When is the last time you sat on the subway or the bus, waited in line, and just listened?
I have a new game: when I am anywhere I try to count the number of people who are not plugged in. I try to look for people who are not looking at their smartphone, their tablet, their laptop, listening to music, (or even reading a book).
I’m guilty of this myself. I need constant audio-visual stimulation. I hate boredom, and I feel this incessant need to constantly be checking up on blogs, reading a book, writing, or doing something “productive”.
I also love listening to music, and used to always listen to podcasts when bored in the car. A lot of times I’m even so bored by walking without listening to music.
But the big problem I have is that when I’m always plugged in, it is impossible for me to notice the beauty around me.
For example, the other day I was waiting at the bus stop, and waiting for the bus. I intentionally tried to not listen to music that day while waiting (I left my headphones at home), and actually heard the sound of birds chirping. Which made me wonder, “When is the last time I actually heard the birds chirp?” I didn’t even know there were birds in the area.
Listening on the streets
I feel that street photography is a full sensory experience. Not only do we need to experience the streets through taking photos; we also need to listen to the streets, see the streets, and sometimes even smell the streets.
One of the benefits of not listening to music when you’re shooting street photography is that you can sometimes overhear interesting conversations which lead to interesting photo opportunities. Or sometimes by overhearing a conversation, that can lead you to interact with that person, and perhaps end up shooting a street portrait of them.
I know some other street photographers who like to listen to music when shooting because it helps “get in the groove”. Also it helps them focus, and also prevents people from yelling at them (just in case they piss someone off when shooting).
I think that is all good, but realize; you might end up missing out on some good experiences. Not only that but if your dependent on “needing” music when you shoot, I think it hurts your ability to shoot and appreciate life without it.
Full sensory experience
Don’t forget to use all your senses when shooting on the streets. I feel this is what makes a truly “holistic street photographer.”
I’m not telling you to never look at your phone, or to never listen to music or never be distracted. But what I recommend is to unplug every once in a while, and to just see, feel, and hear the beauty all around you.
If you don’t notice the beauty around you, does it really exist? What are you missing out on? And is there really anything that interesting on the internet compared to the “real world”?
All of this is also advice for myself; so listen to the honking horns, loud chatter of the annoying tourists on the train, the crying baby, the shudder of the screeching metro. It just might happen that you will hear something good.
10:20am, Monday, March 28, 2016 on the way back home after two weeks in nyc, excited to fly back to Berkeley and see the love of my life. Excited to see my friends, family, to write more, teach more, cook more, and appreciate life more.