17 Lessons Ernst Haas Has Taught Me About Street Photography

Ernst Haas: one of the color masters of photography:

1. Express your reality through photography

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“With photography a new language has been created. Now for the first time it is possible to express reality by reality. We can look at an impression as long as we wish, we can delve into it and, so to speak, renew past experiences at will.” – Ernst Haas

2. Create a new visual language!

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“We can write the new chapters in a visual language whose prose and poetry will need no translation.” – Ernst Haas

3. You have infinite possibilities in photography!

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“There are almost too many possibilities. Photography is in direct proportion with our time: multiple, faster, instant. Because it is so easy, it will be more difficult.” – Ernst Haas

4. Let life nourish and inspire your photography!

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“There are two kinds of photographers: those who compose pictures and those who take them. The former work in studios. For the latter, the studio is the world…. For them, the ordinary doesn’t exist: every thing in life is a source of nourishment.” – Ernst Haas

5. Don’t aim for originality in your photography; seek subtle differences

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“The best pictures differentiate themselves by nuances…a tiny relationship – either a harmony or a disharmony – that creates a picture.” – Ernst Haas

6. Take a step back, and surprise your viewer with elements in the foreground or background

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“Best wide-angle lens? Two steps backward. Look for the ‘ah-ha’.” – Ernst Haas

7. Move your legs when you’re shooting!

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“The most important lens you have is your legs.” – Ernst Haas

Crouch, jump, leap, dance, move to the left, right, get closer, or take a step back! Or climb some stairs and shoot looking down!

8. Focus on seeing

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“The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But, you have to SEE.” – Ernst Haas

The camera is important, but having “visual acuity” is more important. This means less getting distracted by looking at your phone, and look around you, and let your eyes wander around like a child!

9. Teach yourself photography, and unlearn superfluous stuff from the internet

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“Learn by doing or even better unlearn by doing.” – Ernst Haas

10. How can you see the same old things, like they were new?

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“I am not interested in shooting new things – I am interested to see things new.” – Ernst Haas

Suggestion: look at the world from the eyes of a child; like you saw and experienced things for the first time! Spend more time playing with kids, and find inspiration from them!

11. Embed feelings and emotions into your photos!

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“You become things, you become an atmosphere, and if you become it, which means you incorporate it within you, you can also give it back. You can put this feeling into a picture. A painter can do it. And a musician can do it and I think a photographer can do that too and that I would call the dreaming with open eyes.” – Ernst Haas

12. To evolve as a photographer, evolve your eyes!

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“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” – Ernst Haas

Buying a new camera or equipment won’t improve your photographic vision. My suggestion: buy photography books, and also study diverse forms of visual art to stimulate your eyes, brain, and soul!

13. What is your “total vision” as a photographer?

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“I want to be remembered much more for a total vision than for a few perfect single pictures.” – Ernst Haas

Picasso is remembered for innovating in cubism, not a single painting. Andy Warhol is remembered for making ordinary objects into art (modern art), not just one art piece.

14. Your vision/message through your photos is more important than your photos!

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“I prefer to be noticed some day, first for my ideas and second for my good eye…” – Ernst Haas

For myself, I want to be remembered for “open source photography”, and to make the world a friendlier place through street photography. To also encourage more entrepreneurship, and risk taking; not my photos.

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“Only a vision – that is what one must have.” – Ernst Haas

15. Your style is your soul!

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“Style has no formula, but it has a secret key. It is the extension of your personality. The summation of this indefinable net of your feeling, knowledge and experience.” – Ernst Haas

Your style is you. What’s your personality, and who are you as a person? How do your feelings, ideas, knowledge, and experiences impute themselves into your photos?

16. You’re an artist-poet-photographer

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“In every artist there is poetry. In every human being there is the poetic element. We know, we feel, we believe.” – Ernst Haas

Strive to make poetic, beautiful, and artful photos!

17. Would you make photos if nobody ever saw your photos, or paid you money for it?

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“Every work of art has its necessity; find out your very own. Ask yourself if you would do it if nobody would ever see it, if you would never be compensated for it, if nobody ever wanted it. If you come to a clear ‘yes’ in spite of it, then go ahead and don’t doubt it anymore.” – Ernst Haas

Shoot for yourself!

Takeaway points:

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  1. To make better color photos and to express more emotion into your photos, study the work of Matisse, Monet, Picasso
    1. Also: Study the Masters of Art >
  2. Color photography masters to study: Saul Leiter, Martin Parr, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Joel Sternfeld, Alex Webb
  3. Embed your heart and soul into your photos!



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The Masters of Photography

Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

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