How do we really know what ultimately influences us to compose a picture before clicking the shutter?
Should I be like all the other street photographers, or should I be different? How can I be different–is this even possible?
If you’ve been into street photography for even a short time, these two questions should have crossed your mind by now. We humans are influenced by many conscious and not so conscious factors. How do we really know what ultimately influences us to compose a picture before clicking the shutter? Is it our individuality or because we’ve seen it done by someone else?
Here are four heuristics I practice to be a more unique photographer.
The double-take test: If I’m going to photograph in a well known place, I look to see what photos are already out there. I take notice of what images make me look twice. Then I try compositions I hope will make people do a double-take. E.g., it can be looking at the scene upside down to discover a unique perspective, pointing my camera in the opposite direction of everyone else, or finding a spot off the beaten path that hasn’t been snapped yet.
Research the masters: Looking at the masters is always inspiring to me. But, their work gives me more than mere inspiration. Take Saul Leiter for example. His photographs allow me to put myself in his shoes. When I do that, I can ponder, “What made Saul so special? What made him stand out? What was Saul thinking when he decided to stand where he did when he pressed the button? Why did he approach who he did when he captured a portrait?” Perhaps we may never know the answer and leave it at that. Or, we can see if the answers are out there in books, interviews, and documentaries. The bottom line is that we can let the masters impassion us to be unique.
Inside job: Some times it’s who you know. A good number of my favourite photographs (the ones that break the mold) are pictures of people I know. I’ve photographed priceless moments of my wife in Surabaya, my barber in Ubud, my tuk-tuk driver in Chiang Mai, my waitress in Bhutan, my scuba instructor in the Maldives, and my media colleague in the Philippines. These acquaintances, former strangers, and friends give me an inside angle that can literally serve as a backstage pass for street portraits. Use it, but don’t abuse it. Your relationships are privileges not potential exploits.
Be yourself: Being yourself requires meditation time away from the camera. Spend time reflecting and searching for your true self. One way to do this is to detach from your ego. Start practising street photography for the joy not the ego-based competition. Be mindful or your surroundings and empathetic to people. Once you start shedding your ego and become more mindful, your individuality and creativity blossoms. When this happens, your uniqueness and personal perspective will be reflected in the art you create not the pictures you “take” or “shoot”.