Recently, we interviewed Ellen Friedlander for the July issue of the magazine and she talked about doing street photography when she moved to Hong Kong with two small children. As a new mom, I had one burning question to ask her: How did you do it? How did you keep up your street photography with a baby at home? I needed to know the answer because time and again in our interviews I’ve heard people say they loved photography, but then they had a family, and it wasn’t until later in life they really got into photography again. Was my street photography doomed because I had a baby?
Fortunately, Ellen had a great outlook on the matter. She said that she really started to progress as a photographer when a mentor suggested she take photographs all the time. Like, literally, all the time. If she woke up in the middle of the night, if she was out, if she was at home, it didn’t matter. That, she said, was when she started to really improve as a photographer. Not surprisingly, the improvements spilled over into her street photography too.
It’s really not a novel idea. The key to improving your street photography is to practice – a lot. But the revelation for me, was that I could do my practicing at home, which was a million times easier for me with a brand new baby and a pandemic still trailing off out in public spaces.
How does shooting at home improve your photography on the street? Honestly, I haven’t been practicing every day as I’d hoped, but I have been pulling my camera out to document everyday happenings in my family more and more often, and I’ve found myself improving in two main areas:
I’ve become more comfortable with my camera.
Your home has a surprising array of lighting conditions that change throughout the day and night. And if you have a family, their comings and goings and activities change throughout the day too. Point being, you’ll need to know how to configure your camera for a variety of situations, even at home.
As the days go on, I find myself MUCH more comfortable shooting in manual mode. Another plus for me is that shooting at home is a very low pressure situation. I can miss a shot without worrying about it at all, which facilitates practicing as well.
My observations skills are improving.
With my camera sitting on my desk in clear view, and practicing on my mind more, I find myself observing more. The light filtering through the blinds on a sunny afternoon, the way my husband and baby interact at the breakfast table, even subject matter framed by other objects, I’ve seen more shootable scenes in my own house than I ever did before. And I know this will translate to being a keener observer on the street too.
Observation skills lead to people skills.
If other people inhabit the space where you live, shooting at home yields an added bonus. If your family members (or roommates) are anything like mine, they can be unpredictable, at least until they get used to the camera always being around, and react like people on the street – some are flattered by an unexpected photo, some get upset, some tell you “delete that,” just like people on the street. And reactions change based on location (bathroom vs kitchen lol) and time of day, just like on the street.
Learning how to handle the people in your family is often even more complex than dealing with a stranger on the street. You do have to continue to live with them, after all. So I’d say, if you can shoot your family a lot and still keep the peace, you’ve already got the people skills you need to shoot and interact with strangers on the street.
My baby is six months old now and he’s now comfortable getting toted around in a little backpack carrier so I’m hoping my husband and I will be hitting the streets more often now to practice. I’ll let you know how carrying a baby on your back affects street photography in a future newsletter. 😜
But even if we do get back to a more normal routine, even if I get to go do a little street photography every weekend, I’ll still keep practicing at home. Because when it comes to photography of any genre, no practice is wasted practice.