Lessons from Masters, Photography

10+ Lessons On Street Photography From Sean Tucker

Sean Tucker is a photographer, filmmaker and writer based in United Kingdom. He is an avid storyteller and runs a successful online presence on YouTube and Instagram.

I have been earnestly following the work of Sean for over two years and much of my philosophy as well as technical skills around photography has been shaped by him. Recently, I was facing some mental block around photographing strangers on the street after someone tried taking my photo forcibly. I was starting to question if I taking photos of people out in the streets in as intrusive and uncomfortable for them as well. So I went back to Sean’s YouTube Channel and dig through all of his resources on Street Photography. In this blog, I have tried to compile all my takeaways.

© Sean Tucker

In a video titled Law and Ethics in Street Photography, Sean talks with Nick Dunmur. Nick is a member of the legal team of the AOP (ASSOCIATION OF PHOTOGRAPHERS) and he shares some insights regarding what’s allowed by law and what’s not. Some of the key takeaways for me were :

1. If you are in a public place, you can photograph anything. There is no law that prevents or prohibits anyone from photographing anybody or anything. It’s what’s done with the pictures that is the important part.

2. If you are using a street photograph to promote a product, service or brand, that would be classed as commercial use. This can be extended to the promotion of the photographer’s business. In that case, you are not solely interested in making your own artwork, commenting on the human condition, making bodies of work for your own pleasure or communicating it through exhibitions (artistic use). Selling prints of your street photos, or making books out of them, is however acceptable.

© Sean Tucker

“Long before we hit the boundaries of the law, we need to make ethical decisions for ourselves. We are not talking about taking photos that will break the law – we are, way before that, deciding what photographs we should take and what photographs we shouldn’t take based on ethical boundaries we set for ourselves.”

Sean Tucker

Sean’s personal boundaries around the ethics of street photography are :

1. To not take photographs of people in a vulnerable position (eg: recognisable photos of homeless people or someone who is lying passed out drunk in the street).

2. Not to degrade anyone with an unkind photograph (photos should celebrate people).

3. To not sexualize someone who is going about their day in public (if one is not comfortable with their motives, one shouldn’t take the shot).

4. To delete a photograph if someone feels uncomfortable asks to delete it.

“No single shot I take is worth ruining someone else’s day.”

Sean Tucker
© Sean Tucker

Advices Sean had around ethics in Street Photography:

1. You must go out and make decisions about your own ethical boundaries, and these boundaries can change over time – in fact, they should morph, that will show you’re growing.

2. Ethics is subjective. Don’t criticise other photographers just because their ethical code doesn’t align with yours.

3. If you’re challenged for any particular photograph on the street, you should be able to HONESTLY back up your intentions.

© Sean Tucker

In another video titled My Street Photography Process, Sean talks about the myth that established come across photograph-worthy-scenes on the streets more frequently than us.

“I think there’s a myth that needs to be busted about your favourite photographers. Many of us romantically assume that the photographers we look upto walk around the corner – they see a scene, lift up the camera, hit the shutter, and they walk away, and it’s a great image everytime. That everytime they hit that shutter button, it’s a banger. But the reality is most of us have to take a lot of shots to get to those good ones.”

Sean Tucker
© Sean Tucker

Advices Sean had as to how to approach Street Photography:

1. Take way more photos than your audience will ever see.

2. Get engaged in the process of visually scrapbooking ideas that you want to come back to later.

3. Get yourself a copy of the book Magnum Contact Sheets to better understand the process of some of the world’s most famous photographers because what the book does is it shows you their contact sheets. In those contact sheets you’ll see the photographs they’re famous for but you’ll also see around that image the other shots they took to get to get there.

4. You don’t need to feel bad if you come back at the end of the day shooting with nothing to show from it. Sean often comes back with no good images. Sometimes he comes back with one or two. On a great day, he might come back with five or six. But even when you come back with nothing, the time that you spend walking around and looking and taking those little visual notes and logging things away, you are increasing your chances of getting great shots the next time you go out.

5. It takes Sean about 18,000 shots to post 365 images on social media every year. He knows that’s what it takes to get to those good images and he doesn’t feel ashamed about it at all. So he advises not to worry about your hit rate. Find your process that helps you to get to the good images. Because no-one cares how you get there. Everyone just wants to see good work from you.