Street Photographer's Boot Camp
In my first semester in college I took a course in English Composition. Even then I fancied that I could write well, or at least easily. It was going to be the class that balanced out the tribulations of Chemistry and Calculus. We attended the class five days a week and each day an essay was assigned. As of Day 4, I had accumulated three Fs on my essays. The rule was that any major grammatical error warranted an F. It seems I was given to comma splicing. That is where you hook two independent sentences together with a comma. The class did not cure me, by the way. It is still my favorite grammatical error. However, for that semester, starting on Day 4, I changed my ways. Coincidentally, on Day 4 our professor introduced composition life-changing rules. Starting that day and for the rest of the semester, we were not allowed to use any form of the verb “to be”. By my count, already six of the sentences in this paragraph would have been disallowed. Over the next nine weeks, each week he took away some other construction. In Week 2, he took away the use of personal pronouns. I am so lost without the pronoun “I”. No doubt, you are getting the idea. So how does it relate to street photography?
It is very easy take boring street photography, just like it is easy to write mundane compositions.
Boring #1 The picture has been snapped randomly. There is no intentional subject.
Boring #2 Street performers are the subject. Let’s face it, if you take a picture of a street performer, hundreds of other people are also taking a picture of the same performer. That is the worst version of the phenomena known as “street repeat”.
Boring #3 People in the margins of society are the subject. In this case it is not so much that the picture is boring, although how many pictures of people sleeping in a park bench do you really want to see? The real problem is that the photographer has to resort to such low hanging fruit. I must add that photographers who work in these communities and get to know the people that they are photographing are not in this category
Boring #4 The backs of people are the subject.
Boring #5 There is nothing interesting about the subject in the picture.
Boring #6 The picture is taken at eye level. Maybe this is better said as “all pictures are taken at eye level”.
Boring #7 The juxtaposition of signs and people. Let me hasten to add that I do not find this boring at all. But some some photographers do. Just saying.
Oh my, I have taken and continue to take almost all of these kinds of potentially boring street photos, just like I use the verb “to be” when I write. Maybe it is time to do a hard stop on boring street photography for a specified period of time. For example, new rule: For a month, no random snapping of street photos that have no intentional subject. In fact, to make certain you don’t sneak one in, make a pact with yourself that you have to specify your reason for taking the photo before the shutter is released every single time during that month.
Also, it does not just have to be “boring” that you give up. For example, if almost all of your street photography pictures are street portraits, maybe you need to go out from time to time and not shoot street portraits. I think creativity is like a muscle. You have to flex it for it to be strong.
Is there something you use as a go-to in street photography? Make a concrete plan to give that up for a specified time. Even just one shoot is a start. Be deliberate in your thoughts about what you are going to do that is different.