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Seconds2Real: Guido Steenkamp

“The most exciting aspect of Street Photography for me is that there is nothing you have to prepare and almost nothing you could plan. All you have to do is to step out on the street and have your camera ready.” Guido Steenkamp

This is part of an interview series with members of Seconds2Real street photography collective, in celebration of their forthcoming exhibition in Berlin in October.

How did you begin doing street photography, and why do you love it?

I started Street Photography in 2006. I wouldn’t say I consciously decided to focus on Street Photography, it’s more that I stumbled into it by accident. I like walking in the streets and I like to watch people. At some point I started to capture the moments when I noticed something unusual or funny – just small details of daily lives.

The most exciting aspect of Street Photography for me is that there is nothing you have to prepare and almost nothing you could plan. All you have to do is to step out on the street and have your camera ready. It needs a lot of patience, experience and mostly luck to get a decent shot. But when this happens, it’s fantastic – nothing beats that.


And how do you pay the bills?

I am fortunate enough not to have to earn my money by working as a photographer. I work as a head of a consulting department at a Berlin based software company. That’s not the most fun job in the world but at least I am free to photograph whatever I want to in my spare time.

Which photographers inspire you?

I admire the works of Alex Webb and Trent Parke, I own every single photo book they ever published. There are also some less known (Street) Photographers that I found to be very inspiring, Lukas Vasilikos and Jack Simon just to name two. (ST84Photo notes – Jack Simon was recently announced as one of the winners of the Street Photography Now Project, a year long project run by The Photographers’ Gallery)


Editing/selecting which images to show is crucial for a street photographer. Has being in a collective helped you with this process?

Indeed, editing and selecting images is the hardest part. As you may know the Seconds2Real members live in different cities, some in Germany, some in Austria. It happens only once or twice a year that we meet in person. Most of the editing is done via the internet. We use a forum for discussions, Dropbox to manage and edit our picture pool and Skype whenever something needs to be clarified short-term.

We all know that Flickr is certainly not the best place if one is looking for serious comments. That’s why I show my work to other Seconds2Real photographers whenever possible. Of course honest criticism is hard to take, particularly when it comes from friends, but it’s always very much appreciated.


In the UK, street photography has become very popular over the last year (the Street Photography Now book published, Format Festival dedicated to street photography, the London Street Photography Festival, your work on show at Look11, and lots of popular workshops). Have you felt that street photography has also been more popular recently in your own country? And do think that street photography will continue to be popular in this way?

That’s true. The recent one and a half years have been truly awesome for the Street Photography community in the UK. From my perspective all of this started when in-Public published their book ’10’ in 2010, followed by ‘Street Photography Now’ and the different festivals this year.

Unfortunately Street Photography in Germany is not as popular as in the UK. There are virtually no contemporary Street Photography exhibitions in Germany. Besides the very strict publication laws we have, I do believe the main problem is that there have never been such strong Street Photography advocates in Germany like you have in the UK with supporters like Nick Turpin and Matt Stuart. Hopefully this will change soon, at least we are doing our best to improve the situation. In the recents six months we already did Street Photography workshops in Hamburg and Berlin and we are working on two group exhibitions in Berlin and Vienna.


Any tips or “words of wisdom” for other street photographers?

I don’t think I am the right person to give advice on this, but I am happy to summarize what worked for me:

* A good way to start Street Photography is to attend public events or to visit touristic spots. Photographers are expected at these types of events or places and no one will bother you when taking pictures.

* Learn to use hyperfocal focusing. A lens with a depth of field scale marked on it will help (like most Rangefinder lenses have).

* Learn to get close to the subject. Don’t make yourself think that a picture of someone’s back will look good – this is usually not the case.

* Find places with lots of people, know the times when they are present and the light is good.

* Make sure to read “Ways of working” at 2POINT8

* Learn to accept that getting a decent Street Shot is just a happy accident. As you get better you have more happy accidents.


What would be your ideal gear for doing street photography with?

Ah, the Inevitable gear question. I guess I am now supposed to say “It’s the photographer, not the camera!”? This of course is true, but I am quite gear head too. Now then, I did about 95% of my work with a Leica M6, loaded with Tri-X and using Summicron 35mm or 50mm lenses. I must admit though that I found myself using digital more and more recently.

With analog the choice of camera is very easy, get a Leica and you are done. With digital it’s way more complicated. Either the camera sucks because of poor battery life, like the Leica M9 I owned for some months, or it’s unusable because it’s too big/too loud to be used on the streets.

My current digital gear consists of a Nikon D700 I use at bigger events and a Nikon D7000 that serves as my carry-with-me-always camera, both with 35mm/35mm equivalent lenses. The Nikons are decent cameras but they are not ideal for Street Photography. For me it still feels wrong using a DSLR on the streets. Camera-wise I certainly enjoy Street Photography the most when using my 25-years old Leica.

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Nikon Marketing Win.

I recently got a modestly decent sum of money. I was (seriously) planning to spend it on a new Nikon camera, and a couple of lenses. I’m happy with my current camera for some work, but did think the new gear would be useful for some specific work I plan to make very soon.

Yesterday, I was at a masterclass taught by Simon Roberts. He’s a great teacher, in addition to producing interesting work, and I got a lot out of hearing him talk about his work and development, and also from seeing the projects submitted by other participants.

Simon advised me to spend some time really focussing on a few specific things, and it’s advice I’m thinking about on the train (ST84Photo goes on tour! a mini-tour, mind, a very mini-tour).

So today I log on to TheTwitter. And everyone is talking about Nikon. And not the good talk, either. My god, I think, are people still complaining about the Nikon 1 magic auto-photograph function? No, they’re talking about something else. Nikon’s wonderful marketing ploy to convince us all that the latest flashy gear is what makes a great photographer.

The day after I got some really helpful advice from a guy who makes his photographs on a large format camera. With no Nikon badge. And when he critiqued my work, his comments were about what I was trying to achieve and how I could improve my practice to do that. He didn’t say anything about me needing a new camera. He didn’t say anything about the gear I had been using at all.

Nice one, Nikon. Think I’ll spend that money on creating the time and logistics to follow Simon’s advice instead of buying a camera and some lenses from you. Great marketing technique!

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