No Such Thing as a Missed Street Photo Opportunity

A Serious Moment
A Serious Moment (Nottingham England September 2013)


There are a number of myths that do the rounds in street photography circles and are particularly popular with street photographers new to the genre but also promoted by so-called experts who really should know better. One of these myths consists of this notion:

The best street photography opportunities happen when you don’t have a camera with you.

Now, the purpose of this idea is to encourage newbies (and the rest of us too I suppose) to carry a camera with us all the time. Wise advice it has to be said. However, I would like to challenge the idea that street photography opportunities present themselves when you don’t have a camera with you. You see, I think that it is a nonsense concept; it makes no sense, and I would like to tell you why.

Don’t get me wrong; I advocate carrying a camera with you always, or at least as often as you want to. And this objection of mine has nothing to do with the idea of leaving your camera home on purpose so you can practice seeing. In fact, I have written elsewhere and plan on writing more on the subject of walking without a camera, observing and not photographing, of going deliberately cameraless out into the streets in order to improve your abilities as a street photographer.

But, put simply, I believe that it is impossible to miss a street photography opportunity that is meant to include you.

Like many things in life, we need to look beyond the mechanics of street photography; we need to go past the simple equation: street photographer + camera + person/thing to be photographed = street photograph. Of course, this equation is true: in order to make a photo there has to be a camera, a photographer and a ‘subject’ to be photographed.

According to this view of the activity, if a photographer goes out without a camera and sees something she or he thinks would be a good photo, then they will have missed an opportunity.

But, I look at the equation a little differently. If one of the elements is missing, such as a camera, then obviously the equation won’t work. Simple. In other words, without all those elements to add together it is not possible to come up with a photograph.

So, there seems to be a kind of attachment going on here. A kind of longing for something that isn’t, and that can’t be. There is also a kind of pressure some of us place on ourselves to be always producing pictures. And when we ‘miss’ an opportunity we regret not having that missing element, the camera, with us.

To regret is to ‘feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over something that one has done or failed to do’. Of course all of us experience regret over all kinds of things as we live our lives. But, there is no cause to regret not having made a street photo, even if it is one you ‘wish’ you had made, or thought you ‘should’ have made.

You see, street photography is about a shared moment. You, the photographer find yourself in the same space and time as another human being. If you have a camera, and if you are truly in that time and space, then you will know if it is okay to make a photo (or not) of that moment, a moment that is special because you have been invited into the life of another person.

Let’s say you are out on the street and you don’t have your camera with you. It is still possible, naturally, to be fully present there and then to share a moment with some other person. But, without a camera it is not possible for you to share that moment as a photographer. I do not believe that you are meant to be there as a photographer if you don’t have a camera with you. Therefore, how can you ‘miss’ a photographic opportunity? No such opportunity ever existed.

There are many ways to share time and space with another person, making a photo is just one of them. Rather than regret ‘missing a great street photo opportunity’ when you see or feel that certain something that would make a good street photo and you don’t have your camera with you, why not try congratulating yourself for being fully present in that time and space and for seeing and sharing that moment?




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