How My Street Photography Improved During Covid & Quarantine

It’s hard to believe we are well past a year since the initial COVID lock down. While the entire world stayed indoors, I took the opportunity (safely of course!) to document the emptiness and the changes within my own community. Seeing the opposite of the typical tourist filled streets of Hawaii made me appreciate the calmness and beauty of my home.

My pandemic photo walks were always fairly short. Street photography usually has such vivid subjects, but in midst of quarantine everything was empty and bare. I didn’t get frustrated however, because I knew whatever photo I captured would be a documentation of this unprecedented piece of history.

In 2018 and 2019, I could count on one hand the amount of times I went out to shoot. I had wrapped up my feature documentary Fill The Frame (if you haven’t seen it check it out) and I went on hiatus to reset. Coming into 2020 I was hungry and motivated to get back on the streets to build my YouTube channel (Subscribe HERE) and to attempt to get that one perfect shot. My Olympus M5 Mark ii of 6 years was laid to rest and I invested in new gear like the DJI Osmo Pocket to record more POV. Of course we all know what happened next. But that didn’t deter me.

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
― Leon C. Megginson

Prior to COVID I would say my approach for shooting the streets would be to aimlessly walk and try to cover as much ground as I had energy for. I would leave it up to the street photography gods that I would come across an interesting person or a gripping scene or situation. However, with much less foot traffic or action happening out in public I slowly adjusted my game plan. My good friend Paul Kessel who has had an amazing run despite the setbacks of 2020, winning 1st place in singles competition for the Miami Street Photography Festival among being a finalist in many other competitions, has always given me advice to find a scene. Either a scene with good lighting or a good background; if there’s both that’s when the magic happens. The key is patience and to let the scene slowly populate. To walk aimlessly and hope to come across an interesting person or situation relies too much on luck and things out of your control. Being the young punk that I am, I brushed off his advice, not that I didn’t trust or believe what he was telling me was true, but rather I felt like I didn’t need to change my style. Most people change when they are forced to or when life hits them in the face. The pandemic did just that, it hit me in the face and forced me to change my street photography approach and correct my bad habits.

Now in 2021, I’m back to being comfortable out shooting the streets again. You’d think you can rely on a lot on muscle memory but that was untrue for me. Confidence and knowing your camera (I mostly worked with a Ricoh GR III which took me a while to get used to) and your camera knowing you are two most underrated things in street photography. I had to relearn how to shoot and that challenge made things fun and fresh again. Completing Fill The Frame was a big weight off my shoulders and only now could I shift my focus elsewhere, primarily taking pictures and producing original content on YouTube.

So this is a reminder to always try new things, go outside your comfort zone, experiment to see what works for you and ditch the things that don’t work for you. Change can seem daunting but can be very rewarding.

10 Street Photography Memes

Ten street photography memes by yours truly.
1. When your street photography friend asks you for your opinion on one of their photos and you don’t know how to react

2. When you’re starting off in street photography and think you need to go out in disguised…

3. The street photography community when you mention Eric Kim and Bruce Gilden in the same sentence.

4. When you’re in the photography zone

5. When you think you got a good photo but no one on social media is liking or commenting on it

6. When you’re producing a street portrait and you kindly ask the subject for one last photo without saying one word

7. When you go on a street photography liking spree on facebook/instagram

8. The smile your face can’t help to make when you think you got a decisive moment type of photo

9. How you feel and eventually end up looking like when you don’t get anything for months

10. When you’re lusting over gearporn and having Gear acquisition Syndrome but you’re broke as fuck

 

How Does Photography Help You

Does photography help you in your everyday life? Yes? No? Maybe so?

YES

Let’s say it does…but how? Gives you something to keep your mind off of. Keeps you busy. Gives yourself a challenge and allows you to think outside the box. Let’s your creative instincts take over when you are surrounded by creative constraints (work, school, life in general).

NO

Let’s say photography doesn’t help you in daily life. Perhaps, you are adding too much pressure on yourself with your photography. You get frustrated and impatient when you go out and shoot and come back with nothing for days sometimes weeks or even months! You feel discouraged. You compare to other photographers, those that win awards, have a big social media following, travel the world, and make money through photography and wonder why you can’t do the same or have half the same fortune.

MAYBE SO?

Maybe so? You are bi-polar. Some days you feel inspired. And some days not. You really don’t know what to make about your photography and overall goal. Maybe there isn’t a goal to attain. You have no direction other than you think you’re pretty good at taking photos and some what enjoy.

Conclusion

I believe the best practice with your photography is to not add any pressure and just go out and shoot. It is really up to the person. For me allocating a time and schedule to shoot is just too stressful because for one if I don’t follow my routine I end up feeling like shit. It’s like working out at the gym, you have a routine to work out before work at 6am and if you don’t you feel like your entire day went to waste. Some people like to work off of a schedule and be structured…for me it doesn’t work. I work off of feeling and sometimes that feeling is not feeling inspired to go out and shoot.

You can’t force something. It’ll either happen or it won’t. Of course you need to put yourself out there and work hard don’t get me wrong. But if it’s something that doesn’t feel right then follow your gut. My other advice is to have the right perspective. Your attitude is a big contingency on all future events. Your outlook on life and how you carry yourself. Having goals has both the positives and negatives sides to them but with photography I think it is best to not apply any goals because photography should be something you do out of passion and fun. Once you add goals especially more than one it becomes a job and sooner or later you’ll end up hating it. Imagine you got sponsored by a camera company and then they started to dictate on how you should be photographing and what you should be photographing. Although the money and attention is nice, you lose your creative freedom and opportunity to be an individual.

All in all, have fun with your photography and keep learning.

Interview with Street Photographer Jill Maguire

Jill! How are you? Thanks for doing this. Can you start off by telling us a (brief) story on your background and how you first picked up a camera?

I’ve always liked taking pictures but wasn’t serious about it until well into adulthood. In 2009, I bought a DSLR to take pictures of my dog. From there it was a lot of experimentation until I finally landed on street photography in 2014. When I made the switch, I never looked back.

What is it about Street photography that keeps interested?

I am happiest in urban areas and at events, so even if I don’t shoot well, I try to enjoy wherever I am and eat well in the process. I’m all about the experience. I like to try new places, and those I like, I revisit.

How would you describe your street style or photographs?

I would call it a work in progress. I like color and light, but there’s often a shortage of both in Seattle. I’m still looking for a good project to do in the dead of winter that gets me out of the house consistently.

How has your style or approach changed or evolved since you started shooting?

If anything, my bar is higher, and some days I feel like deleting everything I come home with. Maybe that’s ultimately a good thing, but it does make for a pretty slow Instagram feed. On the other hand, I’ve learned to cut myself some slack, knowing just how hard street photography is.

I know you’re an avid (Dog or animal) lover. Do you try to include animals in your photographs? something that easily catches your eye?

 I love animals–both real and unreal–in street photography. I have an ongoing zoo project, but it’s on hiatus for the summer. I’ll go back in the fall when the clouds return.

The animal theme is intentional or unintentional?

Intentional, for sure. Far from mastered, though. Lots of other photographers are better at it. My Flickr (whatjillsaw) favorites are filled with animals in street photography.

 I notice you shoot a lot at the seattle state fairs or the local Zoo. How does that compare to when you’re shooting out in the street?

At the zoo, I’m looking for similarity between people, animals, and the landscape, so in a way, I know exactly what to look for. My Washington State Fair work evolves each year. I’ve tossed several years of fair shots because as I’ve gotten more experienced, I don’t like my older work. I consider all “out on the street” shooting to be practice for the fair. Occasionally I’ll get a shot that fits into some of the other loose themes that I’ve created semi-formal projects for (like my shots from California), but the OK/random shots don’t tend to do it for me.

This is all complicated by the fact that I am loyal and sentimental about these locations. I’m not interested in traveling to other fairs or zoos. I tried that and it didn’t work for me.

What makes Seattle unique for street photography?

I have a love/hate relationship with Seattle. I’ve finally started to embrace some locations here, but I hate the rain, and traffic is terrible. On the plus side, the summer days are long and chock full of events. In addition, everyone is extremely polite. I’ve never had any problems shooting here.

Whose work do you admire?

I admire photographers who can make Anytown USA look interesting. Besides Stephen Shore and William Eggleston, I’m really into Don Hudson and Sixft Whiterabbit right now.

If you can have one street photographer shoot your wedding who would it be?

Martin Parr, no question. We got married in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, and Parr would’ve been the perfect Vegas photographer.

If you could shoot a particular style of a street photographer who would it be?

My photographic fantasy is to take a summer road trip, Stephen Shore style. I want to stay in cheesy hotels and eat at greasy spoons. I can’t explain why this appeals to me, but it does, much more than traveling somewhere foreign or exotic.

My favorite photo of your is the lucha libre kid with the silver mask. I remember seeing it in our flicker group from our workshop with Jack Simon and was like “WOW”. Could you tell us the story behind that photo?

Why, thanks, Tim! This was shot last year during one of my favorite workshops–a Magnum workshop hosted by Constantine Manos in Los Angeles. I made two wonderful friends that week, and we spent an evening on Olvera street. I saw this boy running around in the mask and couldn’t resist following him. He finally sat still in a sunbeam, but only long enough for one shot. I think being a woman helped me here, since his dad was there and didn’t object.

In your opinion, what makes a photograph work or interesting?

Light, color, and something unexpected. Sometimes 2 out of 3 works.

What goals do you have with your street photography?

My ultimate goal is to have enough shots in a project to make a high-quality book. In the meantime, I have this dream of eventually finding a type of street photography that I’m really good at and that comes easily. I’m convinced this will happen any day now. I just have to keep shooting, and the projects will find me.

Whose workshop do you want to take next?

There are so many great workshops outside the US right now, but logistically the West coast is easiest for me. Coney Island is on my workshop bucket list. I also plan to host a one-person workshop (me) in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire next summer. This is another locale that appeals to me deeply, but my husband thinks I’m crazy.

What have you learned about yourself and/or society from shooting street photography?

Before street photography, I never realized how drawn I was to the hustle and bustle of crowds and urban areas. I’ve also learned how fun and exhilarating it can be to travel alone to workshops. Street photography gives me a way to indulge in both of these.

Currently, is there something you’re having difficulty with in your street photography?

I’m starting to feel like the keepers are like prime numbers–the more you shoot, the less keepers you find over time. This interview caught me at a crossroads. I’m thinking of trying something different (still in the street photography realm). I need to get off my butt and go do it.

I’ll list a few street photographers and describe them or their work in one sentence.

1. Alex Webb

Supernaturally good. Take his and his wife’s workshop if you can. You’ll learn a lot of about sequencing and bookmaking (bring your book collection and they’ll sign them). You’ll be on your own for shooting, though.

2. Martin Parr

My first exposure to flash. I like his sense of humor.

3. Bruce Gilden

Not my style. Too harsh.

 

4. Eric Kim

Nicest person you’ll ever meet. I know he’s polarizing but I’ve learned a lot from him and consider him a good friend. His workshops are as much about connecting with people as they are about photography.

5. Jack Simon

Tied with Eric Kim for nicest person you’ll ever meet. Love his quirky eye, and he’s a great instructor. Highly recommend his workshop in San Francisco. Jack is proof that the best workshops are hosted by locals.

6. Constantine Manos

I’m a huge fan of his color photography and keep a copy of American Color II at work. His workshop in Hollywood last year is one of my favorites. He’ll teach you a lot of rules that you may or may not agree with. I still refer back to my notes from him so he definitely made an impression on me. He’s VERY opinionated about what makes a good photograph. Only take his workshops if you have a similar style.

7. Jesse Marlow  and 8. Aaron Berger

I grouped Jesse and Aaron together because I took a workshop with them both this year and learned a lot from their vastly different shooting styles. They put a lot of effort into giving everyone equal time when shooting. Very approachable, supportive, down-to-earth guys.

9. Henri Cartier Bresson

Required reading, but not a daily inspiration for me. Untouchable.

10. Vivian Maier

Fascinating story. Didn’t we all go through a B&W phase after seeing her work?? She was extremely talented, but I’m also drawn to that era. No wonder it’s impossible to duplicate her style now.

Any personal tips or advice on street photography?

Travel to workshops and make new friends. This has been the best part about street photography for me, more so than any pictures I’ve come home with. Nothing beats going to a new workshop and running into familiar faces (like Tim!)

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Follow and Keep Up with Jill Maguire’s work!

Website: www.whatjillsaw.com

FlickR: www.flickr.com/photos/jillmaguire/

Instagram @whatjillsaw

Click Less Yet Get More

Do you believe that the more times you snap your shutter, the more opportunity you will have a good photo? I used to think so but as of late my opinion has differ. The more you go out and photograph, it raises your odds of getting a photo, true to some extend I guess.

Clear Your Mind

I believe in going out, photographing the streets without any pressure, with a clear state of mind. You can go out 7 days a week for two to three hours each day but if you’re mind is cluttered and worried about “stuff” then you cannot focus and therefore your imagination is clouded. For me at least, my best approach is to go out with a clear and empty mind with no expectations and to let my instincts take over. Once I start thinking, looking at my phone, thinking of what chores I need to do, what the kids are going to eat for dinner, then I’m really just wasting my time roaming the streets. I’m not in-tuned with being in the moment and therefore I end up being less observant of my surroundings and in the end may miss a photographic moment.

By fully soaking in the moment of being on my photo-walk, I am present of the current time and location, and can fully give my all in photographing the streets. Therefore, make every shutter click matter and count. Instead of shooting rapid fire and hoping one stands out. I also feel by clicking the shutter less will in the end make you a better photographer because you are using your primary tool…your eyes first, to see, and then react and snap away. Instead of snapping away and then chimping at your LCD screen or viewfinder and seeing what you got. I feel this does come with time and experience. But my advice, clear your mind and let your imagination run wild.

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Don’t be a lazy photographer

Don’t be a lazy photographer by taking a thousand plus photos within an hour of your lunch break and relying on your blessings to the photo God’s to give you at least one good one…make every shutter you click count…I will add though, sometimes you don’t know if you have a good photo or not until you upload onto your computer and begin the editing process. For me, more often than not, I will know or better yet feel, that I got something special at the time I took the photo. How do you know if you got a good photo or not? Simple, it’s based on feeling, something that immediately strikes you in the gut….kind of like you meet a girl, you talk to her, and something inside you knows she’s the one. You guys make a connection. That’s a bad analogy but you get my point. Sometimes you feel it without knowing why and that’s okay.

Conclusion

I used to bring my camera everywhere with me but lately I’ve kept it at home. Because if my mind or mood is not in the photographic mindset then I’m wasting energy. If I do happen to come across a “A-HA_ moment, I have my Samsung S8 which takes great photos by the way…if I miss it, then so be it, I won’t lose sleep, in fact I’ll be appreciative of seeing the moment.