Award-winning street photographer Matt Stuart has written a brilliant new book that shares the insights and knowledge that he has garnered over decades of making stunning street photographs on a daily basis. We’re thrilled to be able to share an excerpt from his book, “Think Like a Street Photographer”. It’s an excellent resource and guide for anyone who is interested in becoming a better and more successful street photographer. Highly recommended!
Matt is on the jury of this year’s LensCulture Street Photography Awards – he has a great eye, and an intense appreciation for what it takes to capture a successful street photograph.
Chapter 1 — THINK LUCKY, BE LUCKY
Going out into the world to make pictures can be overwhelming. Itʼs all a great big unknown. If you put too much pressure on yourself to make ‘great’ pictures, you can become paralyzed, so give yourself an optimistic push and have hope.
A positive mental attitude is the key to great photographs. If you go out expecting to see interesting pictures, you tend to be more positive, and then luckier.
As the great photographer and curator John Szarkowski said: ‘Luck is the attentive photographer’s best teacher.’ My general outlook is, get up, get out and go and find things. I try to summon an excitement and amazement for life.
Luck is about switching on your eyes and your head, but, at the risk of sounding sentimental, you do have to switch on your heart – your love for things. Love is a word I don’t like using too much because it’s bandied around all the time, but it’s helpful to engage your empathy and feel an affinity for what you’re looking at.
Ultimately, you need to remember how lucky you are to be walking around with a strange black box looking at things, making a record of them and bringing them home. It’s a privilege.
Having a positive disposition is necessary for this activity that we call street photography because, to quote photographer Alex Webb: ‘Street photography is 99.9 per cent about failure.’ Here’s an extract from his fantastic book ‘On Street Photography and the Poetic Image’ (with co-author Rebecca Norris Webb), which points to the mental fortitude every street photographer must develop and practice:
‘So often I feel defeated by the street. I sometimes find, however, that if I keep walking, keep looking, and keep pushing myself, eventually something interesting will happen … Every once in a while, at the end of the day, when I’m most exhausted and hungry, something – a shaft of light, an unexpected gesture, an odd juxtaposition – suddenly reveals a photograph.’
Even if you’re not a natural optimist, it’s possible to trick yourself into having a positive outlook. Will yourself lucky. Develop a mantra: ‘I will be lucky, I will be lucky, I will be lucky.’ I’m a great believer in making your own luck. My friend, photographer Blake Andrews, once said, ‘If you don’t expect to see good photos, you won’t. If you expect to find them, they are everywhere.’
There will be times, inevitably, when you can’t quite get the engine going, and that’s OK. It’s important to understand that some days are good and others are bad; but on the days that you want to be good, you’re going out with your head held high and will embrace everything you see, from a crack in the pavement to a leaf that looks like a smile.
TRY THIS — Don’t be reluctant to press the button, even if the picture is not quite there. Saying ‘yes’ and keeping yourself ‘awake’ will stop any overthinking.
This is just a small excerpt of the book. You can order your own copy of “Think Like a Street Photographer” here.
Think Like A Street Photographer
by Matt Stuart
Publisher: Laurence King Publishers