The curse of the street photo hunt: Why I decided to slow down

“Get yourself a comfortable pair of shoes”

That was one of the first things I learnt when I started to practise street photography. It was for good reason, as for anyone reading this knows that street photography involves an intense amount of walking. What the teaching also did however, was implant in my brain that street photography was all about the hunt - something I have discovered can have a negative impact on your work.

Pre-shoot checklist 

Charged battery - check.
Clean SD cards - check.
50mm - check.
Bottle of water - check.
Snickers - check.
Google Maps - check.
Correct attire to fit weather conditions - check.

As soon as all is cleared I leave my home, travel to my starting point and begin the hunt. It is usually from this point that I begin walking, only stopping to take a shot, for the next 5-6 hours. An issue that started to develop from this hunt mentality is that I became increasingly frustrated when I did not find something to catch. Endless amounts of walking would lead to fatigue, my eye would become lazy and in act of desperation I would return home with a low quality shot, trying to convince myself it had some worth.

Then one evening whilst thinking of the frustration that had developed and what I could do to overcome it, I had a thought - Why do I always have to go to the shots when I can let the shots come to me?

This initially went against all my street photography instinct. Part of the excitement of having a day filled with shooting is the exploration. But what if this was having a negative impact on my work? I then started to think about all the shots that went by me as I walked the streets looking for an interesting frame. I cannot shoot what I did not see.

I decided to put my new way of thinking into practise. Instead of walking miles on end, I would remain on one block for the full duration of my session. I thought that deciding to slow the train down if you will, will make my eye more accurate. It would make my mind think more and my decision to take the shot more calculated.

Here is an example of my new approach…

 Leon, Nicaragua 

Leon, Nicaragua 

Had I been whisking through the streets my eye would likely have seen - nice coloured wall/woman sweeping. I would have either taken a bland shot or not talking one at all. However, being stood on the path stationary, I waited to see if the scene came to me. Being more observant allowed me to spot the woman in the pink walking towards my frame. Thankfully just as she was approaching, the pigeon landed in the street, so I decided to use the woman as a frame within the frame - giving the image more depth. Thankfully all the colours merged well together and overall I feel  this became a stronger shot.

The drug of the hunt

The hunt approach to me is honestly like a drug. The feeling of euphoria one gets when putting in the leg time and getting a great shot because of it, is honestly one of the big reasons I feel keeps most people hooked to this art form. I will never walk away from that, but it will no longer be the sole idea of what I think street photography should be.

If you are going through a rough patch with your street photography and feel like you are wasting countless hours and miles, then try this approach for yourself. Slowing down, scoping the scene and being patient will make you more present whilst making your work. Like me, you may also feel a lot less pressure to succeed.

Hunting is great - but you don’t always have to go and get your dinner - sometimes you can let your dinner come to you.

Thanks for reading

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T: danginntweets
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My response: Do Female Street Photographers see differently?

Last week I read an article by the wonderful street photographer Elizabeth Gray, in which she asked the question; Do female street photographers see differently?

Female street photography is on the rise, with more and more organisations representing the excellent high standard of street photography that women are bringing to the table. With the conversation of female representation ever growing, it is natural that someone should make a comparison on the potential differences men and women have in relation to how they see a frame that they are shooting.

Here is what Elizabeth had to say about her question in the piece.

“So do I see things differently? Sometimes I think I capture the world from a softer perspective than a man. I am always looking for expressions and emotions. Motherhood may have helped me become more in tune with subtle nuances in people’s gestures. I don’t intentionally try to capture sexy images of people unless they tell a story.”

Whilst it is a good question, and a thoughtful answer, realistically there is not enough information presented to really establish a clear outcome as to whether or not woman see the world differently to men in regards to street photography. However I would argue that having a softer perspective and being able recognise the emotions of others is not exclusive to gender, and is more likely related to our unique life experiences and how we empathise with others.

Many avenues of life give you your eye.. and there are too many variables to generalise. Our socioeconomic backgrounds, the relationships we have with our family, the behavioural traits we have as individuals and how we identify. All these things and more shape who we are and the way we shoot.

If you look at the work of Robert Frank, his images were full of empathy and had a gentle touch to them. From photographs of children, couples embracing and racial tension - he really had the ability to hold you to an image and make you feel. Just take a look at his work in Paris - Robert Frank, Paris

My thoughts

In terms of my answer to the question, my instincts would say that no gender does not make us see differently as street photographers. Of course as one group we do have a wide range of eyes and a variable amount of ways that we all tell stories through our work. However, I feel our gender does not play as much of part as does our life experience - which is extremely complex in comparison to what sex we were born.

I’m glad the question has been asked though. It created an excellent conversation amongst a section of the street photography community, which for me is always a positive thing. And whichever side you are on, right now neither can be fully sure of the answer.

 © Elizabeth Gray

© Elizabeth Gray

So, how could we get the answer?

Discussing the topic with my girlfriend, who has a degree in psychology, she came up with this suggestion…

“You could get a collection of photographs, half taken by male street photographers and the other half by female. Put together a large group of people and present the images to them, without disclosing the gender of the photographer, and ask them if they thought the image was taken by a male or a female. You can then analyse the data and look for trends. This way you would be closer to getting an answer”.

So, Elizabeth what do you say? Fancy working on this together so we can show the street photography world the answer? I’m game if you are.

One thing we can all agree on at this stage, no matter if you’re female or male - from both genders there is some quality work being put out there which puts the field in an extremely healthy place.

****

To see more work from Elizabeth, be sure to visit her website - https://photographybyelizabethgray.com 

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Struggling to shoot street in El Salvador

I’m currently in Santa Ana, El Salvador. It is a picturesque town located in the west side of the country. The town itself is full of colour, variety and heavy footfall - especially in and around Parque Colon, where the locals gather each day to relax and enjoy time with friends. All of this on paper reads as though it is the perfect place for a street photographer. So why do I find myself having a hard time getting out and getting some shots in?

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Hard to be a Ninja

With or without a camera I stand out like a sore thumb. So far, I am one of a very few white males circulating the town, which has meant that my appearance immediately draws the eyes of the local people. Combine that with having a camera and pointing it in the direction of others, it becomes pretty hard to go in an out of the streets unnoticed - no matter how subtle I am trying to be.

The reason I am one of the few white males in Santa Ana is because not many people from the US and Europe travel here. Unfortunately El Salvador has a representation for being an extremely dangerous place to be. It has high crime rates and is currently dealing with a major issue with homicidal related crimes. My experience so far has been pleasant as the locals do seem friendly. However it is hard to let all the warnings about the country slip out of your mind, and in result I cannot fully relax into my street walks.

Due to the high crime rates, the streets are filled with police and security who are carrying firearms. Just to highlight the extent of the situation; if you were to go to Pollo Campero to get some fried chicken, you can be sure that the door will be opened by a security guard who is carrying a pistol in his waist side.

This kind of culture is alien to me. In England you know when you see law enforcement with a gun then something serious has gone down, not that someone has potentially made a fuss over a bargain bucket.

Struggling to shoot the poor

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El Salvador is a poor country. It is a completely different world to the one I know back home in London. The streets a filled with hundreds of people doing all they can to make a dollar or two. Then here I am, this white British guy who has been able to travel the world, all whilst having a nice big full frame camera in his hand - a luxury not so accessible to the people of Santa Ana. There is a mental block in my mind. It tells me I have no right to make these people, many of whom are in a level of poverty that I will never experience, the highlight of my frames. I’m certainly carrying an element of guilt with me when I walk around.

 

A struggle but not impossible

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It hasn’t been all closed doors whilst I have been here. As I say there is a lot of beauty within these streets and I have done all I can to get some shots. Also, Santa Ana does have some more affluent parts where the feeling of unease is not so present. Sadly I still find myself being tense, and in these circumstances I never seem to get the best out of my work.

I know most of my barriers are physiological, and I would never let it put you off coming here - there are plenty of positives.  But in this moment there is a dark cloud that has been installed over my head and I am finding it difficult to escape.

I’m going to go away and process that and see if I can come back with a different mindset for you.

Thanks for reading.

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