Okay, I must be truthful with you, I was not a big fan of street photography.
That was before….
However, I have been taking great lengths to try and understand it because there is a huge following, especially here in Korea and around the world. For the past few months I have been studying the art and picking through the nuts and bolts or street photography to find out the attraction and how to do it. I must say that I have changed my feeling towards it.
Why was I not a Fan?
Well the big part about it is based on an incorrect assumption made up entirely in my head. When I first got into photography I had some serious and harsh critiques made about my work and a lot came from so-called “street photographers” Immediately I labelled them as “douche bags” and went on a hateful spree of negativity.
I thought all of their “street photos” were pointless and boring. I was frequently annoyed when I saw the thousands of comments on pictures of people sitting on a subway in Seoul or something like that. I thought “There are 1000’s of these shots! what makes this one so special?” So then I attributed it to what I like to call “Flickr Farming” and that is basically where you comment on thousands of peoples shots a day and hope that they will return the favour.
I was wrong
Street photography is extremely difficult. It is challenging and even scary sometimes. I have been sneaking out and attempting it for the last little while. It shocked me how hard it was. I kept thinking to myself “Come on Jason! remember what Trey Ratcliff said!” In a post awhile ago and in one of his bo0ks, Trey made a comment about taking photos of people which was “Don’t be shy! You’re not a 9 year-old girl!”
I choked most of the time with the fear of an angry ajumma chasing me down the street and knocking the stuffing out of me. If they will do it to get the best melons at the market, I had no doubt they would do it to me. However, much like asking a girl out on the first date, once you actually do it, it gets easier with practice.
I quickly realized that my perception of street photography and street photographers was way off and that these people actually know their cameras inside and out. Before I sort of pictured street photographers as young hipsters with skinny pants and retro cameras. They came with know-all-attitude and would look down on my “rig” of a camera as they polished their Leica M9. Suffice to say
I was wrong again
As I looked into the techniques and what other people using, I found that the rangefinder cameras like the M9 and the Fuji X100 (perhaps even the new X10 coming soon) were commonly used but not the be all and end all in the street photography world. You can get by with possibly the set up that you got but there was one thing that kept coming up and that is about being noticed. With a huge camera like mine, people will see you pt ti up to your eye. They will also see you pull it out of your bag and get ready. With the smaller cameras and even your iPhone, people don’t notice as much and the risk of confrontation and/or awkwardness is decreased.
The biggest thing that I learned is that street photography takes a lot of skill. You subject will and may look back at you and say something. Think about it, what would you do if you were minding your own business and you saw a stranger taking your picture? This is unlike anything that I have ever encountered since I used to shoot for the Ulsan Pear, a newspaper that I helped make back in the day. There is also something to be still said about the quality….
In any artistic realm there are good things and bad things. Photography is no different and there is a of mediocre photos out there and it doesn’t matter the style. I am not saying that they are better or worse than anything in my collection but what I am trying to say I guess is that what someone thinks is a great street photography shot, may just be out of focus. Yes, it may have been shot on film with an antique camera and have a darkened vignette and that “moody” film grain but it is still a mess of blurred lines and whatnot. This goes for HDR shots as well and a quick search on flickr may make your eyes bleed.
What does that say about street photography? It says that it is hard and very challenging. It means that you need to learn how to predict the movements of people and remain unseen. You need to work with the environment to create the kind of pictures that say so much about the area and the people that live in it and it is not the camera nor the medium that you print it on that will “make” the photo but the skill of the photographer using those tools to capture the scene.
This I just want to apologize to the street photographers over the years that I have secretly scoffed at. I now know how hard you work to get your shots. I am also starting to enjoy getting out and photography the city life and the street around my place. For some inspiration take a look at JT in Seoul as well as Eric Kim’s Blog which is an amazing resource Also check out Dave Powell’s Shoot Tokyo Blog it showcases some great work and gives great insight.
be sure to also check out the Seoul Photo Club because they have so many great photographers that are taking some great street shots. Talking to them could prove to be useful in understanding this challenging photographic style.