How to Find Your Style in Photography

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Many street photographer’s are trying to find their our own style…their our own unique voice. Personally, I am not sure if I would want my “own style” even though it’ll be nice to claim one. Please keep in mind that everything has been done before…it’s not a matter of copying but rather finding a style you like or admire and adding your own twist to it to make it your own. It’s like in wrestling, every move has been done before but a slight jerk to the hip or doing your move at a higher elevation will separate you from your predecessors.

If your personal friends or social media following often comment that your work reminds them of Alex Webb or Martin Parr, that’s a great compliment and you are obviously on the right track to something great. Eventually you’ll want to break away from that and claim your own style even if that takes for you to defend your own work and how your style or set of photos may look similar to other street photographers on the surface…but if you look closely and dig deeper beneath the surface it speaks more of you and your unique eye and voice.

What is a photography style?

I think a style emphasizes on consistency of look and feel. Same with photos, a good start in working towards a style is to keep things simple and consistent. Keep your photos either in black and white or color. Get close up to the face, the hands. Shooting in the same location also helps with aesthetics. Shooting during the same time of day for consistent lighting. Edit your photos all the same, don’t use a kodak filter on one photo and then use another type of filter on another. Ultimately, you can shoot and post process your photos however you want, there are no rules, this is just to give you ideas on how to create a style. And from my experience, if your photos don’t have much consistency most people especially in photo competitions will bypass your entries.

Working on a particular project helps with establishing consistency. Let’s say you want to do a project on “Lunch Break”…Basically a series of photos that you have shot during your lunch break, five days a week from 12pm to 1pm in and around your work area with your one and only camera. As you can see, there are so many consistencies already. Time of day, location, and type of camera being used. Now it’s just a matter of what you are able to photograph and what you happen to find on your lunch break. Now when you are out shooting, having a project you are working towards can help you focus or narrow in on what to look for…but for me personally, I just like to go out with an open mind and have the project that I’m working on in the back of my mind. Sort of like a fall back.

Is a photographic style for me?

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It really is up to you. Do you like to just make photos of anything that catches your eye or do you like to make photos of something specific (street portraits,  headless subject, vibrant colors, close-up of hands, etc).

I am not working on anything in particular but there are a few things that I would say is my fallback when I’m out in the streets. An interesting face for my portraits series, interesting scenes or bodies at the beach for my Beach Please series, and vibrant colors tend to hold my attention more than anything else.

I also shoot with the same camera an Olympus M5-ii with my 17mm 1.8 lens. I shoot when I have time, during lunch breaks, after work, on weekends. My time is never consistent because I have a full load…but I do try to bring my camera with me wherever I go.

Conclusion

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My advice is to always experiment and see what work for you. For me just going out with a camera, an open mind, leaves me with little to no constraints. This is the best approach for me. I don’t like to clutter my mind or make things anymore complicated than it already is. I’ve also noticed when I add pressure on myself by setting goals of getting a decent to good photo a week that it only leaves me more disappointed and ultimately discouraged with my photography. Only recently, I’ve learned that capturing a “good enough photo” or a photo I’m satisfied with is the bonus when out and about shooting the streets. That actually what I truly enjoy is just getting out of the office or house, clearing my mind, and enjoying my walks.

As long as your photos are authentic and are not posed (I’m okay with posing your subject for street portraits). Photograph what inspires you and what your natural instinct reacts off of. Always remember to have fun with your street photography. That you are doing this to challenge yourself and you are using this art form as a creative outlet but to also burn calories and enjoy the being out and about.

How to Handle Criticism on your Street photography

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots – Frank Clark

Criticism is negative feedback and I’ve had a very small handful of them on my photography through peers and folks on social media. I’m human, sometimes it gets to me but I try my best not to let it. Criticism is negative feedback without any guidance or suggestive improvements. For example, if someone saw your photo and said “It’s crap” and not explain why the photo is crap then it’s all deaf ears to me.

However, saying that the photo is crap but yet explaining why, is constructive feedback. There’s opportunity to learn and grow knowing why your photo just doesn’t work.  I had one person say (and I won’t give any clues) that one of my photo essays was pretty good but that’s because they edited the photos down and cropped some of the images. Or said (same person) it sucks without further explanation.

I’m open for constructive feedback and I think I take it pretty well, I’m all ears and open to a discussion. I also believe in defending your work if you truly love the image and regardless what others think, if you like the photo stand by it. I actually appreciate when someone gives me their constructive feedback, to take time to either type a message or waste their breath on me, I feel appreciative to an extent. I have always believed if the person didn’t care then they wouldn’t waste their time saying anything.

Also remember to keep in mind, everyone has the right to their own opinion. That’s the beauty of this country, the freedom of speech. So that we can have dialogue and come to an mutual or better yet…a better understanding of both perspectives.

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To take the advice or not

The way I see constructive feedback is 1. What would make the image work better instead or 2. From the perspective of the viewer, how it’d be a better image. There is no right or wrong in street photography but there is good, better, and just not there. I think most people don’t know how to give good constructive feedback, for photography good constructive feedback is saying this doesn’t work but I’d be curious to see if a particular subject passed back or if you got lower it’d add more emotion or mystery to it.

For me even if I receive good constructive feedback I won’t always adjust to their liking’s or to use less words…agree. But I am appreciative of their feedback and thoughts (never know you may learn something new). You got to remember even if Bruce Gilden gave you feedback on a photo you truly liked and he chewed it up to pieces (like he did to mines in San Francisco) and he pointed out why it’s a weak photo, etc, and with over five decades of experience, a Magnum photographer, the list goes on…Even he has a particular style he likes or prefers (plus I don’t think Bruce Gilden ever complimented anyone’s photos besides his very own).

Imagine if someone asked you to review and critique their photo and there’s parts of the image that you do or don’t like about it. You’re giving your opinion  based on your own experience, personal fondness of what type of photos you cater towards. If photographed a scene that included vibrant colors and had a very minimalist aesthetic to it and you ask a fellow photographer that loves black and white photos, that tends to incorporate layers and lots of people in their frame…they probably won’t appreciate your photo compared if another photographer presented photos that shared the same ideas and have similar taste in style.

That’s why I believe in not having a style. Lots of photographers talk about having a style to call your own, to separate from the pack, or to use less words…branding. For me I just shoot what I like, what catches my attention and keeps me curious. I don’t want to be pigeon hold to one style or one way of shooting…I’d get bored too quickly.

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Conclusion

Be open to other opinions. Take what you can learn and filter the rest. People giving criticism online and social media are likely to be more harsh with their feedback because they can hide behind a screen. They’re not dealing with an actual person right in front of them. Think of customer service, when someone calls and make a complaint versus making a complaint in person at the store. Nobody wants to cause a scene at the store and go viral on Facebook. Even if it’s someone you know, their critique online will be much different in person.

ultimately, my advice is to always follow your gut, be true to yourself, you can’t please everyone the only person you should be pleasing is yourself. Life is about taking the bumps and bruises and just picking yourself back up and keep on keeping on.

Defend your work, stand up for it if it’s something you like. Don’t let the opinion of others demoralize you. And don’t change because society tells you to or the feeling of pressure from your peers. Change when you’re ready to change, when you’re ready to take that leap of faith whether that’s in your photography by changing up your approach and style…or if that’s in life where you need to subtract old friends that are nothing but toxic or if you need to move to another country for a change in scenery. Do it by your own terms, create your own destiny, write your own narrative.

How To Travel On A Budget…

Many of us think that traveling requires a lot of money, different countries may cost more than others…the time of year on when you travel will factor in on the cost too. If you stay at a motel, 5 star hotel, or my personal favorite with a host via Airbnb. All of this factors into your overall travel budget. Here’s some tips from my most recent experience…

This past January I traveled to Havana, Cuba from Honolulu, HI. I set a goal not to spend more than $1200 within my 4 night stay (that’s with airfare, food, place to stay, site visits, taxi, souvenirs to bring back home, visa, passport). Here’s how I did it.

Buy airfare at the right time

Once I made up my mind that I was going to pursue this photographic journey to Cuba (and approval from the wife) I checked the prices on the flights via google flights everyday. I also read the conspiracy that tickets were cheaper during the middle of the week, Tuesdays-Wednesday. Airfare prices would fluctuate more or less $50. One week it went up $100, more than what I’ve been looking at and I panicked. I waited and with a little bit of luck the following week the prices dropped back down to what it was normally going for. I jumped on it and bought my ticket (there’s no direct flight from Hawaii to Cuba…HI to SF, SF to FL, FL to Cuba) for $720.

As of now HNL to HAV is $920…

Airfare – $720

Visa – $50

I have $430 left to spend.

Fuck Hotels

If you have a friend or former colleague in the area you’re traveling to, I’d suggest you reach out to them and ask if you can crash at their place for a few nights in exchange for dinner and a few drinks. If that doesn’t work, look for a place to stay on airbnb. Airbnb is the best thing around, I have used airbnb 3 times and will not go back to spending a dollar at a hotel.

Why airbnb over hotels? You can narrow down your search from private rooms, an entire home, shared room, pricing, locations, and you can contact the host before committing. One thing I hate about hotels is the check in. Sometimes the lines and wait can take forever. With airbnb there’s no line, no check in, communicate upon arrival and let them know when you’re anticipated to fly in and why you’re traveling to their city/country.

Hotels feel cold, with airbnb you feel like your at home which I rather prefer. Plus, when I would stay at a hotel I wouldn’t want to go out and stay out as long. I would do one activity and go back to the hotel and just sit in bed. With airbnb, because it’s someone’s house, it forces me to start my day early and end my night late. I get out of the house between 9am-10am and won’t head back until 9pm-10pm. A full 12 hour day. Which makes me explore more and cover more ground. If I were to just stay in the airbnb house for most of the day it’ll be too similar as being at home on the weekend, so this forces me to get up and get out.

My airbnb stay in a havana (shared apt, private room) was $12 a day. Much cheaper than staying in a government run hotel in Havana for an average of $150 a night. Which brings me to my next point.

I rather support a fellow brother or sister by staying at their home than to give my money and get ripped off by big private corporations or in Havana, government. Airbnb gives additional income for homeowners to help pay their mortgage.

I could have stayed right in the heart of Old Havana for $50 a night (where I ended up spending most of my time shooting) but instead my airbnb stay was near the Jose Marti Monument ($12 a night). Taking the taxi (10-15 minute drive, depends if your cab driver knew his way around it was a hit or miss for me LMAO good times) $20-25 round trip. Still cheaper than if I had stayed at the airbnb location in Old Havana for $50 a night.

Airbnb Stay – $12 a night w/$10 airbnb fee = $58!!!

Airfare + Visa + Airbnb = $828

Food

Eat, enjoy, try new dishes but you must budget. If you ate at a highend restaurant one day, eat cheap and find a hole in the wall bar/restaurant the next day. Instead of eating 3 meals a day, eat 2 meals or 1. Eat where you have enough fuel to carry yourself throughout the day, don’t over eat and stuff yourself. You’ll end up spending more and feeling gross and tired after every meal and you’ll just want to head back to your stay and take a nap.

My first night in Havana I spent quite a lot on food and beverages (a bottle of beer is cheaper than a bottle of water). I ate 2 meals at a pretty fancy restaurants with an average bill of $20 a piece. Equaling $40. The remainder of my stay I budget $20 or less for food, often drinking coffee and a sandwich for breakfast, a decent priced meal for lunch usually fish and rice, and a sandwich through a cheap street vendor.

Food – $80 for 4 nights

Airfare + Visa + Airbnb + Food = $908

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Getting Around

Do your research if it’s cheaper to rent a car (always got to think about parking and the cost of it) bus, train, uber, or taxi. The most convenient transportation in Cuba was local taxi cabs. One of the most joyful experiences is just sitting in the cab and taking in the view of Havana. There’s no google maps, so some of the cab drivers had difficulty finding my airbnb stay. It didn’t bother me because I enjoyed the sight seeing and they do not charge by the minute. Before you enter the car you always ask how much from here to there and they’ll give you a price and live by their word. It’s awesome! And the locals were always willing to help with directions, who needs google maps…

Airport to Jose Marti Monument (airbnb area) = $30 x 2 = $60

Usage of taxi round trip = $25 x 4 days = $100

Total transportation cost = $160 

Trip total thus far = $908 + $160 = $1128

Souvenirs

One souvenir to bring back home are CUBAN CIGARS! They are crazy expensive (the good quality ones at least) Luckily my airbnb host had a friend who sold them to me at a discounted price. I bought 2 boxes of cigars (each box had 25 cigars in them) for the price of $100. I seen a few street vendors and government run cigar stores that were selling them for $150 plus.

This brings my total to $1168. I barely beat my $1200 travel budget.

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Conclusion

Set a realistic budget for your next travel adventure. Do all the research ahead of time (I had to because of Cuba’s internet situation). Research when’s the best time to go to your destination and when’s the cheapest time to buy the airfare.

Don’t pack too much clothes and other stuff, travel light, have as little stress possible when you’re on vacation. Set a daily spending cap and stick to it. Research free things to do before paying for those bus tours. Substitute a vehicle and walk. Burn some calories while on vacation and plus you’re in a new scene so where where you go, every corner you turn, it’s something new and exciting.

Book an airbnb instead of a hotel/motel. SAVE SAVE SAVE! And help the common man.

Learn the language, minimum to get around is more than enough, I made a word doc and printed mines out (Where is this? How much is this? How far? How many minutes? How are you? Thank you).

Be discipline with your $ and have fun.

Thanks for reading, keep shooting,

Tim