7 Tips How to Stay Motivated in Street Photography

Stockholm, 2014
Stockholm, 2014

As a part of my on-going “Ask Eric Kim” series– here is a question I have from Darren Hoyland from my Facebook fan page:

Darren Hoyland: How [do you] keep yourself motivated whilst out on the streets when you have that deja view moment of been here done that?

Hey Darren, I face this a lot: when I’m shooting on the streets and I don’t feel motivated and I feel like I’m just repeating myself. Here are some tips I recommend in terms of staying inspired with your street photography and to stay motivated:

1. Harness both repetition and variation to your work

One of the lessons I learned from Todd Hido is that it is important to harness both repetition and variation (if you want to create your own style).

So you can technically repeat what you do when shooting on the streets (shooting in the same places in town) but you can do it with variation (photographing different subject matter).

Variety is the spice of life. If you had to eat hamburgers for the rest of your life, I’m sure you would learn to resent hamburgers. Same goes with ice cream, pizza, and beer (assuming you had to only stick to one thing for the rest of your life).

2. Go on a short trip out of town

Another strategy I have when shooting and to stay motivated is to go on a short trip to a different location. Now you don’t have to fly to Paris or Rome– you can just go to a city adjacent to yours (30 minutes away is fine). You can jump in your car, drive there, park somewhere interesting, and walk around and shoot.

Or even better– you can take public transport (bus, subway, train) and take photos while on public transport, and when heading to somewhere else.

3. Work on a project

Another way to stay motivated when shooting street photography is working on a project. I feel that when working on a project, I am given a clear task, a clear goal, and that gives me focus and motivation. There are days when I’m just out shooting aimlessly and I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” To be motivated by having a sense of purpose with your photography is a great way to continue to hustle in the streets.

4. Play “the imitation game”

Another strategy you can try out to stay motivated when you shoot street photography (and avoid the feeling that you’re just repeating yourself, or that dejavu feeling of been there, done that) is what I call the “imitation game.” The concept (also from Todd Hido) is this: Assume the alter ego of another photographer (whose style is dramatically different from yours) and try to imitate their style.

So for example, if you are the type of photographer that likes to stay in the shadows and be more discreet, try to assume the exact opposite roll and be like a Bruce Gilden, get close, and use a flash. Perhaps you prefer street photos that are more focused on geometry and architecture- (like Rene Burri)- perhaps you can then switch it up by focusing more on taking portraits of interesting people on the streets (like Diane Arbus). And vice-versa.

By assuming the role of another photographer (and imitating them)– you add more variety, randomness, and a sense of thrill to your street photography.

For example, I generally prefer single-image shots of people. I don’t like having too much going on in my frame or too much clutter.

So as an experiment, I tried to emulate the work of Alex Webb, trying to add more subjects into my frame, to use triangle compositions, and have more complex images. I enjoyed this “imitation game” a lot– but at the end of the day, I figured that style wasn’t for me– and I went back to doing what I did before (but this time re-energized and re-motivated to continue my work).

5. Imagine losing your camera

Another good way to get motivated is to imagine yourself without a camera. Imagine how angry and frustrated you would feel for not being able to capture scenes.

So do this for a day: just go on a walk without your camera, and visualize interesting scenes and just photograph with your mind. I guarantee you that you will find a lot of interesting street scenes that you then will want to capture. You will then feel frustrated by the fact that you don’t have a camera– and regret not having a camera with you to capture these scenes.

Then possibly you might rush home, and grab your camera, and then go out with re-inspiration to shoot.

This is kind of like when we lose something– once we recover it, we appreciate it a lot more.

For example, let’s say you bought a new iPhone. The first month or two you were really excited, but after that– you became used to it and just took it for granted. Then suddenly one day, you accidentally misplace your phone and you start to panic. You then bemoan the fact that you took your phone for granted, and begin to appreciate all the awesome things it did. But suddenly you realize that it was hidden in-between some papers at home, and you clutch it with love and tell your phone: “I will never take you for granted again.”

Sometimes we need this sense of loss– to appreciate what we have. Like they say, “you don’t appreciate something until it is gone.

So “accidentally” misplace your camera for a few days, and imagine that you lost your camera. How would you feel? What regrets would you have? Would you take it more for granted?

You might like this article: “How to Be Grateful For What You Have

6. Stay curious

One of the most important ways to stay motivated in street photography is to stay curious. Be like a child– and continue to explore.

We get bored if we explore the same places over and over again– because our nervous systems and stimuli become accustomed. This is why mountain climbers prefer to go to different mountains that are more complex, interesting, and challenging– and follow their curiosity.

A way to stay curious as a photographer is to look at a lot of photography books. I always feel re-inspired and re-motivated whenever I look at great photography from the masters.

Also the biggest tip of staying curious is to try to walk as much as humanly possible (you tend to see more interesting things to photograph when you’re on the streets than if you’re in your car) and also try to spend as much time away from home.

7. Don’t take your photography too seriously

Lastly, don’t take your photography too seriously. Remember that street photography should be fun and enjoyable. Don’t feel that you always have to be motivated when you shoot street photography. Sometimes it is good to have a break from shooting on the streets to recharge your creative and mental energy– so the next time you go out and shoot, you will do so with vigor.

Like exercise, our muscles grow when we let them heal (after an intense workout). If you workout the same muscles everyday, they will never grow and become stronger. Rest time is absolutely crucial.

Read these articles for motivation

  1. How to Fight “The Resistance” in Street Photography
  2. Why Talent is Overrated in Street Photography
  3. Ask Eric Kim #1: How to Overcome the “Funk” of the Winter Months in Street Photography? [Video]

Share your thoughts

What are some ways that you stay motivated when it comes to street photography? Share your tips and thoughts in the comments below!