I mess up most of my street photography shots: too far away, background cluttered, subjects not well aligned, subject matter not interesting enough, or simply technically flawed. The Murphy’s Law of street photography: “If you can mess up a street shot, chances are you will.”
Business as usual. It can be deeply frustrating to edit through a sea of failed shots. Yes, pretty much all street photographers are going through the same “95-99% failure rate experience” over and again. To be honest, this isn’t much of a consolation either.
I mess up 95%-99% of my shots. And I can live with that.
At the end of the day, I can make peace with those failed shots. At home I will review them one-by-one and ask myself:
1. Why did I take that shot in the first place?
2. Why didn’t it work out?
3. What can I do better next time?
So my failed shots provide me with a valuable learning opportunity. And after having listened carefully to what my failed shots have to tell me, I’m ready to let go. I’m happy to delete those shots. No regrets, no dwelling in the past, I move on. The next time I’m on the street, I will do better — at least I hope so.
The shots I missed are a different story. I have a hard time accepting missed shots — missed because I was too slow, not focused, thinking too long, or whatever other reason prevented me from taking a shot.
The image I did not take is a missed chance. I will not get a portfolio grade image out of it. The missed shot will not provide me a learning opportunity. There will not even be a memory of that situation. The moment will be gone. And that will be all.
A failed shot provides at least a learning opportunity. A missed shot provides nothing.
These days my camera settings are optimized for speed: exposure, ISO, and focus — everything runs on auto. I run on auto as well: whenever I see something that might be interesting, I start shooting. If the scene continues to be interesting, I will stay on it: shoot, shoot, shoot.
Evaluating and editing the shots will happen later at home. But I can only edit those shots I have actually taken.
Sometimes it’s shoot fast or no shot at all.
Of course, I like to take my time and compose carefully. But sometimes things are simply happening, like this downpour that caught my wife and me while we were out for dinner. And then there is a simple choice to be made: fast or not at all. Between the first and the last image in this article were 1 minute and 11 seconds.
And then it was all over. The people were off the street and the downpour turned into drizzles. There were no more images to be taken. The scene was over. Beyond getting some nice street shots, seeing these image later inspired me to create a light urban rain series.
And that’s why for me it’s: when in doubt, shoot, shoot, shoot. A fast image is better than none.
About the author: Martin U Waltz is a Berlin-based photographer, educator, writer, and a founding member of the berlin1020 street photography collective. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website, Twitter, and Instagram. This article was also published here.