I've been watching YouTube videos and reading articles about Street Photography recently and I've made a realisation. There's plenty of advice out there for novices to the Street Photography scene and whilst for the most part I agree with that advice, there are examples of great shots that fly in the face of these guidelines.
How can this be so? For example, avoid shooting the backs of people's heads or as they walk away from you - good advice. This is a trap that Street Photography beginners fall into and highlights their cautiousness, nervousness and lack of confidence. But at the same time I've seen many shots that fall into this category that are truly great taken by experienced Street Photographers. Does this mean this advice is wrong? Is there some caveat that should be added to the advice of not shooting the backs of people's heads, to get closer, or whatever.
The conclusion I've come to is simple. It's something that is rarely spoken about in photography but I believe is fundamental to taking great pictures, street or otherwise, and is behind the majority of all great shots you've seen, and the advice is to shoot with intent.
By this I mean to photograph with purpose and intention, don't compromise when shooting. As Ansel Adams once said:
"There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept"
Of course that's easy to say but much harder to do, especially when you're starting out in Street Photography. So if you find yourself at the stage where you're wanting to do Street Photography but can only bring yourself to shoot from a distance, or as people are walking away, then acknowledge that's what you're doing. Embrace it. Own it, knowing that with practice your confidence will grow and you will get closer and get those face shots. Avoid trying to pass off a compromised shot as intentional. Believe me, a shot that lacks intention or purpose is easy to spot, and you'll only make yourself look foolish if you try and say otherwise.
And when I say to shoot with intent, I don't necessarily mean have a clear and detailed idea of each shot you'll take, just be confident of what you're doing. Know your limitations, push them if you want or not, it's up to you, just be honest with yourself about what you are doing.
I'll end this blog with a little analogy. Back in the 80's I was playing a computer game with a friend. It involved steering a motorbike through a forest, turning left or right to avoid smashing into trees. I however just ended up coming a cropper every time. Sensing my frustration my friend said "at each tree just make a decision - left or right, then stick to it". Sound advice as I was better able to steer that virtual motorbike through the pixelated forest with intent.
Use intent in your photography, or you'll just end up smashing into trees...