Street photography doesn't really sound relaxing. In fact, it sounds pretty stressful. However, it's quite the opposite for me, and I think it's mainly because street photography requires constant attention. It's an artistic exercise in mindfulness.
If you're not already familiar with the concept of mindfulness, it's pretty simple. It's just being attentive to the present moment, not worrying about the future or thinking about the past. When distracting or negative thoughts come up, you just acknowledge them, let them go, and come back to the present moment. Mindfulness has its roots in the Buddhist meditative traditions, but it can be a part of anyone's everyday life. All you have to do is pay attention.
But when I start walking the streets with my camera, I stop thinking about everything else. I'm able to concentrate. All the little anxieties of modern life are gone: the bills I need to pay, the work I have to do. Really the only time when I feel entirely unburdened from all of that stuff is when I'm shooting street photography. Because my thoughts are not in the past, not in the future, they're here in the present, paying attention.
In fact, I'm not really thinking about me at all.
As Garry Winogrand puts it, "I get totally out of myself... It's the closest I come to not existing."
And I think practicing mindfulness can also help you as a street photographer too.
- If you're shooting with a digital camera, don't "chimp." Turn off the image preview feature if you can or cover up your LCD screen with gaffers tape. I've definitely missed a lot of shots because I was too busy looking down at the photo I had just taken instead of paying attention to what was going on around me.
- Turn off your phone. Again, this is just another distraction. I've missed shots because I was distracted with Instagram, Facebook, and text messages.
- Pay attention to the light. Look for the kind of light you want. If you're looking for soft light, you can find it even in harsh overhead midday sunlight. You just have to look in the right places where there's shade. Or if you're aware of the hard light, figure out how to use it to your advantage.
- Observe people's facial expressions and gestures. Sometimes an expression or a gesture alone can be enough to make an interesting photograph.
- Be patient and wait for an interesting composition to come together. Often I'll look for three points of interest in a photograph. They might come together for only a fleeting second, so you have to be alert and anticipate them in advance.
Always be present. To steal a line from Hamlet, "The readiness is all."