Lessons Learned from Robert Virga
5 Practical Ways to Improve Your Street Photography
We’ve been slacking on the newsletters around here, but mainly because we’ve had so many exciting podcasts to share with you lately on Fridays. Hope you’ve been enjoying those.
And speaking of podcasts, before I get into the meat of this newsletter, let me just say CONGRATULATIONS to Bob Patterson for being featured on The Candid Frame! 🎉
Bob has long admired Ibarionex Perello as a street photographer and interviewer. In fact, he often calls him “the best interviewer in American media.” So, as you can imagine, it was incredibly exciting for him to be interviewed by Ibarionex himself. Be sure to check it out (Episode 603) to hear more about how Bob reinvented his life to revolve around his passion for photography, journalism, and good conversation.
Now onto the tips!
Five Practical Tips from Robert Virga
Back in October 2021, Bob sat down with Robert Virga for a video chat and the result was what he called “one of the most instructive pieces of content that we’ve published.” In fact, it was the inspiration for a long string of video interviews we did thereafter.
Robert is an outstanding street photographer that offers solid advice for anyone shooting the streets. His photos are timeless, and while he generally keeps his frames pretty simple, his photos have real storytelling power. Here are five tips he offered up during that 2021 interview that I thought were worth re-sharing today:
#1 Get Close
Robert is a firm believer in the famous words of another Robert, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” But he admits that getting close can be intimidating. How can you improve? Robert says getting close is like working on your tennis backhand, you just have to get out there and practice. A lot. And when you’re feeling discouraged, remember that once you’ve got this skill mastered, it will be your best weapon for taking on the streets.
He also recommends starting out with events where people don’t care if there’s a camera around – even if you don’t expect to get great photos – as a courage building exercise. Finally, blend in. Robert said a very well-known photographer once told him to get a good photo you have to blend in with the natives, dress the part, act the part, do everything you can to blend in – and know that, even when you do all of that, you’re still going to be the doofus with the camera. So blend in, and don’t worry about being a doofus.
#2 Work the Scene
Stick around a little longer than you might think necessary. Robert says a good example of this is when you see someone on a street corner or at a rally holding a sign. It would be easy to take a shot and move on, but all you’ll have in the end is a “I was there” photo. Instead, wait for something to happen, a contrast or something that will elicit a facial expression or hand gesture to make your photo more powerful. Also, waiting around helps people forget about you and you’re less likely to get a shot of them mugging for the camera.
#3 Know Your Gear
Working the scene is important, but we all know that with street photography you don’t always have the luxury of taking multiple shots to capture a scene. So, know your gear. Knowing how to handle your tools will help you avoid missing moments. Keep your camera settings appropriate to where you are and the subjects around you and you won’t need more than a split second to capture unexpected scenes.
#4 Know People
Another way to avoid missing fleeting moments on the street is to understand human nature and anticipate what people will do. Robert says street photographers need an eye, mind, and heart for the human condition “in all its glory.” Robert has been known to follow an interesting character around, because he knows someone along the way will react to the person in one way or another, and this has helped him capture multiple scenes with a strong human element. Pro tip: An overactive imagination helps. 😉
#5 Get Out There
Street photography can be disillusioning because your “hit rate” is small, so you’ve got to get out there and keep adding. Robert recommends shooting like you have to, like it’s how you put food on the table. Remember, it can take even the best street photographer hundreds, thousands of images even to get a gallery-worthy shot, so just keep shooting.
Learn more from Robert by watching Bob’s video interview with him here.
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Editor of Street Photography Magazine
and more importantly, just another doofus with a camera