Immersion and the Subtle Art of Honing Your Craft – Becoming a Better Street Photographer

In Migrate, Street Lessons, The Creative Process by Chris FoleyLeave a Comment


"I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them."

~ Diane Arbus


The Good Instructor?

I’ve worked with several photography instructors over the years. Some of them have been quite good. Others haven’t been as good, or even very good at all. Some of them have been really good instructors while being somewhat mediocre photographers, and others have been terrible instructors with an amazing body of photographic work.

The biggest takeaway from this collection of experiences has been, for me, that we’re all in different places with regards to our work. There is absolutely no “one size fits all” approach to teaching, or to learning.

I’ve worked with many photographers over the years - I suppose we’ll call them “students.” And I’ve seen a few different scenarios with regards these photographers. Sometimes I’ll watch while their work grows increasingly better and better as they apply the philosophies and techniques that they learn, or as they find their own philosophies and grow into them. This is always enormously satisfying for me to witness.

I’ve also watched as photographers work and work at their craft but don’t improve over time at all.  This isn’t as satisfying for me, but it happens, and it’s fine.

Conversely, I’ve seen students who do the work and who put in the hours (and miles) but don’t seem to get any better over time, and yet I’ve seen several of them experience some sort of sudden unexpected breakthrough which then fosters significant improvements in their work, almost overnight. In all of these cases that come to mind as I write this, the photographers in question were very frustrated with their plateau and were on the verge of giving up photography altogether. Isn’t that interesting?

Growth Spurts, Encouraged.

For my own part, whether the instructor was excellent, not so excellent, or rather frustratingly bad, I have always gotten something positive out of the sessions. Some sessions were several days in length, some a few days in length, and some again only a few hours in length, and I believe that the reason I always got something out of the sessions lies within the process of immersion.

When I’m on a photowalk, particularly one that I’ve paid good money for I find myself in a very specific mindset; a mindset that’s highly conducive to seeing and to being in the moment as a street photographer. As a workshop participant I’m moving quietly through the world, I’m seeing everything that my current skill level can allow me to see, and I’m completely in the zone; immersed. I’m not listening to music. I’m not checking my email. I’m not taking client calls. I’m in my happy place and the street is my home.

Also, my own improvements don’t seem to come on gradually or even steadily. My own growth appears to come in spurts and these workshops have been a huge facilitating factor for those growth spurts to hit. It’s as if one day my abilities are where they are, and then 2 days into a workshop they’re miles ahead of where I was just days ago, no gradual incline, just BAM, better. Every workshop I’ve done has had this sort of effect on me.

To that end I suppose I should say that while I have participated in some truly amazing workshop experiences, there are no bad workshops, so long as I can allow the immersion to wash over me.

Go take a walk. Turn your phone off. Get immersed.

And if you were wondering if you should invest in that photography workshop you've been considering, I say do it. It could change how you see the world and transform your relationship to photography in ways you can’t yet imagine.




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