In street photography, there’s a good deal of walking around and shooting as moments coalesce and disappear. Spend time with a street photographer, and you’ll see them bound off somewhere to get a shot and later return once they’ve gotten it. To wit, there’s a lot of movement, a good dealing of searching for the confluence of light, motion, and emotion. In practice, it can feel very hurried because just as in photojournalistic situations you have to be ready at a moment’s notice, though the stakes are much lower. Constantly looking for the shot, however, can lead to not finding any shot at all. There are times when it’s good to stop completely and wait for a photograph to come together, in the way that nature and wildlife photographers wait for just the right moment.
If you look hard enough for something, you may never find it, which is a disconcerting thought. In some cases, you might stand a better chance of getting the shot if you let the image find you. Nature and wildlife photographers understand the benefits of waiting, of staying in one place until all the necessary elements converge, of letting the image find them. They can wait a considerable amount of time on some occasions for the exact frame they need, whether it’s a rare animal walking into a frame or the sun hitting a valley at just the right angle. When that moment arrives, they have to act quickly, lest the animal scampers away or the cloud coverage changes.
With street photography, finding the right patch of light or a good scene and waiting there can work in your favor. Giving a chunk of time to a space helps you to understand more about it than if you had just passed through. There is differently a certain thrill to moving through a city with your camera at the ready like a tiger on the hunt in the grasslands. Any given city is a visual feast, some more so than others, and recognizing a moment on the move in that chaos is immensely rewarding. Yet, there are days when a walk about town yields nothing, not a single image of any particular significance.
As frustrating as it can be, and it definitely can be, there are benefits to waiting on the street. Fortune favors the patient mind. Find a patch of light and sit tight. Wait for the right person, the right expression or motion to complete the frame. Street photography is often about the details. It could be a simple gesture that lifts the image to greater heights. You might find that by moving, or you might find it by standing still.
Street photography is as much about awareness as it is about anticipation. I’m accustomed to photographing as I move, but when I step back from that, I recognize the inherent difficulty in that. My position is constantly changing relative to any given photograph that I see and potentially make. There are times when I’ve made a photograph and I know that it would have been better served from a different angle with a different composition.
I often miss the forest for the trees. That is to say, I notice one particular thing, and press the shutter based on that. It’s usually detail before scene instead of scene before detail. Though when I do come across a good patch of light or a particular scene, I’m now much more inclined to hang around and take the patient and measured approach like my colleagues in the wild waiting for the animal to walk through the frame at just the right angle.
Try waiting the next time you go out if you haven’t already. You might find that your photography will be better for it.