible for the subject because really, there’s nothing wrong about it. I’m just trying to make a good photograph.

But if the subject is shot in an uncompromising situation, that’s a different case.

Please name three of your favourite places to take photos in your town.

My favourite place to shoot here in Singapore is definitely Orchard Road. I love the variety of people and the energy of the place, especially in the weekends… there’s almost always something happening here. I’ve been shooting here for a little over 2 years now, and I’ve come to feel so much at home in this place. Another good place is Chinatown. This place is totally different from Orchard Road in that it’s more ethnic and down-to-earth. This place is wonderfully jam-packed every Chinese New Year. And lastly, another good place to shoot, though not for street shots, is the Singapore Botanical Garden. This is great for portraiture with its very wide open space, lush greeneries, and great sunlight. There might be other great places like Little India.. but I haven’t tried shooting there yet. Maybe someday.

How do you feel about cropping an image?

I don’t have a problem with cropping. It’s not cheating, it’s just recomposing to make for a better photograph for the purpose of refocusing the viewers attention to what you think is the most important part of the image. Two of my street photography idols, William Klein and Daido Moriyama, are notorious at cropping. They see photography as a form of art where you do whatever is necessary to get their art across the viewers. But of course, I also believe in trying to correctly compose the image right from the camera, and cropping should be the last resort. I used to be a chronic cropper.. until I went back to some of my cropped photos and realized they looked better uncropped.

Is there a type of photography that you absolutely dislike?

I’m not a big fan of macro, landscapes, still-life, long exposures, or anything that does not involve people. For me, it’s the people that give a photograph personality and the ability for the viewers to potentially relate to it.

Other stuff I really dislike is HDR and tilt-shift photography. I just feel it’s unnecessary… but that’s just me.

What do you make a living with?

I’m a graphic designer. I design websites, graphic user interfaces for online applicatons. I’ve been doing this for about 10 years now.

What type of art is on your walls at your home?

Right now, some of my rain shots are posted on our walls at home hahaha… but if I had a choice, I’d love to have large prints of some street photographs from Garry Winogrand, William Klein, Helen Levvitt, Trent Parke, or Daido Moriyama. That would be so cool.

Do you listen to music while photographing? If so, what kind of music is this?

Yes, I do whenever I’m shooting candids. It keeps me alert and up to my feet. It really depends on my mood on what music I prefer. Sometimes I listen to easy acoustic music like Jack Johnson and Damien Rice; other times it’s fast and loud music like Rage Against the Machine, The Black Crowes and Stone Temple Pilots.

How do you define “beauty” when it comes to photography?

Beauty is when something grabs you by the neck, pulls you in, and asks “so what do you think?”

Thank you Danny for taking the time to answer our questions.

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