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On Being A Street Photographer

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There are as many stories out in the streets as there are stars at night, and the street photographer is the one who captures, processes and shares it to rest of us.

The camera was never meant to just take group photos of friends and family, nor was it just limited to taking shots of still-objects. The camera was meant to capture and retell a story. Where else can we find these interesting stories than out in the streets?

Ever since I could remember, I loved people-watching. Being invisible in a crowd and watching them go about their lives was one of the most satisfying past times I ever had. I even developed the nasty habit of suddenly appearing beside friends, usually making them jump out of their shoes. I was a born stalker. Like in this Piattos Commercial, at their expense, I invent hypothetical stories between people I meet in the streets—wondering if they were in a love quarrel or planning a scheme to overthrow the government. After finishing a degree in Psychology, the love for people watching grew even deeper.

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Often I’d get into trouble after returning a camera to its owner who later finds a dozen candid shots of him/her in the camera–both flattering and unflattering. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t let the moment of candidness pass by. We have so many rules on how to behave and how to present ourselves that we forget that we’re human precisely because we can be candid, and that’s why I take those shots: to remind others that they are human (even if they delete it).

Right now I don’t own a typical camera; just a smartphone—and this is what made me love street photography all the more.

In essence, street photography is about capturing “life as it is” in the streets. By “streets” that means the normal, everyday (even mundane) parts of our lives. As a result, street photos may not have any streets in them at all! What matters most is there was no deliberate manipulation on the subject/s and environment—unlike how we take photos in a studio. Street photography is about really capturing the moment as it happens in real life. Think of street photography as a qualitative method of study instead of an experimental one.

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The problem with capturing life “as it is” is not everyone is willing to be photographed candidly. In effect, this genre is subtle and often impolite. This is where smartphones are most useful. Think about it, who on earth would suspect anyone to be a photographer if all they have is a phone? However, the intention of street photography is not to defame anyone but to share a story that they (whether they recognized it or not) were a part of.

This kind of photography is not for everyone (especially for the faint-hearted) because you always run the risk of being confronted. But in the rarest moments that someone does confront you, the best remedy is to simply smile and often they’d let you off the hook.

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Practicing street photography makes you more aware of the elements of good composition at play in the everyday life. In fact, it’s made me realize concretely that everyone was part of a story and what an honor and burden it is to capture and retell that story. However, the difference in street photography is if you’re not fast enough, you’ll miss the moment and it will never come back. How many moments have I missed simply because I had just slipped my phone back in my pocket. But perhaps that’s life: we don’t get it all—one of the key insights you’d come to realize when you practice this genre.

A street photographer, then, does not only capture images, but receives them because of his/her involvement in the everyday lives of others. Being a street photographer is being an active participant in life.

For more of my street photos, you may visit my official website: http://www.manilaurban.com