How to train your eye… and your mind – Part 1

I think all of us have wondered about what and how we take photos on the street. While we are wandering around the streets, we might constantly ask ourselves questions such as what do I take a photo of? What’s the best way to take a photo?

Consider your mind as a blank canvas

I think a great starting point is to empty your mind, and consider it as a blank canvas, with no scribbles or any drawings. Try to get let go of all your assumptions and pre-conceived ideas of what a perfect photograph should be like. Keep an open mind, and let new ideas come to you. If your mind is already full of thoughts of how things should be, it would be difficult for your own ideas to come through.

I think it could be helpful to seek guidance from others, but ultimately, in order for you to create your own original photographs, keeping an open mind is paramount. Harness the true power of your mind, and the results will surprise you!

The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.
— Oliver Wendell Holmes

Don’t restrict yourself

Sometimes, we all have to ignore the rules, and deviate from the norm to create something original, and uniquely you. Growth is very uncomfortable, and for street photography, this is definitely true.

So today, or tomorrow, try something you haven’t tried before. Get out there and experiment. You have immense talent, and you wouldn’t know what you’re capable of, until you try and achieve it.

Try listening to some music

I find that I find the best moments to photograph when I am extremely concentrated on it. Sometimes our eyes, and our minds can wander, and it is easy to find ourselves distracted by the external noises and commotions.

I don’t listen to music all the time while doing street photography, but I find that when I do, it makes me more relaxed and I feel more empowered and creative. It helps me to not dwell on my worries and fears associated with street photography, and it keeps me in focus. Currently, I am obsessed with jazz music! I found it really soothing and motivating. J

If you do try listening to music, please be safe and still keep an eye around for traffic!

Try doing a ‘photo-walk’ without a camera

Sometimes, the pressures of making a great photograph and the nerves of clicking the shutter can prevent us from thinking clearly, and as a result, we may not embrace the true capabilities of our creative minds.

When I tried it, I found it an incredibly liberating experience to walk around the city, and noticing and appreciating the small details. It really gives me the freedom to really enhance my senses, and see, and feel the energy and the character of the city, and the emotions of the people around me. It really strengthens the connection between what I see and what I feel.

Instead of taking actual photos, try to keep a mental note of what you find interesting. These mental notes could be used as a guide for you next time, when you actually have your camera with you. You will find the process so much easier, and more natural, and you would know what to look for.

Jane Zhang Photography Street 2017-236 (1).jpg

Explore – but also revisit the same places

I find that each time I visit a place that I’ve been before, I discover something new, and something I hadn’t seen before. For those of us who are not travelling, it is quite difficult to visit new places every time. But! The good news is that you can still explore and discover exciting things, from the places you’ve been before.

This is a great way to train your eye to see differently, from the same scenes and circumstances. Sometimes, it is not what is presented to us, but how we see it. One of the key skills in street photography is observation and anticipation, and when you’re in a familiar environment, it is much easier to practice this skill. Keep observing, keep noticing, keep absorbing.  

Developing your own style

Each one of us have our own ways of defining beauty, and expressing our emotions and our imagination through our images. All of us are storytellers of the stories that we have the opportunity and privilege of writing.

The most important skill when it comes to developing your own style is patience, and lots of practice, like with any skill or craft. It would require significant amounts of trial and error, and taking many average photographs.

I believe that our own style or theme comes naturally with time, through taking countless photographs.

It is also about listening to yourself and being in touch with what you feel. For me, what makes me hit the shutter is the emotions I feel within myself from what I am seeing. If you truly know what inspires and motivates you, then you’ll find that would become the common theme for your images. And the beautiful thing is, you are unique and no one else is like you.

Have the courage and the audacity to be yourself, and always keep your eyes open for the unexpected.