I was recently listening to a podcast where the hosts were talking about entrepreneurship (I know this may seem like it’s not related to photography, but in this case I believe there is a lesson to be drawn). They discussed several things after a listener asked for their advice on how to start their own business, specifically if there are any courses they’d recommend. I think the hosts warnings could equally apply to street photography.
The first point they made was that you should be careful of people who sell entrepreneurship advice online. Especially if their only business is the how to start a business. But it was the second point that really hit home for me. One of the hosts (CGP Grey) shared that his dad was a bit of an entrepreneur (you should listen to the story about the pretzels) and he ran classes at a night collage on entrepreneurship. His dad said that the type of person who takes a class on entrepreneurship will never run their own business.
Grey then clarified that he actually believed a single lesson/class on running your own business would be highly beneficial but every class after that would actually be detrimental.
The main point they were getting at is that some people just want to think they are running a business or have a dream of running a business but actually they are just listening and then repeating advice they had heard without putting it into practice. They are the kind of people who look for shortcuts rather than putting in the hardwork.
The Problem with Too much street photography information
I’m sure that when it comes to photography, there is a certain amount of advice which really helps people improve their photos a lot. This includes things like the basics of exposure, the controls of your camera, principles of compositions and how to conduct yourself on the street. However, after those basics there is a deep well of extra information and if you want to really dive deep into composition, you can. But it starts to become more academic than actually about taking photos.
Furthermore, some people will just repeat the same lessons. That’s because there are certain principles which work in most situations and when they don’t work, there might not be a good rule of thumb or principles to consider. If you keep listening to those principles it’s not bad, but if you aren’t putting them into practice, does it really matter that you are listening to them?
Why the learning curve matters
The learning is a simple principle which basically says that when you start learning about something (like a new language, playing a musical instrument or street photography), you can progress rapidly because a few things will lead to massive improvements. For example, with a language, 90% of communication is made up of 1000 words. But the next 1000 words makes up only 5% more. So if you learn 1000 words, you understand most of what people say in a foreign language.
Similarly, In street photography, learning a few basic principles and ideas will improve your photography a lot.
The trouble is, the next step takes a lot more time and effort and is a lot harder to teach. With languages there comes a point where the language you need may be very different to what I need (i.e. an engineer needs specific technical terms which are different to the poetic language a writer needs). At this point, learning through encountering and identifying difficulties is the best way to find these learning points.
So in street photography, taking photos becomes much more effective.
Why the Paretto Principle matters
The Paretto principle compliments the learning curve as it says that 80% of your reward comes from 20% of your effort, and if you work on a key 20%, you’ll see an 80% improvement. This was original noticed in farming crops but it’s been seen in a wide range of areas including clients for a business (20% of the clientele bring in 80% of profits) and politics (20% of voters influence the outcome of an election more than the other 80%).
In street photography I’d consider certain paretto principles to include
- overcome your fear
- get close with a wider angle lens
- focus on the background
- notice the light
- try getting low or going high for a different perspective
those simple principles will get you most of the way to success. After that it’s much more tricky.
As someone who’s written a fair bit about street photography, including some tips and trick, you may well want to call me a hypocrite here for adding to the information overload.
Well, that may be the case. I hope it’s not and I try and write things that no one else could do but it’s impossible to be completely original. I’ve also reduce what I write recently and I try to avoid repeating myself.
But my main reason for writing this site has always been to help myself by sharing my learning journey and hopefully help others as well so that they can avoid my mistakes.
What’s better than too much street photography information?
There are three things that are better than obsessive over reviews, guides and tips once you’ve reached a certain point.
- taking photos
- taking photos with other photographers (so you can see through their eyes)
- looking at good photos
taking photos helps you to discover your style and leads to happy accidents. Going with others will let you see how they shoot and lead to you getting some interesting different ideas or trying a different approach (that’s why I tried to recreate with my “shoot like the masters” series) and looking at good photos can have a similar effect. Especially if you wonder “How did they get this shot. What did they do?”
Over to you
So go out and get shooting.