Where are you from and how did you get into street photography?
I’m from Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
I’ve always loved observing people, trying to understand their story based on how they act. When I started out as a photographer, I was developing my skill by taking photos of all kinds of events, starting from press events to birthday parties. I was experimenting with both natural light and small flashguns. Natural light was way more challenging, but at the same time gave way more options to capture the atmosphere and mood of the scene. The photos taken using flash looked more or less all the same to me. So I used less and less flash and trained my eye to see opportunities in all kinds of natural lighting conditions.
At the same time I’ve always preferred taking photos of people in their natural environment instead of asking somebody to pose for me in the studio and creating the environment around them on my own. I feel that I don’t need to make up stories of people, each person has plenty to tell.
The streets are for me the best place to observe and capture people in their natural environment using natural light.
Is Estonia a good place for street photography? Why or why not?
Estonia is as good as any other place for street photography. 🙂 The streets here are not as packed as in big metropolises, but for curious eye there’s plenty to discover. Depending on the season our cities have many different faces.
Are there any street photographers in particular that you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from many street photographers. Nowadays, social media makes it easy to digest a ridiculous amount of art by photographers around the world. If I’d have to name one I’d pick Forrest Walker and his blog Shooter Files.
I love that it is sometimes hard to tell your street photography and your portraiture work apart. Would you say your street photography has affected your portraiture? Or maybe vice versa?
To me the border between the two is thin. People make the environment in my photos alive and the environment gives to the portraits of mine a context. When I’m shooting streets there are almost always people in my photos, even when it is a shadow or a silhouette of a person. When I’m making portraits, I usually take my subjects for a walk and approach them the same way as I’d normally be taking street photos.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in street photography and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is not to repeat myself in my own eyes and keep evolving as a photographer by seeing different angles in familiar places, using new techniques and conquering new places. The key here is the persistence and not being too hard on myself. I need to enjoy the process not just the result.
What is your most memorable moment or photo from street photography?
Picking one is not an easy task as I’ve had many memorable moments in the streets over the years. Very special for me was my trip to Syria in 2010, a year before the war broke out there. It is especially memorable as it was my very first trip to another country on my own without any other agenda than to just explore the streets with my cameras. The people I met, the portraits I took and places I saw are very close to my heart.
What has street photography taught you? (About people, photography, life, anything really…)
It has definitely taught me to be persistent, to find joy and beauty in ordinary little things, to have empathy and to respect others. Wandering on the streets in the different corners of the world on my own has taught me a great deal about myself as well.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Rait and see more of his work, be sure to visit his Flickr, Instagram, and website. Rait was selected from our Flickr group (Street Photography Magazine), where we regularly choose photographers’ work to be published in our magazine.