I think the reason why street photography is fun is because it is risky.
1. Shoot what you’re afraid of
I know whenever I see a good potential street photograph, I get scared. I feel the heart bumping out of my chest. I feel the cold sweats on my back.
Fear is what directs me in street photography.
I have a personal rule:
If I see something that scares me, I must photograph it.
For me, fear is our guide. Fear tells us what might be an interesting scene.
For me, my fear is a guide and mentor. My fear tells me:
Eric, the reason you are afraid is because you want to make the photo. You are just afraid that the person might reject you, might get angry at you, might punch you, or you might just get a bad photo.
2. Channel your fear
I often think that we confuse fear and enthusiasm.
I think if we did more things in life that we were afraid of — we would live more epic, noble, and fulfilling lives.
For example, whenever I photograph something that scares me — I usually have a higher chance of making a better photograph. This is because scary street photos are hard to shoot. Which means, fewer people have probably photographed similar scenes.
My mentor Charlie Kirk is the street photographer who had the strongest influence on me when I started off. He took hard photos. He has been pulled into the police station. He has gotten into fights. He had massive skin in the game — he had guts, bravado, and his courage impressed me.
Charlie once told me, that you need to make difficult photos. Because difficult photos are what drive the genre of photography forward.
In street photography, we have lots of ‘easy’ street photos we can shoot. We can use the ‘fishing’ technique (look for an interesting background, wait for someone to walk into the photo). If you’re a beginner, this is a good technique. But if you want to evolve in your street photography, and take your work to the next level — you need to take more gutsy shots. Photos where you are like Garry Winogrand — shooting head-on. Photos where you are using a wide-angle lens (28mm-35mm), and getting close— both physically, emotionally, and spiritually with your subjects.
3. Bruce Gilden is my hero
Another photographer who I greatly admire is Bruce Gilden. He puts his heart and soul into his photos, and gets a lot of flack for it. But he is honest. He is real. He is raw. He has no bullshit. This is why I love him. He is who he is — and doesn’t fake to be anybody else.
Not only that, but he is aggressive in street photography (the same as his personality in real life). Yet in real life, he is actually a very honest and genuine person (I have met him in 2011 at a Leica Monochrom event in Paris). And he is a genuinely loving human being — with some rough edges.
4. No guts, no glory
You don’t need to go out and shoot street photography, just to show off your bravado or how courageous you are.
But the truth is, without guts in street photography — you will never get any glory. Not glory like getting lots of likes on social media. Glory in personal glory — to be proud of your photos, your personal growth, and your confidence.
5. Street photography and real life
I honestly feel that street photography is the best genre of photography. It is the genre of photography that makes us more human. We interact with strangers. We build our confidence. We put our hearts on our sensors. We take photos that scare the shit out of us.
But it is because street photography is risky which makes it so rewarding.
Anything easy in photography is boring. This is why landscape photography bores me. No tree is going to yell at me for making his photo. But real human beings might.
6. How to be a better street photographer
Honestly, the best way to become a better street photograph is to become more courageous. To have more guts. To be more courageous. To conquer your personal fears— or by turning fear into your slave. Which means, fear is your personal guide— and he will tell you when to hit the shutter and when not to hit the shutter.
I know the more courage I’ve gained in street photography— the more courage I’ve gained in real life.
- I used to be scared of anonymous comments on the inter webs. Now when I see people making fun of me online, I just feel bad for them.
- I used to care about how many likes I got on social media. Now, I just follow my own gut and share photos I like.
- I used to give way too many fudge ice cream sandwiches about what others thought about me, my philosophy, my photography, or my personality. Now, I just trust my own self-confidence. I trust my own opinion of myself. Better yet, I let my 18-year old self be a judge of my 29-year old self (My 18 year old self would actually be very proud of 29-year old Eric)
- I’ve gained more confidence to do business, to raise my prices, and to reflect my own self-worth.
Street photography is the antidote, the cure, and the way to building real confidence in real life.
7. What is the point of photography?
The purpose of life isn’t to be a good photographer. The purpose of life is to live a meaningful, purposeful, and fulfilling life. To me, the purpose of life is simple: to empower others. Especially those who are weaker than you, or those struggling.
To me, I see photography as a tool to live a better life. To me, photography has helped me gain appreciation for the beauty of the mundane and ordinary. Street photography has helped me conquer or domesticate my fears— in order for me to become a more courageous human being, to follow my own heart and convictions.
To me, photography is a meditation on life and death. Whenever I photograph my loved ones, I reflect: “This person is going to die one day. I better appreciate them now while I can.”
‘Happiness’ in life isn’t getting 50,000 followers on Instagram, and getting over 3,000 likes on a photograph. Happiness in life is dedicating your life to serving humanity. To empowering others. To helping kids without resources. To helping out your family, strangers, and having compassion and love for all of humanity.
Assignments to take more risks in street photography
1. Photograph what scares you
The next time you see a person, scene, or situation that scares you — you must photograph it.
2. Get 10 people to reject you
Try out shooting ‘street portraits’ — asking a stranger on the streets if you can make their portrait.
The street photography assignment you can try is the ’10 no’ challenge. The idea is you approach a bunch of strangers to make their portrait, and you need to get at least 10 people to reject you. Don’t keep tally on how many people say ‘yes’ — only how many people reject you.
This is the fastest way to overcome the fear of rejection. Because the real rejection isn’t so bad.
If you want to conquer your fears and meet new peers, check out these upcoming workshops:
- Apr 29-30: Bangkok – Street Photography (Hosted by Monogram Asia)
- Sept 13-17: Tokyo – Street Photography Experience
- Oct 4-5: NYC – Conquer Your Fears in Street Photography
- Oct 7-8: NYC – Discover Your Unique Voice in Photography