The Difference Between Going Out to Make Photos and Simply Going Out to Live (and Finding Photos)!

There is one way to make photos that involves taking the camera down off the shelf, dusting off its (n)everyready case, peeling that leather wrap off and setting it aside, removing the lens cap, putting the camera in hand and heading out to make photographs at the birthday party, holiday celebration, or ___________ (your event here). That’s one way we make photographs, the way we’ve made snapshots since the invention of George Eastman’s Brownie that put a camera in virtually everybody’s hand. This way is practically guaranteed to make pictures. This one has the camera never at the ready until it’s deemed “picture time”.

The other way is to go through life and look for photos with camera in hand at the ready as you go about your daily itinerary. That one has no dust. No case or lens cap. Nothing in the way of making photos. This one also may or may not result in photos, no guarantee, depending on what you see, where you go. This one always has the camera at the ready and there is no “picture time” unless something catches your eye.

I carry a camera with me everywhere. Sometimes a couple, one film, one digital. My goal is to make photos when an opportunity appears, not necessarily expecting anything, but open to what unfolds.

What is it that works best for you?

My way–not going out and looking for a photo but going out living life and watching for anything that crosses my path–may be more relevant if you’re a street photographer confident in approaching people and making their photo, sometimes with and often without their permission. My way works for me because I often document people living that I encounter on my daily walks, drives or simply running errands.

This 3-photo series is one I made while walking to the post office a few years ago. The opportunity presented itself right in my path. Made with a film camera and black and white film, 50mm lens.

This one is different, I was on a photo walk with my friend, Paul, up to a mountain town, Leadville, Colorado. Here I went up with him with the purpose of making photographs. It’s not usual for me to make photographs without people, but here, with this approach, I did. All of these were made with a 20mm wide angle lens.

I mostly do not go on photo walks or go out to make photos. Mostly, I am going about my day and I see something that catches my eye, that I know I can get it. This one below, I wasn’t going to make a Normal Rockwell-esque portrait of a Dad and his son in front of a classic old barber shop, I was going out for coffee and parked a block away because there were no parking spaces on Main Street, which resulted in me walking a block, and making a photograph as I passed the barber shop. Made with a 28mm lens.

The camera is always in hand. Never over my shoulder. Never in a case. Never tucked away–to me, that’s like not bringing a camera at all. I’ve learned that if I set the camera by the front door of a friend’s house, or on their counter out of reach, I don’t make any photos. The only way I do make pictures is by having the camera on and set for exposure and focus (zone focus) and my finger on the shutter release in the event something happens in front of me.

Which happens all the time.

This photograph wasn’t one that I was looking for. I just liked the sunlight on the dust-covered car. It told a story. For me, the light made it. It’s one I made with a 300mm lens from across the street while sitting in my car.

This next one also wasn’t one I set out for and certainly isn’t a grab shot. I was stopping by some local garage sales and saw this guy dressed in his shorts and cowboy boots, and having already mentioned to him that I am a photographer, I reached for my camera and asked for a photograph. He obliged and I made this with a 28mm lens.

A fun portrait. Something you don’t see everyday. And certainly not what I went out to make photos of–I was simply garage-saling!

Now, I realize I have a unique ability and confidence when it comes to approaching people and making photographs of them when they are unaware of me making pictures, and also to go up to people and ask for their photo. It comes from years of working as a news photojournalist which gave me permission to photograph stories for the newspaper I worked for. I still adopt that attitude. My way may not work for everyone, especially those who aren’t interested in documentary/street photos and portraits, or those uncomfortable making photo requests.

But for me, it’s the way I create photographs on a daily basis, never going out for them, and making them as the moment strikes me.

I’ve said many times that most people are flattered to be asked to be photographed. If you go out in public with a big smile and approach people with a compliment–“Hey, I like your look, great suit, love your cowboy boots, may take a photo?–they will say yes. If you stay out until you get 10 people to say no, you’ll be out all day because 10 people won’t say no.

Just keep that grin up, approach them with the look of a joyful photographer documenting the most interesting people you come across, and you’ll get many, many willing subjects.

Want to support my shows? You can, just visit this link at Paypal, or go to to add your monthly contribution to keep the lights on!

Check out my YouTube Channel of Photography Talks: my 6×6 Portraits Blog (you’re here) and my Daily Photography Podcast. Thanks!

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