The past few weeks have seen me doing something that I have never really done a lot of before.
Going to a specific place with the expressed purpose of taking street photos and the like. See in the past I have always taken photos on my way going to or from something else or someplace else. I would walk to a photo session or I would walk the post office, the bank, the store, work etc, and I would simply snap away along the way. Seriously if you look at the titles of most of blog posts or instagram descriptions, or even the photo file names, they are often things like “A Walk to the post Office” or “A Walk To Pick Up Film” that sort of thing.
Since moving to the North Shore I have to say my “walk to get something” days are definitely happening a lot less, and even when they do, my path is often through all the parks and lovely green spaces that, while lovely to walk though, are not what I was put on this earth to shoot photos of :) These past couple months I have been trying really hard to understand what I am to do with my life now that we are slowly becoming a post pandemic, post lockdown world. To say that I am at a loss for what to do creatively is a bit of an understatement, actually a huge understatement. One thing that I do know is that I have always figured things out in life, either on really long drives, or really long walks. And I recently drove to the ends of the earth, and then back, but sadly I didn’t come away with all the answers to life the universe and everything like I truly hoped I would.
So I have turned to the second thing… Long walks.
Now like I said at the start, the thing that I have rarely done in the past 20 years of photowandering is purposely drive to a location with the expressed purpose of “photowandering.” I wouldn’t say that I have never done it but it is a rare occurrence to the be sure. But this past couple weeks when ever I have the chance I have been driving to a place and parking #tinythejeep and then just walking with a camera. Sometimes with a ‘let’s cover this area systematically’ approach and other times with a simple aimless wandering approach. Sometimes aimless to the point that I forget where I parked the Jeep. :)
While I still haven’t worked out what to do with my existence, I have been enjoying the sheer creative aimlessness of it all. And I have been shooting almost at my 2008-2013 levels.
What do i mean by that…
Back when I was running the studio and had the opportunity to share what we had learned with other folks, the one most important pieces of advice that I would give all fledgling photographers when they would ask (or even when they didn’t ask if I am being honest) was this.
SHOOT! SHOOT A LOT! Always have a camera, and always be shooting!
This philosophy comes from two things that I learned when I was much much younger. First was advice a Coach (I don’t know which one) gave a then up and coming basketball player (I don’t remember who) His advice was Carry this basketball with you everywhere you go. Everywhere you are. This is the instrument of your success so be as intimately aware of it as you can. Take this and make it part of your existence in all the ways you can. Bath with it, cook dinner with it, bring it to charity events and formal gatherings. Always have it, and always be using it. If you eventually become one with the ball then you will be a much better player over all.
I feel that the same is true with Photography. If you relegate your shooting to those designated shooting times (EG: Photo sessions, weddings, studio time) you are leaving so much untapped experience on the table. Even if you don’t want to be a street photographer bring your camera with you always and always be shooting.
The second thing that I take inspiration from is when you look at all the famous street photographers that have existed since the beginning of street photographers, they all have one thing in common. Regardless of when or where they were shooting, regardless of what camera & lens they shot with. The one common thread that you can see in all of their process is that they would shoot a lot! I mean A LOT! The terms ‘Prolific’ & “Street Photographer’ might as well be synonym’s because rarely are they not used together when describing famous shooters.
It didn’t matter if they shot colour or black and white, Leica or Nikon, 35, medium or large format, film or digital, It doesn’t matter, they always shot a lot
‘Shooting a lot’ is not something that I have been doing the past few years. I have been, like most of us these days, a bit preoccupied with some other life situations. But while I would love to blame the pandemic, my decline in shooting started long before.
In 2015 I started Polka Dot Rocket, our doomed little film collective, and I began closing our professional photography studio down at that same time. This was the beginning of what I have been calling the autumn season of my creativity. It was around then that I stopped playing music in earnest and gave up on the many bands that I wanted to play in. 2016 was also the last year that I participated in East Side Culture Crawl, and to be honest, participated should be in air quotes, as I really phoned it in that year.
This was the long creative autumn that became the long creative winter that simply rolled into the Pandemic and it’s only now… Knocks on wood… that it is starting to feel like we might be seeing the signs of spring.
And If we look at how much I was shooting over these past few years, it all sort of tracks. Here is a chart of the raw personal photos that I have taken over the past 20 years broken down by those years. This doesn’t include any personal or family photos, client work, fashion work, headshots or anything like that. This is purely my ‘Art’ & ‘Street Photography’ captures as it breaks down over time.
To put this in context I took more photos in the past 3 days than I did in all of 2016, or 2017,18, or 2019.
Now I also know that shear number of exposures isn’t exactly a full metric of success but when you compare it to the processed ‘good’ photos from these same years it all still tracks.
In 2014 for example out of the 15,000+ photos I shot, about 10% were labeled as 5 stars in Lightroom and subsequently then made it onto the blog or instagram or so on. which is about the same percentage for all the previous years give or take.
Now when we look at just one year later in 2015, the number of photos that I took fell about 53% which is a lot, but when we look at the percentage of ‘Good 5 Star’ photos we would expect it to be around 10% or maybe 9 or 8% Maybe 5% at the low end but instead that number, of 5 star photos, fell to just 0.33%.
Then the following year it was actually 0% meaning that I had NO 5 star photos… at all… and this was the case for the next 4 years. The Long Winter
All long winded conversation to say that I am still utterly creatively lost these days and I think that the best way back to where I once was is to shoot more! WAY MORE.
Particularly true when you are working in a medium that has a great deal of chance built into it. I mean you can mitigate the undesirable variables as much as you want but when it comes to street photography you are a victim of chance every-time you press that shutter button. This is part of the joy of shooting really. In the film days that unknown was a huge part of the appeal. Not knowing if you had a ‘Good 5 Star” photo in that entire roll of film was part of the excitement. I still shoot this way today even with the digital camera.
I rarely chimp my photos while in the field, preferring to see them later with a cup of coffee on a screen that is bigger than a credit card :)In fact one of the most freeing settings that I turn off for any camera that has it is the Image Review setting. So when I take a photo it doesn’t immediately pop up jumping up and down like a Jack Russell Terrier begging for attention.
This is part of the reason that I love Love Love Doggie so much.