*Michael’s note: This is a topic that I feel I need to get off my chest. The things I talk about in this article are not meant to insult any photographers or readers out there who have a “style” of photography that I mention below. I hope this article speaks to you in some way whether you agree with my thoughts or not, and I would be more than willing to discuss more about this topic with any of you if you wish to. I am not claiming to be the “master of photography” I’m just a young man with a camera, who has a passion for street photography.
I was walking down the streets of Downtown L.A. last Tuesday trying to take some street photographs. I was there from around 9am and didn’t leave till 7pm, and in all that time, I didn’t find a single shot to take home!
What went wrong?
Nothing…nothing was wrong…it’s just that I didn’t see anything or felt emotionally compelled to photograph something that day.
I did run across a few situations where I could have tried to make an image, but I didn’t find any other interesting “elements” that would have made up the image as a whole.
I’m a firm believer of the phrase “It’s just as important to NOT take the shot, as it is to take the shot” and that’s something that I feel is a big problem with many street photographers out there today.
Whenever I go online and look on sites like: Facebook, Google+, Flickr, 500px, and even Instagram, I see a lot of photos of things that have a lot of “nothing” to them. And by “nothing” I mean there is simply nothing interesting or emotionally gripping in the image, or in much plainer terms, is a “snapshot“. I don’t want to see people just walking on a sidewalk, there needs to be something more.
Just like in my sample photo above, I don’t want to promote pictures like this of people with their heads down and texting. While the girl is wearing a hood over her head, and wearing sunglasses holding a drink, the image still falls a little bit flat. I want something more to my photographs that will make people think to themselves, “Wow!” Yet I see more and more photographs like this being displayed and praised online by multiple comments, favorites, and likes on the image. I don’t want my fellow street photographers to be deceived into thinking they are such great street photographers just because a friend of theirs said “nice photo” on their ordinary image that they posted on Facebook or Flickr. There needs to be a reality check in the world of street photography.
Photographer John Free said it beautifully, “You have to make it difficult! Anything easily made is not worth anything!”
Look deep inside yourself. Do you honestly believe that photos like these, that could be captured by anybody no matter what the skill level, are deserving of any comments like “nice” or “brilliant photo” or “you captured the moment so beautifully”?
Am I trying to offend anyone out there who takes photos like these? Absolutely not!
Am I trying to make haters or enemies because of this post? That is not my intention at all!
I’m merely trying to express my view that street photos should be more than “nothing” and have some things in the photograph that make it “worth something”. They should be a challenge getting, and undeniably well-deserved. There must be evidence of thought being put into the image, and more importantly, an image must not be “misunderstood“. And by misunderstood I mean what exactly are you trying to portray in your image to the viewer? When people see your photograph what are they gonna see? But more importantly what are they going to feel? Will people see and understand the message that you are trying to send as a photographer? Or will they just wonder “Oh, it’s just a man sitting down on a bench.” or “Oh, it’s just a lady holding a shopping bag as she’s walking.” when you as a photographer think that it’s quite possibly the best photo you have ever taken in your life.
Strive to make the viewer NOT say “Oh, it’s just a…..(insert ordinary thing here)…..”
In the sample photo above, what do you think the photographer is trying to convey to you? Is there something deeper to find in the photograph or is it just something ordinary? Does it personally hit you emotionally in some way? Do you feel this photo is a “great shot” or a “snapshot”?
I believe that people who post photos like these are more than capable of bringing out that creative side that they didn’t know they had in themselves to take their street photography further then what they are doing now.
Above is a sample photo of people texting that I believe actually works. You can tell that Larry Hallegua put “thought” into this image, resulting in a clever photograph that stands out as not an average photo.
Study photographers like: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliot Erwitt, Alex Webb, Constantine Manos, Trent Parke, as well as non-Magnum photographers like: Garry Winogrand, Vivian Maier, Joel Meyerowitz and many others. There are a lot of great photographers out there that bring their own unique style to the genre.
Stare at their work. What makes their photos good? Then what makes it great? Then what makes it beautiful? Then what makes it a classic?
Look deep inside yourself, are you wanting to take your photography a lot deeper? Do you want your photos to have more meaning and depth to them? Is your weakness “getting close”? Then practice getting close, but if you like stepping back, then study the surrounding areas of the subject to add strength to your photo. Whatever way you like to photograph just challenge yourself to look for things that are not your everyday “Instagram” looking shots. Put the thought, the heart, and more importantly the technique to your images and I am so positive that your images will begin to start looking a lot better, and you just might stand out from the others on those photo sharing sites online.
Also learn how to edit your photos. I’m not talking about “post-processing” I’m talking about knowing deep in your heart and in your gut, what is a good photo, what’s a great photo, and what photo is utter crap! Train your eye to pick out the details of your photo. Is there only one element that makes your photo? Would it have worked better if there were 2 or 3 more elements to make your photo stronger? Don’t be satisfied with “nice photo” or “great shot” comments you receive from your friends and family or those on Flickr. Sit down with photographers that you respect and look up to and get those really raw critiques on how you can better your photos in the future. You need to sit down with people who will tell you like it is with no holding back and not get offended (which is the most challenging part when hearing critiques).
If you challenge and train yourself to get “more” in your photography, you will definitely succeed in getting it.
What are your thoughts on this topic? I’d like to hear what you have to say below.
Thanks for reading,
– Michael Ares.