A Tip In Street Photography Vol. 6: Be Different, Not Better

I find that when I'm out shooting, I'm free. I treat the sessions as therapy, I allow them to calm me. However, when I'm browsing through Instagram or Flickr, consuming others work, I begin to feel stressed, less than. The quality of the work doesn't matter, something as small as having a city with a larger population can bother me. I yearn for what I don't have, I begin to compare and discredit myself. I focus on being better when I should be looking to stand out.

Go Against The Grain

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I use to play a lot of basketball growing up... I had a unique shooting style, I still do today. I pull the ball from my hip and shoot with two hands but I release with one. I know that's hard to envision, but I remember vividly, my friends getting mad at me, screaming "that's not how you play basketball". The jump shot was ugly, but it worked, my defender could never tell when I was shooting, thus I made more shots than misses. My game wasn't pretty and I wasn't better than half of the guys on the court, but I found a whole that allowed me to stand out and succeed.

I get the same flack when it comes to street photography. Once again, people seem to be unhappy with my shooting style. I take "snapshots" and I spend more time shooting what's going on around me as opposed to making moments. This normally results in me taking more meaningless photos, which apparently goes against the rules of street photography, but I just see it as me working the scene until I get the shot I want. 

Create What You Feel, Not What You See

People often ask how they can be different? How can they stand out? How can they put their stamp on their work? The answer is to develop a style. I know, easier said than done. But actually, it's not. When you're on the streets you have the mentality to keep your eye open, look for juxtaposition or similar tones, create interesting moments. All that stuff's good advice, but the real way to develop a style within your work is to shoot what you feel.

Whenever you get a weird feeling in your body take the picture. Don't worry about if the picture is good or if the moment was great just photograph it. You live in a digital era, you can worry about the quality of your image later, but in that moment just take the picture. As you continue to do that you'll notice little things that stand out in each image. For me, it was that I liked older people and expressions. I would stand behind people and wait for them to turn around and give me the "oh shit, I didn't know you were behind me" face. I began to make this a focus of my work. It wasn't something I saw on Instagram or something I was trying to replicate, it was authentic to me. I put me in my photographs, which no one else can do, the reactions I captured were caused by me... No one else can replicate that. I captured what I felt and it allowed me to create things that were typically impossible to see.

Related: A Tip-In Street Photography Vol. 4: Forget Candid Moments

Don't Be Afraid To Suck

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In street photography, you have to be risk averse. This means you have to be open to trying new things, a lot of these things won't work and your photographs will likely turn out horrible, but that's all part of the process. You can't be afraid to suck, you can't be afraid to have a bad day or bad month. They happen and you have to embrace those moments. 

I remember my first time shooting street portraits, I failed on so many different occasions. Yet I still put the workout and documented my process. I blogged about the mistakes as opposed to just shelving the images, this helped me figure out where I went wrong and it helped me on the next go around.

Now I'm not asking you to put out shit work, but don't be afraid to capture it because at the very least you can see where you fucked up and make those adjustments. Hell, sometimes you may get lucky and realized something you did that was technically wrong actually worked for you. Example, I shoot in burst mode, I didn't know it was frowned upon, but people gave me shit for it day in and day out, yet I kept shooting in that mode and I began to capture candid moments that I could never have planned for.

Related: Take Bad Photographs