I have learned a few things about shooting street photography on film from my own experiences (and the advice of others). If you want to read the full list of things I learned shooting film– read more!
I recently came upon this superb publication by IdeasTap and Magnum. In this magazine, there are exclusive interviews with 12 Magnum photographers– spanning from advice for young photographers, difficulties in photography, and their thoughts on technology. I included my favorite quotes from the magazine in the feature below, enjoy!
Sharpness is over-rated in street photography. Even Henri Cartier-Bresson once said, “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.”
I remember when I first saw one of HCB’s exhibitions in person in Paris, I was surprised by how soft most of his shots were. And many of his photos were significantly out of focus (thinking about the famous shot of the man in a bullfighter’s ring in Spain (above).
When I stated street photography, I was obsessed with sharpness. This of course, was due to all the nerds on gear forums who showed corner to corner sharpness tests on brick walls. I was suckered into thinking a sharp photo was a good photo.
I just finished reading a book titled: “Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity”. It was a fascinating read on the paradox of “wu-wei”– which is a concept in Taoism of “action without action”. This means nature accomplishes everything without effort. Similarly, we should be able to accomplish many things in our life without unnecessary effort. In-fact according to wu-wei, most things in life (especially things we love) should be effortless.
Of course you know in my blog, I like to relate everything I read back to street photography. And I think this idea of “wu-wei” in street photography is quite fascinating.
To sum up, in street photography (according to wu-wei), our best shots should come to us naturally– without making any unnecessary effort.
I feel one of the most important traits to become a better street photographer is first identifying what makes great street photography. This means having good taste.
A quote from Ira Glass from NPR comes to mind– in terms of having good taste:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”
- Smile at and compliment a stranger.
- Surprise a friend with one of your favorite prints (for no reason).
- Give a constructive criticism to a street photographer with 0 comments online.
- Promote the work of another contemporary street photographer whose work you admire.
- Go out and only shoot with 1 camera and 1 lens (and turn off your smartphone).
- Contact a local street photographer to go out and shoot together.
- Lend one of your favorite photography books to a fellow street photographer.
- Give away a camera you don’t use to charity, a photography program, or someone in need.
- Donate some of your time by teaching a photography class or lecture to less-privileged students.
- Give yourself permission to take bad shots, enjoy a nice coffee, and shoot to please yourself (not others).
How do you have a good day in street photography? Share your tips in the comments below!
- Visit an exhibition or a museum (on photography or any other art form).
- Try shooting film, and not processing your work for at least 3 months. Then do a final edit at the end.
- Travel (doesn’t have to be international, it can be even an hour drive away).
- Write down any photographic ideas you have for potential projects in a notebook over a nice coffee, beer, or glass of wine.
- Meet others photographers in person, and hear what they’re working on (or advice they may have).
- Go for a walk around your block, and bring your camera with you.
- Intentionally try to take really boring photos (a la Martin Parr).
- Stop taking photos for a while and try writing, drawing, or playing musical instrument.
- Attend a photography lecture or workshop.
- Ask yourself: “Why do I take pictures?” and reflect on it. Ultimately the most important reason to take photos is to have something to say.
What else do you do when you’re lacking inspiration in your photography? Add your tips in the comments below!
- Don’t speak English (speak the local language)
- Don’t eat McDonalds or drink Starbucks (explore local food)
- Don’t travel with check-in luggage (keep everything to a small carry-on)
- Don’t keep to yourself (make new friends in the streets)
- Don’t try to see everything (it is better to see fewer places more thoroughly)
- Don’t travel without water
- Don’t be addicted to your devices (fast from social media)
- Don’t forget to keep a daily journal
- Don’t stay at an expensive hotel (use more money for experiences)
- Don’t go with a plan; explore, get lost, and be a flaneur
And of course– don’t listen to me. What else don’t you do while traveling? Add to this list in the comments below!
Special thanks to Clifton Barker and Gary Gumanow for putting together this interview with David Lykes Keenan, who is currently fundraising a kickstarter for his “Fair Witness” street photography book.
Clifton: Few have done such great things for the photography scene in Austin as David Lykes Keenan, who I have the pleasure of interviewing today. He founded the Austin Center for Photography and helped it grow during the organization’s first three years. David’s work has attracted some very impressive fans from the likes of Elliot Erwitt and Eli Reed, and ultimately brought legitimacy to the art of street photography in Austin. His book FAIR WITNESS, a collection of photos from NYC, Austin, and other cities, is positioned to be a great success, take a moment and support it on Kickstarter.
Nowadays. we are all really busy. We have countless commitments at work, at home, with our friends, and with our families. It is really hard to find time to shoot street photography. Not all of us can leave the obligations of the “real world” and just go out and shoot all the time.
Ironically enough even though I am a “full time street photographer”– I still find it really hard to make time to shoot. I spend a lot of time with emails, social media, blogging, finances, helping out Cindy and my family, and church related activities.
If you consider yourself a busy person, here are some tips I suggest to shoot more street photography: