How to be a Street Photographer

JR 'hittin the streets' in Scotland
These days it's sure a lot easier to be a photographer than when I started in the late sixties. And that goes for being a street photographer as well.

With digital replacing film, (still brings tears to my eyes) and a camera and/or video on every cell phone (smart or not) anybody can't help but being a photographer. And put this 'anybody' on the street and be at the right place on time, they will have a chance to shoot something worthwhile, memorable and meaningful. And with an automatic camera they can't loose. Point and shoot and, "hey I'm a street photographer."

It seems like a sacrilege to me, it's just too damn simple. Photographers these days just haven't paid the price as far as I'm concerned. Haven't had to worry about what the picture looks like and had to wait till they've developed it or had somebody else do it to find out. Haven't had those moments when you find out the whole roll is ruined because they had the wrong settings, no film in the camera or left the lens cap on. Haven't had those moments when they find out the developer or fixer was weak and they have to shoot over, if they are lucky. Hell, you probably took a picture of somebody on the street already or you're doing it right now as we 'speak' as it were. Or you've taken some photo's of 'cracks' or 'strange people' at Wal-Mart or somewhere, then posted it on Facebook.     
                                                                                                                                                                                                        JR 'hittin the streets' in Scotland

You're right on your way to be a street photographer, and to think you didn't even have an hour of lessons. Didn't even have to study the zone system. Didn't even have to study anything. Didn't even have to get up early and drudge through thigh deep snow to get to classes at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, like I did. It doesn't seem fair. But between you and me .... pssssss, over here by the deli on 42nd street, I think you guys are damn lucky. It's all 'spoon fed for ya, man. All ya gotta do is show the interest and look, then check-out Google for the answers. (should be called 'Lord Google')
You could do it all yourself, unless you really need to pay a profe$$or to tell you that you're a photographer now and am able to go out and do it yourself. There's a saying, "those who do, do, those who don't, teach." The internet can be your teacher and you wouldn't even have to sign up for any on-line courses. Keep the expenses down so you can purchase some good equipment, unless you want to use only your cell phone. That's a cool idea. Go with it. There are only your own doubts to hold you back.

I would venture to say that all photo journalists are street photographers. We are simply capturing a candid image that comes into view. The timing and pre-visualization is everything, but more the timing than anything else. When you get on to it and being comfortable with your camera and your surroundings is when the pre-visualization will kick in. It will become second nature. You'll know what to expect, then you will be able to judge and position yourself, and camera correctly. Like a sports photographer, you'll be able to look at a situation or play and tell what will 'most likely' happen next because it's happened before like that. And there's always the unexpected, and these times are what make street photography so enjoyable.

But if you can't handle surprises and aren't the type to 'go with the flow' or 'bloom where you're planted,' then studio photography may be more of your speed. Or if you want to make a living, these other branches of photography may be more conducive for your needs, and your checking account. Street Photography is something you have to love to do. Something you do in your spare time, like Vivian Maier was a full-time Nanny. On her days off she grabbed her camera and hit the streets. God love her.

The first two street photographers I heard about in school was Robert Frank and Diane Arbus. Later on I came across Weegee. All three were an inspiration to me. But all three are a bit 'gritty' for my digestion. 'Hard-core' or 'moody' or 'depressing' are other terms I get from their work. And Arbus killed herself, talk about being 'into' her work, her passion.

I have to warn you..... fellow photographer, before you run out to the street and stick a camera in somebody's face. There are people, not so many, that don't like to have their picture taken. Some for their religious reasons. Please be courteous and kind. If you get the feeling or catch some animosity or jealousy in the air either move on without the shot, or ask if they mind, or sneak one. Most people have told me that they don't mind. A few will ask for money before. And there was one that chased me down the street, but I think he just wanted my camera. Since then I covered the 'Nikon' or 'Canon' logo on my camera. And please don't hang-around someplace after you shoot a picture. Shoot and move on. Don't give anybody of bad intent time to figure you out or tell others about you or your location. That could be one of the main reasons I am most times shooting the backs of people for my picture book 'Backs Forward.'

Baltimore Md.  ~by JR Hager
Baltimore Md. ~by JR Hager

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