10 Skills (not gear) You Need To Make Good Photographs

Stop lusting over which camera you should get next (or simply G.A.S…gear acquisition syndrome). Your camera is just a tool to do the work, it probably only makes up 10% of the finished product. You can shoot the streets candidly with any camera, a Leica, a Sony, a Canon, an iPhone, a Olympus, a Nikon, any camera really. What you really need to know is how to work your camera and ergonomically if it feels right in hand. Is it too heavy, too small, too big, are there too many buttons, is it cheap/expensive. Those are my main factors in considering the perfect camera. I don’t care about megapixels (I don’t print my image for billboards..how many of us do, most of us just upload our images to the web), or all these cool art filters (I rather edit the RAW on my desktop afterwards or if I’m lazy just wifi the jpeg onto my phone and edit through SnapSeed, awesome app).

I want to share with you all about the physical and also mental tools you need to make a good photograph.

Recognizing/Awareness

One of the cool things about street photography is recognizing a moment or scene that is catered towards eyes, your heart, and soul. Not everyone will recognize or see the same shot and if they do I’m pretty sure everyone that’s taking the photo of the same subject will walk away with different pictures (partly due to focal length, when the photographer clicks the shutter, distance from the subject, etc). Recognizing and realizing something interesting is happening, it could be a humorous scene, something mysterious, or surreal moment. Lot of times this happens based on your instincts, it hits you in the gut “Hey that’s interesting” or “I wonder what’s happening here”, it keeps you curious and guessing of what’s taking place.

The photo above I obviously made at the beach. I was walking along Waikiki Beach on my lunch break. It was humid and I wasn’t seeing much happening nor was I clicking much from my shutter. From about 40-50 feet, off to the side, I see these two older ladies lying on top of their men. I thought it’d make a interesting and comical photo so I quickly walked over praying that they stay in the exact position without adjusting themselves.

I took several shots without being disruptive and walked along. I was very happy to have made this photo regardless if it hangs in anyone’s living room or exhibits anywhere…I personally like the photo and happy to have caught the moment. It wasn’t until I brought the photo into post that I realize the two men look identical…and possibly even the two ladies. There some mystery to the image as well. The more questions your image asks…the better. I hate Street photos with titles or gives me all the answers. I like formulating my own stories. I also dislike movies that gives me a concrete ending, unlike Christopher Nolan, his films always have an open ending (let’s you decide what happened). This technique makes you feel a part of the artist’s work, it allows you to contribute and have discussions with friends and adds the element of “What If” in it.

 

Anticipate The Moment

Any type of photography or live action event you’ll need to anticipate what’s either going to happen or about to happen. If you shoot sports you must be aware of how the game is flowing, who’s leading and who’s down, is the team coming off a time out? How much time is left on the clock? What quarter is it? This all leads to you getting that next shot, following the action and what’s to come. If you shoot weddings, there’s usually a program involved. If it’s time for the newlyweds to cut the cake, you can anticipate one of the spouses to get some cake on their nose/face. Or when the bride is ready to throw her bouquet, you can anticipate one of her bridesmaid snatching it up in the air filled with excitement.

The same applies to street photography. You must anticipate what’s to come. How do you anticipate for the scene to evolve. For example, I shot the photo above in Cuba (image is a Finalist for StreetFoto 2017). I RECOGNIZED the a person (I don’t know if it was a man or woman, I never saw what the person looked like. Not does it matter, anyways) was walking towards me with a bright red umbrella shielding him/her. Within that split second I again recognized the vibrant wall he was walking past by, I sped up and took the photo. I only had one opportunity to click my shutter and I did, only once. I chimped (which means you look at your photo once you made the photograph, it’s highly frowned down upon street photographers) and thought it was an alright photo. I looked up and I see the individual with the red umbrella slowly fading away into the distance. Seconds later, I felt somewhat of a regret and wished I had another opportunity (it was raining in Cuba and was already in a discouraged mood). Deep down, I knew something was there but felt I didn’t capture the moment….

When I returned home and uploaded my photo into Photoshop, the image stood out and really got me guessing and kept me curious about the image. This photo had to be the toughest image I have ever edited (crop, tones).

Imagination

Now let’s make an example of the same photo (Red Umbrella). Let’s say I had arrive to the red wall a few minutes earlier. When there’s a strong and vibrant background/wall with no design or graffiti or art work, just a plain color backdrop, my imagination runs wild. So let’s say I’m in front of that red wall and I visualize for something to walk by and matches up with the red wall. Perhaps, a clown dressed in all red. Or a clown dressed in all white with a red nose. Possibly a butcher who just finished work and has blood all over his apron. I don’t know, I’m just thinking out loud. With your imagination, hope, little bit of luck, and patience, you just may have the perfect subject or scenario align itself.

Patience

“Patience is a virtue”

Recognizing a potential photographic moment can take patience, some more than others. I don’t have this skill with my photography and perhaps in anything that does require patience. I hate waiting, I’d rather keep walking and hope to come across something as I move forward. I applaud those that can wait or give the illusion through their photos that they have waited for hours or days for the photo to develop. One photographer that comes to mind is one of my personal favorites…Pau Buscato, check his work out if you haven’t already you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Patience in photography can be applied to anything in life. Being patience with your spouse, co-worker, waiting in long lines, being stuck in traffic, waiting for that promotion. Patience is a quality skill to have in all walks of life. If you feel in your gut that something can blossom into a perfect image then wait…it’ll be worth the wait. Because all it takes is one photo to immortalize your work.

Be Fearless

Stop with the excuses. Just shut up and shoot. Worry later.

Read and React

See something interesting. Click the shutter. If you’re able to work the scene and shoot at various angles, do it. See something comical. Click the shutter. See something that makes you happy. Click the shutter. See something that has you curious. Click the shutter. Keep clicking the shutter and repeat. Don’t second guess yourself or contemplate whether the photo will be award winning or not. Just click the damn shutter!

Social Skills

Some photographers like to interact with their subjects and some don’t. For me, it depends on my mood. If I’m doing a street portrait I usually do have small talk with my subjects. Most are flattered to have their photo taken partly because I build their confidence before making a photo of them by complementing their good looks or hat, or whatever else they’re wearing. Your social skills may come into play when you face confrontation and someone you just photographed is pissed off at you. Knowing how to be in that heated situation and how to showcase your “Customer Service” skills may bail you out (I have yet been in a heated situation because of street photography).

Be Mentally Strong

You may go day/weeks/months without any photos you’re happy with. This can be discouraging. However, what helped me get over this hump was not too long ago. When I came back from Cuba earlier this year, something hit me that street photography for me (everyone has their own reasons) is not about making good photographs. Rather, it’s about going out, taking a walk, getting away from your cubicle, away from social media, and being in touch with your reality, your surroundings and absorbing all that in with appreciation. When I go on my photo walks I either completely zone out and not think about anything or I reflect on my day or the previous days. Both in a very zen approach.

Be Physically Strong

When I travel I shoot from sunrise to sunset, actually its more like from 9am first thing in the morning till 6-7pm or until my body can no longer hold up. After the first day of walking and shooting for 10 hours you’re body really feels the pain. I power through for the rest of my entire trip. I tell myself that I’m not going to see this place or I’m only here for 3 more days so just power through. Street photography can take a toll on you, so be prepared to go at your own pace, take short breaks in between your photo walks. Have meals to refuel you so you can continue shooting. But listen to your body, if you can power through awesome, if you feel like your body is slowing down and you can focus on your shooting then head back home.

Be Emotionally Strong

Set reasonable goals for yourself. For example, everyone’s new years resolution is to quit smoking and lose weight. Well, if you do put any action behind it and if you expect to lose weight within 2 weeks, I can guarantee you’ll most likely won’t obtain your goal. You gotta follow through your goals. If you made plans to go shoot Monday, Wednesday, Friday during your lunch break, follow through them. Don’t get lazy. With street photography, if I don’t shoot for more than 2 weeks I feel really rusty. Almost like a rookie back on the streets, I think of it as a confidence bar, the more consistently you shoot, your confidence bar remains untouchable but each day you don’t shoot it slowly drops. Imagine if you don’t shoot for one year straight and you don’t look at photobooks or study the masters or read anything on street photography…and then the following year you go back out into the public setting with a camera in your hand…I can only imagine you’ll feel like you don’t belong. That cloud of fear would hover over you as when you first started off shooting street photography. ‘

Make yourself strong against negativity. There will be people on on social media or even your own friends that’ll say negative things about your photos and ask you why do you take random photos of people. You gotta bypass this and not let it bother you. Street photography is not wrong, its not bad, you aren’t doing anything illegal or hurting anybody. That’s what helps me feel so comfortable when I’m out shooting…It’s because I ain’t doing no wrong when I’m out there.

If you enter in photo competitions and contests expect to fail 9 times out of 10. It takes a really good photo and luck (plus its all subjective and imagine the jurors looking at thousands of entries…yours really need to stand out to leave a mark).

Have a positive outlook. Even if you don’t get a decent photo while on your walk or wasn’t able to capture the decisive moment. Be appreciative of life, your family, your health, having the right to photograph publicly and openly. Remind yourself that you’re on this photo walk to get away from the stresses not to add more stress. Street photography is our creative outlet.

Conclusion

Enjoy the process, study your favorite photographers, take workshops, and appreciate life. Again, these tips are from my own personal experience and opinion, I hope you were able to find this read helpful and that you can apply some on your next photo walk.

Thanks for reading, keep shooting.

Tim