60 Street Photography Heuristics (Rules of Thumb) I Believe in and (try to) Follow

Yreka, California 2014

Yreka, California 2014

I am a big fan and believer of “heuristics” (or rules of thumb). I was first introduced to the idea of “heuristics” from Nassim Taleb (in his book “Antifragile“) and later more from Gerd Gigerenzer (a German psychologist who wrote the excellent book: “Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious“). Below is a list of heuristics (ad random thoughts on photography) I personally believe and try to follow:

  1. When in doubt, click (credit: Charlie Kirk)
  2. When you’re scared, shoot
  3. Buy books, not gear
  4. Money can only buy you happiness if you spend it on experiences (not material things)
  5. Don’t buy a photography book unless you plan on reading it more than once.
  6. Don’t buy a photography book with the intention of selling it into the future.
  7. When in doubt, ditch.
  8. A photo is either a “hell yes” or no.
  9. It is better to travel to fewer places (than seeing a lot of places, but less time in each spot)
  10. Always have a backup when traveling and taking photos (camera, lens, battery, memory card, film)
  11. Better to bring more film (than less)
  12. A week in a foreign city is a sweet spot to getting to know the city
  13. The bigger your camera, the less likely you are to carry it with you on a daily basis, and therefore you are less likely to shoot daily, and will end up shooting less
  14. Try to take at least 1 photo a day
  15. When in doubt of a photo, don’t upload it
  16. Work on series, not individual images
  17. Lots of likes and favorites doesn’t necessarily mean the photo is good
  18. It is better to be deeply influenced by a few photographers (and know their work really well), than being a little bit influenced by a lot of other photographers
  19. Changing a bad color into black and white won’t make it a better photo
  20. Adding clarity, sharpness, vignette won’t make a bad photo better
  21. Post process a photo until it looks about 80% good and stop, or else you run the risk of over processing
  22. Stick to one film
  23. Stick to presets
  24. Having fewer cameras or lenses is less stressful
  25. The less time I spend on social media the happier and more focused and productive I am
  26. Don’t compete against others, compete against myself
  27. Spending time with photographers obsessed with gear will make me want to buy more gear
  28. The more time I spend on gear review sites, the more gear I want to buy (that I don’t need)
  29. Whenever I am feeling uninspired by my photography or dissatisfied with my work, I want to buy a new camera (thinking it will make me more creative, and spark more inspiration)
  30. I only need 2 pairs of clothes while traveling (one pair I’m wearing, and the other in the bag). Wash each pair in the shower with shampoo every night and hang dry.
  31. While traveling don’t wear cotton (stick to athletic quick dry material)
  32. The most successful photographers are often the least satisfied
  33. The more people who say they hate your work (or call your work overrated), the more successful you are.
  34. People with a large followed by following ratio (on Twitter) aren’t spammers
  35. The more hash tags a photographer uses on social media, the more hungry for attention they are
  36. The best photography I can do is in my own backyard (I better than anyone else, and it is usually more unique)
  37. Shooting film helps the editing process (I unintentionally let my film marinate for a long time because I’m either busy or lazy, and therefore when I get my film finally processed and scanned, I’m no longer emotionally attached to my photos and can “kill my babies”)
  38. If I spend too much time trying to make my digital photos look like my film photos, just shoot film
  39. I’m happy if I can make one meaningful street photo a month
  40. The more a photographer gossips about others, it shows that they’re more insecure
  41. You are the average of the 5 closest photographers to you.
  42. Photographers who criticize the equipment of others are often just jealous and want that equipment
  43. A viewer will respect or value a photo more if you tell them you shot it on film (unfair, but true)
  44. To get an honest critique, tell people to be “brutally honest” and help “kill your babies”
  45. Don’t defend my photos during a critique. Keep my mouth shut, nod, and take notes
  46. Always be ready to share my portfolio with someone else (via my smartphone or iPad)
  47. While traveling I generally shoot 1 roll of film every 2-3 days
  48. When booking accommodation, the most important thing is location, location, location
  49. When traveling in a foreign country and trying out a new meal at a restaurant or a coffee, ask the waiter (or barista) what they ate or drank today (as a good guide to make your own decision)
  50. The more tourists in an area, generally the less interesting it is to photograph
  51. If possible, always fly direct. If the cost of a direct flight isn’t 25% more expensive than the cheaper option, go for it.
  52. It never hurts to ask for permission when taking a photo of a stranger
  53. Best way to overcome jetlag : fast for at least 18 hours before arriving at my target destination
  54. If I want to fall asleep at night don’t drink coffee after noon
  55. If I want to overcome jetlag, drink as much coffee as I want until it is time to sleep at around 10pm my destination time
  56. When on an international flight, switch my watch to the target destination, and try to stay awake (and sleep) accordingly
  57. If I’m jetlagged and it’s past midnight in a foreign country, take melatonin.
  58. When in doubt, smile at a stranger and say ‘hello’
  59. Heuristic: don’t buy a photography book unless you plan to read it more than once (then just look at library or book store)
  60. Have a double-shot of espresso whenever I feel uninspired (always does the trick).

What are some other rules of thumb or heuristics that you personally believe in and follow? Share your tips and thoughts in the comments below!

Video Lecture: How to Be Invisible When Shooting Street Photography

In this video lecture above, I share some practical tips, thoughts, and philosophies about being “invisible when shooting street photography. You can check out the slides here.

If you want to learn how to overcome your fear of shooting street photography, I also recommend watching my video lecture: “How to Overcome Your Fear of Shooting Street Photography” and/or join me at one of my upcoming street photography workshops!

How to Overcome Your Fear in Street Photography with “Rejection Exposure Therapy”

Downtown LA, 2014

Downtown LA, 2014

This morning on the way to the gym, I was listening to the newest podcast episode of “Invisibilia” (a new NPR podcast on cognitive and behavioral science) and they had an episode titled “Fearless”.

The episode was fascinating to me— as I have always been obsessive with this idea of conquering your fear of shooting street photography.

I notice that out of all the workshops I teach, my introductory “Conquer Your Fear of Shooting Street Photography” course is always (by far) the most popular.

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7 Lessons Harry Callahan Has Taught Me About Street Photography (and Life)


All photographs copyrighted by the estate of Harry Callahan.

You can download this article for free as a .docx, PDF, or Google Doc.

I recently came upon the work of Harry Callahan from a friend and former workshop student named Chris Giuseppe.

This past weekend, I organized a small meet-up in San Francisco in the mission district (Haus Coffee is lovely) and about 10 of us street photographers met up, exchanged prints, photography books, current projects, and good laughs and catching-up.

This Harry Callahan book that Chris brought (the book is just called “Harry Callahan”) was a big tome– and diverse in its material. Harry Callahan had an incredible career in terms of his photography– he photographed so much different subject matter with so much emotion, soul, and tenacity.

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Lessons Todd Hido Has Taught Me About Street Photography (Part 2)


All photographs copyrighted by Todd Hido

This is part 2 of my write-up on Todd Hido’s new book: “Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors, and The Nude: The Photography Workshop Series“. You can read part 1: “Lessons Todd Hido Has Taught Me About Street Photography (Part 1).”

You can also download the entire article free via .docx, PDF, and Google Doc.

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