The Waiting Game

“How long do you wait at a particular spot for a shot?” One of the questions I got asked a lot. There is no direct answer to this issue, and it also depends on how hungry you are to get the shot. But there are a few things I always analyse before making a decision to wait or go, but ultimately, you have to make that decision yourself.

Patience is the key to success, or probably everything. It is also the easiest decision to make but the hardest to execute. It takes a lot of perseverance to wait at a spot for something to happen, or sometimes, nothing happen at all. Most people understand the importance of being patience in photography, but somehow they don’t show that commitment when they start hitting the streets. How do I know that? Well, I made the same mistake myself when I rushed for quantity instead of waiting for quality imageries.

Not all street photographers waited at a spot for a long time to get a shot, and Trent Parke is one of them. “I also don’t like to stand still because you attract attention to yourself. I’ve never been pulled up on the street, and it is simply because nobody ever sees me. I’m there, and I’m gone.”, Trent Parke said in an interview. One of the important factor we need to understand here is, Trent Parke knew the city streets inside out; he knows where to go and when. So in his situation, he is always chasing that light from one street corner to another.

During my practice, I realise that patience is the vital element in the kind of images I’m pursuing, where I set up a scene and wait for things to happen. We can have the same camera, same technical knowledge, but what makes a real difference is the ability to stay put. However, knowing when to move on is as essential as well. Here are some of the factors I consider before deciding what’s next.

City streets / Congested Area

Human traffics are busiest during the peak hours on weekdays in the morning and evening time. In the major cities, if you are hanging around the city centre, you don’t have to wait too long for someone to appear in your frame, the tricky part is to isolate just one subject. Lights changed dramatically in buildup area, especially during the morning and evening light. So I spend more time roaming the streets than waiting at a spot because there are so much going on. But if I do, 10 minutes is the maximum I will stay put. 

Suburban / Rural / Secluded Area

If I’m photographing away from the city, in a suburban or rural area, I tend to be more patience in my approach as these regions are less documented and less congested compared to the city centre. Without high-rise buildings obstructing the sun, the lights are always beautiful during golden hour. Luck does play a part in these areas; sometimes there are just not a single soul around. But I will wait longer if the lights are great because not many photographers will hang around these areas. The duration will be subjective, 30 minutes to an hour depending on how hungry you are to get that shot. 

Whether it’s in the city or suburban, my practice is always to take a shot of the urban space while waiting. If luck plays me out, I still had an image of the space in my collection. And these pictures of urban areas slowly fill up my collection, if I need to revisit these places in the future, I just need to flip through my archive. As the saying goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t set restriction and limitation when you are out photographing on the streets; the exploration journey is part of the learning process. 

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