Our body and mind cannot function without food like an engine needs fuel to run. As photographers, our mind is our main power unit and needs its proper gas. But how can we fuel our mind and what is the right photographic nutrition?
The Premium Food
As amateur photographers, we all have our role models, people that we look up to and whose pictures we admire. We consume their portfolios, articles or videos and slowly try to understand their unique style. Over time we try to recreate their pictures and integrate the things we learn from them in our own body of work. They are our biggest influence and the more we look at their pictures the higher is the standard that we judge our own work.
One thing that always fascinated me about Street Photography is that we are all participating in the same “league”. Unlike other genres, all we need is a simple camera and regardless if you are a beginner or an experienced photographer, we all act on the same playing field.
The difference obviously is, that the experienced photographers still can have beautiful results where we are empty-handed and didn’t find a single opportunity for a great photo. I don’t believe that you need a full-weekend workshop to achieve similar results, but that you can advance yourself through self-studying. By studying the work of your favorite photographers, they become part of your identity and will change your photos as well. That is why I consider them the “premium food” for our eyes and mind, they can really fuel our self and help us develop a unique vision.
In Street Photography, one of the main sources for photos is social media. As we want to receive as much input as possible we tend to follow a lot of persons, probably more than we can handle, hence the reason why Facebook and its branch Instagram introduce algorithms that adjust our timeline and the photos we see. With time we tend to follow more and more people and our timeline is cluttered with pictures, which mostly aren’t interesting to us.
Instead of letting Facebook or Instagram decide what we may consume it is advisable to take the matter into your own hand and to decide yourself what you want to see and what is replaceable. Surely there are enough people who we follow because once we liked a picture of them and out of habit we still look at their photos regularly.
The reason why I consider these social media consumption in bulks fast-food is that we consume them, although they might have a bad influence in the long run. We become what we consume and even if it doesn’t show immediately these mediocre pictures influence our photographic journey as well. We get used to them and after some time our own skill might deteriorate or simply not advance at all. Try to reduce the intake of these type of photography. They are great if you want to experience some variety aside from your role models, but shouldn’t serve as your main food.
The appropriate Consumption
Due to the masses of photos that are published every day we are accustomed to downright devour theses bulks. We often feel that we might miss something if we don’t keep up and that more is always better. But to remain with the food analogy I value quality over quantity and that we should take our time to appreciate a good photo.
To make the most out of these quality images, you should not only passively glance at them but try to analyze them. If you like them, ask yourself why do I like it? Try to crack up the structure of the picture by composition, story, and emotions. Try to describe for every part what exactly you like. Is there more to the composition than the obvious rule of thirds? Maybe there are nice leading lines, diagonals or patterns that you didn’t notice at first sight, but really add to the quality of the image.
Although I am quite critical about Social Media and the masses of photos that can spoil our taste, it is still my source #1 when it comes to contemporary Street Photography.
Photography Books are undoubtedly another great source of inspiration. One of my favorites at the moment is Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument. This book includes the Life articles, contact sheets and pictures about his story of a gang in Harlem. Definitely, a must-buy if you want to improve your storytelling, or are working on a photo story yourself.
Flea markets are great places to get the best bang for the buck and maybe you can find some hidden gems. If you are near a photography museum that also sells books, you often can find discounted books when exhibitions change and the location tries to free up some space for new photo books.
There is the saying, that you are the average of the five persons you spent the most time with. Transferred to photography, this could mean that you’ll become what your feeds and general input look like. Therefore, quality is more important than quantity and you should choose your role models wisely to become the photographer you desire to be.