How the Pomodoro Technique Helps Improve Street Photography

People often cite creativity as the number one skill required to shoot compelling photographs. I agree that what you see in your mind leads to making the best photos. However, in the world of street photography, our ability to see what is in front of us is integral to the strength of our images. This means that we must learn to be as observant as possible, making sure not to miss the shot.

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When you consider some of the most prolific street photographers in the game like Matt Stuart, Dimpy Bhalotia, et al., they have one thing in common: they see things other people don’t. Part of that will be their natural talent, something we are unable to explain. Yet for most, it depends on their ability to focus on their surroundings and identify possibilities that aren’t immediately apparent. This kind of attention to detail doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years to develop and lots of trial and error.

Although the longevity required to perfect the craft may overwhelm novice street photographers, there is good news. There are simple steps anyone can take to improve concentration and observation skills while shooting street photography. Below, I’ll share a few techniques that have allowed me to perfect my craft over the past 11 years.

Use the Pomodoro technique for street photography

The Pomodoro technique involves focusing on one task for 25 minutes, then taking a five-minute break. After four 25-minute rounds, you take a 30-minute break. In this example, that would mean devoting 100% of your attention to street photography for 25 minutes at a time. No distractions, no stopping for coffee or chatting with passersby, just your full attention on scene scouting and image creation.

When using this technique, I felt a bit of a placebo effect. I become hyper focused on my surroundings and spot more compelling images than when shooting without delay. During the five-minute break, I put my camera down. Do not be tempted to look at your images: it prevents you from being able to disconnect from the practice. Use those five minutes to listen to music or do some breath work, allowing you to fuel up for your next round of 25.

Use a notebook and pen for street photography

This technique may seem a bit clumsy, but trust me when I say it works. When you arrive in the area where you intend to do some street photography, before you pull out your camera, grab a notepad and a pen. Sit for 10 minutes or more and write down any potential scenes that may occur in front of you. Is a couple in love likely to kiss? Will the children start running in the wind? You may be able to pick up the tone of a conversation and anticipate the laughs. None of these things can happen, but by predicting them and validating them by writing them down, you make your brain active and aware of the surroundings.

Do not photograph the street all day

Let me preface this by saying that I love shooting the street all day. I like to walk and explore new places, and my Fujifilm XT2 is the perfect companion. However, I know that I will eventually tire physically and mentally and be unable to take good street photos during those long days.

So if I’m determined to create quality, I don’t shoot more than two hours, which tends to be my limit during the week anyway due to other commitments. I know that I will have enough energy to concentrate and maintain optimal concentration during these two hours. So if you want to become more observant, don’t push yourself too hard by shooting all day. Shoot in small blocks of time.

Limit distractions

To concentrate well, you have to limit distractions. Whenever I do street photography, my phone goes in my bag, zipped up, which requires effort to get it out. I don’t listen to music; it can take my mind on a whole different journey, distracting my attention from reality. I also put my phone in do not disturb mode so that I don’t receive unwanted calls. (iOS and Android allow friends and family to bypass this in an emergency.)

One of the best investments I’ve made was getting a Apple Watch SE. I know a lot of street photographers like to use Maps, which means getting your phone out. But the Apple Watch has maps built in, and I can navigate without constantly looking at my phone and away from scenes. If you use a smartphone for street photographyswitch to airplane mode to limit distractions.

Final Thought: Be Patient

There is no quick path to becoming more observant when practicing street photography. This craft takes years to consistently get good photos. Don’t be put off. The process of constant improvement is one of the best things you can do. It enriches your life. So be patient and know that it will get better.

What techniques do you use to be more observant in street photography? How long did it take you to start getting consistently good street photography? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading.

Stewart C. Hartline