Unconventional Street Photography Tips

I have written about street photography many times over the years in this blog and I am not going to repeat my previous tips that I have shared. I personally think street photography is a lot more than just techniques and how to shoot to get the typical results. We can learn and imitate the masters, many have done so resulting in repetitive, redundant and somehow boring looking images inundating the image-sharing social media platforms. I want to explore how we can be original, work with our own strengths and uniqueness and find our voice, be different and stand out from the crowd in this blog entry. 

As usual, I did make a video (click here) about this topic. Considering the amount of effort, time and energy I have spent for each video that I made (typically ranging from 2-3 hours shooting duration, and add another 3 hours or more post-editing), almost an entire day is swallowed by a video production. Nevertheless I fully acknowledge that some of you beautiful people still prefer to consume my sharing in the form of writing, hence I am doing my best to continue to blog here. 


Instead of emulating what other street photographers do, one of the quickest way to truly be yourself and differentiate your photographs from others is to constantly look out for something unusual. It is not about how a street photograph should look, it is not the technique or how to shoot an image, the style and approach can only get you so far. Focus on the subject content, find something different, something unique and a content that can be sometimes exciting or funny. Adding such powerful content into your photograph will surely add more "oomph" to your portfolio, since these rare subjects most likely will only happen once and can never be replicated, at least not that easily. This is my constant message, barking "you should emphasise on what you are shooting instead of how you shoot it" and I am not shy to repeat the same rhyme over and over again. Open your eyes and hearts, look around you, be wary of your surroundings and once you see something out of the norm, pounce with your camera. 

The images I am sharing in this blog entry are obviously recycled from my previous postings, what can I do, I have been stuck at home for almost 2 months now due to the nation-wide lockdown situation in Malaysia. It really pains me not being able to go out to shoot. Nonetheless, this also gives me an opportunity to look through my set of images, assess my current photography journey, and share some of these photographs here. 


I find a lot of local Malaysian street photographers trying too hard to emulate the look of popular street photography work from other parts of the world. It is perfectly fine to take inspiration from others and try to improve our own photography adding elements from idolised photography work. Unfortunately, by doing so, you would have lost a very important edge - the uniqueness of your location. I am based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and I should use this to my advantage when it comes to my street photography. The uniqueness of my location can add a certain look and feel to my photographs that cannot be found at other parts of the world. Now here is an important question - how well do you know your location? How familiar are you with the streets that you shoot in?

I have been asked many times by different people - "Robin, don't you ever get bored returning to the same streets, shooting again and again in the same location?" My answer has been a consistent no, I don't get bored. The more I come back to the same location, the more I shoot on the same streets, the more I know these locations better. I know every alley, every turn, every corner, and these little details can greatly help me make better decisions when I am shooting. I know where to look for interesting subjects, I know where to position myself, I know exactly how the light will fall and where to find an interesting background to work my shots. Having familiarised myself with the location I can then worry less and start focusing on what truly matters in a street photograph - the moment, the subject and the drama. Street photography is a long term project, you cannot just go out once or twice walking along the same streets and expect to shoot winners. If only photography is so easy!


I have observed so many times, street photographers hesitating just before a critical shot - fiddling with camera settings, or changing lenses. Every single adjustment you make, every single time you change your mind is a risk of losing or missing the shot. If you are new to photography, you have just bought a camera and you have not fully nailed down the camera basics/exposure fundamentals, then you should work on that first before expecting to get any great shots on the street. Do not skip the basics, there is no shortcut to photography. Learn the fundamentals - join a basic photography workshop, find tutorials online, there are tonnes of available resources out there, both free and paid, in article form or video, information is within grasp these days and there is no excuse for you not to be able to understand what shutter speed is, or what aperture does to your images. When you shoot on the street, all these settings should be at the back of your mind, you can operate the camera efficiently and quickly without getting in the way of your focus on the main subject in your frame. You should be able to react reflexively and nail critical moments confidently with your camera. Knowing your camera inside out is the key to becoming a better street photographer. 


This is perhaps one of the most important advice I can give anyone who is doing street photography. Ask yourself what do you like, and how you can integrate that into your photography work. Look for ways to include a piece of yourself into your photographs, by doing so you can create something that truly belongs to you. I often find a lot of people shooting not for themselves, but to please an audience. Do not get me wrong, having an audience is important, and interacting with your audience is a good way to keep you motivated to continue to shoot and improve your game. However, never lose sight of who you are, why you are shooting in the first place. Your photography is about you, it is the story that you want to tell, and you should put that first above all else when it comes to consideration of making images. Do not fall into the trap of seeking validation from social media - the chasing of likes, positive comments, all these false reassurance won't lead you anywhere healthy in the long term photography game. Stay true to yourself, shoot for your own soul. 


Street photography is not a new genre and has been done to death, after decades of practise I believe it is time for us to redefine the rules. Get creative, push the boundaries and challenge the norm. I think we can do better and it is time for us to rise up and have our say on what the modern, revised street photography version can be to reflect our generation. No disrespect or disregard to the past heroes and legends, they existed and they have inspired generations to come. But we need to find our own voice, and moving forward do we want to be just an echo of past greatness, or it is time for us to create something new and push into a new era? 

I acknowledge that these tips are slightly unusual but I also strongly believe that we need to change and continue to work on our craft to be better photographers. There are too many similar techniques, tutorials on how to shoot on the street, I am challenging everyone to go out from the comfort zone and see how far you can go with your art. Photography does not happen at the comfort of not sacrificing anything, and great art comes from asking the right questions and daring to do something different. 

I sure hope these tips have benefited you, and please add your thoughts in the comments below. 

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1 comment:

  1. Inspiring stuff Robin. Love your work, reviews and enthusiasm. Thankyou