Friday, April 12, 2013

Three Secrets of a Committed Street Photographer by Damon Guy

Damon Guy describes himself as an author and editor, but he is also a gifted photographer and teacher. Not only that, but he is the managing editor of the excellent blog But, wait, there's more!!! He has a keen interest in and, if I may say, a true understanding of street photography.

It is with great pleasure and immense gratitude that I welcome Damon to my blog as a guest writer. In this especially written piece, Damon shares with us a set of street photography "secrets" that will give any street photographer, whether just starting out or experienced, much food for thought.

Three secrets of a committed street photographer

Every picture tells a story. In this picture the story is really a question for the viewer. What are these girls looking at? I like to pose questions in my pictures. It helps the viewer look at the scene with my eyes.

Girls day out - happy on the banks of the Thames (Damon Guy)

What is the vision?

We all have a unique insight into the world. Part of the attraction of photography for me is to be able to share a little of my personal vision with other people. Through my photography and teaching I try to help people to see the world a little more clearly. In this article I hope to explain the foundations for my vision in street photography.

The habit of visualising

I have always been a visualiser. I see much of the world in a pictorial way. Diagrams, photographs, paintings; all are ways to provide explanations of the world. So what is this phenomenon we call street photography? How do the pictures of people out living their lives explain anything?

The attractive thing about street photography, to me, is that sometimes, when we get it right, a street photographer shows what people are feeling. Examining that behaviour through our images explains a little about those people as individuals. Through that small study we have the  opportunity to understand a little about ourselves. We are all basically interested in ourselves more than anyone else. When we take pictures that interest us out on the streets we are really looking at ourselves in an abstract sort of way. 

My habit of visualising makes me an observer. My enjoyment of photography makes me an analyst by virtue of the moment I choose for the capture. Whilst out there living the moment, and taking pictures of people, I am reviewing and understanding myself and others around me. I think that street photography is uniquely placed to be an important study of both our inner selves and who we are as social animals interacting with the crowd.  

A myriad of moments

One of the important things about street photography is to show what life is about. It is made up of a myriad of unimportant moments. But, if you put those together, sometimes those moments add up to something more significant. Not world shattering events perhaps, but ones that nevertheless have a significance for the people involved. The well known photograph, The Kiss by Alfred Eisenstaedt is a great example.

It is one of those iconic street photography moments that captivate the viewer. We cannot help but be drawn into the ecstasy of the moment. We know the experience ourselves, or wish for such a moment, and endlessly analyse the myriad of instances that lead us there.

Those moments that appear so important in the history books often don't affect the individual in very obvious or immediate ways. What history has not shown so well is how the little moments, like The kiss, can have a great impact on the individuals involved. To a street photographer, we are not only studying ourselves, but chronicling these moments of significance that sum up the tiny moments creating them. We are telling a story. A street photographer is an artist who can create an entire world in a fraction of a second, tell a complete story, and do it using only light.  

Being rather than doing

One should not try to "do" photography. Instead photographers should live the habit of seeing images everywhere. It is by visualising the world that I get my insights. Not just out on the streets, but also image-making for my work and writing. When making images I try to have a good image in my head before I take the picture. This takes a little practice, but it is a worthwhile endeavour. Knowing what you want to capture makes it so much easier to get a great image when you can prepare for it beforehand. I believe that if you are going out to "do" photography you are "doing" something that you have not really internalised. A photographer will see an opportunity, create the inner image they want, then take the photograph to match it. A "snapper" will react. With practice the photographer will get the picture as quickly as the snapper, but it will usually be more artful and more technically controlled. 

Being a street photographer is therefore not the same as "doing" photography out on the streets. I strive to be a photographer rather than a snapper. I try to be comfortable, and fit into the environment. I want my shots to be composed and of high quality. I look for those events that tell us a little of life out there. They are shots that let us peer into this odd thing we call humanity. 

How is it possible to do all these things together? For me it is about respect. I think, as street photographers, we owe it to our subjects to be respectful, unobtrusive, polite and reasonable. I have found that out on the streets these attitudes have helped me to be able to relax around the people I am photographing. As a result they relax too. I have often been astonished at how friendly people are when you take a little time to get to know them. If you fit in, take a little time, and don't come over as a threat, people take you for who you are and get on with their lives. As a result I can be a photographer rather than a snapper. I can relate to the people I meet and I can blend in to the scene. "Being", rather than "doing" is a great way to get great images out on the street.

The punch line

There is something very special about capturing a great street image. For me it involves observation and analysis, an appreciation of the story and being a part of the very scene I want to capture. When these three foundations come together I know I am going to get some good, if not great, images. And, that's what it is all about.

By Damon Guy (author and editor)

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)
Damon is managing editor of with professional experience in photography, writing, image libraries, and computing. He is also an experienced, webmaster and a trained teacher. Damon runs regular training for digital photographers who are just starting out.
See also: Editor's Bio 
By Damon Guy :: Profile on Google+

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