Faizal Westcott is an Indonesian American Photographer & YouTuber based out of Boston, MA.
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1. How would you define street photography? What makes it different from any other genre?
In my opinion, street photography is one of the hardest genres of photography to define, but I think the best way to describe it is as a documentation of the candid, human presence. It’s a broad definition, but I think it accepts the different styles of street photography and differentiates itself from something like nature photography or portrait photography.
It also doesn’t solely mention people, but the presence of people. This is important because a lot of street photography can have no physical people in the images, but still show a human presence. Maybe some will disagree with this definition, but it’s one that I think takes account the various approaches people have on this genre. Part of what makes street photography so unique is it can be so many different things and anyone can find their own style in street photography. I love that about the genre.
2. What is some bad advice you hear given to street photographers?Most of the “bad advice” I hear given to street photographers is advice that’s expressed as a “rule”. I’ll see a lot of people online say that “you’re not doing street photography right unless you do A or B” The truth is there are very few rules in street photography, let alone in photography itself. Once you go beyond the fundamentals of the exposure triangle and you begin talking about composition, subject matter, story, and the more subjective parts of photography, it becomes free game for anyone to do what they please.
So much of photography is self-reflection, and so I encourage to take anyone’s advice with a grain of salt. Some will say you shouldn’t crop your photos, but I do it all the time. Some will say you should shoot wide and get close to your subjects, but I like to use longer focal lengths and shoot from afar a lot of times. The point is you shouldn’t box yourself in to a certain style because of something you hear online.
3. What are some major mistakes you see beginners and even pros make?Maybe the biggest “mistake” I see a lot of people make is that they expect to get good photos before they go out to shoot. That’s just not the reality of street photography. Street photography is full of failure and there’s no way to avoid it. You can do all the planning you want, but going into a day of shooting should be free of these expectations because there’s a good chance that you might not photograph anything you like that day. I’ve had countless of days where I’ve gone out to shoot and never once hit the shutter of my camera. I just didn’t see a thing that interested me that day, but I didn’t have much expectations going into it so it wasn’t entirely frustrating for me.
Not getting frustrated over those moments while doing street photography goes a long way and makes the overall experience a lot more enjoyable for me. Part of it is also a realization that, at the end of the day, I am still putting in the work. That’s really how you improve in street photography; by going out and consistently practicing, failing, and repeating the process. The good photos will come when the time is right. Trust the process.
4. Is there a single photo that thrusted you into the next level?I did see a shift in my work when the pandemic occurred as my approach to street photography naturally got less documentary and more abstract. People become more of a supplement to the abstract scenes I was seeing, whereas before I would look at people as the main part of my photo. I’ve stuck with this approach in my work ever since and I really like where its been taking me, so you could say this is the “next level” (for now).
5. Who are some notable photographers that you learned from?Most of what I know is self-taught as I never really went to photography school, but that’s not to say I haven’t learned from anyone. I learned from my dad who got me into photography, from art teachers in school, after school art programs, photo books, seeing the works of other photographers and peers, online and in person. Picking up a camera at a relatively young age, living in the city, and taking it out with me as much as I could helped me pick up street photography.
To this day, I am still learning so much and my style and approach to street photography has gone through so many phases/styles. Recently I’ve been playing close attention to the styles of old time greats like Harry Gruyaert, Ernst Haas, and Saul Leiter. I really like their romantic, painterly inspired take on city life and it’s something I’ve been exploring a lot in my recent work.
6. If you had to choose one lens for street photography, what would it be? Why?
This is a hard one for me as I love shooting various focal lengths. Right now I’ve been shooting a lot with a 56mm and 76mm lens on my Fujifilm, but if I could choose just one I’d go with a 50mm. I find that it best suits my current approach to street photography right now and If I wanted more range I’m not afraid to crop after the fact. I actually tend to see general scenes and continue to see multiple photos and compositions in pictures I’ve already taken. I love going back and editing these images with different crops.
7. Have you ever been confronted by a stranger you took photos of? If so, how did that go?I’ve been confronted by strangers in the past, but pretty sparingly since I try not push anything and don’t really shoot so close to people. There haven’t been any experiences to write home about, but whenever I do get approached it’s usually someone asking if I just took their photo. I’ll just explain that I’m a photographer and meant no harm, and sometimes even show the photo.
These moments don’t actually happen a lot to me, and most of the time I get confused looks. I guess I do a really good job not looking like I’m taking photo of someone, haha! I’ll sometimes wait for a person to walk by for a while and still keep my camera up as to indicate I wasn’t photographing them, but something else. This trick works almost all of the time. My advice to those who do get confronted is to just be as kind and respectful as possible. There is no good that can come from arguing with someone on the street.
8. What are some tips for approaching or shooting strangers on the streets?I think the biggest thing when it comes to photographing strangers on the street is to know why you’re photographing the person in the first place. Is it the way they’re dressed? Maybe the way the light was hitting them? If you’re just photographing someone for no other reason but to just to photograph someone, then I think it becomes a bit more difficult. If they do confront you, you don’t really have much to say, but to lie. You’ll be put in a tougher situation if that’s the case.
But if there’s something interesting about the person that makes you photograph them, you can explain that to them, but more importantly this means there was something interesting about the photo to begin with! Be more selective when photographing subjects. You might take less photos as a result, but you’ll be taking better photos because there was a reason behind it.