the WHY & the WHAT
About a year ago, I was thinking about which way to take my photography. Earlier, I tried my hand on landscapes, cityscapes, portraits & weddings, long exposures and I even ventured into timelapse movie production (see example here).
Since I live in a city and I don’t have frequent access to breathtaking landscapes, mountains and rivers, I needed to choose a niche available to me. At the same time, I’d need something that would challenge me, put me out of my comfort zone, that would make me feel the need to go on and to improve.
Please step in, STREET PHOTOGRAPHY. At the time I changed jobs and started to work in the city center. Going out after work seemed a great way to shoot on almost daily basis. It also seemed easy in terms of equipment I’ll need. So I decided to give it a go…
As I’ve written above, it’s been over a year since I decided to shoot street photography. How it’s been? As always with these things, not as expected… Street photography is HARD. Street photography is CHALLENGING. Street photography is SCARY.
But also, it is REWARDING, BEAUTIFUL, EYE-OPENING, SKILLS-IMPROVING and so much more. Let me explain:
In order for me to understand anything about street photography, I first started to read about it, watch Youtube videos and so on. There is so much great content out there.
Anyone starting out with street photography, I strongly recommend browsing through Erik Kim’s blog. All the essentials in one place, great resource. Of course, there is only so much one can learn from reading.. best learning is done by doing (“there is no try” remember?). So on I went, out to the streets with my trusted Nikon D7100. A rather large camera for street photography, but that’s not for this article.
My first few images where, as you would expect, of buildings, empty parking lots, various shapes and corners around my city. Slowly, I started to gain more trust in my skills and confidence. I started to include people. At first, only random passers by, but slowly I managed to get closer for the candid shots or even straight dead on asked for a portrait. Still a very fearful thing for me to do, but I can say it can yield the most rewarding pictures.
Anyhow, as the year went on, I realized, choosing street photography as a niche was great, but not enough. The deeper I went the more I found out. There are many sub-genres in street photography. I needed to develop my photographic style further. Do I like more of a documentary style of Robert Capa? Do I look for the decisive moment of Henri Cartier-Bresson? Do I have the guts to adapt the style of Bruce Gilden (I absolutely don’t!). Or do I enjoy the artistic perception of the streets of Saul Leiter? This is a process I have not finished and I don’t think I ever will. I guess that’s the beauty of it.
the LESSONS LEARNED
Education is great
Study as much as possible..however, there is only so much you can learn in theory. Go out and practice. In order to truly improve, there are three steps: Learn. Shoot. Repeat.
Inspiration is important
In today’s world of social media, this is very easy to achieve. Everyone is on Instagram today and this is also where I get most of my inspiration. I follow quite a lot of street photographers, but these three have influenced me most so far:
Alan Schaller @alan_schaller
Craig Whitehead @sixstreetunder
Walter Rothwell @walter_rothwell
You can also follow accounts such as @magnumphotos, @life or @streetphotographyinternational for extra inspiration or finding new artists.
Apart form above, I still recommend buying photography books and studying pictures in different format & size than smartphone screen. There is something very special about prints.
Consistency is key
If you really want to make a splash in street photography, get ready to shoot a LOT. In order for us, street photographers, to build a large body of work, we need to be out there and shoot as much as possible. Daily would be the best, even though the conditions do not allow for it always in my case. I try to go out at least, and this is really a minimum, once or twice a week. When I travel, it is daily. The more pictures I take, the more comfortable I feel on the streets, the stronger my compositions are, the more thought-out process of creating a photograph I can come up with. If I go out often and regularly, I can even pre-visualize the pictures and scenes before they happen.
Failure is part of the process
As opposed to other genres of photography, in street photography you only get to control your exposure triangle (aperture, shutter speed, ISO). Otherwise everything else is uncontrollable. Getting a good picture oftentimes depends on pure luck. We can’t control weather, lightning conditions or people and their behavior… And all of this means, we are headed for a lot of failure. And that’s great, because what we can control is being there daily and ready for anything that comes our way.
But more on that, later..
I plan to put out more content blog pieces like this one. Let me know what you think in comments! Thanks for reading.