Don’t be a Street Photographer, Just be a Photographer

London, 2014
London, 2014

I often have a hard time going out and making “street photos”— and I have a lot of other friends who face a similar difficulty. A lot of street photographers disdain their busy lives, and how they aren’t ever able to make time to go out and hit the streets and shoot “street photography”.

But being really inspired by my friend Josh White— I realized that you don’t need to be a “street photographer”, you just need to be a “photographer”. Or better yet, don’t even be a “photographer”, be a human being with immense amounts of curiosity about the world, with the passion and drive to document it.

I think once we shake off the definition of being a “street photographer”, it takes off our creative shackles. It allows us to explore different genres of photography, and makes us not just be restrained to taking photos in the streets.

Some of us live in the suburbs and areas where there isn’t a lot of foot traffic. In my neighborhood in Berkeley, there aren’t too much people walking around. So instead of shooting just purely the typical “street photography” of people, I started to shoot more urban landscapes of the interesting industrial buildings in my neighborhood.

Another thing I learned from my buddy Josh is that at the end of our lives, we aren’t going to care about all these photographs we took of random strangers. We’re going to value the photographs of our friends, family, and loved ones.

So when I’m not out shooting “street photography”, I put in a lot of effort making the most beautiful photographs of Cindy at home. I think at the end of my life, these are going to be the most meaningful photographs.

Josh made another point in the past: Why do we use expensive cameras to take photographs of strangers, and only use our iPhones to take photos of people who are really meaningful to us?

So my challenge to you is this: don’t feel like you need to label yourself as a street photographer.

Try to find opportunities to photograph whenever you have the opportunity.

Take photos of your kids at their sports games. Take photos while you’re out grocery shopping. Take photos when you’re stuck in traffic and have nothing better to do. Take photographs when you’re having a nice dinner with your partner. Take selfies of yourself in a mirror when you have nothing else to photograph.

Whether you are in the streets, in a mall, in the park, or at home— always be a photographer.

Shoot everyday

I think it is really important to make photographs everyday. We talk, listen, walk, eat, drink, and shit everyday to stay healthy. Why not shoot everyday as well?

I also do believe that our visual senses are like a muscle. If we aren’t giving ourselves visual daily exercise (or “visual push-ups as Jay Maisel calls them), we will become out-of-shape.

Here are some practical tips I have used to photograph everyday, regardless of how “inspired” I am:

  1. Always have a camera close by: If my camera is far from me, I’m too lazy and won’t go and grab it. I always have a camera close by, so I can easily pick it up whenever I have an urge to shoot.
  2. Every shot doesn’t need to be a work of art: Photograph because it makes you feel alive, more engaged, and more excited. Don’t feel obliged that every photograph needs to be perfect. It is okay to take shitty photographs. Just shoot.
  3. Photograph your friends, family, and loved ones: If you love to photograph people, photograph those closest to you. And try to photograph them with as much artistic integrity as you would do for your street shots. Focus on your framing, composition, light, and gestures. Better yet, try to photograph them candidly— when they aren’t looking.
  4. Use your smartphone: Honestly I think a smartphone is the best kind of camera, because it is literally always with you. If you don’t have any other camera with you, use your smartphone (and process afterwards in VSCO). Sure the image quality may not be as good as your other cameras, but I think capturing the moment and emotions is more important than how sharp it is or how megapixels it has.
  5. Don’t feel obliged to upload everyday: I admire people who do 365-day projects and stuff like that, with a caveat: I don’t think you should feel obliged to upload every single day. I think it is a good practice to shoot everyday, but if you don’t feel like you have anything worth sharing, don’t share it. Just keep it for yourself. I have thousands of photographs I haven’t uploaded because I know they aren’t good shots, but they still have sentimental value for me (therefore I keep them for myself).

What are your thoughts on being a “street photographer” vs. just being a “photographer”? When people ask you what kind of photographer you are, how do you respond? Share your ideas and comments in the comments below!

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