103 Lessons I’ve Learned From Street Photography

Downtown LA, 2014
Downtown LA, 2014
  1. A good photo asks more questions than provides answers
  2. 35mm as a focal length is generally ideal for most street photographers. 28mm is too wide (most people don’t get close enough) and 50mm is too tight.
  3. My keeper ratio : one decent shot a month, one shot I am proud of in a year.
  4. “When in doubt, click.” – Charlie Kirk
  5. When in doubt, take a step closer.
  6. You will become a better photographer by asking people what they don’t like about your shots (rather than what they like).
  7. A harsh and constructive critique is better than a pat on the back.
  8. A good photo critique needs (at least) 4 sentences online. Preferably 8 sentences or more.
  9. It isn’t the quantity of social media followers you have that matters, rather then quality of followed you have that matters.
  10. Be consistent : stick with one camera, lens, film, or post processing approach to develop your style.
  11. Great photography projects generally take at least 5-10 years.
  12. Buy books, not gear.
  13. The only way money will make you happier in photography if you invest it into experiences (travel, workshops, teachers) rather than material things (cameras, lenses, gear).
  14. The best camera bag in street photography is no camera bag.
  15. “The decisive moment” is a myth. Even Henri Cartier-Bresson took at least 5 photos of scenes he found interesting and worked the scene to get the one memorable shot.
  16. Most famous photographers are only known for their 1-3 most popular images after they die. If you accomplish the same, you have done your job as a photographer.
  17. When shooting film, it is better to over expose than underexpose (film has more details in the highlights).
  18. When shooting digital, it is better to unexpose than overexpose (digital has more details in the shadows).
  19. Street photos of people just walking by billboards is boring.
  20. To become a great street photographer you must first understand what a great street photograph is. Study the masters.
  21. When shooting street photography with a DSLR, micro 4/3rds, or a compact and you don’t want to worry about technical considerations, just use “P” mode at ISO 1600.
  22. Projects are more meaningful than single images.
  23. Creating a photo book is the ultimate expression of a photographer.
  24. Shoot as if each day were your last.
  25. One camera, one lens is bliss.
  26. Grain is beautiful, noise is ugly.
  27. My favorite films are Kodak Tri-X (for black and white) and Kodak Portra 400 (for color).
  28. Bokeh in street photography is overrated. Shoot at f8-16
  29. With film, your first 10,000 photos are your worst. With digital, it is more like your first 1,000,000 are your worst.
  30. The secret of a memorable street photograph : capturing emotion.
  31. A street photograph without emotion is dead.
  32. No amount of post processing will make a crappy photograph into a good photograph.
  33. Wait at least 6 months to a year before uploading your images to the Internet, to truly understand if is a good photograph or not.
  34. When it comes to editing, remember to “kill your babies.”
  35. Cheesy titles in street photographs don’t make them any better.
  36. Watermarks in street photographs ruin the viewing experience for your audience.
  37. Buying a more expensive camera won’t make you a better street photographer.
  38. Shooting film will teach you more discipline in street photography (and may lead you to become a better photographer).
  39. Street photography is the most challenging genre of photography out there.
  40. A great street photograph needs strong content (what’s inside the frame) and form (composition).
  41. Shoot for yourself, not others.
  42. Spend less time on gear review sites and more time on Magnumphotos.com
  43. You can never spend too much money on photo books.
  44. You are your worst critic. Always get critique from others, they will help spot the holes in your photography.
  45. Sticking with one focal length for a long time will help you better pre visualize your shot and master framing.
  46. You are only as good as your worst (public) street photograph.
  47. Secret to good multi subject shots : don’t overlap your subjects and look for emotional gestures.
  48. How to improve your framing : don’t crop for a year.
  49. How to become a better editor : don’t upload photos to social media for a year.
  50. Try to shoot at eye level (or extremely above or below) your subjects. So crouch when taking photos of people sitting down, shorter than you, or kids. Or shoot from a very high vantage point.
  51. 99% of street photographs are ruined by messy backgrounds.
  52. To get cleaner street photographs, first find a clean background and then wait for your subjects to enter the scene.
  53. If your mom likes your street photographs, your photos are probably generic and boring.
  54. Always carry a camera with you.
  55. Street photographs don’t have to have people in them (but generally are more interesting with them in it).
  56. You don’t need a Leica to shoot street photography. Be grateful for what you have and use what you got.
  57. Spend 99% of your time editing your photos (choosing your best images) and only 1% of your time post processing them.
  58. Style in street photography is a combination of having consistent equipment (camera and focal length) as well as “look” (film or post processing style) and content (the subjects you generally photograph).
  59. It is better to over shoot a scene then under shoot a scene.
  60. “Shoot from the gut, edit with the brain” – Anders Petersen
  61. It is always nice to have a shooting partner when out on the streets.
  62. “Shoot who you are.” – Bruce Gilden
  63. Taking a photo of an interesting character isn’t enough. Try to capture them in an interesting context or with a good gesture.
  64. Don’t take photos of homeless people and street performers. They rarely make good photos.
  65. Don’t worry if your photos qualify as “street photography” or not. Just aim to make meaningful and memorable images.
  66. Telling the truth isn’t the job of a street photographer (it is for the photo journalist).
  67. Don’t be afraid to interact with your subjects when shooting on the streets. Not all of your photos have to be candid.
  68. You can make interesting posed street photographs. But don’t pretend to your audience that they are candid.
  69. There is no one “right” definition of street photography. Define it personally for yourself and just shoot.
  70. You often can’t control the scene when you are shooting in the streets, but you can control whether you share the image or not. Case in point : don’t make excuses for the small failures in your photos, just edit out those shots.
  71. Don’t respect the critique of other photographers unless you have seen their portfolio.
  72. Zoom lenses will prevent you from becoming a great street photographer (you will never master one focal length). Stick to primes (preferably a 35mm full frame equivalent). 28mm and 50mm are okay too (if you can use it well).
  73. A single photo can’t tell a story (it doesn’t have a beginning, middle, or an end). Only photo series or projects can do that.
  74. The photos you take are more of a reflection of yourself (than of the people you photograph).
  75. The importance of looking at great photos : you are what you eat. Fine french cuisine = great photos in books, galleries, or exhibitions. Junk food = most photos on Instagram, Flickr, Facebook (not always, but mostly).
  76. 99% of people on the Internet don’t know what a great street photograph is. Don’t always trust the comments, likes, and favorites you get from the Internet on social media sites. Rather, stick around in street photography critique groups (or private ones).
  77. You will find the best street photography opportunities in the least expected places.
  78. When you see an interesting person or a scene, don’t just take one photo and move on. Aim to take at least 5 photos (or more if possible).
  79. Beware using telephoto lenses in street photography. Remember, “Creepiness is proportional to focal length.”
  80. Incorporate your own reflections and shadows in street photography. They often make interesting images (look up Lee Friedlander).
  81. Photos shot head on have more energy and drama than photos shot from the side.
  82. A brief list of great street photographers : Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Klein, Daido Moriyama, Diane Arbus, Weegee, Bruce Gilden, Alex Webb, Joel Meyerowitz, Martin Parr, Josef Koudelka,
  83. After taking a photo of a stranger, make it a rule to look at them, smile, and say thank you.
  84. I never regret taking photos. I always regret not taking photos.
  85. It is better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.
  86. Be confident while you are shooting and rarely will you have any issues. Be nervous while shooting and you will ruin into many problems.
  87. The only person you should try to impress with your photos is yourself.
  88. The benefit of getting eye contact in your photos : eyes are the windows to the soul.
  89. Don’t make photos. Make connections.
  90. The best place to shoot street photography isn’t New York, Tokyo, or Paris. The best place to shoot is your backyard.
  91. See your scenes with your eyes and shoot with your heart.
  92. If you are working on a project and photographers discourage you by saying “it has been done before” ignore them. Nobody has done it like you before.
  93. Street photography is applied sociology with a camera.
  94. If you aim to get recognition for your photography you will never get it.
  95. If someone gets upset when you take their photograph, offer to email them a copy. Carrying around business cards always come in handy.
  96. Don’t just look at photos, read into them.
  97. To double your success rate in street photography, double your failure rate.
  98. The photos you decide not to show are more important than the photos you decide to show.
  99. Rather than creating photos to please your audience, find an audience that will be pleased by your photos.
  100. Street photography isn’t a contest about how many followers, viewers, followers, exhibitions, books, cameras, lenses, and fame you have. There are no winners and losers. Collaborate with one another instead of competing with one another.
  101. Giving away my prints and cameras has brought me more joy than selling it for money.
  102. The friendships I have made through street photography is mode valuable than any of the photos I have ever taken.
  103. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity – Seneca. Make your own luck.