INSPIRATION

Street Life 101

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY PHILOSOPHIES

Nine street photography philosophies to challenge and advance your craft

Street photography is a beautiful thing. It’s perhaps the purest and most democratic form of photography – no studio, no set brief, and open to anyone with a camera and the will to leave their living room. With such accessibility though, comes an abundance of imagery, and therefore it takes special work to transcend the expected, the tropes and the clichés. ‘Pure’, as referred to in the first sentence, should not be mistaken for ‘simple’. The best examples of the genre (and the genre being pretty broad in our view) may sometimes look effortless, but they no doubt require patience and resolve, technique, creativity and concept.

This abundance extends to articles about street photography. There are a million blogs and features showcasing street photography tips, techniques and inspiration, some more valuable than others, and so we risk treading old ground. But these nine philosophies (or informed suggestions if you prefer) are our attempt to distil some of the pieces of advice that have really resonated with us, or that we’ve discovered for ourselves along the way. Some might be second nature to you already, and other may not echo with your style or aspirations, but nonetheless we hope you find some small nuggets of inspiration among them. Happy snapping!

Banner image © Constantine Manos. See more at www.constantinemanos.com

Shoot a lot, Discard a lot

“Street photography is 99.9% about failure.” – Alex Webb

“You shoot a lot of shit and you’re bound to come up with a few good ones.” – Trent Parke

Image © Jesse Marlow. See more at www.jessemarlow.com

There are no real shortcuts – mastery takes practise, and when your work place is a dynamic, fast-moving and unpredictable environment, there’s inevitably an element of luck involved too. If you’re going to get great images, you’re going to need to take a lot of them. And a lot of images means a lot of editing. A photographic series is often judged on its weakest image, so be your own harshest critic.

Try to look at your images in a cold and object light – is the composition off? Are their niggling aspects you wish weren’t there? Does it fall short of what you wanted? Do you risk mistaking how difficult or time-consuming the image was to achieve with how effective the result is? If the answer is yes, discard it. Bruce Gilden talks about delaying this process for some time after the shoot when the bias of ‘being in the moment’ has faded, and editing as thumbnails; the idea being that compositions that really shine will do so at low resolution. Mary Ellen Mark talks about asking her husband to carry out a first edit of her work, as he won’t have the emotional attachment to certain images that she does.

The brilliant Australian street photographer Jesse Marlow, whose series ‘Don’t Just Show Them, Tell Them” took nine years and a couple of thousand rolls of film to create, talks about a hit rate of “between 5 and 10 ‘keepers’ a year”. As Alex Webb might put it, the 0.1% of images are the ones that shine.

Travel on your own Doorstep

“You have to carry your camera every day” – Bruce Davidson

Image © Bruce Davidson. See more at www.magnumphotos.com

It’s a common pitfall to consider exotic the same thing as artistic. The problem with shooting in far-flung, unknown places – as alluring as it might seem – is that when everything is strange and new it can be harder to discern a great image; an image that’s genuinely interesting/surprising/emotive, rather than just to you in that particular moment.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t seek out weird and wonderful places, or take your camera with you on holiday, but a great exercise is to hone your skills on your own doorstep. If you can find magic in the familiar – the streets you walk every day – it’ll sharpen your ability to spot the same further afield. Plus it’s more accessible.

When shooting in well-known places – take New York for example, perhaps the city with the richest street photography history in the world – avoid the clichés. We don’t need more images of yellow cabs and the lights of Times Square. The reason Boogie’s images of New York are so timeless is because he avoided the well-trodden tropes, and in doing so captured the energy and vibrancy of the city. There’s as much of him in those images as there is New York.

Break down your Boundaries

“I go straight in very close to people and I do that because it’s the only way you can get the picture. You go right up to them. Even now, I don’t find it easy” – Martin Parr