Aperture have released a book collection called ‘The Photography Workshop Series‘ and currently have four in that set. I recently bought the co-authored one from Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, ‘On Street Photography and the Poetic Image‘. As Alex is one of my favourite photographers, I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to gain knowledge and guidance from such a great photographer. Especially as it’s unlikely that I’m going to get the chance to meet him in person, and what better alternative than with a book.
I’m sure that at one point in our lives as photographers shooting the streets, there was a time that we get asked to explain what street photography is. When I was starting out, I had no concrete idea what street photography is, let alone explaining to my family and friends. So here’s a simple list that could hopefully help you in telling friends and family about our artform.
I just finished a new book: “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. The book is a huge source of inspiration for overcoming challenges– and using them to your advantage. In-fact, Ryan uses the quote from Marcus Aurelius for the title of his book: “The obstacle is the way”
meaning that if it weren’t for obstacles in our life, we wouldn’t grow, develop, and mature.
I thought a lot about the obstacles I’ve faced in street photography– and how I have used those negative experiences and turned them into positive ones. Here are some thoughts on how you can continue to grow and develop in your street photography– and utilize negative experiences to your benefit.
We would all love to be more creative in our street photography. We want to create work that stands out from the crowd. We want to create images that connect emotionally to our viewers. We want our images to inspire our viewers. We want our images to speak from our heart, and communicate messages to our viewers.
How do we find more creativity in street photography? I have written about creativity in the past, but have recently been inspired by a new book– “Creativity, Inc.” by the president of Pixar.
Pixar is one of the most creative studios in the world. In my opinion, they haven’t made a bad movie so far. In addition, all of their films have been wildly successful both artistically and commercially all around the globe.
I wanted to use this article as an opportunity to meditate upon the creative process a bit more–and see how we can apply it in our street photography (and other parts of our life).
Photos in this article are part of my on-going “Somewhere in America” Urban Landscape series.
I recently finished a book titled: “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”, which made me think a lot about my life, the blog, and street photography. To sum up the book, the author praises the “less is more” ethos, and encourages us to do “less, but better”.
I got inspired to write this article on how being an “essentialist” can help us in our street photography. Below are some ideas you can apply to your work and approach:
This article was originally posted on Digital Photography School.
Over the years, I have learned a lot of lessons about street photography. Below is a compilation of some quotes, thoughts, and philosophies which have influenced me and my street photography. None of my ideas are original – some are based on personal experiences and others are based on ideas I heard from books, lectures, and on the internet. And of course, this is not a definitive list of what you “have to do” in street photography – rather it is some of my personal thoughts:
In today’s uber-pedophile-paranoid society taking photos of kids can be a challenge. It wasn’t a problem even a few decades ago (think of all the great photos of kids that Helen Levitt, Robert Doisneau, and Henri Catier-Bresson shot). But now even if you point a camera remotely close to a kid you can be called a pedophile.
Personally I haven’t ever had any problems taking photos of kids (whether it be candidly or with permission).
In this article I will try to share some of my personal tips when I photograph kids– and I hope this will help you!
Eric’s Note: This is a guest article by Kristian Leven, a wedding and street photographer based in London.
Kristian: When I started photography six years ago, I didn’t have a problem going out and finding inspiration. Everything was so new and subsequently there seemed to be no end to the ideas I felt I could produce. Looking back, I can see that my work wasn’t particularly indistinguishable from many others – there was no depth, no originality.
But I needed to get through certain stages to get to where I am today. At first I had no particular style, nor did I have any photographic ‘heroes’ to aspire to, but over time and with an accumulation of experience, I connected with capturing natural street scenes in an artistic way, and I translated that approach to my wedding photography, which I had begun three years ago.
I recently finished a book titled: “Mastery” by Robert Greene. The book is one of those inspirational books which outlines the stories of many famous masters and how they gained mastery. Although the book was a bit cheesy at times, I still found it to be an uplifting read, filled with interesting anecdotes that definitely gives you a huge kick in the ass to go out and to “discover your life task.”
I want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from the book– and how one can plan to use some of the author’s advice to gain mastery in street photography. Certainly following these steps won’t necessarily cause you to gain mastery, but I certainly think it is a great blueprint.
(Above: Photograph from my on-going “Suits” Project. The Netherlands, 2012)
When I was in Korea earlier this year, my friend and fellow street photographer David Kim shared a TED talk with me titled: “How great leaders inspire action.” David holds a leadership position at his job, and he told me that this talk changed the way how he lead others and how he leads his own life. Needless to say, I was fascinated by the talk and after watching it – it changed my life.
(Above photograph: Hong Kong, 2011. Eric Kim)
One of the most influential books I have recently is titled: “Imagine: How Creativity Works”. It was a book I was recommended by my good friend and fellow street photographer Brian Sparks. It outlines studies done on creativity, creative people, and the actual science done on the subject.
Sometimes we think that creativity is something that we are born with, and cannot be taught. I think (and the book suggests) the opposite. Creativity can indeed be taught, and there is scientific studies that suggest it. I can only hope that with this post it can help you unlock some of your own creativity in photography, and make your street photographs more unique, creative, and stand out from the crowd.
The article also features some of my unpublished work from 2011. Hope you enjoy!
(Above photo from my “Downtown LA in Color” series, 2012)
I believe firmly in the idea that talent is overrated, not only in street photography but other facets of life. We look at those who are successful in their fields, and we clamor how talented they are– and how they must have some innate skill or insight that nobody else was born with.
After reading many books on talent and success including “Talent is Overrated”, “Outliers”, and “Image: How Creativity Works” the findings are quite similar. Hard work and “deliberate practice” is what makes people great in their fields, rather than being born with talent. Talent isn’t an adjective to describe ourselves. Rather, talent is a verb– something we must nurture and constantly work on over the years.
(Above image from my “Korea: The Presentation of Self” series, 2011)
I am very interested in ideas and how they spread. Especially “viral” ideas. A while ago I came upon this study on virality that studied the most shared articles on The New York Times and the researchers had a hypothesis on what causes something to spread like a virus.
Their research suggested that the articles that got shared most applied to their “3 A” theory — awe, anger, and anxiety. Articles that evoked a strong emotional response from the readers.
Curious how you can apply this to your street photography to make more memorable images? Read on.
(Above image: Garry Winogrand, World’s Fair, New York City, 1964. All photographs in this article copyrighted by the estate of Garry Winogrand)
Garry Winogrand is one of my favorite street photographers that I have gained much photographic insight and wisdom from. He was in-arguably one of the most prolific street photographers of his time (he shot over 5 million photographs in his career) and one of the most passionate. However, he hated the term “street photographer” and simply saw himself as a “photographer”. It is an idea I later understood and respected very dearly, as Winogrand was more interested in making photographs than classifying himself for art historians.
I never understood a lot of the things that he said about photography like why you should wait a year or two before developing your shots, why photographs don’t tell stories, and how photographers mistake emotion for what makes great photographs. Although I didn’t really get what he was saying, I was intrigued.
After having done a ton of research on Winogrand and finding out more about his philosophy in photography, I found a treasure chest. Although I am not an expert on Garry Winogrand, he has influenced my street photography profoundly. I wish through this article to illustrate some things that Winogrand taught to his former students (the bulk of the quotes are from “Class Time with Garry Winogrand by O.C. Garza” [PDF] as well as “Coffee and Workprints: A Workshop With Garry Winogrand” by Mason Resnick).
If you want to learn more about what you can learn from Garry Winogrand, read on!
(Above photo: From my newly published “Downtown LA in Color” series)
I have always shot street photography in black and white. After all, it is what all the classic street photographers did. Whenever looking at famous photographs shot by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andre Kertesz, Garry Winogrand, and so forth they were always black and white.
The last 6 months or so I have shot exclusively using color film (Portra 400). After about 5 years of shooting mostly black and white and now shooting mostly color I have learned a lot about the benefits and the difficulties of shooting in color. I have also discovered many influential early color photographers who have had a profound impact on myself.
Curious? Read on.
(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!
(“Whisper”. Mumbai, 2011)
When it comes to street photography, it is easy to get caught-up in the hype of new cameras, spending too much time on blogs, and not enough time out shooting. I think one of the most difficult things in street photography is to find enough time to shoot and being able to also relax when out on the streets.
I suffer lack of focus, obsession about gear, and also not enough time out shooting on the streets. It is a battle I constantly fight with myself to change. If you ever felt that you have had difficulty finding focus in street photography, hopefully this advice I will share will help you. Also included in the article is some of my unpublished work from 2011, hope you enjoy!
(Above image copyrighted by Fred Herzog)
To become better in street photography (or anything in life), it is essential to get honest and constructive criticism. However the problem with the internet nowadays is that our attention spans are short, and the majority of the comments/feedback we get on our Facebook/Flickr streams include phrases such as, “Nice shot!”, “I love the light!”, or my personal favorite “What camera/lens do you use?”
For this article I will try to give some suggestions and guidelines on how to give a constructive critique. Giving constructive critiques to others will not only help others, but it will also help you judge your images better as well.
I also included inspirational images from Fred Herzog for this article, one of my favorite color street photographers at the moment. Hopefully his work will inspire you too!
(Above image © Garry Winogrand, from his book: “The Animals“)
I just read a book titled: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which was a book about introversion and the conflict they often encounter with extroverts in society. Reading the book as an extrovert, it gave me great insight on how introverts think, behave, and interact with the rest of the world from a psychological perspective.
Being an extrovert myself, I often have a difficult time how introverts think, behave, and see the world. My girlfriend Cindy is an introvert, and I initially read the book to understand her better. In the end of reading the book, it gave me great insights about street photography as well, through better understanding different personality types. After chatting with my buddy Brian Sparks about the idea, he thought it would be a great idea to share this idea (he is an introverted street photographer). So special thanks for him for giving me the inspiration to write this.
Interested to learn more? Read on.
(Above image reads, “Somebody is watching you”. (From my Korea: The Presentation of Self series)
I recently read a book titled, “Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity” – which was written by an author named Hugh MacLeod. The story goes that MacLeod was struggling and frustrated as a young copyrighter in NYC, and while living at the YMCA, started doodling on the back of business cards while sitting at a bar in mini-comics. His popularity lead to his popular blog, gapingvoid.com – and built a reputation for snarky yet insightful humor about society.
He gives a ton of great advice in the book (I highly recommend everyone who is interested in creativity or need some inspiration to read it). One of the things that he says that really hit me in the chest was, “Validation is for parking”.
(Pablo Picasso’s original quote: “Bad artists copy, good artists steal”)
When I first started street photography, I remember doing a ton of google searching on street photography. Of course, the first street photographs I saw were street photography from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Andre Kertesz, and the work of the greats. I also remember seeing a lot of street photography from the guys at in-public, being especially drawn to the work of Matt Stuart, David Gibson, and Jesse Marlow.
I was quite drawn to capturing ”decisive moments”, humorous juxtapositions, and surrealistic images. That was all I was exposed to, and all I knew. I thought that was the only way to shoot street photography, and devoted myself to shooting that style.
(Above image by Charlie Atkinson)
Eric’s Note: I am excited to announce that moving forward, every Tuesday will be “Charlie Atkinson Tuesdays”. Charlie will help the community by write inspirational articles every Tuesday. Please give him a round of applause as this is his first post!
Charlie: On Eric’s last night staying with me in the Netherlands, we found ourselves eating sushi and drinking beer having a discussion about how important it is to always try to go out and shoot as much as possible. This is often difficult, as I have a full-time job as a fashion/product photographer- and I feel tired and uninspired after work. This discussion lead me to mention this quote I heard a while back, which says, “The eye is like a muscle, you have to keep it fit“.
For this blog post I will talk about 3 quick and easy tips to keep you inspired and shooting street photography!
(Above image by Roger Boon)
Recently on my Facebook Fan page, I the community the question: “How do you stay motivated after missing ‘The Decisive Moment'”?. I am sharing some of my favorite responses below!
- Deb Young How do you know it was a ‘decisive moment’ if you didn’t get it? It’s the journey, not the goal :) EVERY moment counts…
- David Ngui One more’s just at the corner.
- Si Pham Identify what you missed, identify the clues leading up to it and write it down in a list so you might recognize the signs next time!
- Donald Burghardt Learn to draw it from the mind.
- Fernando Ramos Knowing that history tends to repeat itself. If you saw something that’s because you know you wanted to see it and so, the moment isn’t about the exact characters in it as much as the thing happening and what it symbolizes to you.
- Michael Meinhardt By acknowledging how fortunate I was to even have witnessed and recognized this moment. It may not be in a photo, but it’s stored in my mind.
- Robert N Thornhill ”The decisive moment” is the ever unfolding now . always happening , perspective is what makes it so .
- Virgil Gabriel Don’t stop looking! Move on! Decisive moments are happening at the every heartbeat – that of yours and the rest of humanity!
- Stephen Patterson I like to wear a Go Pro on a head band to never miss “The Decisive Moment”.
- Edward McAllister Just happened to me…you know my favorite shot? The next one!
How do you stay motivated after missing the decisive moment? Share your tip in the comments below!
(All photographs are used with permission from Junku Nishimura).
I just finished reading the book: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business which was a fascinating look into how we build our behaviors and lifestyles through habits. The book argues that the majority of the lives we lead are nothing but a string of routines and habits – and that we could change our lives by changing our habits.
This got me thinking about street photography. The biggest hurdles that I used to be challenged with with my old day-job (and still am struggling with) is finding enough time to shoot street photography. This blog post in reference to the legendary book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey will hopefully help you build better habits to spend more time shooting street photography, and how to get better!
Note: Photos used with permission from Martin Parr
As of late, Martin Parr is one of my idols in street photography. I love his never-ending passion for street/documentary photography (Alec Soth recently called him the “Jay-Z” of documentary photography)- and the thought-provoking images that his photos tell. For this article I will share 10 things that I learned from Martin Parr and his work that I hope will help you in your street photography as well!
It now has been around 5 years that I have been shooting street photography- and I have learned an incredible amount through trial and failure. I made this recent list of things I have learned while shooting street photography– and some of my personal opinions. Remember, take everything in this list with a grain of salt! I simply made this list as both a way for me to self-reflect, and hopefully you can find some of these tips helpful.
You can also see my old posts, “101 Things I Have Learned About Street Photography” and “100 Things I Have Learned About Street Photography“. As you can see, many of my opinions have changed over the course of 2 years. Keep reading- I hope you enjoy!
- A photograph is like a sentence. Aim to write a book.
- Always smile and say “thank you” when shooting on the streets
- Shoot with your heart, not with your eyes
- Shooting with friends will make you feel much more comfortable on the streets
- The most versatile focal length is 35mm
- Don’t rely on autofocus – use zone focusing
- Have a drink to loosen yourself up before shooting on the streets
- Have at least 3 backups of all your photographs (hard drives all eventually fail)
- If you shoot film, keep your images organized
- The best critique is never online—always in-person
- Don’t ask people what they like about your photographs, ask them what they don’t like
- Having one camera and lens is bliss
- Buy books, not gear
- Style isn’t something aesthetic
- “Shoot who you are” – Bruce Gilden
- Harness the power of groups/collectives to spread your photography
- Don’t focus on aesthetics in your photos—but rather the message
- Shooting film is magical
- Never upload your photographs immediately—let them marinate for at least a week before sharing them
- Good projects often take at least a year to complete
- Post-processing your images digitally should never take more than a minute
- Printing your photographs out large is immensely satisfying
- Share your knowledge & technique with others – never hoard it yourself
- It is better to shoot everyday for 10 minutes than to shoot once a week for 10 hours
- Only show your best work
- Photo-sets with over 25 images are exhausting to look through
- It is great to constantly experiment with your technique and gear—but once you find something that works reasonably well stop and stick with it
- When in doubt, ask for permission
- People love to be complimented while on the streets
- Don’t take photos of people who look pissed off or walk extremely quickly. These are the people who often get upset when you take their photograph
- If shooting digital, always shoot in RAW
- Look at other forms of art for inspiration
- Take photos of people’s faces, not their backs
- Eyes are the windows to the soul. Get photos with eye-contact in your images.
- Your photos are only as good as the photos you look at. Avoid the internet and look at photo-books for inspiration
- Giving helpful critique to others will make you a better judge of your own work
- “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” – Robert Capa
- After a whole day of shooting, I am lucky if I get 1-2 good photographs
- The more time you spend on online forums, the less you will shoot
- Don’t think too much while taking photographs. Avoid “paralysis by analysis”
- Don’t chimp while shooting on the streets (checking your LCD screen). You will lose many decisive moments
- “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity” – Seneca
- You can get luckier in street photography by spending more time out shooting in the streets
- Don’t crop. Get it right in-camera
- Look for the light
- You will take the best photographs in the least-likely places
- Always carry your camera with you everywhere you go. Everywhere
- The smaller your camera is the less intimidating you will look
- Don’t shoot from the hip if you have a camera with a viewfinder. Use the viewfinder—that’s why it’s there
- Good composition alone doesn’t make a good photograph. A great photograph needs soul.
- Don’t let inspiration be your main source of motivation for shooting. Go out and shoot even when you don’t feel like it—and the streets will re-inspire you
- Street photography doesn’t have to have people in it
- “Creepiness is proportional to focal length”. Don’t shoot street photography with a telephoto/zoom lens
- The best place to shoot street photography is your own backyard
- Crouch often when shooting to get at least eye-level (or lower) to get a natural (or unusual perspective)
- The lighter your camera bag, the more you will enjoy shooting
- Don’t forget to look down and up when shooting
- When in doubt, click
- Don’t try to just take photos of interesting people, but try to take photos of interesting gestures
- It is better to take an extraordinary photo of something ordinary, rather than taking an ordinary photo of something extraordinary
- The way people react to street photography (all around the world) is often more similar than dissimilar
- There is no perfect camera for street photography. Every camera has its own strengths/limitations
- Learn to memorize a focal length so you can frame your shots before even bringing up your camera to your eye
- The best combo: one camera and one lens
- Focus on hands – they communicate strong messages to the viewer
- Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t get pissed off when you take photos of them (most people actually quite like it)
- Street photographs are well-balanced with an odd-number of subjects (1 person, 3 people, 5 people, etc)
- “Realize that most of your photographs are crap” – Charlie Kirk
- Shoot to please yourself, not others
- The best response to internet trolls who criticize your work (without helpful critique) is to ignore them completely
- If you have the opportunity, don’t just settle for one photograph. Take multiple photographs if possible. “Killers shoot twice” – Thomas Leuthard
- If you don’t ask for critiques, nobody will ever give it to you
- If you are going to ask someone for permission for a photograph, always preface your question with, “I know this may sound weird, but…”. Works like a charm.
- If you don’t make time to go out and shoot, you will never go out and shoot.
- Learn to judge distances well- so you can prefocus before you anticipate the shot (1.2 meters is roughly two arms-lengths, and 3 meters is roughly half the distance of a room)
76. Spend less time arguing over the definition of street photography, and go out and shoot more
77. You only remember 5-10 photographs from some of the most famous street photographers who have ever lived. Aim to take 5-10 great photographs before you die.
78. Photography is incredibly difficult
79. If people notice you taking a photograph of you, tell them, “Ignore me—pretend like you don’t see me” and most people will laugh it off and continue doing what they were doing
80. If confronted by a person on why you took their photograph, take a step toward them and be open and honest about your intentions. Stand your ground and know your rights.
81. Simplify your photographs. Less is more.
82. Don’t put watermarks on your photographs. It cheapens your work.
83. Street photographs don’t sell
84. Travel as often as you can to open up your views to the rest of the world and society
85. Always carry an extra memory card and battery (in war two is one and one is none)
- Don’t always hunt for shots—if you are patient enough, they will come to you
- Shoot at ISO 1600 or above (keep your shutter above 250ths/second)
- f/8 and be there
- Black cameras draw less attention to you
- It is more interesting to take photos of rich people than poor people
- Never delete any of your photographs (you can rediscover hidden gems later in the future)
- Silver Efex Pro 2 is the best black and white conversion software for digital
- “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – Wayne Gretsky
- Don’t aim to take pretty photographs, aim to take meaningful photographs
- Don’t be sneaky when shooting—you will get in twice as much trouble if you get caught
- A great street photograph both has strong composition and story
- When it comes down to it, composition isn’t as important as the story
- 99.9% of the photographs online are crap
- Love your critics
100.Offer to email your subjects their photographs (they love it)
101.Break the rules
102.Make your own list
Something I have becoming more focused on is working on street photography projects. Street photography projects are important because they help you stay focused when shooting, and help you make more of a statement with a collection of images (rather than just individual images). If you have never started your own street photography project (or want some inspiration), keep reading to learn how you can start your own street photography project!
(Above image by Magnum Photographer Elliott Erwitt)
I consider myself first a sociologist, then a photographer. If anything, being a street photographer allows me to synthesize these two loves. On top of that, I am a lover of knowledge, theory, experimentation, as well as teaching. Fortunately being able to teach street photography for a living makes my life fulfilled.
I am currently reading an essay by Howard Becker (a famous sociologist) who also happened to be interested in art worlds (and especially photography). He is the author in which most of the sociological backbone of my upcoming UC Riverside Online course is coming from when teaching some of the theory behind street photography.
I just finished reading “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, where he discusses many misconceptions and fallacies that we face as humans. He talks from a scientific-philosophical viewpoint, and has many fascinating insights.
One of them was about knowledge—and that it isn’t necessarily additive—rather something subtractive. For example, a good stock-broker won’t tell you what to do, but rather what not to do.
Therefore for this blog post I will share some of my insights and experiences in street photography in terms of what not to do. Hopefully this will help you get more compelling images when out on the streets!
(Above image copyrighted by Joel Meyerowitz)
Eric’s Note: This article is by Ollie Gapper, a street photographer based in the UK- and now a weekly contributor to the blog. Stay tuned for more of his “Ollie Gapper Thursday” posts!
With any genre of photography its easy to become saturated in your work and the work of others around you. In street photography, regardless of the numerous variations in individual photographers approaches and the wealth of locations and types of people we are granted visual access to, we still, slowly, become numb to the photographic impacts that once enthralled us. This is why I, for one, enjoy periodically dabbling in different genres of photography, whether it is shooting or viewing, to allow my mind to refresh and recharge from the relentless practice that is street photography.