(This article is a translation from my original Dutch review.)
In his English eBook On Street Photography, Dutch photographer Willem Wernsen shares his decades-long experience in portrait and street photography, and describes his approach and vision in detail. This educational eBook doesn’t show you how it’s done; it shows how Willem does it. Its elucidating perspective offers you a better understanding of a (street) photographer’s way of thinking.
“Belgium was, is, and has always been a sweet box full of treats for photographers, so it’s no surprise that some big names in photography come from there.” (page 32)
The concept of street photography is hard to define because it is so multifaceted. It is also too easily regarded as being based solely on chance and luck, which is certainly not always the case. As the history of photography shows, this approach has produced many unique and historically significant pictures. What distinguishes Willem from other (street) photographers is the fact that he almost always takes the time to chat with the people he meets on the streets.
The rise and success of digital photography has increasingly led to an artificial hype around street photography. Nowadays, there are quite a lot of photographers who claim to be street photographers and organize workshops, though their portfolios often show a deficit of expertise in that particular field. As they also have to make ends meet somehow, that is not a bad thing per se. But these days, pretty much anyone can organize a workshop that will make laypersons feel they can’t see the forest for the trees.
Willem’s devotion and his exceptional approach certainly provide a welcome change from photographers constantly trying to outdo each other, as is not uncommon in the sector.
“Humankind responds to humankind, and from giving of yourself, you will receive beautiful gifts from the street… and that honest exchange will be evident in your work.” (page 33)
Contents of the eBook
This eBook is Willem’s first publication with the Canadian photographic education company Craft&Vision and it is also his very first eBook. Although he has already published three print photobooks, the digital form of publishing is new to Willem. In his educational eBook, he shares his knowledge and shows how he does things instead of dictating how they should be done. Every photographer has his own way of working that we can all learn something from.
Willem recounts how he got started with photography, what drives him and how, over the last few decades, he has come to be the photographer he is today. It was mainly his interest and curiosity in people that led him to photography. In his eBook, he also talks about who inspires him and what is his vision on street photography. He gives tips on how to become a successful street photographer, details which equipment he uses and explains what exactly he does when post-processing his pictures.
Would you like to practice street photography the way Willem does? Then start by making contact with people. It is very important that you don’t hide or act sneakily. Willem gives helpful advice on how to overcome any such fears. In 80% of all cases, he directly approaches people on the streets and asks their consent to take a picture. The remaining 20% of his street photographs are snapshots. As a street photographer, he constantly observes, and as a portrait photographer he is interested in behavior, relations and communication between people.
“Personally, I think that street photography with a long-focus lens gives distant images with a day-at-the-zoo feel to it. Be a real photographer with balls and go there and ask if you may photograph.” (page 92)
– Stay focused
– Be alert
– Get closer
– Composition: practice, practice, practice
– Trust your intuition
– Concentrate on the image, not on the camera
– Make contact with people
– Don’t hide and don’t act sneakily
– Go out on your own
– Limit your equipment
“Persistence and dedication brings consistency to your work.” (page 10)
Willem hopes his eBook contains useful tips for photographers who want to get started with street photography and need some advice on how to put their ideas into practice. His wish is for people to enjoy practicing street photography and to take pictures that will delight and inspire others. He considers this eBook to be his creative legacy.
Photography is not something you are done with after having learned the trade. It is a lifelong and fascinating learning process. You will have to find out through trial and error whether Willem’s approach is a suitable method for you as well. Perhaps you will not find all of his tips practicable, but Willem’s eBook can certainly serve as a guidance to help shape your personal development in the field of street photography.
The eBook On Street Photography is available at the Craft&Vision webshop and costs $15 (excl. tax).