The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Street Photographers

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(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!

In the book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“, the book is separated into three chapters:

  1. Independence or Self-Mastery
  2. Interdependence
  3. Self Renewal

The first two chapters include 3 habits each, with the last one including one habit. I will try my best to break it down below!

Interdependence or Self-Mastery

1. Be proactive


To become a better street photographer, you simply cannot sit around expecting to become better. As Malcom Gladwell said in his book, “Outliers” – many of the great masters became great not through talent, but through time and hard work. His theory was that many of the masters in history (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Yo-Yo Ma, The Beatles, etc) put at least 10,000 hours into their craft.

Although you don’t need to shoot street photography necessarily for 10,000 hours to become great, it is a good baseline to aspire to. (For those of you who are wondering, 10,000 hours is 416.66 days). To break that down, that is 20 hours of work a week for 10 years. That is spending roughly 3 hours everyday taking photographs.

Many of us are busy with day-jobs, families, and other obligations. However I argue that we can reach those mystical 10,000 hours quicker by not only shooting street photography, but learning street photography, reading street photography books, enjoying art, and thinking/writing about street photography.

Practical tip: Instead of surfing the web on random blogs or gear forums while at work, check out Street Reverb Magazine, LPV Magazine, In-Public, Burn My Eye,, Invisible Photographer Asia, Adam Marelli, Dirty Harrry Blog, etc when bored at work. Subscribe to all of them on Google Reader.

More here: The 10 Best street Photography Blogs (and more)

For your convenience I have also made a Google Reader “bundle” where you can subscribe to a bunch of them easily: “My Favorite Street Photography Blogs Google Reader Bundle

2. Begin with the End in Mind


Consider why you shoot street photography. Do you shoot street photography to relieve stress from work? To escape from the craziness of everyday life? To create art? To make new friends? Do you want to become world famous, or just have your photos appreciated online?

Understand why you shoot street photography- and envision what you ultimately want out of street photography- and go full-throttle toward your goal.

  • If your goal is to relieve yourself of stress from work, make it a habit to go out everyday at lunch for at least 30 minutes to go shoot. I would argue it is better to shoot everyday for even 15 minutes and build a daily habit, rather than shooting for 8 hours just one day a week.
  • If your goal is to become an internationally recognized street photographer, work on a meaningful street photography project and try to get your work published online, gallery exhibitions, and approach publishers to possibly do a book.
  • If your goal is to simply make friends, reach out to the street photography community in your area (or start your own street photography community!).

Practical tip: Write your goals down on a piece of paper in terms of what you want out of street photography, and add your “mission statement” in your website “about” section, on your Flickr “about” section, or on Twitter/Facebook.

For example, my mission statement with my street photography is to create images that challenge people to see society in a different way (and inspire them to change it for the better or be aware) as well as spreading the love of street photography as many people in this globe I can.

3.  Put First Things First


Plan, prioritize, and shoot street photography as much as you can. Without prioritizing your street photography, you will never shoot. Trust me, even though I am now a “full-time street photographer” you would be surprised to hear that I honestly spend 90% of my time answering emails, planning workshops, and other logistical things. So don’t tell yourself that just because you have a day-job you can’t shoot street photography.

In my last street photography workshop in London, Charlie Kirk mentioned that sometimes having a day job can be a good thing for your street photography. It helps you prioritize your street photography after work. He said his best street photographs were made when he was still working as a lawyer in Tokyo, when he would go shooting after work at night – to relieve stress.

You will always be busy. Don’t kid yourself when you say to yourself, “I will shoot when I have some free time.” The reality is you will never have time, unless you make the time.

Practical tip: Take a look at your schedule and see when you can plan and block out some time to shoot street photography. If you have a 9-5 job, I prefer lunchtimes. Sure it is nice to spend time with your co-workers at lunch, but if you are serious about your street photography (and ridiculously busy) it is the best time. Whether you have 30 minutes or a full hour, go and shoot around your office.

Is your office in the middle of nowhere? No worries, sometimes the most boring areas can make the best street photographs. Remember the words of Martin Parr, “Find the extraordinary in the ordinary“.


4. Think Win-Win


Understand that you won’t become a better street photographer without the support of other street photographers. Without having a community that helps critique your work, you will never become a better street photographer.

However the key is all about reciprocity. For example, if you want to have other people critique your work, give other people helpful critiques as well. Same idea as “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back”.

The benefit of also critiquing the work of other street photographers is that you will also become a better street photographer as well.

Practical tip: Start small. Find 3 street photographers whose work you really admire (or street photographers you are friends with) and give them constructive critique about their work. I would say that a good critique on the internet shouldn’t be less than 4 sentences. Say what you like about the image (be specific) as well as things that you think could use improvement.

On my personal Flickr, I get hundreds of comments that say simple things like “Nice shot!” or “Beautiful!” or “Sweet!”. Although I appreciate those comments, they don’t stand out to me. Every once in a while someone will leave me a very thoughtful comment and they stand out. I wonder who they are, add them as a contact, and give them meaningful critique back (in a way I feel obliged, but am happy to do so).

5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood


In street photography it is difficult to get your message of your photos to get across to people. It is also difficult to understand how we can make more effective street photographers that touch people on an emotional level.

Always be open to criticism. If people have something to say that you can improve on, don’t make excuses. If you have a hand, somebody’s head, or a random car  that is distracting- don’t make an excuse. It isn’t your fault, but small things can ruin potentially great street photographs. Genuinely listen to what other people have to say, and they will also be open to be interested in what you have to say about their work.

Practical tip: When showing your photographs to other people, tell them what they don’t like about your photographs (after all, you know what you like about your photographs). Ask them where your photographs fail, and ask them to critique you brutally. Only through brutal honesty of your work, can you become a better street photographer. Oh yeah, and don’t make any excuses – and strive more.

6. Synergize

chill con dos gatos
Don’t feel that you have to always do everything alone in street photography. Although it is great to shoot street photography alone, there are also many benefits of shooting in a group (added confidence, a sense of responsibility to go out and shoot, as well as added fun).

Don’t just aim on making yourself a better street photographer, but think about how you can help other street photographers around you. If you know other street photographers who may be less experienced than you, offer them feedback/critique and offer to go shooting with them. As Robert Heinlein once said, “When one teaches, two learn“.

Practical Tip: Think about how you can collaborate with other street photographers. Create an online street photography collective (check out “That’s Life” – an Indian Street Photography collective started by Kaushal Parikh). Create a street photography magazine (check out Radiate Magazine, a fantastic resource created by Stu Egan), or have group street photography exhibitions (like those hosted by Todd Hatakeyama from the Hatakeyama Gallery).

Self Renewal

7. Sharpen the Saw


Although street photography is great, don’t burn yourself out. Stay active by shooting as much as you can and learning about street photography through books, galleries, and via the internet- but make sure to spend enough time with your friends, family, and significant others. You want to keep your street photography skills sharp by practice, but don’t always go so gung-ho.

I spend every waking minute of my day working on my street photography through writing for this blog, being active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, shooting street photography, reading street photography books, traveling, as well as teaching street photography workshops.

However the problem is that I often get burnt out. After traveling for around a month on the road, it takes a toll on my body physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I feel at times I am aging faster than Barack Obama.

Practical Tip: Set limits. For example, don’t spend time trolling photography websites after 8pm. Turn off your computer, disconnect, and spend time with your loved ones or family. Don’t always make photography the priority of your life. Remember at times it is good to put away the camera and truly experience life (without always taking photos). If you are going on a date, feel free at times to leave the camera at home.

Photos by Junku Nishimura

All photos by Japanese street photographer, Junku Nishimura. Add him as a contact on Flickr, and support him and his photography by purchasing a print (I’m ordering some as we speak!).

You can email his manager Kanako Yamada at for a price-sheet.

Also see the interview I had with him on the Leica Blog and a documentary of him over at Invisible Photographer Asia.

What are some other habits that you find good for street photographers? Share your thoughts and comments in the comments below!