Following a recent interview with "The Phoblographer", I was asked a few questions that really made me think deeply about the "how, where, when and who" of the photography part of my life. One such question asked about my thought process while shooting, and how it was shaped over the years, which is where I started from for this posting. Instead, it turned into a set of "tips". Now, I know that the web is full of advice for street photographers on best lens choices, camera settings, "stealthy" shooting, etc, which I will try not to repeat or discredit, but instead hope to offer some new advice of my own.
1. UNDERSTAND THE "RULES" (AND THEN BREAK THEM)
Apart from the obvious benefit of understanding how to properly operate your camera, I would strongly advise any photographer to at least become familiar with the basic principles of composition, proportion and color theory. As background information, it's worth mentioning that I’m a full-time architect (which is still my day-job). Therefore I've have been trained to appreciate and work with qualities such as geometry, composition, mood, proportion and making “order” out of chaos. By understanding these “rules”, I believe that it equips a photographer with a much better understanding of how to successfully break them, which inevitably leads to the creation of something special and unique. Chances are that it will not always be successful, but at least you tried and hopefully learnt something new that will lead to a more successful experiment.
2. DETEST MEDIOCRITY AND PREDICTABILITY
(Un)fortunately I have a fairly low level of tolerance for mediocrity and almost always go the extra mile to perfect some of those qualities that I can (or want to) control to make a better image. This off-course is a highly subjective opinion that many may not agree with, but keeps me happy to keep on trying. What I'm trying to say is push yourself constantly to look at something in a different way - avoid predictability, and dispose of those images that do not meet your own standards. Much advice have been given by others about avoiding so-called street photography "cliches", and almost all of those are true.
3. TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES
Most of my images are single shots, unless there is something interesting and stationary where I can work the scene at leisure. I hardly ever just shoot indiscriminately, as I prefer to try and control as much as possible of what is available to me to work a scene without physical intervention. I sometimes regret working like this, as I tend to also miss many opportunities that could’ve been grabbed through a more spontaneous shooting mentality. There is never only one way to create an image and my immediate instincts are not necessarily right. As candid street photography by its very nature is somewhat unpredictable, I often wish that I sometimes rather use continuous busts to enable me to post-select the best frame. This obviously will tie in with other advice about gear selection, where a near silent shutter is an enormous benefit instead of announcing yourself with a loud burst of shutter clatter.
4. DON'T PISS OFF YOUR SUBJECT(S)
Okay, I admit that I'm repeating a rule that is often mentioned more eloquently, but it really is also one of my own core street photography rules that cannot be stressed more often. As street photographers, we have (in many countries at least) a right to photography people and places in public, but the fact remains that not everybody is equally happy with that. Shoving a lens into somebody's face can at best be a minor annoyance, at worse a major personal infringement - depending on the state of mind and circumstances of the subject on the receiving end. Whatever our legal rights are as photographers, social responsibility is a better principle to practice than getting the shot regardless of the consequences. If someone gets pissed off, or the circumstances just don't feel right, back off. Your own personal safety may depend on it, as well as the perceived integrity of all other street photographers.
5. IGNORE ALL OF THE ABOVE
Fuckit, now that I have all that off my chest, we're really into street photography because we love it! Rules shouldn't really stand in the way in the creation of your creative visions. Ultimately, successful images usually have a number of elements that all come together in some interesting way, whether planned or spontaneous. I strive to capture as many of those qualities together as may be the minimum necessary to make an intriguing photo. This means that I can hardly ever really practice what I preach ...