One of the most exciting ways to live life is to avoid boredom. By following what makes us curious, passionate, and have fun create meaning in our life.
I think one of the great ways to guide our work in street photography is to avoid boredom.
Being a child is one of the most exciting times in our life. The world is open to opportunities. The sky is the limit. We only do things we enjoy, and we follow our curiosity. We can spend hours toiling on something which may seem stupid to others, but something that immensely interests us. We do things for the sake of doing it– rather than worrying what others will think about our work.
Then something sad happens: We enter school, and we are told what to do and follow instructions without questioning the teacher. We go from thinking outside of the box to coloring inside the lines. We start to lose this sense of spontaneity, and we learn to follow rules (I recommend listening to Ken Robinson’s talk on TED on “how schools kill creativity”).
Tips to avoid boredom in street photography
In street photography, I think we should listen to our gut. By avoiding boredom at all costs, we can stay passionate.
It is hard to avoid boredom and to always stay passionate. There are days we have creative slumps. There are days we don’t want to go out and shoot. There are days we can walk in the streets for hours and not see any photos or take a single photo.
In regards to avoiding boredom, I think it is important to switch things up. Some ways you can switch things up:
If you are bored shooting digital, switch things up and try shooting film. If you are bored shooting film, try shooting digital. If you shoot 35mm film and are bored, try out medium-format.
If you are bored shooting like Henri Cartier Bresson (looking for an interesting background and waiting for someone interesting to walk into the scene), switch it up by trying to shoot more aggressively like Bruce Gilden (more head-on).
Bored of natural light shots? Try shooting with a flash.
Bored shooting black and white? Try color.
Bored of shooting with a 50mm? Try a 28mm.
I think experimenting too much can be detrimental to your style (if you want consistency in your work). But if you don’t care much for consistency, just keep switching things up and keeping your vision fresh. Do what makes you excited.
2. Photograph in a different area
If you are bored shooting in the same old places, go out and shoot somewhere else. You don’t need to travel to an exotic international city like Paris or Tokyo. You can stay in your own town and just shoot a different street. If you have a car, you can drive to the next town. Or if you’re really brave, you can jump on a bus and get off at a random stop and shoot that area.
As humans, we love to explore. We love serendipity, and discovering new places (think about all the guys who sailed around the world in search of new lands). Be a “street photography explorer”.
3. When to end a project
If you’re working on a project and the project no longer interests you, it might be a good sign to end it.
On the other hand, my friend Charlie Kirk suggested that might not always be the case. Boredom might be a sign that you need to take a step back from your project, reevaluate it, and figure out how you can approach it differently.
When you get bored of working a project, it might be a good opportunity to ask yourself: “Why am I doing this project?” Think to yourself: Are you doing the project for external recognition? Are you doing the project to document history or fulfill some sociological purpose? Or are you doing it just for the sake of it? (which is totally fine too).
There is no one “right answer”. But boredom can be a powerful tool to remind you to reevaluate why you photograph.
Boredom is a great filter to evaluate life. Rather than always trying to “have fun”– I think we should take the negative approach of avoiding boredom. This is what Nassim Taleb calls “via negativa” in his book, Antifragile.
You are going to have creative slumps, face boredom, and feel uninspired. It happens to everyone. It happens to me all the time as well.
When you feel boredom creeping in, it a great opportunity to reevaluate why you make photos– and how it brings meaning to your life.
Life is short. When it comes to your street photography, follow your curiosity and what makes you happy and excited. Avoid boredom at all costs.