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Monday, 18 June 2012


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Kids are the hottest selling commodity in the Flickr/Getty program, even before kitten and dogs.. unfortunately I don't have kids, nor kitten nor dogs :-)

These days, Facebook "Likes" are the currency (along with the equivalents on photography sites like Flickr, Instagram, 500px, and 1x). While few people hope to make a living from street photography, there are many who live for "Likes." That might explain why so much of the street photography you see on those sites seems to come from the same sensibility or zeitgeist (or for the cynical, "flavor of the month"). So many people chasing "Likes" and not enough exploring their personal vision (and many probably never realizing there's a difference).

The street photographer of today is the modern LIFE Magazine photojournalist without an employer. We create images that communicate the small unposed stories we witness that make up our world, our lives. Then we showcase them on the web, which is the magazine equivalent of the 1940s.

As storytellers, it's our job to show the images that tell compelling stories. Every image made on the street is not a street photograph. Many lack a story. Those are the ones that make people find "street photography" boring. We are life's documentary photojournalists and good editing is as important to good photographs as the shooting.

These photos may not be valued until someone finds 90TB of SDXC cards (little tribute to Vivian Maier) several years after we've passed. But then, they will have value in remembering the sidewalks and streets and people of today which by then will be nostalgic and forgotten.

...which is why I still am an amateur. It really is a great hobby, though. Even with digital, I never know *precisely* how something is going to look photographed. That's part of the fun of it, for me. Oh, and I get out and about every now and again, too.!

With best regards,


Street photography is indeed hard but very satisfying if you get a shot you're happy with. I walked round London for 4 hours on Saturday and got 1 shot I really liked, and I'm happy with that. I also think it's something you should learn yourself rather than jumping on the workshop bandwagon which seems to be all the rage at the moment.

Let me first say I agree. But then there is the caveat.

For years people suggested that professional photographers should split their personal work (say street photography) from their professional work (say wedding photography). That is bunk. More and more these entities are being combined in portfolios and websites. LUCEO, the collective, is doing just that if I am not mistaking.

Personally, I'm finding the same truth. It doesn't matter if the client is an individual, magazine, or corporation. I've been hired to take "street" photographs of the 2010 Winter Olympics for a magazine spread, for example, and last week I was rehired by the same magazine for the same documentary style. There are clients who do like Street Photography, only it's not the redundant monochrome images of years gone by they seek. Rather, they want a strong artistically styled aesthetic from a skilled candid photographer. Many people, and it's generally the ones who are more artistically minded, are tired of the same old traditional wedding photos, for example. But there is a certain crowd that likes a more documentary approach and street photography fits perfectly within this idea.

Of course, photography is more competitive than ever and it is challenging to find clients willing to pay for what amounts as a decent salary. But I firmly believe that if a photographer can create a fantastic and unique niche product, they can succeed, even if their aesthetics and style are based on a genre that has largely been unproductive from a commercial standpoint.

But, yes, trying to make a living from street photographs as they are will likely never be lucrative. But then, that's the case for just about all genres of art. That's why most artsist are called starving. In any event, if one truly believes they have what it takes, I would say set your expectations high. Just know that it takes years to develop a critical mass of clients. And no matter what one intends, it is a long haul. On that note - you know what they say about the 10,000 hours it takes to become an expert? That expectation is very real.

Mike, those plastic model builders (also model railroaders, etc) "go pro" by trying to open a hobby shop or selling model supplies or kits they create themselves. What happens, and I learned it myself the hard way, is that they soon burn out on the realities of running a business and ruin a perfectly lovely hobby.

My photos are just good enough that friends often comment "Why don't you try and sell your photos and make some money?" My reply is always the same: "The best way to ruin a good hobby is to turn it into a a business."

Having seen many friends drop out of the profession over the last couple of years, including established and wildly talented colleagues, it's hard to recommend it as a career choice.

The best advice I could give is: "Don't. It will take from you your money, your health, your mind... anything you are willing to offer, including your desire to take photographs."

Problem is, for some of us, a miserable few, photography is a narcotic. We desire the hit we get from a single perfect frame when everything comes together. A great photograph nourishes our soul, while our bodies waste away.

The thing with this "don't quit your daytime job..." articles is that they all assume that people who do photography, have daytime jobs! I don't. I know many keen amateur photographers who don't either. And this is the very reason actually that we do go for street photography. It is a substitute for a job. Something to do. An excuse to hit the streets/outdoors at 9 am, instead of going to a workplace. It is something that makes us feel useful I guess, and it feeds that creative creative urge, or it may even feed that primitive need of ours as humans, to bring something to back to home (photos instead of food/money). Street photography is almost perfect for that. So don't shoot us with toying with idea of going pro. And you street photogs with a job out there, don't quit your daytime jobs indeed, and spare a thought for us, who have nothing to quit, and due to lack of money, can't even afford the basic photographic gear.

"Street photography is almost perfect for that."

Well, I didn't think of that. I didn't mean to imply, though, that street photography is not a good thing to do. In fact it beats most other activities that I can think of.


John Goldsmith has some great stuff on his site. So does Kenneth Wajda.



The best example I know of a great street photograper who really struggles to pay the rent. No one does NYC as well.

Cheers, Mike!

Now I'm off to check out Kenneth's work. :-)

Mike said,

"Well, I didn't think of that."

There's something you don't often see on an internet blog.

"If photography is like writing then street photography is more like poetry." 100% agree with you. It is true, with only Street Photography you don't earn money. I consider Street Photography a genre that is mainly for ourselves. And I think that Street Photography is a method. So Street Photography can be considered a gymnasium to improve as photographers. If we are professional photographers, naturally, we'll make other genres to live or survive. I know many colleagues that are also Street Photographers.It is not uncommon to see them apply the approach of street photography to their photography.

A few years back I got an offer to shoot photos for a local Edible magazine, at that time for restaurant gift certificates. I toyed with the fantasy that this was my big break! I shot restaurants (particularly active kitchens) in a documentary style. I did pick up another client, but it was out of my comfort zone as a photographer, but more importantly, wasn't a kind of photography I wanted to do. So a few years down the road, I'm still shooting for the magazine, and enjoying the little extra money it brings in and the craft of it all, and the challenge, but I'm no pro. Too much I don't know how to do. Too much I have no interest in doing.

For some reason, while reading this post, I thought of the movie "Dead Poets Society".

Aren't all great Street Photographers we're ever likely to hear about already dead or close enough in terms of productivity?

Thanks for the compliment, Mike! Honored to share with TOP readers!

And I checked out John's work. Very nice, indeed!

Well, gee, Stan, I love street photography and do it, and I am a jazz afficianado to the point of having a program on public radio. Is that why I never have any money?

Bill Pearce

Art without commerce is usually just a hobby. There is plenty of opportunities to make a living doing photography - I work with many who do - but it usually only works if you are willing to fill customer demand. Only doing what you want to do, like street photography, very rarely works as a way to make a living.

By coincidence there is a new podcast today on The Candid Frame, an interview with Dana Barsuhn, a street photographer who recently decided to "turn pro." Pro, though, means commercial work and weddings along with what he can sell of street work.

He also switched from digital to film a while back. It's an interesting discussion.


You're not wrong there Mike. Every lunchtime I'm out with my camera walking the streets of Glasgow searching for a photograph to put on my daily photo blog. I'm not always successful but most days I get a photo that I'm reasonably happy with. I'll be the first to admit that they are not all masterpieces but I am very pleased with several of them.

A few weeks ago I had an exhibition of my photos (urban, landscape, street and still life) and I sold a couple of street photo prints, including the one below which is one that I like a lot...

Gordon Street, Glasgow

A guy bought it for his wife because she really liked it - how great is that!

One of the great things about showing your work to the public (rather than on the internet) is talking about the pictures. To be honest, I wasn't sure how this photo would be perceived - but everyone (from old fellas to teenage girls) liked it.

Street photography is not going to make me famous or rich but it does enrich my life in other ways.

I've found the quickest way to kill interest in a hobby you love is to do it for a living.

I used to do computer programming as a hobby, just because I enjoyed the challenge. Now, after a decade and a half of programming as my day job, I'd rather stay away from computers entirely during my free time. I still enjoy the problem solving, but after a day at the office I've generally had my fill of that particular type of problem.

Now if I can sell a print here and there to help with the cost of what can be a somewhat spendy hobby I won't complain, but I don't want to stress about it by actually *depending* on it. The whole point of a hobby for me is to get away from stressful things for a bit.

Mike, I agree with you about street photography being extremely tough to make a living on, however, I think there is an inherent relationship between blogs / the internet and street photography. Most people love street photography but at the same time they also seem to have an aversion to putting pictures with recognizable faces on their walls (unless the face is well known or the photo has aged enough). I'm hoping that the current 'boom' in street photography will start to break down these walls over time.

On the other hand, I have received many photo jobs and lots prints sales of my 'touristy' images by people who first came to my site for the street photography. I can't imagine making a living off of street photography (especially in NY), but if you truly love it, I also can't see why it can't become part of an overall business model for a photographer.

The comparison between poetry and street photography is an apt one, not just because of the lack of financial support, but by how astoundingly bad the majority of it is. Street photography is a serious genre of photography, and perhaps the most difficult one, riddled by cliches, one-lined jokes, intellectual and pseudo-asethtic exporation that doesn't ammount to much. It doesn't help that the genre is so wide open; what exactly is street photograph anyways? It pulls from many different genres: a little portraiture, a smattering of reportage, a bit of fine-art, etc…

When poetry is good it 'pulls down' cultural symbols juxtaposing them to create meaning, informing our emotional, intellectual, psychological experiences. If something is really it causes you to ask questions. Street photography can be like this.

As Bruce Gilden said to me last week; a street photograph is really only about two things: it is well composed or it "works visually", and that it has 'strong emotional content' ie it make you feel something.

I guess as a street photographer I have some skin in the game.

"Aren't all great Street Photographers we're ever likely to hear about already dead or close enough in terms of productivity?"

Good Lord I hope not.


I can attest that even Photoshopped portraits (which are perhaps more akin, to extend the metaphor, to tidy emails about the date of the next staff meeting and whose turn it is to bring doughnuts than poetry) do not make as much money as one might like.

Electronics. My life job but also my life's hobby. There are not many other jobs that can also be such a satisfying, and if you want it to be, well paying hobby too.

There is tremendous satisfaction in building a beautiful looking and working electronic device. Doesn't matter what it is - hi-fi audio is one of the best and making the metalwork/casing look as good as it sounds is extremely satisfying. But electronics extends in the photography field too, eg high speed flash triggers, IR trips for bird photography, etc. Not as much need to roll your own as there used to be, but still a lot of satisfaction in modifying a design to get it just right. When you hit on a really clever design, make 'em for sale.

You don't need to be a genius - there are plenty of designs already published. But the field is wide open for that unique design just waiting to be invented.

My niche is hi-fi, but DCC model train control has revolutionised railway modelling. The sky's the limit there, and photography is an integral part, especially mounting miniature video cameras on the trains.

Regarding Stan B.'s comment: "It's kinda like what I imagine the world is like for jazz aficianados." Speaking of jazz, have faith! In 2011, Esperanza Spaulding became the first jazz artist to win a Grammy Award for best new artist. In San Francisco, the SFJAZZ Center (sfjazz.org) is due to open a new 35,000 square foot, $53 million building in January 2013 ($20 million was donated anonymously as a gift). I would think that jazz aficianado Eugene Smith would be pleased.

I started doing computer programming as a hobby, in 1968. Ended up getting unexpectedly asked to do it for money in 1969, and have been doing so ever since -- but also do it as a hobby. Right along with photography, actually.

XmanX- Lee Friedlander is 78, and I aint the only one who thinks he's at the very peak of his creativity (and perhaps his productivity as well).

"That's why I typically recommend that people keep their day jobs and remain amateurs at photography"
Right! That's the decision I made in 1969, when offered a partnership in a commercial photo business by the owner (whom I had helped on some shoots). For me the deciding factor was that when you shoot for a living, the customer is the boss.I don't want a photo boss besides myself.I want to shoot what I want, when I want....etc. At 77 I still work full time, doing interesting work, with usually 2-4 simultanous bosses, who don't always - if ever - agree on anything. But I'm accoustomed to that and still get work done.

I worked briefly, very briefly as an assistant in NYC for two very competent studio photographers who worked as a team. One did all the legwork, promo and selling- the other, the majority of the photography. It was a very successful, and ultimately lucrative partnership- and after all the hustle and bustle, it was still not uncommon for them to struggle just to get paid for a job well done.

Even at that young age, I knew right there and then that: a) I'd never have the business acumen to make it professionally, and b) I'd never have the patience to deal with those who would try and screw me over.

I'd starve as a photographer, and would gradually (and unfairly) grow to hate photography. It was pretty cut throat back in the late seventies and early eighties- don't regret my decision, and don't wanna imagine what it's like now.

"I can attest that even Photoshopped portraits (which are perhaps more akin, to extend the metaphor, to tidy emails about the date of the next staff meeting and whose turn it is to bring doughnuts than poetry) do not make as much money as one might like." I would venture a cautious guess that whatever form of art you want to do for a comfortable living, be it street photography or photoshopped portraits, in order to succeed you need to excel at it. A pretty basic requirement, I know, but something people so often tend to forget about...

I whole heartedly agree with the remaining amateur idea. It's something that I have conciously decided, despite pressures from family and friends (and myself at times) to do otherwise. However, I am much happier being an Amateur in the traditional sense, a "lover of" photography or even the early concept of the amateur during the birth of photography.

It has enabled me to pursue my own projects, all of which are very unlikely to be commercially viable or make me money, but are none the less important to me.

One of the few things I regret about not being a "pro" is the higher through rate of photographs. My current job just doesn't allow me to put in the time behind the lens that I'd like.

I actually think of street photography as a kind of "rite of passage" for the serious photographer who wants to really be the best he or she can be. It resonates strongly with the folklore of Magnum and the HCBs and Winogrands that are the models of aspiration for so many photographers. Likewise I guess we try to get in touch with the inner Ansel with landscape and the Avedon in ourselves when we tackle portraits.

I know from my own personal standpoint that the association of street photography to those models of the well-rounded or admired photographers of the golden age makes me want to reach a high level of proficiency at it. To prove myself - my worthiness - I guess.

Like the fallout from watching Blow Up in the 1960s, where we really secretly aspire to poncing about in a convertible Roller and solving incomprehensible mysteries, there are just some things that an aspiring photographer has to tick off his/her list!

This is the most interesting discussion of photography I've seen in quite a while. I love street photography, don't live in a big, touristically interesting city and know that I'll never make a bean from it. I don't have any real pretensions to make 'art', (not least because I still have no idea what that is, though I did see a nice Turner the other day, which I'm fairly sure was definitely it), and I don't think that anyone will be that interested in paying me loads of cash for making them smile with a craftily captured frame. In fact making someone smile, sad or just plain curious with a picture is about what I aspire to. Don't get me wrong, I'd like it if some nice person liked my pics enough that they were willing to pay me for them and then look at them every day, but I'm not holding my breath. I'll just keep blogging, filling in by shooting for small change and trying to get that 'perfect' picture - hey, it's not like anyone else is going to like my version of perfect anyway!

My friend is Street photographer. He done more hardwork for the best photography. His first point for set customer is that Know the customer's expectations.Set acceptable standards according to industry or regulatory standards. Acceptable is defined by meeting general requirements and standards. How to determine he right expectations to set with customers.

The amount of self-belief required to be a professional photographer (or any other form of solo professional including "poet") puts most people off.

Even if you are good, you will have your detractors. Many people will be after your job. You get creative block. Customers will hire you and then ignore your advice and ask for something hideous. Your best work will be turned over by an artistic editor because it does not fit in with a publication's "values" etc. etc.

Hardly surprising most of us work in an office. At least we only have to keep the boss happy. Even if the boss is a jerk.

But the wonderful thing about photography is that unlike poetry, or painting, or playing the violin, you don't require years of practice to not suck at it technically. All forms of art require some basic artistic vision, but the technique in most cases requires several years to master.

With photography, the camera really does do most of the work. You only have to set it up and point it correctly. OK, it is not trivial, but it's simple enough that across many genres, a good amateur can easily produce work that matches that of a professional, but remains free of the professional's constraints in terms of content.

Not surprising then that photography is so immensely popular and the internet so full of photographs, and occasionally even work of real quality.

If only the focus were more on the vision than the technology, then I feel there would be a lot more of the good stuff and a lot fewer over-sharp corny derivative work.

I guess the trick is to ignore gear forums, and stop worrying about the number of "likes" you get on Flickr, and just get yourself out there.

I fully agree on the pro/amateur point, I simply love being on the streets taking photos but the thought of being a professional photographer of any kind terrifies me!

I gave up my day job to start a winery a few years back. Talk about turning a hobby into a job! The wine industry is very much like the photography business. Everyone likes it and many fantasize about dropping out and living the life of luxury. Unless you are starting with a huge pile of cash the wine business is 99% sales and 1% winemaking. I wish someone had told me that! I had dabbled in professional photography a few years back and realized that it too was waaaaay to much work for something for something I love to do. I'll photography as a hobby if you don't mind!

Hard to make a living at street photography? It's because it doesn't sell as well as other photography. An art gallery owner told me that he used to carry street photography, but people never bought it. They like to come in and look at it, but it wasn't something that would be purchased. So he stopped carrying it.

I agree with what I believe Jonathan Auch & Martin Wuu are suggesting: that so much of what we are fed as 'street photography' is rubbish. Rubbish which we are conned / brainwashed into thinking of as wonderful, and as such, to be admired and desired.

I believe that for many, just for a pic to have been taken on the street, covertly, makes it a great example of 'street photography'. Their thinking appears to be: Who cares if it shows nothing interesting / special / clever? Who cares if it shows camera shake, subject motion, poor focus, poor contrast, poor exposure, cut-off limbs, poles growing out of heads, etc, etc, etc?

And I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I challenge anyone to identify the appeal of much of what we're presented with as 'street photography'.

Yep, why I've never tried to make photography a business. First, if I did, instead of it being a passion, it would simply become...another job. Have a friend who's a pro photog, and I'm amazed at how much time she spends NOT shooting, but dealing with business drudgery...thanks, but no thanks.

And second, I like having a steady and secure income which feeds my photography habit...

Yes your so right it helps if you enjoy street photography, and you have a day job and people who love taking photos. Never mind we all want the H.C.B moment don't we all it take a life time to do that so some one told me?

"That's why I typically recommend that people keep their day jobs and remain amateurs at photography. Photography is a superb hobby, one of the best. It's when you try to make a living at it that it is so likely to resist you."

An early realisation of this sets the photographer free from buying magazines and even chasing the rainbow of new gear. Then they can get on with making pictures with whatever box pleases them:)

Nice article Mike.


I confess I don't understand the concept of never cropping or straightening street photography. They're often taken quickly and framing is often not perfect so why leave it like that? Why throw away a shot that could be fantastic with a slight crop?

[Street photography] takes a particular knack, as well as time and devotion.

As do open heart surgery, software development and elementary school teaching.


I'm amused by your last lines, "But if you want to be famous, or if you plan to make a living...well, try poetry. It should be easier." It turns out that my Mom and I recently did a project together, she contributing poetry and me contributing photos. All our friends bought one of the books (hand bound hard back, nearly sold out of the "first run" of 60 copies), but it doesn't seem that either the photography or the poetry is going to make us rich... Custom books are not cheap, so only the true friends bought one.

I guess I'll have to remain a true amateur - do it because I like it.

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