Street Photography and Zen Meditation

We are each responsible for all of our experiences.
— Louise Hay

What is Street Photography?

According to Wikipedia, Street photography is photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places.

While it is called street photography, you don't have to be on a street or even the urban environment.  Most street photography have people in the images,  street photography might not have any people and might be more about an object or environment/place.  I enjoy street photography at the beach, festivals, the park and just about everywhere I go.   My observant nature is perfect for capturing interesting images at interesting times.

Are you kind of new to photography or perhaps know your way around a camera but aren't a professional?  

Cool!  This is for you too.  

I like street photography because I enjoy blending in, being a part of the 'subject' of the picture and yet being an observer.  When we set out to take pictures, it is usually to tell a story.  We want to convey that we're having fun, show what we are doing, who we're with and so on.  In Street Photography, the subject may be a town or a few streets in the town as in my example. The story unfolds as you go along.  

Unlike many photography sessions, with street photography you let go of an agenda because there is no real sure way to predict who or what will happen no matter how well we know the ebb and flow of the environment.  

Open your heart, open your heart, think BIG and have FUN!  Here are a few pics I took at a beach recently.  All were spontaneous and even the 2 pictures tell a story.  What's fun is that YOUR story may be different than MY story, and that is what makes the art of street photography so wonderful!  

Meditative Qualities of Street Photography

This Spring I attended a meeting in downtown Austin.  I don't go downtown much but when I do I enjoy it.  I like the anonymity.  I love the action, colors and cool stuff Austin has to offer.  I took my camera, of course, and shot some pictures and video and created this short montage.  See if you get the feel for the story which was THAT afternoon in THAT city.   I kept the pace quick and energetic like the city.  So what's so meditative about that?  

Walking about the city, observing, mingling in and stopping to capture a part of it with my camera is the meditative part.  

The meditative quality of street photography is what YOU feel while you're there.   You're telling the story of the 'street' while feeling completely at ease so the images may not reflect how you felt-at least at first glance.  In truth, your overall mood will likely be picked up by the tone of the images (light, dark, lonely, bright, dull, pensive faces vs laughing faces...) because we tend to see from our own perspective.    In this short video, the subject is Austin and just a few blocks actually.  I typically photograph people, but the street seemed to be calling me on this day.  The options are endless for you!  

Street Photography and a Meditative State

Street photography can be a very relaxing experience.  Samadhi is the term Zen meditation refers to as a relaxed state of heightened awareness.  This is contrary to the other types of photography such as macro (tiny things like flowers photographed up close and in detail) or landscape photography that require us to be more patient.  Even in portraits, patience for that right moment between the moments and that expression that makes up special requires patience.    Time lapsed methods require a lot of patience and a tripod to hold the camera still for a longer time than we can on our own.    If our minds wander a bit when we're taking a picture of beautiful scenery, it's okay because things aren't going to change a whole lot in a minute or two.  In contrast, we may focus on that scenery with such intensity that the mind is restful.

I find photography to be incredibly calming and meditative no matter what I'm photographing.  I'm typically aware and observant, but certainly so in the case of taking pictures on a 'street.'  In fact, it's tough for me to go anywhere or do anything without hearing myself say 'oh, that would make a great photograph!'  I could have a blast in a grocery store with all the colors and actions and expressions.  In this case, the subject would be the grocery store.  When we take pictures of our families and pets, they are our subjects  With street photography, the environment-all of it- is the subject.  It's exhilarating!  I'm naturally very observant and can't help but notice lines and light and colors and people's expressions and the energy of the place.  One more reason to enjoy street photography!  

Meditative Characteristics of Street Photography

TIME is a requisite for successful street photography.  In the example of downtown Austin, I spent an afternoon, but I could've certainly gotten more interesting photos had I invested more time.  I like to feel like I'm a part of things and not just someone looking in.  I feel this way about all the photography I do.  I'm an observer AND participant.  I'll admit that sometimes I feel like I'm watching and entering where I haven't been invited.  Sometimes people see me and other times I'm not noticed at all.  

  • You need to be quick but also patient and wait for the 'perfect' moment.
  • Let go of any expectations and be open to whatever happens
  • Feel the energy in the ebb and flow and become a part of it
  • You need to be able to recognize the perfect moment.  Being a part of it as well as an observer will help you keen right in on the magical moments.  This is the essence of street photography.
  • You must be calmly Observant
  • Kindness and gratitude go a long way.  If someone sees me, I thank them and give them my business card thanking them for the image.  I try to take pics that don't clearly show faces (such as from the side or even behind) unless the subject is in agreement.  In any event, kindness is essential.  I've never had anyone tell me 'no' either before or after taking a picture.  We are in the day of selfies after all.
  • You must be willing to participate.  Remember, you are an observer AND participant.  In street photography, you are in the environment and therefore part of the environment.  Enjoy!  You'll have more fun being a part of the experience and you'll have a lot less chance of being obtrusive.  Some of the coolest video and pics I got in my video above are when I stopped to get myself a little treat.  It was a cool place!
  • You must love to witness and experience JOY.  You can't help but feel joy filled when observing joyful people or animals.  Be one of them!

How You Can Enjoy Street Photography- coming soon! (hint-it's for anyone who likes to take pictures!)

In this action & video packed ebook you'll learn the best ways to take interesting pictures and enjoy Meditative Street Photography.  Drop me your email and you'll be the first to know about it!