I recently received an email from one of my readers. They were very complimentary of my street work, which of course is a nice rub on the ego, however there was one question which I wasn’t so comfortable with.
“How do I take photos just like you?”.
The answer is - You don’t.
To be clear, I am not suggesting for one moment that nobody is capable of emulating the quality of my own work. Nor am I insinuating that it would be outrageous for anyone to even dare copy my style. There are plenty of photographers that I myself look at and think “God I wish I had a body of work like yours”. The point is, photography should be personal, it should display a message only you can spread. You won’t do that trying to be anyone else.
Street photography does not need another Bruce Gilden or Joel Meyerowitz. It needs the likes of Gavin Bragdon (bragdonbrothers.com) or Becky Frances (Becky's Flickr), two wonderful Street Photographers (two of my personal faves) who are doing there own thing, and doing it exceptionally well. They are two photographers whose images I see, without knowing who has taken them, and I instantly think of their names. They have not created that recognition by trying to take images like other people. They have got down and dirty, probably had a huge amount of failure to get to a place where their work becomes, fluid, effortless and with a quality only recognisable to them.
The problem with emulating other Street Photographers, is that you make the field become stagnated. Every style has its time and place, and in order for a movement to keep growing, we need to be free thinkers and pioneers of new perspectives that still lend from the fundamentals of the art.
I am a big fan of street photography, and whilst I follow the content of a few photographers, I try not to look at too much of others peoples’ work. Not because I am not interested, but because it is easy to become a copycat, even if you have no intention of being one. On several occasions I have seen a shot, gone to make it and thought “hang on - I have seen that somewhere else before”. That is not to say my work is a unique, never seen before sensation. However, I do like to think I am grasping my own style and identity, something that has taken several years to do. Coincidentally, there have been two images I have shared this week, where two photographers have said “I have taken a short near on identical to that”. Of course I did not copy, it is inevitable that street togs will see and make similar shots. But it was my reaction to it that was important. These are two very talented photographers, so to see what they see is very flattering. That said, I wanted to bin the images because I want my own eye, not a replica of somebody else's. One of those photographers was Craig Whitehead, someone else whose photography I really admire. His compositions and eye for colour is exceptional. He is someone else who has done very well to create his own identity. You can see a large selection of his work here - Six Street Under.
Fear of criticism in Street Photography
I think one of the main reasons people like to replicate, is because it is a safe option. Casuals will give their images plenty of likes on social media, and they will get the validation they were looking for when they made the image. Trying to have your own style can be difficult. You open the door to plenty of criticism and with today’s keyboard warriors - plenty of non constructive drivel that only sets out to put you down and diminish your efforts. But criticism can not kill you. Sure it can kick you straight in the ego, but if you can move beyond that, you really should not fear it. In fact, you should enjoy it. Your work is being analysed - how great is that? Be sure to listen when it is constructive and to ignore when it is toxic.
We all have an idea of what our identity is as a photographer, however it doesn’t mean that people will instantly see what you want them to see. Often, if it goes against the norm, they will reject it - that is human nature. Do you think pioneers became so from their first set of images? Absolutely not. They key is to remain consistent and confident in the way you practise. If you believe in what you are creating, and keep working on it, people will eventually believe with you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, it may not be until many years down the line, but it will come - I am sure of it. Remember, the development of one's craft is not about instant gratification, it is all about process and is often recognised over a longer period of time. What I mean by this is that if you are not getting high fives today, don’t become down trodden or lazy - focus on the long term in order to remain inspired.
I know there will be some people reading this thinking “practise what you preach mate - your work is hardly ground breaking”. Again, I am not saying it is. But it is the process of how you work that is more important. I don’t ask how other photographers make their shots, I appreciate them but that is as far as it goes - I fully believe you should be doing the same.
So stop worrying what cameras others are using. Stop craving to find out how they edit their images. And stop concerning yourself with “wanting to take shots just like that”. Be your own person. You are talented, creative and full of new ideas - develop them - it will benefit both you and the rest of us.
Thanks for reading.
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