The Challenges of Street Photography

99% of street photography, if not more, is about failure.

– Alex Webb

A powerful statement that spurs quite a bit of introspection.

Street photography is all about failure. The failure to have the courage to take that one shot. The failure to capture “the decisive moment.” The failure to get a clean background. The failure to have your subject make eye contact. The failure to move your feet to get a better frame. The failure to get recognition for your work. The failure to have your photo get “explored” on Flickr. Failures upon failures upon failures.

I think one of the things that initially drew me to street photography is just how damn hard it is. It was unlike any other form of photography out there. It was so unpredictable. Whereas when I shot landscape, macro, or architecture– I could take however long I wanted, and I had so much in my control. But with street photography, I had to learn to relinquish control to simply “go with the flow.”

I couldn’t control the light, control how people looked, the background– all I could control is how well I could move my feet, and click the shutter at what I thought would be the “right” moment.

– Eric Kim

I agree with Eric and couldn’t have said it better myself. The courage to take a shot is something I often lack myself. Especially when it comes to photographing people.

Some common questions that I ask before I decide whether or not to raise my camera:

  • Will I be noticed?
  • How will the person react?
  • Is the shot worth it?

The last question holds a lot of weight when it comes to film, and there are plenty of factors that determine a photo’s worth/success — this is a topic I’ll try to tackle in the future. Often times, as I’m contemplating, the “right” moment has passed and I’m left with regret.

Although I agree with most of what Eric has said, I don’t think it’s all about failure. I prefer to take a more optimistic approach and feel that our photography, street or otherwise, depends on our own definition of success. It could be getting some type of recognition like being in an art gallery. It could be getting a certain number of likes on a social network.

I’m constantly exploring my own definition of success and think it’s important to at least figure some of it out before getting “there”, or I’ll risk being disappointed that it’s not what I had imagined.


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