5 Street Photography Lessons I Learned From Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden can teach you a thing or two about street photography. I certainly have learned more than a couple of photography lessons from this multi-talented Street Photographer.
Street Photography Is NOT A Costly Hobby.
Photography in general is regarded as a costly hobby.
If you look at the cost of cameras these days, you will understand why people shy away from photography as a pastime.
But street photography does not have to be enjoyed only by the rich and famous. Anyone with the most basic and least expensive camera can practice street photography.
I believe that any number of street photography lessons given to beginners should include this important point: Don’t spend more money on gear than what you can afford.
As an example, I took this photo of a vuvuzela-blowing soccer fan during the World Cup in 2010 with a Fujifilm S5700 point-and-shoot.
Most smartphones today come with built-in cameras, so anyone with such a device can enjoy street photography without having to spend more money on a new camera.
I have been privileged to take some great (in my humble
opinion) photos with my smart phone. I will showcase some of these
images in my upcoming article.
If you do not own any ‘real‘ camera at the moment but have a
smart phone, why not use it to enjoy this wonderful genre of
Perhaps you do have a point-and-shoot gathering dust somewhere in your home. That too can be used to shoot the streets.
Like “Nico” says: Street photography does not have to be costly (even though some people believe it should be).
Lesson 2: Shoot for yourself, don’t imitate others.
Focus Less On Other People’s Work And More On Your Own
Street photography is a personal pursuit. It is something you do to satisfy yourself.
Other street photographers also shoot for their own reasons. While we can all learn from looking at others’ work, we should not feel like we must imitate or reproduce what we see others doing.
Who are your street photography role models?
I like the work of Rui Palha of Portugal. I also admire what Valerie Jardin is doing for street photography. I am fascinated by some of Eric Kim‘s work. And of course Nicholas Goodden has produced award-winning street photography. But so did Marius Vieth, Matt Stuart and Rinzi Ruiz. The list is almost endless.
Does this mean that I should try to imitate them?
No. I can learn from them and apply some of the lessons and techniques to my style of shooting.
I have my own vision. My own unique perspective. My own personal circumstances that dictate how I approach street photography.
One of the most unique aspect of street photography is that it allows you to be different. Your work will automatically be different from mine because we shoot in different parts of the world.
Even if we were working the same street in the same town or city, our work would still be different because we see things differently. We shoot what we see. And what we feel. Sometimes what we shoot is determined by our own experiences.
The picture above may not be regarded as street photography by the purists but it has such a profound meaning to me.
I shot it on purpose. No, I did not leave home that morning knowing what was going to happen. It just happened. And at the right moment.
The place, the people in the picture and the time of day just got together to trigger in me a distant memory. A rather sad and painful feeling in me. And then I decided to capture the scene.
It’s a long story. I call this photo “Ons Koffiehuis‘. Watch out for my future blog post wherein I will tell the story of Ons Koffiehuis (Our Coffee House).
Shoot what matters only to you. You are your own and only client.
Lesson 3: Street Photography is NOT staged.
Street Photography Is NOT Staged
As a street hunter, when you leave home in the morning for a photo walk, you don’t know what you’re going to get. You might come back with absolutely nothing. Or you might capture something meaningful. A keeper, as we call it.
But you can never predict what the result of your expedition will be like. Street photography is unpredictable. The subject is always unaware that they are being photographed. They are caught ‘in the act’, so to speak. But they are not acting for the camera.
Take a look at the picture above.
I photographed this girl at a close range but she never saw what I was doing. She was busy reading the message on the sign that she did not pay attention to anything else. Even when her parents/guardians were walking further away from her, she just couldn’t bother. The sign fascinated her that much.
Had the girl turned to look behind her, she could have seen me with my camera. She would have been aware that I was photographing her. That awareness on the part of the subject of street photography changes everything. It turns the candid moment into a street portrait. The image ceases to be a street photo.
I subscribe to this definition of street photography. It is unposed, unplanned and serendipitous.
Lesson 4: Avoid eye contact.
Avoid Eye Contact
The street photography police will tell you to show eyes in your photos. They will tell you that eyes convey emotions. You can tell if someone is angry, sad or happy by looking at their eyes. That is true.
But remember that street photography is a personal pursuit. You are free to break this rule if that helps you tell a story. Your story will determine whether you depict a person’s eyes or not.
In the case of the car guard in this picture, showing the eyes was not possible. And it could have ruined the message I wanted to convey. By capturing the watchman at work, while he was engrossed in watching, helps tell his story.
I wanted to convey the problem of crime in the Middelburg CBD. Petty criminals break into people’s cars to steal their valuables. The problem is so prevalent that the police seem to be unable to contain it.
To protect themselves while doing business elsewhere, individual shop owners hire their own ‘security’ men to look after their vehicles.
This image also illustrates another social problem faced by many in this town. Unemployment. Criminality is a manifestation of unemployment. Doing piece jobs like guarding cars is also indicative of the lack of proper jobs for many people.
While some choose to steal to survive, others accept any kind of work to make ends meet.
If you can tell a story without showing the eyes, go ahead and do so. It’s your story after all. So, avoid eye contact if you have to.
Lesson 5: Street photography teaches you to see and react fast.
Street Photography Teaches You To See And React Fast
If there is one thing that characterises all street photographers, it must be that they are great observers. Street photographers can see what average people do not see.
Look at this photo of a man selling sunglasses in SADC street Middelburg.
What else do you see in the photograph?
You might say: ‘I see a car and a surveillance camera on the wall behind him.’
Yes. Those are things that anyone can see when they study this image.
But do you know what else I saw in the picture? The thing that said to me ‘shoot’?
Let me tell you.
As a South African citizen, I saw a man who will not greet me in any of the 9 local languages. This is so because he is a foreigner. He doesn’t speak our languages. He’ll probably speak to me in English, addressing me as Brother.
That word ‘brother’ identifies him as a Nigerian national.
The word also ties in nicely with the surveillance camera on the wall behind him. Remember George Orwell’s “1984“ novel? There is a big brother in that novel, who keeps watch and sees everything that goes on all the time. Just like this camera in the picture. It sees everything that goes on here.
My lens also saw this brother from another mother and the BIG BROTHER who kept watch as people went about their business.
Another thing that I saw in this man is the struggle for survival. He cannot be employed here because he doesn’t have a South African ID. So how can he survive? There are many options available to him, including buying and then selling goods at a higher price. Which he does.
Look at the picture again. What do you see?
Like well-trained spies, street photographers are good at spotting the extraordinary in the ordinary. Street photography teaches them how to see.