100 Lessons From The Masters Of Street Photography [WORK]
For the last ten years, I have tried to seek my own personal voice, style, and path in photography. This journey has led me through life in so many incredible ways. I have learned so many valuable lessons in photography (and life) which has transformed me as a human being.
100 lessons from the masters of street photography
My particular interest has been in street photography; capturing moments of everyday life in public settings. I have always been drawn to my fellow human beings, and street photography has helped me become a more empathetic human being.
We have many fears and provide a lot of excuses for not getting close enough in our street photography. We are worried about pissing people off, we are worried about making other people feel uncomfortable, and we are worried that strangers might call the cops on us (or even worse, physically assault us).
In street photography I generally recommend using a 35mm lens (full-frame equivalent) for most photographers (Alex Webb, Constantine Manos, and Anders Petersen shoot with this focal length). The human eye sees the world in around a 40mm field-of-view, and I find that shooting with a 35mm lens gives you enough wiggle-room around the edges of the frame.
Another common mistake that aspiring street photographers make is that they try to overcome their fear of shooting street photography by shooting from the hip (photographing with your camera at waist-level and not looking through the viewfinder).
In my experience, I found that shooting from the hip was a huge crutch. The more I shot from the hip, the less confident I was as a street photographer. Not only that, but as Garry Winogrand said, I lost control over my framing. My shots would be poorly framed, skewed, and any shot that I got that looked half-decent was because of luck.
But does that ruin the photograph, the fact that your subject noticed you? Absolutely not. William Klein famously engaged with his subjects a lot when he shot street photography, and his presence made his photographs more vibrant, dynamic, and edgy.
When I had a full-time 9-5 job, I barely had enough time to shoot street photography and hated my life. Somehow I convinced myself that by buying a new camera, I would spend more time going out and shooting.
One of the common mistakes a lot of photographers make is that they are too analytical when they shoot street photography. They forget the most important part of photography: photographing what you feel with your heart.
Eye contact often makes a stronger street photograph, but also it makes it very obvious to your subject that you want to photograph them. So if you want to be invisible when shooting street photography, avoid eye contact.
Not only that, but so much of what happens in street photography is fleeting and random. There is so little we can control in street photography; we can only control where to stand and when to click the shutter.
One of the lessons I learned from a Magnum workshop I attended with David Alan Harvey and Constantine Manos is this: the difference between a mediocre and great photographer is how bad they want the shot.
I find that photography is one of the best ways of self-therapy. When I used to work a 9-5 job, and feeling stressed after answering 200+ emails, I would go walk around the block from my office and just take photos of strangers to relieve stress.
I love the interactions that I gain through street photography. There is nothing more soothing than sharing my stresses, anxieties, and difficulties with strangers (ironically enough, strangers are more willing to listen to your life problems than your close friends).
If your passion is street photography, intentionally give up all forms of other photography. Why? If your mind is divided amongst many different genres of photography, you will never create a single body of work that you are truly proud of. Not only that, but it takes a long time to cultivate and do one thing very well.
I never learned the theory of composition until after 8 years of shooting street photography. Too much theory can hurt you; you need to first be a practitioner and then create the theory from your experiences. You can sit in a studio and draw lines over images for hours on end, or you can go out and make images and discover the compositions after you shoot them.
What if you have no experience putting together a photography book, where do you start? You can start off by dissecting your favorite photography books from other photographers. Joel Meyerowitz gives some advice:
One of the lessons I learned from Magnum photographer David Hurn is that the two main things you control in photography is where to stand (your position) and when to click the shutter (your timing). Lee Friedlander shares the importance of your position, and knowing where to stand when hitting the shutter:
In photography it is important to have high expectations. If you set your mark high, even if you miss, you still achieve a higher caliber of work. However learning from your mistakes can be the best instructor, as David Hurn explains:
Reflect on how the process of shooting film is different from digital. Then ultimately take those lessons and apply it to your digital photography. Or perhaps you can just end up sticking with film (or shooting both film and digital).
Many proponents of street photography day that street photography must be candid. It is true that sometimes the best street photos are candid. But also some of the best street photos involve the photographer getting intimate with his or her subject.
Eric Kim some time ago put together a list of photographic masters, a list to be used to improve your photography. I have reposted this list below, but to see his blog and the original list here is the link.
This article is a tribute to the street and humanist photographer Sabine Weiss. Considered a living legend in street photography, she likes to photograph daily lives of people, trying to capture the emotions she recognizes around her. Weiss like to photograph people of all ages but she especially loves to take photos of children, masterfully immortalizing their spontaneous gestures and emotions. For this article, I was inspired by one of her rare sports photos of some children practicing judo. Do you want to know more about this great artist? Well, read on!
Also in Paris, Weiss made an acquaintance with the the great photographer Robert Doisneau who invited her to join the Rapho agency, of which Doisneau, Willy Ronis, and Edouard Boubat were members of. Here she took a series of street photography of daily life that are full of emotions. She paid great attention to facial expressions, body language, and gestures, as you can see here or on her portfolio.
A Salute to the Masters is a series dedicated to great photographers that I like. I posted other tributes for Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Helen Levitt, Ernst Haas, Stephen Shore, Gabriele Basilico, Robert Adams, Thomas Struth, J.H. Lartigue, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, Gianni Berengo Gardin, André Kertész, Willy Ronis, Brassaï, Rodchenko, Dan Graham, Henry Grant, William Eggleston, Dennis Stock, Juergen Teller, Martin Parr, Peter Mitchell, Mario Giacomelli, David Burnett, Michael Williamson, Bernard Cahier, Harry Gruyaert, Bruno Barbey, Paul Strand, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Lothar Rübelt, David Goldblatt, Henry Cartier-Bresson, Raymond Depardon, Aaron Siskind, Mario de Biasi and Izis Bidermanas. I especially love street photography and urban architectural photography.
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Thorsten is widely regarded as a master of street photography. Obsessed with the aesthetics of the world, he has been blessed with an innate ability to paint with the light he sees. His work has been published in Vanity Fair, GQ Magazine, Vogue, and The Times to name just a few.
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Street photographer Alex Coghe shares everything he has learned through these years in this eBook. A really comprehensive guide on street photography, it gives a first hand account of how to approach street photography and get better, with some really insightful tips coming from his experience.
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