Street Photography: Shoot! Better a fast shot than none

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. 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, as I wrote in the street photography tips, 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 with those failed shots. At home I will review them one-by-one and ask myself:

  • Why did I take that shot in the first place?
  • Why didn’t it work out?
  • What can I do better next time?
Street Photography Berlin Martin U Waltz

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. Next time on the street I will do better, at least I hope so.

A failed shot provides at least a learning opportunity. A missed shot provides nothing.

The shots I missed are a different story. I have a hard time to accept missed shots, missed because I was too slow, not focussed, thinking to 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.

Today my settings are optimized for speed.

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.

street photography Berlin rain Martin U Waltz

Evaluating and editing the shots will happen later at home. But I can only edit those shots I have actually taken.

Sometimes it’s fast or no shot at all. 1 minute and 11 seconds for the images in this post.

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 on this blog post were 1 minute and 11 seconds.

street photography Berlin rain Martin U Waltz

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 the light urban rain series.

And that’s why for me it’s: When in doubt, shoot, shoot, shoot. A fast image image is better than none.

Photographer Berlin Martin U Waltz

Martin U Waltz is a photographer, educator and writer in Berlin. His passion is street photography. 

Martin has written and co-authored several books on street photography. Martin  has won numerous photography awards and his work has been shown in exhibitions around the world. 

Martin is a passionate photography teacher. He offers street photography workshops and personal photo coaching in Berlin.


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