Why Street Photography Isn't for Me
Some photographers just love going out on the street with their camera. Living in the world, shooting the world, going on photowalks with other photographers where they all walk around together and shoot the world. In the process of shooting every day so far this year there have been days where I didn't have a shoot, or an idea, or I had a shoot for a client but couldn't use the pictures for my blog etc. Days where I had to go out for a walk with the camera slung by my side. I've come to realize that I don't really like doing it very much. Granted, there are a smattering of random street pictures from the first half of the year which I'm really happy with, but most of them were pure happenstance. Literally something I tripped over, or a split second where I saw something and was able to get my camera up in time. I understand that this is the point and that some people feed off of that idea that they may come home empty-handed or perhaps having bagged the proverbial big whale. But that excitement stresses me out. It removes all sense of control from me. I understand that I have to notice whatever I'm going shoot and be good enough technically to get the shot, but still it feels more like gamble than a skill. I want something more deliberate. I'm most definitely not a hunter, especially with portraits.
There have been plenty of times in my life where I've walked up to someone cold and asked if I can take their portrait. Not a lot, but I've shot so many people that even though the ratio is low the number is high. And I'm a friendly guy so they tend to say yes, but if you're in this situation the person is usually going to give you a minute or two. Which is fine for a couple of snaps, but no time to really dig deeper and get something special. I want it to be a partnership not a competition. Which is another thing, I don't like taking people's pictures without their permission. I try to be non-confrontational and I'm not a voyeur. I've done it a handful of times but I always felt like I was doing something wrong while doing it. Even with the tilted shot of an old man from a couple of days ago that a lot of people seemed to like as an example, that was taken from the hip because I didn't want the guy to yell at me for taking it.
I had a chat with my friend Jeffrey over at Faded & Blurred the other day and I was talking about this subject and he mentioned a quote, I think he said it was Avedon. Something like, "I don't want to wait for things to happen, I want to make them happen" Which gets somewhere closer to how I feel.
Also, from a technical perspective, I don't think that dSLRs are good street cameras. Too big overall, too noticeable. I'll put my hat in with the people that say this is where a rangefinder really shines. Smaller, less obvious, quieter shutter. Overall far more discrete. The iPhone4 actually does a decent job for photos of still objects in good light, I've found myself using that more than I thought I would, and with good results.
So, is there photographic gold in them there streets? Yes there surely is and I'm sure there will be times when I go for a walk with my camera with me. But most of the time I'm going to leave it to other photographers to find. You can't do everything well, sometimes you've got to pick your battles. I'm sure there are plenty of landscape photographers out there who would think of nothing to sit and wait for 2 hours for the light to change in their favor, but who would go into a cold sweat with the very thought of spending 2 hours taking portraits one-on-one with another human being. And I'm glad they're out there, because when it comes to landscapes if the light's not right when I get out of the car I just shrug and drive to the park lodge to buy the postcard.