Advice for Young Street Photographers

1x1.trans Advice for Young Street Photographers

Toronto, 2012

A few days ago I wrote a letter to my 18-year old self, and gave myself some advice on if I started street photography all over again. I told myself things I learned in the 8 years I’ve been taking street photos. I wish someone told me this when I started off.

Similarly, I was inspired to write this post for young street photographers starting off. I think this can apply to both young photographers (age wise) and also street photographers just starting off (young, experience-wise).

Here I go, I hope you enjoy :)

1. Copy photographers you like

Hey there, when you start off in street photography you will be inspired by all these other photographers you see. You will look at their work and be amazed by their photos. You will want to be like them.

You will hear advice from other photographers saying that you shouldn’t copy them– that you need to find your own style.

However when you’re starting off, you have no idea what your own “style” is.

So my advice is this: start off copying the photographers whose work you admire. All the great renaissance painters started off as apprentices. They copied their masters for years, and learned all the basics and fundamentals. And once they mastered the basics, then they were able to go off and find their own voice.

Similarly, see the master street photographers from the present and the past as your own teachers.

Look and study their work. Ask yourself why you like their images. Is it their compositions? The subject matter they photograph? The emotions and feelings you get from the photographs? Identify this, and try to copy them to your best extent.

However at a certain point– you will become bored by copying them. Then go off and continue to follow your bliss. Photograph whatever interests you. Which gets me to point #2…

2. Follow your curiosity

You will be interested in certain photographers for one reason or another. You might want to copy their work, but you quite don’t know why.

You also might want to experiment with black and white. You might want to try out color. You might want to try out film. You might want to try out using a flash.

So my advice is this: follow your curiosity. Passion and interest cannot be faked. Your subconscious is wiser and smarter than you think. Follow what your subconscious tells you.

If you want to pursue a certain photography project, just go and do it. If people think your idea is stupid, ignore them. Go out and pursue things on your own. You will never know how something is until you try it.

3. Experiment

As a photographer you are a scientist. You experiment to find new results.

When you’re starting off, you’re not going to have an idea of what really interests you in photography, or what approach suits you the best.

It is good to ask other photographers for advice– but take their advice with a pinch of salt. They’re not you. There’s only so much advice people can give you (including mine) which can apply to your own situation.

So my suggestion is this: experiment. There is no other way of discovering new truths in the world without trying out a new approach.

Another benefit of experimenting is that other peoples experiences will be different from yours.

For example, let’s say you want to try shooting film. Don’t ask a bunch of other photographers whether you should try it or not. Just do it. Buy the cheapest film camera you can afford, buy some film, shoot, get it developed at the cheapest place you can find (and get it scanned), and see how you like it. You might like it, you might not like it. Based on this information, you can make a more educated guess of what interests you.

If you have a new idea for a new approach or project, just do it. Experiment for 30 days, and write down your experiences in a blog post, and share your ideas with others. Which gets me to the next point..

4. Start your own blog

You’re lucky to be born in an age in which you have access to social media and blogs. This allows you to have unlimited reach to anybody in the world.

If you want to reach a larger audience with your work, there is nothing better than starting your own blog.

To start off, I recommend using WordPress.com or blogger.com. They are the two most robust and feature-heavy blogging platform that have been around the longest.

I am also currently a big fan of tumblr.com, which is quite popular in in the photography community. However I feel that you have less control over customization and building it into a robust blog. So in that sense, I think tumblr is a great addition to WordPress or tumblr. However if you want to keep things really basic, tumblr is a great starting point.

The great thing about blogging is that it will give you a personal diary and space to publish things that interest you. You can write about your photographic journey, share your images, and share the work of other photographers whose work inspires yours.

The blog is something that you own. It is something that you can keep for many years, and look back on. After you blog for a while, it is refreshing to go back and look at your thoughts and images from the past.

I think all the other social media platforms are great and I recommend you to get on all of them. This includes a Facebook fan page, Twitter, Instagram, and flickr. But don’t get too swayed and suckered by “likes” and “favorites”. Just because you get a lot of likes on a photograph doesn’t mean it’s good. It simply means it is popular to a wide audience (which may be a good thing, or a bad thing).

So in short, aim to please yourself with your work, and then let others decide whether they like it or not.

Blogging will also open up doors that you never thought possible. Afte 4 years of blogging and 1000+ blog posts, I’ve been able to make my photography my full-time career. None of this would have been possible without my blog.

5. Stay hungry

One of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs is, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.

Stay hungry for knowledge. Stay hungry for learning. Stay hungry for consuming great images. Stay hungry for creating great images.

You want to let your passion and hunger drive you. Don’t settle. Don’t fall into mediocrity when you reach a point when you are “satisfied”. Know that there is always room for improvement.

However when it comes to improvement, don’t compare yourself to others. Rather, compete against yourself. Aim to become a little better photo-by-photo, day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, and year-by-year.

As long as you make steady and incremental progress– nothing can stop you. Build your photographic snowball. Make the line of dominos tumble. Stir things up, stay hungry, stay foolish.

6. Invest in education

I think education is the best investment money can buy. Education is something that will always stay with you, in your mind, thoughts, and actions.

When I started photography I always thought it was my gear which held me back. I felt my camera or lens wasn’t good enough. I felt the image quantity want up to par. I felt my lenses weren’t sharp enough.

But what I realized is that I was simply lacking education. I didn’t know the work of the masters. I didn’t own many photography books. I didn’t dedicate myself to learn enough about photography. I simply thought that buying gear would help me become inspired, and therefore become a better photographer.

Also know that use your money to invest in experiences, not material things. So travel, attend workshops, and go on adventures.

Whenever you get tempted to buy a new camera ask yourself: how many photography books can I buy with this? How many rolls of film can I buy with this money? How many days can I travel abroad with this money?

Conclusion

As a young photographer, the world is your oyster. You have no limits. You want to let your curiosity and passion lead you.

Photograph what interests you. Aim to first please yourself before pleasing others. Put your work out there. Make yourself vulnerable. Don’t be afraid of criticism or critique. Rather, embrace it– and know that feedback is necessary for you to grow and develop.

The limits of your photography are only limited by your dedication, energy, enthusiasm, and passion. Keep learning from the masters, investing in your education, and go out and hit the streets!

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  • http://www.rokasjankus.com Rokas Jankus

    Servus Eric!

    First of all, let me give you some applause for your constant work to feed the Street-Photography community. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time now and i’m impressed how you find so many ‘not regular’ topics to write about. The information you spread is far away from the ‘tech-talk’ and is filled with deeper thoughts than just ‘how-to-manuals’. Sometimes it reminds me of the conversation David Hurn had with Bill Jay in ‘On being a photographer’. Since Photography (if you consider it as a daily passion) is a phylosophical tool, there’s a need to dig deeper and leave the path of skill and ask for more impartant (in my honest opinion) questions. Your blog is the only resource in the internet i know, where i can find that on a regular basis. Thank you for that.

    In this article you give some advice for novice photographers. You mention some good points but i’m not really sure about Point 1. If you’re a beginner and you start with copying a certain style, you may develop some ‘bad habits’ (i only call them bad because they may stop you from growing, not because they’re bad at all). For example if you start skiing without an instructor, it can be hard to learn it the right way afterwards, because it’s hard to lose bad habits in your movement. I don’t know if you can transfer this thought 1:1 to photography, but i believe that there’s some connection. You’re right if you say that we should learn from the masters, but i think it should be more than just copying. If you really like a style, try to ‘quote’ it more than just a copy. Bring in your own faults (and more important make faults, it’s the best way to learn!) and you will develop a certain style, i guarantee.

    By the way, i don’t have a big social media presence, but a blog of a friend of your’s (Joe Aguirre, you featured him some time ago) inspired me to recently start my own blog beside my website. It’s a good way to show some pictures, which didn’t make it to your website (and keeps it clean!). Sort of an open diary.

    Well what more can i say? Keep up the good work!

    Greets,

    Rokas

    http://rokasjankus.tumblr.com

    • http://www.rokasjankus.com Rokas Jankus

      …let me add a thought. You recently wrote about Photography as a personal thing. That is totally right, because every picture you take is a self Portrait in a certain way. Young photographers should really make their own faults and not try to be ‘perfect’ (i don’t believe that perfect even exists). Those faults will make their pictures maybe rise to an individual style, from the inner-self. From that point they can make real progress…

  • http://rbjslimmphoto.wordpress.com/ JR

    Salamat on this great article Eric! This is truly inspiring! I’m actually new to this art form. I only started when I bought my X100s last May and only made time on Street Photography a few weeks ago. So far, I’m loving the experience. It’s challenging though because it’s really hard to shoot subjects at close range but I know sooner or later (with the drive, focus and passion) I will excel through practice and education. I’m really happy and stoked with this hobby and I don’t see myself slowing down, rather, shoot more and learn from the get go. Blogs like yours is a huge help for starters like me and we really appreciate that you always share best practices, know how’s and ways on how we can elevate this craft and expand what we can do with this art form. Cheers Eric and Salamat! :)