“As long as we live we learn and as long as we learn we live”.
I don’t know when I heard this quote and I don’t remember who said it. I certainly didn’t read it on the web. This was something told to me when I was a kid and it made a huge impact on me. The reasons are obvious and I think self explanatory.
Every day is a new day, full of new experiences even if we spend our days in the same office room, doing the same job, or going to the same school day in day out, or riding the same bus, the same train etc. Something always happens and we get to experience something new. No matter how minor or major the experience, we learn something and that means that we exist, we grow, we progress at our own pace. Learning and living, living and learning. Those are two things that complete each other as far as I am concerned and that is what the quote means. But it also means one more thing. That we can learn from anything and anyone because as long as we are alive and our brain is working, we are observing and absorbing our surroundings.
I have two daughters. Both of them use cameras. My oldest daughter Pavlina Papaspyropoulou is now 6 years old and she likes shooting Street Photography sometimes. She has been making Street Photos for a year now and I have been escorting her and observing her. She uses my old SONY DSC-V1, a great 5MP, digital camera, as well as some other pocket cameras that lie around the house just incase someone needs to take a photo. I never thought I would learn new things by looking at her shooting and answering her frequent questions about cameras and Street Photography, but I have and I would like to share with you all 6 Street Photography tips I learned from my 6 year old daughter:
1. Be spontaneous and shoot whatever you like and feels important to you
The core of Street Photography and all genres of Photography for that matter is to take photos of things, people or situations that mean something to us the Photographers. When we do that, when we are spontaneous and shoot passionately from the heart, trying to capture what we consider as important to us, that intense feeling, that passion or one could even call it love, shows through our work.
About the photo: In this photograph, Pavlina received a barbie doll as a gift from some friends. Before she even opened the box to play with her new toy, she wanted to photograph the moment. Freeze it in time so she could always remember it. This is something she always does when she gets a new toy. She photographs it in it’s box.
2. Shoot from a “Rat’s eye view” to give your photos an interesting angle
Shooting photographs from a low POV or as it is also known as “Rat’s eye view” give another perspective to one’s Street Photography. Photos shot from that level are more dramatic and show the viewers what the world looks like from a height we are not used to experiencing on a daily basis.
About the photo: Pavlina is 6 years old so naturally most of her photos are from a lower POV, unless she climbs up on something she isn’t suppose too, like a table or the sofa! I noticed something the day she made this photo. Even though she could have shot this photograph from higher, she moved her hands down to her waist level and made the shot from there. When I asked her why she did that she just said “I like it like that”.
3. Don’t be afraid to take photographs of strangers
Another very, very important point that I have learned from observing my daughter is that a Street Photographer shouldn’t be afraid of taking photos of strangers. Each one of us has their own defence mechanisms and we should practice them enough until we master them. That way we can always get out of difficult situations if we accidentally find ourselves in one. Shooting strangers are terribly important in Street Photography. Most argue that a Street Photo has to have a person in it to be called a Street Photo. We will not get into that discussion now, but what is important to understand is that making photos of strangers is not a bad thing. It is not something that you must feel ashamed of or something you need to worry about. It must come naturally to you, like shooting a flower, a dog, a car or a tree. Everything in your frame is part of your composition.
About the photo: In this photograph, Pavlina noticed this lady selling handmade trinkets sitting on a wall. I remember this day. She didn’t hesitate. She didn’t even think about it. She just lifted her camera as naturally as if she was walking or talking and made the shot. She even sat there chimping looking at the photo without a care in the world. That is what we must all achieve as Street Hunters. We mustn’t be afraid, or ashamed, or worried. We must perform our art as if it is the most natural thing in the world. That way strangers will not feel threatened and will not react and our Street Hunts will be smooth and successful.
4. Don’t be afraid to use a flash
Flash Street Photography is not easy. I have done it many times and each time I have released the shutter and a burst of light into someone’s face I worry that I will get yelled at. Funnily enough this has never happened to me when shooting with a flash. In reality shooting with this style at night or even in the day, gives you the Street Photographer opportunities for interesting photographic results that can’t be achieved with natural light photography. If done right, flash photos can look highly impressive! Look at the work of the legendary Bruce Gilden for example or the amazing Charalampos Kydonakis a.k.a. Dirty Harrry. Fantastic work from both of them. They both use flash to make photos but get different results.
About the photo: In this photograph, I was standing with Pavlina in the street looking at an event that was taking place. I was not paying attention to what was happening around me. I was holding her by the hand and all of a sudden I saw her flash go off and then I heard this man saying how sweet she was and thanked her for taking his photo. I turned and talked to the man and he said that Pavlina had looked at him, aimed and took the shot. He wasn’t expecting it, but he didn’t mind.
5. Shooting in P mode is ok
I have obsessed about shooting in Manual mode for a very long time. If I am feeling like I don’t want to give light too much thought but focus on my composition only I will choose a semi automatic mode to take photographs. A mode or S mode. But I never shoot in P mode. Why not? I don’t know really! That is all my little daughter shoots in and her photos are just great. This makes me wonder sometimes if it is completely necessary to obsess over Manual mode if we can still shoot by letting our cameras do all the hard work. I know that International Street Photographer Thomas Leuthard shoots mostly in P mode and his work is awesome! Very consistent and of the highest quality. We do live in the age of technology and information. Our cameras are high tech gadgets that can do what they are meant to do perfectly. So, next time you hit the streets, try shooting in P mode. Forget about everything, just focus on composition. Let your camera do the metering and focusing work.
About the photo: It was a lovely day and we were taking a walk at the old Venetian Port of Rethymno. Pavlina was impressed with the lighthouse. It is the only real lighthouse she has seen in her life, so naturally she wanted to take a photograph of it. I don’t know if she noticed the two men, the two birds, the two street lights and the two boats.
6. Experiment with light and shadows
Street Photography is about noticing the way the light and shadows work together to create interesting opportunities for great compositions. For a Street Photographer to know and understand light and shadows, he/she must practice a lot. The best way is to try and combine intense light and figures emerging from dark shadows. Or to use shadow play to make unique images that can’t be replicated. Experiment every day, shoot more and more, be creative and learn the qualities of light and shadow the hard way. By shooting! That is the only way as far as I am concerned.
About the photo: Pavlina thought it was funny seeing a big dead palm tree branch pierce the head of her shadow on the ground. She made the photo and came to show me instantly. I remember loving this shot. I still do.
Children are pure of heart and absorb life in their own unique way. Untainted by social etiquette they see life as it is and act innocently with one goal in mind and one only. To achieve what they want to achieve at any specific moment. That goal might be to eat candy, or to play a game, or even to take a photograph. They focus on what they want to do and they do it without hesitation, because they feel no guilt and no social burdens. While trying to achieve their goal they have fun. They try to make the most out of their time. They don’t obsess over perfection, over getting it right. They just want to enjoy themselves and the experience is magical for them, every time.
That is how we should all approach Street Photography.