Although there are some strong reasons why street photography is good for you, we have to be honest and say it’s not all good news. In fact there are a lot of reasons why street photography is actually bad for you. Not neutral, but bad. Today I’m going to talk about the ugly side of street photography.
When I was at the London street photography symposium someone asked me which of two common money traps I had fallen for with street photography. The truth is you’ll probably end up spending a lot of money on one or both of these two common traps so Street Photography is definitely bad for your budget.
The first common trap is gear. You pick up another camera, a flash for each system, a “better” lens, editing software, a luxury strap, a special camera bag, a selection of different film, darkroom equipment and more.
You can get started in street photography with just a smartphone or dirty cheap point and click, yet people feel like they need a selection of Leica cameras, lenses and more. When I first got into photography, this was my trap.
The second financial trap is book. Photo books are special as they represent photos in a way which a computer screen can’t. The process of flipping through pages, holding the different types of paper in your hand and the way light interacts with a page is very different to pressing “next” on a computer screen album.
This is my current trap having expanded my photo book considerably in the last year.
However books and gear aren’t the only two financial traps you can fall into with street photography.
After a while you’ll want to print off your own photos (or get other’s prints). You might even want to try and sell some prints and maybe you’ll be lucky (good enough) to make your money back. You can get prints in your local camera shop for cheap, but they won’t be the same quality as using good paper in a large style.
If you thought photo books were expensive, check out workshops. Some workshops can be under a hundred pounds, but others are thousands of pounds and require you to find your own accommodation too! You could easily do a couple of workshops a year and end up spending a couple of thousand without blinking… oh and you’ll still get your books/gear.
Confrontations might not be as common as you fear, but they do happen and they are usually bad for you. A physical confrontation. Will certainly leave your body worse off, but there can be emotional baggage even from a verbal confrontation. You might feel less sure of yourself, unsafe or depressed. Worse still, you completely brush it off and lose a sense of empathy.
Although street photography can get you out side, it might no be great for your health. Apart from the risk of being attacked (which is there, it should be pretty small unless you really go out looking for trouble), you might stay out too long in the hot sun or in the freezing cold hoping to get that shot. This will impact your health.
A little alcohol can have positive effects on the body (like the iron in red wine) and many street photographers like the “Dutch courage” it gives them. However, needing alcohol and getting addicted (plus bing drinking) isn’t good for your health.
Coffee is another favourite drink of street photographers and has many positive effects on our body and almost no downsides…but I have found that when I drink too much coffee I feel stressed and out of control. That’s not good either.
Street photography requires time (if you want to be good) and is the sort of instinct you can’t just turn off. It will impact your relationships.
A nice family moment out ruined by your sudden rush over the other side of the road to capture that moment? Or that moment you suddenly blinded grandma with your off camera flash and gave her a heart attack. Plus don’t forget the tension on your marriage from the time you spend out shooting and the money you spent on one or more of the options above.
Okay that’s a bit harsh, you’ll probably have a few photographer friends who are into street as well, but your other friends probably won’t “get” your photos, they worry that your becoming some kind of weirdo and you’ll only talk about street photography with your photographer friends…and maybe football. Maybe.
5. You probably won’t get paid
If you want to make money with photography, don’t get into Street Photography. Instead choose something like weddings, headshots or new born photograph. Street photographers can make money one of two ways. Selling workshops and other training material or selling prints and books…guess which is easier.
(P.s. I’ll happily be proven wrong here. Please leave a comment with evidence below).
6. You almost certainly won’t get famous
With everything being street photography now (seriously, search the hashtag on Flickr/Instagram), there is no way you’ll stand out against all the others out there. That means you’ll continue to take your photos and maybe get a little recognition but not more.
7. It’s depressing
Street photography can be incredibly depressing. Not just because of the points above (no friends, no fame, no money) but also…
Everything’s been done before
The bible had it right, your clever street photo has been done to death by other photographers. If you are going to do something, it should either be the first, or the best. Yours will probably be neither of those.
You have to find “your voice”
Seeing as everything’s been done before, you have to try to find your unique take on street photography, the one that will help your work standout and stand together. That means you need to “find your voice”. The only problem is that finding your voice is rather esoteric and no one really knows how to do it (best advice seems to be look at a lot of photos and work out what you like, plus take lots of photos and work out what defines you). And it takes a long time (and you may not realise when it’s done).
Your “best photo” probably won’t get many “likes”
I’ve seen this time and time again. The photo I like the best, gets a few likes, and then a photo which is pretty poor gets more than double. This again reinforces your depression that your work doesn’t matter and the work you feel is good isn’t actually good.
But I couldn’t stop shooting street photography
Despite all these points, the cost, the impact on me and other and the depression, I couldn’t stop shooting photography like this. I love the process and mindset. I love looking at photos and working on a project. I love just going out and shooting photos then throwing away the whole set as I don’t like any of them. I truly find the process enough reward on its own. It is a passion for me and I still have my 7 reasons to shoot street photography.
Can you think of any other reasons street photography is bad for you?
Also published on Medium.