This post will probably sound harsh to some, but I think it’s needed as street photography has a problem. It may be because of a so-called renaissance in street photography in the past few years, or just the fact it’s become fashionable, but the sheer number of terrible photos is quite impressive.
It’s bad and the reason is often because people aren’t stringent enough when culling photos (choosing your best photos) and too hastily posting online. Many want to hear what others have to say immediately instead of simply trusting their ability to evaluate their own work.
Of course tastes differ and art is subjective, some of my photos may not appeal to others, that’s not in my control. However, what does fall within my control is how scrupulous I am when deciding what goes on show.
Take black and white. I love it and shoot lots of London black and white street photography, but it should not be the ultimate solution to cure all bad photos. Unfortunately, for many people it’s become the illusion in their magic toolbox. Yes it’s an illusion. Some actually seem to view it almost as a religion.
People cover things up with black and white and manage to trick their own brains into believing the photograph has got soul. But black and white on photos is often the photographic equivalent of salt in food: you add salt to make up for the lack of taste of a bland dish.
It can be a lazy way to embellish and forget that in reality the photo contains nothing. If you scratch beneath the surface, well… you can just keep on scratching as there’s nothing to be seen.
Often people I don’t know, strangers, contact me via my website asking me to review their work and give them constructive feedback, but unsurprisingly these same people aren’t seriously ready or willing to hear it. I don’t think it’s my place to do that but I used to give fairly soft advice when asked (to be polite really). I’m amazed that these very same people who’d asked nicely to start with, would come back fighting and could sometimes be really quite nasty.
Who will give a toss about you and your photography if you’re not ready to accept feedback YOU have asked for?
My most basic yet important advice to anyone interested in developing their street work, or any genre of photography, is to look at any photo they shot and ask themselves really honestly: what’s in there?
Don’t take hours to decide, make impulse split second decisions as this is how viewers will judge your work.
Is it outstandingly beautiful in the way it contrasts light/shadow, or the way the lines, silhouettes, and shapes come together? Is there some clever juxtaposition? Will the viewer be hit by a tornado of emotions? Will it make people laugh, blush, or cry?
Found something? Great.
Didn’t? Get rid of it.
I think this is a useful tip: I find that with most of my photos which I think may be good enough to display online/publicly, it helps to give it at least a week’s rest or more in some cases.
It allows you to emotionally detach yourself from it. Why are we emotionally attached? Well it’s natural; these photos are, after all, our babies.
I usually wait a week or more and go back to the shot regularly. If after a set period of time I feel the same and still like it as much as I did the first time, then I post it online. Great photos will never lose their appeal, average photos will… and quite quickly at that (or at least they should).
I particularly like this photography quote:
“I always thought good photos were like good jokes. If you have to explain it, it just isn’t that good” – Anonymous
I’m not having a go at people who take bad photos; I have many bad photos myself. But that’s the entire point of also having a very strict selection process to decide what’s going to make the cut.
My rant is rather directed at those who are just not being harsh enough and posting way too many images online. Not doing themselves any favors at all.
It’s a fact: your portfolio is only as good as your weakest shot. Anything you post online is, to a certain extent, part of your portfolio as things live forever on the Internet.
Photographers should be their worst critic, and I mean ruthless.
Sadly too many just aren’t because they trust online comments such as “nice shot!”, “great composition”, “beautiful light” and so on which they get on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Flickr and feed their addiction for social media affection.
But in reality these comments do not help you improve. They just corrupt the overall quality of your portfolio.
About the author: Nicholas Goodden is a London-based photographer specializing in urban photography, street photography, and micro video content such as cinemagraphs and timelapse. You can see his work on his website or by following him on Facebook, Instagram, and Vine. This article was also published here.