This holiday break I was with my brother who also likes taking photos. I asked him about the photos he was taking and he and I both confessed that we weren’t really taking that many photos at the moment for one reason or another. As we chatted my frustration at this fact grew and I decided it was time to come up with a plan to help myself get out of this photographic funk and get back into shooting again.
Some of these ideas will be useful for you too if you lack street photography motivation at the moment.
Step 0: Identify the root cause
Chances are there is one or maybe two ideas in here that will be very useful for you and there’s probably a couple that won’t be useful at all. There’s even a chance that none of these ideas will help you, but this step will help you more than anything else.
You need to have an honest chat with yourself about why you aren’t taking photos, or why you aren’t enjoying taking photos.
If you think your photos are bad, then there is a different remedy than if you think you can’t improve upon a photo you’ve taken in the past. If you feel like you’ve taken the same photo a hundred times, then you need a different treatment to the person who goes out but never sees anything worth photographing.
So sit down with a pen and paper (or electronic device), as yourself why you aren’t enjoying photography and put those words down. If you can’t figure it out, then plan to go and take photos and when you feel the resistance rising, start writing how you feel at that moment.
With that out of the way, here are some possible treatments that might cure your photography funk.
1. Shoot a different style
There are many different types of photography and different styles within them. Think of Street photography, you’ve got geometry obsessed Henri Cartier-Bresson, the colorful layers of Alex Webb, the full-frontal flash of Bruce Gilden, and the playful flash of Martin Parr. That’s just one genre and you can branch out like Koudelka and try portraits or landscapes.
2. Shoot like a master
If you need a bit more direction or you want to try and direct your experimentation a bit more, then you can try and shoot like a master. That’s why I started my “shoot like the masters” experiment. I wanted to try and adopt their style and see both if I could take photos more like them, and also what I couldn’t steal from them.
I’m planning on doing more of this series in the coming year. So put your email below and I’ll let you know when a new “shoot like the masters” post comes out.
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3. Shoot with new equipment
Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) is a real problem for photographers but it can be helpful as well. Used to shooting with a particular lens or style of camera, then try something different.
- If you always shoot digital, try film (you can get a cheap disposable camera to play with).
- If you use an expensive camera, try using your phone
- If you shoot with a wide lens, try a tele
- If you shoot with medium format, try micro four thirds.
- If you never use flash, give it a go
There are a million experiments you can try but I’d really recommend trying something that is radically different to your normal approach. You may end up somewhere in the middle, or remember why you like your regular approach.
- using just a smartphone
- shooting with an Olympus OM-D EM-1
- shooting with film
- shooting with medium format film
And I’m sure I’ll do more experiments soon.
4. Limit the equipment you can shoot with
If you really struggle with GAS or you have trouble picking which camera to use today, then maybe you should limit yourself to a particular set up for a while. There are lots of challenges like, 1 camera, 1 lens, 1 year, but you can create your own like 1 camera for a month, or a different camera each week if you have a few different ones. That can also get you out of your comfort zone and get you to revisit some equipment you abandoned.
5. Shoot one picture a day
This is not a 365 project. They almost always suck. You usually get so worried about missing a day or making something great that they become a burden (well they do for me). Instead, you simply have to take at least one photo a day.
This idea is an adaption of the 2-minute rule from Atomic Habits (I really recommend reading). It something so simple to do that you should always be able to do it and it may get you moving and motivated to do more. It’s based on the fact that quantity usually leads to quality and a system is better than discipline so if you find you go for a long period of time without shooting, this could help.
6. Go to a photo exhibition
Sometimes we just need some inspiration to get us motivated. In our digital world, photo exhibitions stand out even more. They are almost the antithesis of the swiping Instagram world as they are highly curated, large physical images.
You may even envision your own exhibition and get a little motivation boost from that.
7. Go somewhere else
I really hate the idea that we have to travel somewhere else to get good street photos…BUT every time I travel somewhere else I come back with fresh eyes for my own city. Look, I’m not saying you have to travel to be a good street photographer, but I’ve found it helpful to clear my head, look at things differently and then bring those ideas back.
For you, somewhere else might just be the neighboring village, or it could be to see a relative. It doesn’t have to be an around-the-world trip to some distant land…but it can be that too.
8. STOP shooting
As strange as it may seem, sometime the best thing to do is to stop shooting. If you are getting more and more frustrated with forcing yourself to take photos then forcing yourself to keep taking photos can be the worst thing for your motivation. Instead, a break and removing that obligation can help you rediscover your passion.
You can combine this with some other ideas (such as going to a photo exhibition) so that the inspiration you see else where starts to stir your desire to shoot, but you delay the gratification of actually going shooting and let that small stirring turn into a mad desire.
9. Take a workshop
I’ve attended a few street photography workshops (and one non-street photography workshop). Generally, I’ve thought that I didn’t really learn as much as I had hoped from the workshops but they certainly gave me ideas and motivation as well as some great connections.
They also provide a reason to need to take more photos (so you have something to show during the portfolio review) and will make you excited for the actual event.
Even if a workshop doesn’t live up to your expectation, you may well discover that your photography benefited from all the ancillary benefits.
10. Go shooting with someone else
Cheaper than a workshop and with different benefits, you can also go shooting with a friend or someone else. This not only gives you a reason to get out and shoot, it also provides a reason to plan an interesting route to go along. Then you have the actual photo walk where you can see what they look for and how they approach taking street photos.
You may decide to try and shoot as they do, or notice how you see a scene differently to other people.
11. Look at photo books
We’ll never be able to go on a photo walk with Bresson or Winograd, but we can look at their work in photo books and see what they saw. the book Magnum contact sheets is particularly good for this purpose as you can see not only the photos that made the final pick (and how they were edited), but also the rejected options which can even provide you insights into how they moved around and got to take the final photo.
You may also realize that your idol also took some terrible photos too!
What I tried
The last few months have been very difficult for me with photography. I’ve changed jobs and my daughter was born. This has lead to some dramatic changes in my life and I hadn’t adapted to them. I thought I wasn’t taking any photos but in truth, I was still shooting but more snapshots.
So I made the decision to “stop shooting street photography” as I was starting to feel guilty about not taking more photos. At the same time, I made the decision to find out what I could do with just a mobile phone and explore that creative limit.
In truth I was still shooting some street photography, just not as regularly nor for as long stints as before. The fact that I didn’t have those walks between locations during the day also meant that I was taking a lot more night shots.
Then after speaking with my brother, I started looking at some photographic inspiration again. I sent some messages with some photographer friends and started to plan some trips. I also got really inspired when I visited my in-laws in a different part of Poland.
All this lead to a massive boost in motivation and the realization that I have been shooting even when I “wasn’t”. So now I’m gunning to shoot more and have worked out sometimes I can go shooting with my wife. That way I can still be a responsible parent and enjoy photography.
What are your ideas to revitalize your Street photography motivation?
Have you got a different idea to revitalize your photography? Perhaps you’ve done something in the past which worked. Leave a comment with your idea.
Also published on Medium.