If you’re passionate about street photography, join me in Bangkok (April 29-30) for an epic street photography workshop experience (hosted by Monogram Asia).
(Editor’s Note: Words and Photographs by Steve Simon. Steve is a very passionate photographer, author, and an educator that has traveled the world shooting for various brands, companies, and organizations. His work focuses on street and documentary photography. He shares with us today how simple it is to start a street project and how it will develop your photography further. All words and photographs are by Steve Simon.)
We all have a unique vision of the world and photography is such a great way to express your vision. The more you shoot, the more focused and recognizable that vision becomes, a style if you will. But you don’t set out to create a style, your style reveals itself when you get through a volume of work. It’s unconscious and not contrived. Others might see it before you do… you’re too close to your work to always recognize it.
I have been a street photographer since I first picked up a camera as a young kid, wandering the streets of Montreal.
My life is pretty good. I live in one of the coolest cities in the world, I have a lot of close friends, good family, an amazing girlfriend who loves me, and I’m beginning to think my photography business is sustainable after almost five years of hard work. I’m happier now than I have been for most of my life. But here’s the reality: I am just a blue collar photographer. I hustle my ass off to take photographs for people. If I don’t take photos, I don’t make money, I can’t pay my rent, and I end up homeless and get forced into a job as a fake pan-handling monk. I will likely never amass great riches from photography. And I’m ok with that, I think.
Recently, I’ve been running into friends who’ve done really well for themselves. A friend still in his 20’s whose tech start-up is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, a close childhood friend who bought a new Porsche 911, several others who run successful businesses or are directors or VPs of large corporations, and everyone who seems to be living in a home larger than 400 square feet (that isn’t packed to the brim with camera equipment). In the photography world, I have friends who are massive industry icons with hefty social media presences. In comparison, I am a virtual nobody. At times, I can feel inadequate compared to them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly proud of my friends’ achievements. They’ve worked extremely hard in order to get where they are. My jealousy is more a reflection of my own insecurities and life choices. So why is it that despite me being happier than I ever have been in my life do I still feel overwhelmed by the successes of others? I wanted to dive into this a little bit more, so I put pen to paper to help try to make sense of it and to find a solution. Here are some of the strategies I’ve come up with to deal with my feelings of inadequacy:
Remember What Life Used to Be Like
Holy shit my life used to suck. It wasn’t long ago when I suffered from extreme anxiety. It got to the point that I would roll out of bed dreading to go to work. I had a lot of health issues and legitimately thought I was dying. I had underwent almost every medical test available to me. I didn’t know at the time that anxiety could manifest itself into physical sickness. The illness was largely due to the stresses and discontentment I experienced at my past job. I had been unhappy there for several years but just kept on hanging around hoping things would get better. They never did. When it was evident that things would be getting worse, I decided to leave and take extended time off to travel the world.
During my travels, I really connected with photography, deciding shortly after I got home that I would be pursuing it as a career. Most of my health problems disappeared and my life got exponentially better. When I look back on how unhappy my life was, I feel grateful that I’m no longer in that situation. The takeaway here is: anything is better than my life from five or six years ago.
Remember Experiences are More Important than Things
I’ve tried really hard to value experiences in life over material possessions. Sure, I do love my cameras and shoes but other than that I don’t have a lot of material desires. I drive a 15 year old car, live in the previously mentioned 400 square foot hell hole, and still regularly wear clothes that are 5+ years old. With the money I save from living quasi-frugally, I am able to experience more things – regular travel, decent meals, and lots of Kekou gelato.
So while others make a boatload more money than I do, they may not have the flexibility to get away for extended periods of time during the winter or duck out of work to see their adorable niece and nephew. These are the types of experiences I value over things.
Giving your money away can actually make you feel a lot happier as well. Each year I try to support the Rotary Wheels for Learning charity that helps purchase bicycles for needy children in Cambodia so that they have a means of getting to school. It brings me a lot of joy to know that my money is directly influencing the lives of others. Earlier this year, I paid my way to Cambodia and helped the Rotary team assemble bikes for hundreds of kids. It was incredibly enriching and an important reminder of why money is only good if it is used to buy life experiences over material possessions.
The Money You Have is Never Enough but it’s More Than Enough
There are studies that show that after the necessities of life are taken care of, the amount of money you make plays little to no factor in your level of happiness. So for example, if you’re making $10,000 a year in Toronto your happiness level will likely be really low since that is not enough to meet the necessities of life. However, if you’re comparing the happiness of someone making $50,000 and another person making $1,000,000 it is likely there is no difference in their levels of happiness. In fact, the person making $1,000,000 is likely to be unhappier because their job would have greater stresses and demands.
Drawing from our own personal experiences, I think we can all remember happy times when we didn’t make much money. Think about what it was like being a broke college student. When you don’t have money, it can add a lot of stress in your life leading to unhappiness. But once you can meet the basic necessities of life, it really doesn’t have bearing on your overall contentment. Yet we believe that the money we have isn’t enough.
Somewhere, Someone is Envious of You
Envy and jealousy are funny things. When I talk to my friends of their successes and I start to wish that Porsche they’re driving was mine, they will often respond back by saying they’re envious of my travel experiences and the flexibility/freedom in my work schedule and being your own boss.
Last week, I bought the new Sony A7R II camera. It is the hottest camera to hit the streets in years, with long waiting lists to get. It seems that every photographer wants it. I guess some people wish they had my camera, even though I’m more or less over it already (scroll down for my full review). So while I am drooling over my buddy’s Porsche 911, others are drooling over my camera and at the end of the jealousy chain is some poor kid with clean water and food envy. So no matter where you seem to be or what you appear to have or don’t have – there are others who want to be where you are.
So yes, I do sometimes feel inadequate in life. I know others have more stuff than me and are doing bigger and better things. There’s millions of photographers that are better than I am. But at the end of the day, I am happy where I am. When I started my photography career, all I wanted was to earn an honest living from it. I never thought I would see the successes I’ve experienced so far. I see progress with my photography and have a bit more clarity in my life direction. To my friends who are killing it: keep killing it! And to those who sometimes feel like I’ve felt this past little while, I leave you with some perspective from one of my favourite songwriters, Eddie Vedder: “I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as me.”
Notes (+ A7R II Review): all images used to illustrate this post were taken haphazardly with the new Sony A7R II camera. The camera does exactly what cameras do. It is more similar to the camera you already have than it is different. It’s a nice toy. However, it is highly unlikely that my clients will notice any difference in what I deliver to them. Verdict: buy it if 1) you have enough in your bank account to buy it outright and to cover life expenses for at least three months 2) the differences in this camera compared to yours will result in new business and; 3) it provides greater shooting enjoyment.
Personally, I would still prefer to use a Fuji X100T for personal work and as an everyday camera over the Sony A7R II. I wouldn’t completely replace my Canon 5D Mark III as my workhorse either because I can’t replicate the skintones I get from the Canons. Plus for the most part I don’t want to shoot weddings at 42MP. My computer will explode.
Neil’s Xpan Blog.
I am excited to announce I will be teaching my popular “Introduction to Street Photography Workshop” in Seattle (September 16-18, 2015) hosted by Gulf Photo Plus as part of their PopUp GPP Seattle event!
For those of you who have never heard of “Gulf Photo Plus”, it is the most happening photography educational center in Dubai. Their annual “GPP” event is also the most exciting, fun, and informative photography event that I have personally attended. You certainly don’t want to miss out on this event, and have lots of great coffee in Seattle as well!
About the workshop
In this action packed 3-day weekend workshop, you will learn the fundamentals of street photography, how to create visually compelling images, how to conquer your fear of shooting street photography, as well as tips & tricks how to capture “the decisive moment.”
The workshop is limited to an intimate class of 12 passionate individuals who want to take their street photography to new heights. The workshop will be an intimate experience in which you will learn solid fundamentals, get honest & constructive criticism on how to improve your photos, and meet other enthusiastic street photographers. This workshop is ideal for beginner or intermediate street photographers.
Who is Gulf Photo Plus?
GPP (Gulf Photo Plus) believes in the art and science of photography as a medium of creative expression, and exists to inform, educate and inspire photographers of all levels. The Dubai-based company organises year-round photography workshops, inspirational talks, exhibitions and events for the local photography community, and is famed the world over for its biannual photofests. March 2015 was the 11th edition of the annual GPP event in Dubai.
The annual GPP event draws participants from around the world with their impressive line-up of photography educators. Past educators include Magnum’s David Alan Harvey, Zack Arias, Joe McNally, Steve Simon, David Hobby (Strobist), Greg Heisler, and Joey Lawrence to name a few! I was fortunate enough to be an instructor at GPP2014 and it was one of the most rewarding teaching experiences of my career.
What is PopUp GPP Seattle?
Following the success of PopUP GPP in London and Singapore, GPP is continuing with their winning formula – the best instructors, exceptional organisation and a passion for photography…next stop, Seattle September 19th and 20th, 2015.
Participants of my workshop September 16-18th will receive free admission to the weekend’s event, which will feature sessions from Zack Arias, Joe McNally, David Hobby, and Greg Heisler! These are all masters of their respective genres and photographers whom I have great respect and admiration for.
How Can I Register for PopUp GPP Seattle?
There are two ways you can register for the PopUp GPP Seattle event:
1) Register for my workshop Conquer Your Fear of Shooting the Streets (September 16-18th), which includes admission to the September 19-20th sessions!
For more information on the two PopUp GPP Seattle events, contact Gulf Photo Plus at email@example.com. They promise to get back to you within 24 hours except on weekends – weekends are Friday and Saturday in Dubai so bear with us if you send an email on the weekend. You can also reach them by phone at +971 4 380 8545.
Excited to see you in Seattle :)
Other Upcoming Street Photography Workshops
If you can’t make the GPP event in Seattle, join me at one of my other upcoming street photography workshops!
Neil: My good friend and International Street Photographer, Eric Kim, first introduced me to the idea of letting photos marinate. The concept is really simple. When we take photos, there is an emotional attachment or bond that reminds us how amazing we felt when we took the image. Photographers who select and post their photos immediately are often times at a disadvantage because they let their emotions at the time of taking the photograph get in the way of their better judgement. To combat this, Eric has recommended to photographers to let their images marinate. As time passes and we revisit our images, we lose that emotional bond that had initially formed and we’re better able to objectively look at our images without biases.
So why the long-winded introduction to my new project, Harmonious China? Taking Eric’s advice, I recently decided to look at my archive of images that I shot in China back in April 2011. I hadn’t looked at these images in a very long time and secretly I was hoping that (by some act of god) I was able to pull something out of there that I had previously missed.
When I began to review the images, so much time had passed that they were fresh to my eyes, Surprisingly, I was able to pull out a number of images that fit into a centralized idea. Because I let the images marinate for so long, there were a number of shots that I forgot I took or had no immediate recollection of where it was taken.
Eric’s Note: This article is written by Neil Ta, my manager and good friend who recently attended a Magnum Photos workshop in Toronto. The project he worked on for the week was “Meat Locker.” Below is his write-up of the experience and the lessons he’s personally learned. You can see upcoming Magnum workshops and events here.
Neil: I recently had the opportunity to attend a Magnum Photos workshop in Toronto as part of the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, which is one of the largest of its kind in the world. For the last six years, Contact has invited members of Magnum to run workshops focusing on photojournalism, documentary storytelling, and street photography.
This year’s line-up of instructors included Magnum Associate Moises Saman and Magnum Nominee Zoe Strauss. Moises is most well-known for the work he’s done in Afghanistan and Iraq and his focus more recently has been in documenting the Arab Spring. Zoe’s extensive work is more regionally focused in the community where she was born and raised – Philadelphia.
I ultimately chose to go with Moises over Zoe because I felt his work was a lot different than my own and I hoped he’d be there to guide me through a more photojournalistic project over the week.
Christmas is around the corner and Dodge & Burn is feeling generous. They know that many of you streettogss are rangefinder users, so they’re giving away four of their awesome t-shirts featuring vintage rangefinder cameras. The Rangefinder Classic, Street Shooter, Fast Shooter and V-Squared tees are up for grabs! If you’re a fan of Leica, the Canon 7 mounted with the legendary 50mm f0.95 or the rare Voigtlander Vitessa, you’re going to want one of these t-shirts!
- Head over to the new Dodge & Burn Facebook page and and like them.
- Post on the Dodge & Burn wall which of the Rangefinder Classic, Street Shooter, Fast Shooter or V-Squared t-shirt you like best.
- Head over to the new Dodge & Burn website.
- Post in the comment section here which of the Rangefinder Classic, Street Shooter, Fast Shooter or V-Squared t-shirt you like best.
This contest will end Friday, December 21st, 2012. We’ll randomly pick four winners and announce it on the blog! Good luck to everyone!
I really like MOO Cards for a number of reasons: they’re printed on high quality thick stock, the sizes are unique (the MiniCards are about 1/2 a regular sized business card and the Classic Business Cards are shorter and wider than them as well), and you can choose different images for each card and from images that are already linked to your Flickr account. Having business cards to hand out on the street can come in handy – it definitely can take away the ‘creep’ factor when someone asks what you are doing.
To enter this awesome giveaway, all you need to do is:
This contest will end Wednesday, August 15th, 2012. We’ll randomly pick four winners and announce it on the blog! Good luck to everyone!
(Above photo from my “Dark Skies Over Tokyo” series)
“The grass is greener on your side”
When I started street photography, I resented the fact that I lived in Los Angeles. To me it was a boring, tired city that I lived in- and I wanted to go somewhere more exotic. I wanted to go to Paris, Tokyo, and New York – where the “real action” was for street photography.
I have been to all of those places and while they are fantastic for shooting street photography, sometimes the grass is greener on your own side. However if you are still interested in some tips for traveling and shooting street photography, read on!
We street photographers constantly struggle with the concept of identity. We idolize certain photographers and their shooting and aesthetic styles, but sometimes we have difficulty carving out our own photographic identity. We are also, in a way, saying something about the identities of the people we photography in the style we choose to tell the story.
For this exciting challenge, we want you to interpret the concept of “identity” in a street photography image and share it with the community.
- Take photos between now and July 15, 2012 and choose your single best shot related to the them and upload it to my Facebook Page before end of day on the 15th. You may choose to add a brief explanation or description of your photo.
- Myself, photographer Charlie Atkinson, and my Manager Neil Ta will choose the Top 10 images and place them into an album for the community to vote.
People’s Choice: The photograph with the most likes at the end of day on July 22, 2012 will win a copy of Street Photography Now (valued at $30 USD), which is a quintessential part of any street photographer’s book collection!
Remember submissions will end July 15th, 2012, so get out there and get shooting! Good luck to all!
Any questions? Leave a comment in the questions below!