The Complexities of a Street Photographer’s Clockwork


Although I am a street photographer, I'm obviously not centered on doing photographs on a daily basis. I am more in a state of awareness in which I'm always alert to situations that really deserve to be photographed. Over the years I have also come to realize that I'm not unique and special to be so selfish about my condition, and therefore this must be common to other street photographers like me, since we are not “Professional Photographers”. And since we are not paid professionals meeting clients’ needs, we are likely to have another professional recipe for surviving in life and even sponsoring our dear and deeply loved passion for photography.

We are just regular people who have an immense passion for photography. We consume it – that is, we look at photographs, we talk about them and we even listen to stuff related to photography – a lot. We are also able to balance our professional and personal lives with a structured discipline that allows us to make images that will truly make us happy our whole lives.

Keeping up with a schedule

Having schedules is not as bad as it seems. In schedules we find windows, and in those gaps of time we are able to escape and walk the streets for a while. It could be on our lunch hour, or it could be on our way to work. Try to sneak some street photography on those tiny gaps, like a gym routine. Personally I have found it easy to capture scenes I consider meaningful in my current and previous job. In my previous job I worked inside an office, but I had the opportunity to visit clients as a salesman. That position enabled me to visit places that I never imagined I would. Nowadays I'm the Operations Director of tech start-up, but since I live in a developing country, many bureaucracies have to be navigated the traditional way, which is extremely good because it enables me to be on the streets a lot. Even though I'm on a schedule, I find extremely liberating to spot little windows that enable me to get my camera from my bag and start to photograph right away. And that takes me to my next important point: always have a trusty and reliable camera with you. Always.

Image by Startup Stock Photos

Again: always have a camera with you

I will never tire of telling you this. Always have a trusty camera with you. And when I say always, I mean as your daily companion. Make it so normal that you’ll feel uneasy leaving home without it, as if it is your cellphone. I'm not against smartphone photography – in fact, I enjoy doing it and I have a side project just for it. I find it therapeutic, but that's not the point. The thing is that I find when you have always a camera with you, you'll feel you must be aware of what’s happening around you. You’ll even feel guilty for having your camera near you and not using it. Even if you don't use it all day long, have it with you – because you never know when the picture of your life will appear.

Image by Unsplash

When I say “have a camera always with you”, small, compact inconspicuous cameras pop up in our minds almost instantaneously because they seamlessly integrate with our daily routines. Having a big camera as your daily companion might not be as comfortable, but it doesn't matter – as long it makes you take more photographs. The camera’s format is not the important – the important thing is to have an actual camera with you. By doing this you’ll be able to enjoy your profession more by getting regular stress relief through street photography.

Is there a way to make street photography sustainable?

It’s a hard question to answer. The main reason why street photography is complex in terms of generating income is because we as street photographers love spontaneity and candid shots. Unlike commercial photography, which has a long list of variables that result in the exact opposite of what we street photographers love doing. From the Art Director's concept, to the legalities around the cession of rights and all the other variables that are involved in commercial photography, are things that impact in our own style. Therefore, they almost kill our street photography view of the world. And it transforms our work into something that is just not street photography anymore.

Image by SplitShire

There are other ways to turn your passion into a sustainable business. For example, many photographers offer workshops, critiques, lectures, write photography-related stuff and, more recently, turn out amazing streaming videos, blogs, and podcasts.

Niches suited to street photography

There are several niches for image-making activities when it comes to street photography, but personally the ones that are definitely worth the effort are Editorial and Fine Art.

Here’s just one example of the potential of editorial for street photographers. Recently, more and more companies are joining the “Corporate Social Responsibility” movement, and with these efforts, “Annual Sustainability Reports” appear. Here is a good niche for developing our passion for candid and natural moments. Companies are looking for real images of their workers and facilities to illustrate these annual reports – so editorial, in broad terms, is perhaps one of the most logical niches for a street photographer. But unless you have available time, this could present a problem. Also, you are one-man army, so you'll need to be able to quote, to fit inside a concept, and to meet the client's deadlines. Maybe not all images they want could be produced by a street photographer, but some of them, yes. Just skim through a few pages of this document to see my point. And this is just one example among MANY others.

Image by Unsplash

Fine Art photography is a complex niche, but street photography is extremely well suited for it because the images are not intended for product endorsement or anything related to that. They are oriented toward self-expression and freedom of speech. One amazing example of a contemporary street photographer doing things correctly in the Fine Art world is Marius Vieth, a.k.a. VICE, whose work revolves around humanity immersed in an urban world; it is presented with poetic passion and a mystical soul.

Street photography helps us balance our passions and professions in a way perhaps no other discipline can do.

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology. He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here.

Can I add one more, Federico? – I love taking street photography shots by available light, at night – not only does it offer the chance to add a bit more atmosphere to the shot, but people tend to ignore you and you can hopefully secure better “candid” shots. Pluses & minuses of course – because it drives ISO up, opens up aperture, and puts pressure on shutter settings – as well as creating a risk of digital noise.

I have to agree about “taking a cam with you” – my main cam is an FF DSLR, but I generally make sure that I at least take my (almost pocket size) Canon PowerShot with me. And whenever I don’t, i generally find I miss a photo opportunity.

Federico and Jean Pierre,

I love the article–and I have a little bit different point of view that I might be leaning towards since reading another article on Lightstalking about, believe it or not, NOT taking our camera everywhere we go…it is an interesting concept that I have pondered–
Anyway, thank you for this article, Federico. I appreciated your ideas on sustainability–excellent ideas! I could totally “see” the idea on the corporate images-very nice!
Jean Pierre, also, I loved your additional thought about shooting at night–I’m going to try that. There is a rather sketchy area downtown in our city that I would love to shoot…do you have any night shots that you took with your Canon, Jean Pierre, that I can see?
Also, I did alot of research on a little, compact, inexpensive, reliable camera for street shooting and I have the exact same camera–the Canon PowerShot is amazing! It is quiet, small and fast. I have grabbed countless shots just driving down the road and because of how fast this little camera is, I rarely get a blurry shot–even inside.
Thank you both!

For my night work, Memphis, which I generally do hand held, I mostly use my FF – it runs on lenses with a max aperture of F/1.4, which can help cut down on bumping ISO too much and copping a shower of digital noise.
That said – yes I do have some I’ve done with the PowerShot – I’m not sure how I can post copies here, though – maybe we need to swap email addresses?

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