Some people ask me how they too can get into the game - like everyone else. Here's what I tell 'em.
Street photography is bigger than ever. At least, bigger than it was yesterday, although the verdict is out on the day prior. As a popular genre, tens of dozens and dozens of people, across the world and perhaps beyond, are seeking help on how they too can become a mediocre street photographer.
As a mediocre street photographer myself and certainly well-known by my dozens and dozens of followers, I'm often asked by beginners and enthusiasts how to get into the street photography game. At this point, I usually refer them to Eric Kim and others who've advanced well beyond street photography and into the motivational speaking and camera strap-making game. But when pressed, like a fine decaf coffee bean squirted into a styrofoam cup of what could become Folgers Crystals, I lay out my ten tips to become a mediocre street photographer. Without further doo-doo, let's dig in.
1. Buying the right camera and lens
This one's probably the easiest. There is only one certified street photography camera brand worth considering: Leica. If you're not going to purchase a brand new Leica and pair it up with a 50 year old vintage lens, then you're not in the running to becoming America's Next Top Mediocre Street Photographer. Now, Leicas are renown for having very few features and almost zero tech in their modern cameras. In fact, they're pretty much useless. But you know they're the best because you're shelling out at least 4 or 5 thousands bucks minimum before you're able to bounce with the Leica crowd. And Henri Cartier-Bresson used one - so shut the fuck up, already.
Be sure to reserve a week to shop for those vintage lenses in Japan. They've got all the best camera and lenses stores over there with the best and most expensive vintage glass and accessories money can buy. The older, the better. The less compatible with your camera, the better. It really doesn't matter. Just buy every prime focal length you can find and pack them back with you - in your new $800 Leica camera bag.
2. Camera settings
There are a couple settings which are custom-tailored for street photography. Get out your pen and paper, folks. The first setting is for taking pictures of people in front of walls of graffiti only. Shutter speed 1/4000, f16, ISO 800. Now, your images may appear slightly dark but we'll brighten those up in Photoshop when we introduce copious amounts of grain and contrast to make the images look more "streety". Yeah. So you also have to purchase a Photoshop subscription so that when you transfer your shots over to your phone to apply Snapseed filters, you'll be all set to share to Instagram.
The second setting is for everything else apart from graffiti walls. And here is when it gets interesting. Just flip any of the mode dials to something random. Just thumb them one direction or the other, several times, like a snarky game of Vegas roulette. Then, without looking at what you've just done, you're all set to go get those shots.
3. Get close to your subjects
If you're not close enough that your subjects can't feel your breath on the backs of their necks, that's your que to get a little closer. Your subjects should always be within arm's length, preferably within a foot or so, regardless of the minimum focus distance of your lens. If your subject's face is too large and blurry in your frame, that's okay. That's art. That's street photography.
Another tip about getting close. When you approach your subjects, don't do it slowly or sneakily. It makes you look like a murderer, or worse, a perve. Best to rush in at a half-sprint in order to catch your subject off-guard so that the moment you capture will be completely authentic.
4. Take your camera everywhere
I mean, everywhere. Jimi Hendrex slept with his guitar. That's how dedicated he was to his craft. When you're aiming to be the next best mediocre street photographer in show, you should be packing your Leica into your bedroom, into your bathroom, and yes, even into the shower. You never know when something magnificent will happen. And if you're without your camera, you're going to miss the decisive moment. Keep that camera slung around your neck like a noose from a western movie. It's better to hang high than to miss a shot, compadre.
5. Be fearless
You're not doing anything wrong. In most countries, street photography is legal or has few restrictions. People will always respect your rights as a photographer. If you venture into the barrios of Rio, expect cooperation when you encounter drug and arms dealers. No need to ask permission: photographing strangers - even criminals - is okay in most countries. Be fearless, ignore those voices in your head telling you 'easy does it.' There is no easy does. There is only does.
6. Shoot from the dick
Now, a great many street photographers like to shoot from the hip. I say, that's not low enough to get a mediocre shot, buddy! Shoot from the dick! That's right. When you're out shooting and you don't want somebody to see you, place your camera at crotch level and spray away. No one is going to say anything to you about it, even if they do see your camera down there. If they do, you have the perfect comeback in the post-Me Too world: "Eyes up here."
7. Shoot at midnight
People have been known to raise their eyebrows at me when I tell them this, but I swear, there's a great reason. Have you ever heard of Spirit Photography? There's a Wikipedia entry on it, so the shit's real. Here's what Wikipedia says:
"Spirit photography is a type of photography whose primary attempt is to capture images of ghosts and other spiritual entities, especially in ghost hunting and has a strong history dating back to the late 19th century."
What I'm telling you is that besides street photography, spirit photography becomes a very real possibility after midnight when all the ghosts come out to play. Why not shoot for some ghosts if there's nobody else around in the dark streets and alleys?
8. Think outside the box
Thinking outside the box is very important to the mediocre street photographer. What does this mean? It means that you don't always have to photograph people, on streets, to be a mediocre street photographer. The problem with the term street photography, is that people are way too literal and photographers fall for this trap as well. Street photography can be so much more than "streets" and "photography".
For instance, I went inside a cafe the other day after shooting a full day of "street photography". I was tired but I wasn't quite done shooting. So what did I do? I thought outside the box for a good hour or so before considering my next move, which was this: I dunked my Leica into my half-finished mug of mocha cappuccino. I set it down on the table to dry, then proceeded about the room using only my hands to mimic a rectangular frame. I began "taking people's pictures" - without my camera! That my friends, is thinking outside the box, mediocre street photography style. It wasn't long before the police were called in to assist, but I produced my street photographer badge and they actually ended up buying me another cappuccino - and donuts!
9. It's not about image quality
I think we set the bar for Tip #9 back in Tip #2 about camera settings. Who really cares about image quality? It's not what mediocre street photography is about. Mediocre street photography is about getting extremely grainy shots by jacking up your camera settings (see Tip #2 again for a refresher) and introducing copious mounts of grain and contrast. You want your shots to all look like they've been done on a film camera, even if your Leica is already a film camera. If you want to go the extra mile, convert your images to black and white and then increase the contrast levels once again. If your shots don't look like a scene from Bela Lugosi's birthday party, then you're doing something wrong.
10. Make sure to have fun!
I saved the most important tip for last. Have fun, always. At all costs. In fact, you'll find mediocre street photography most useful when you're feeling down and low, like when a close relative dies. Go out and shoot some mediocre street photography - it will cheer you up, guaranteed. There's nothing like taking your Leica home after a day's shoot and loading those highly contrasty, improperly exposed shots onto your computer for editing. And if you've followed the previous 9 tips to the letter, you're bound to have made a few friends along the way. Rejoice in these small pleasures. Who knows? If your Aunt Betty just died, and you're following Tip #7, there's a good chance you'll be seeing here again sometime soon.
Now that you have my 10 Tips To Become A Mediocre Street Photographer, there's nothing stopping you. Go out and shoot. The world is awaiting your mediocre photos.