After 10 years of shooting street photography, one thing I’m starting to realize is that I’m becoming a bit complacent with my work. I have a few projects behind me which I think are quite strong, and I think haven’t pushed myself hard enough to innovate in my work. I need to push my limits, and I want this letter to be a call for you to push your limits too.
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You’re hitting the road and your camera is at the top of the old checklist. Your goal is to make photographs that will be memorable and bring back the feelings of being there. So how can you do that? Of course you’ll need a good photo of the Eiffel Tower or Taj Mahal. But photos of cityscapes and monuments only tell part of the story. To capture the essence of a place, you need to capture the element that makes it most unique: the people.
The idea of going to a foreign country and taking photos of strangers might at first seem daunting, difficult and frightening. It’s not. Trust me, if I can do it, you can too. To get you started in the right direction, I’d like to share some of the techniques I’ve learned while globetrotting with my camera.
One of the big things that inspires me in photography, life, and technology is the ability to “democratize”, to add “access”, and to make things “affordable” to the masses.
For a little bit of personal background; I grew up “lower-working class” (my mom was more or less a single mom, working 3-part time jobs, and could barely afford rent every month). I lived in anxiety as a kid (I remember being 11 years old, and my mom telling me that we might be homeless next month because my dad gambled away the rent money).
I grew up pretty scrappy— knowing how to make do with what I had. I didn’t have much money at all as a kid (I would sometimes take my lunch money, go hungry for lunch, and use my lunch money to eventually buy sneakers or clothes).
However my savior was technology (specifically my computer). My computer empowered me. Once I got the internet (AOL 3.0, with a dial-up 38.8k modem) I was able to play free games, download (illegally) early versions of Photoshop and Visual Basic, I self-taught myself web design, programming, had access to tons of “free” information online, and the ability to connect with people half-way around the world.
Self-employement can be great, but one of the worst parts about being in business for yourself is…well, being in business for yourself. So much more responsibility rests directly on you, and you almost literally hold the key to your success or failure. You are salesman, accountant, receptionist, customer service representative, coffee fetcher…and, somewhere way down the list is the actual service you provide.
Many of us dislike or perhaps loath some of the other hats we must wear. We’d rather be shooting the covers of magazines than spending time cold-calling, trying to land that next magazine cover shoot. But, one area where many well-meaning and driven photographers lack expertise is in actually marketing their services and bringing in new clients. Sure, there are plenty of divas who simply think if they shoot what they love that the masses will blaze a trail to their door, but most photographers are simply intimidated by the prospect of marketing or at a loss as to where they should begin.
And then, there’s always the cost factor. Many of us don’t have large marketing budgets. We can’t afford to launch TV campaigns the are synchronized with print and online advertising pushes and reach tens of thousands of people in a short time. We are stingy with our money, not because of a dark, miserly side, but simply because we know the value of the money we earn and always seem to have a million other areas to which we could apply it. However, marketing your photography business doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Fashion and editorial photographer Jeff Rojas is based in New York City. He has competition on every street corner and a budget that doesn’t come to close to rivaling the GDP of even the world’s poorest nations. (I mean, which of us really does, right?) So, with a little time and creativity, Jeff has done his best to maximize the budget that he does have.
One of the biggest obstacles in street photography is the fear of capturing strangers. I mean, it makes sense. You are taking photos of people without asking them for their permission first. Although it is completely legal in a lot of countries, it still takes guts to pull it off.
Jack Canfield once said: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” It’s so true, because once you overcome your fear, a whole new world opens up for you. Incredible Moments and subjects that would’ve never ended up in your portfolio before.
This is the story of how I wrestled with death twice to live for photography. Before I wrote this article, I told a couple of people about it since it means so much to me. Although some didn’t understand how I could talk so openly about this topic, I decided that it’s my duty to generate awareness and help others even if it means that I’m revealing my biggest struggle in front of the world.
Although this article is not the easiest one to write, I just need to get this off my chest. In case you haven’t noticed, street photography means the world to me. I pour all my heart and soul into it and to be honest, just like you I couldn’t imagine living without it anymore. If something or someone has a special place in your heart, you are willing to go out of your way and speak out inconvenient truths that may or may not offend certain people. Whether you may fully agree with what I’m saying or can’t believe that I have the audacity to do so, I’m only saying this, because I deeply care.
It began with living in the real world, a place that drives me to perpetual curiosity. Humans are a fascinating study, even for the layman like myself. These subservient minions of biology seem hardwired for utter chaos, and, like receiving an ambulance dispatch to a freshman sorority at 3 a.m. on a Saturday, not even God Himself can predict what you will see next.
Little-known fact: In a previous life (before a wife and kids), I was one of those people they would call out to pick up the drunken pieces after a college bash. But, it wasn’t all fun and games…there were also those times of trying everything in my power to revive a loved one who just died in my hands as their family screamed in anguish around me. But that all seems so long ago…
The cynical phrase, “Nothing is as it seems,” rings especially true. As humans, we naturally perceive what we want to perceive, and, no matter how much we sometimes like to convince ourselves we’re being truly objective or non-judgemental, we are constantly making subconscious judgement calls throughout our daily life. [Read More…]
“If you are a silent sniper with a telephoto, when they do notice you they will feel like you’ve taken something from them.”
As photographers, we often measure our moments in hundredths of seconds. As a result, we are regularly faced with the undeniable truth that missed moments are gone forever. It’s one thing to miss a moment due to technical issues or circumstances beyond your control, but how many times has an opportunity– business, artistic, or personal– been lost because you’ve been too shy to capture it?
A few weeks back, I did a post about lighting a portrait from different angles – the portrait cheat sheet card. As part of the project I also posted the setup shot for creating the card allowing DIYP readers into my leaving room.
If you went supersize into my studio my wife’s living room, you could see two pictures on the right corner. This, of course besides the usual mess and child goo left all over the floor.
Tuffer who is apparently moving to Brussels got intrigued by the mystery of my living room and asked what those pictures are. (Feel free to ask more questions about my living room. it is a wondrous place)