Over the next several weeks I’ll be publishing, in serialized form, my new book, Mastering Street Photography.
Today’s installment is Chapter 1.
For the previous installment, CLICK HERE.
If it’s more convenient, you can find the serialization of this book on Medium.com.
The book and all images (unless expressed otherwise) are copyright ©Anthony Morganti – All Rights Reserved. Email me for permission to use – Tony@AnthonyMorganti.com
I was once asked by a non-photographer friend why I even bother with street photography, “You’re landscape and wildlife photography is so good, why would you want to do anything else?” The only answer I could muster was to say, “Because I like it”, but once I had time to think it over a bit, there are numerous reason why I, and many others, are drawn to street photography.
Street photography is easy to do. With the advent of the smartphone, most of us carry a camera with us all of the time. Furthermore, most of us live a life that takes us out into a city street for one reason or another for at least part of every day. The convenience of the camera along with the necessity of living our lives come together offering us a golden opportunity to document our city, our town, or our street.
For those that are even more enamored with street photography, one can purchase a high technology camera for a reasonable sum of money allowing that person the opportunity to take high quality, RAW digital files, to document the street.
Street photography is easy to do. Whether you choose to use a smartphone or a camera that costs thousands of dollars or, something in-between, you’ll discover that most anyone can do street photography.
I’ve been a photographer for over forty years and a professional for over thirty-five. Through the years, I’ve done several different types of photography — both professionally and for fun. From advertising to weddings, I’ve done it, but I find street photography the most challenging. As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that good street photography is much more difficult than any other type of photography. You’ll notice that I added the word good to the beginning of that statement. I’m compelled to do so because, as I already mentioned, street photography is easy to do but to be perfectly honest, it’s most challenging to do well. There are so many elements of photography — camera and lens choice, exposure settings, light angle and quality, subject framing, and so much more — And as far as street photography is concerned, all of that must come together along with one additional thing that the photographer has little control over, and is somewhat unique to street shooting — that is what, one of the greatest street photographers of all time, Henri Cartier-Bresson coined, The Decisive Moment. The Decisive Moment is that fleeting moment in time where everything in a scene falls together to correctly communicate the essence of the event depicted. The camera settings, focal length, light in the scene and the action or activity of the players in the scene all must be captured at the perfect moment — The Decisive Moment. Everything could be perfect but if the photographer presses the shutter at the wrong time, the decisive moment is lost. Forever. Never to be captured in time.
Don’t let anyone tell you that good street photography is easy. Think about it for a second — think about the more famous street photographers in the world and pick one, anyone, and look at all of their famous photographs. Even for the most famous street photographers, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more than a few dozen, street photographs, that they’re famous for. We’re talking about photographers that have taken tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of street photographs, but they’re known for less than 100 and in many cases, less than 50.
For example, the work of Vivian Maier burst upon the scene a few years ago. Over 100,000 negatives were discovered in a storage space in Chicago. Most people agree that Ms. Maier was a great street photographer, but if you look at the number of images that are considered to be, excellent or noteworthy, you’d find that there are less than 100 and likely less than 50. I’ve watched two different documentaries on Vivian Maier and in each film, they show the same 30 or so pictures over and over despite having found over 100,000 negatives. I’m not implying that Vivian Maier was a lousy photographer or even overrated. I’m saying that good street photography is rare and an excellent scene captured at the decisive moment is even more elusive.
Again, don’t ever let anyone tell you that good street photography is easy. It’s difficult.
It Improves Your Photography Overall
To be a good street photographer, you’ll need to have an innate understanding of your gear. You’ll need to change camera settings quickly, on the fly, and you’ll need to be able to focus quickly. As you grow as a street photographer, you’ll begin to have a better understanding of light and how it can affect a scene, good and bad. You’ll learn how to frame a scene to take advantage of visual clues and rule of composition that in the past, you may have ignored or missed entirely.
You’ll Develop Self-Confidence
If you’re like me, you’re a bit shy and not one to initiate conversations. With street photography you can be alone, in your thoughts, walking and taking pictures but in doing so, you’re planting yourself into the lives of others. They may notice what you’re doing, and worse yet, they may engage you in conversation. That social aspect may be against your nature, but you’re compelled to take the best street images possible so you risk it and eventually find that you can thrive being less shy and a little more friendly. You become more self-confident and outgoing. You’ll eventually become less afraid of confrontation and more look forward to communication. Maybe it will help your photography in the long run as well. It definitely won’t hurt it.
You’re Performing a Service For Society
You’re on the streets documenting life and society, but it’s important to note that you’re documenting life and society at a given moment in time. Perhaps in 100 or even 1000 years, a person will gaze upon one of your pictures and get a glimpse of what it used to be like in the past. Without you out in the street today, documenting life, there will be nothing recorded for the people of tomorrow.
What I’m writing might sound ridiculous but it shouldn’t. You should take this task seriously and consider that every image you make, is documenting where you stood, at that exact moment in time, in front of that scene. There is no telling what will happen to that area as time marches undoubtedly forward and of what value your captured moment might be for a future generation.
You Could Become Famous
There are an extraordinarily few famous street photographers who gained their chops doing a different type of photography. William Klein is one. He made his name in fashion and was the first fashion photographer to combine fashion photography with street photography. Beside Mr. Klein, there aren’t any that come to mind. Most famous street photographers simply, studiously, went out every day, taking street images. Thousands and thousands of street images and most of them became famous due to their longevity and many, along with the previously mentioned Vivian Maier, became famous after they died. Many more grew famous in the middle of their careers. Like many things in life, they caught a break, and their street photography became appreciated. Usually, this was via a showing of their work in a museum. You can achieve that level of success too. You need to, studiously, go out, every day, and take street images. Of course, I’m understating the process, but I hope you understand that you cannot be a famous photographer if you’re not taking any pictures. So, get out and shoot!
You’re Making an Artistic Statement
Ask yourself two questions:
- What moves you aesthetically?
- What social issues interest you?
Perhaps you’re drawn to high contrast, black and white images. You can look for scenes to shoot then later process those images to reflect your aesthetic style. Right there, you’re making an Artistic Statement — you’re interpreting the world in front of your lens and communicating your interpretation of that scene to the world. That, at its core, is art. Perhaps you have more to say — more you want to communicate through your photography besides the aesthetic. Maybe you’re interested in homelessness in general and the homelessness of our veterans in particular. You can go out creating high contrast, black and white images of homeless veterans. With that, you’ll be making an Artistic Social Statement.
The possibilities are endless.
I saved this reason for last because why do we do anything that we don’t have to? Usually, we do it because it’s enjoyable for us or maybe it could be enjoyable for someone else. With street photography, you’re checking both of those boxes. Of course, it’s enjoyable for you. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t have picked up this book to get better at it. But, it’s also pleasurable to others. If not today, years from now, maybe even hundreds of years from now, your street photography will satisfy someone and in my opinion, that’s all the more reason to get out, right now, and press that shutter button.