On the infamous Brexit day I landed in London to attend Matt Stuart’s weekend-long street photography workshop. Whilst Brexit didn’t take place on that day afterall (well done politicians), the action-packed workshop was interesting, lots of fun, and most importantly an insightful experience. That’s why I just had to share my takeaways from the workshop!

Matt Stuart is one of the most prominent contemporary street photographers, famous for his photos of the often sunny streets of London (which doesn’t mean it’s often sunny in London). I really dig his work because it makes London look like it’s full of funny, odd, and sometimes serious incidents in every corner of the city. I like his photo journalistic style where he shows what actually takes place in the streets. I was stoked to meet him in London together with 12 other great people.

Outside Leica Store Mayfair with Matt Stuart

At the workshop we walked through Matt’s route he takes on his photo walk. However, the most important part of the workshop was in the exercises he put us through and the review session where we went through our work from the weekend.

Clean background and strong subject

In Matt’s photos, the interesting subject is never overshadowed by a messy background. There are no bright signs, brand logos, or messy walls and store fronts in the background. So before you start your photo walk, find a location with a clean background to keep your subject the star of your scene. For example, find a place where your subject is in the sunshine and the background in the shade.

Capture interesting characters or unusual events. Maybe avoid shooting mainstream looking people just walking on the streets? Look for things such as hand gestures, people touching each other, or anticipate what people are about to do.

Keep the sun behind you

Good light plays an important role in Matt’s photos – as light usually does in photography. When you keep the sun behind you, your subjects are well lit without their one side of their face being in the shade. Expose for highlights to enable you to shoot with fast shutter speeds (1/1000s) to capture the famous decisive moment.

Shoot close to avoid cropping afterwards

Matt’s philosophy is to crop his photos as little as possible in order to document the real events. Even if your style differs from this, consider the following: by composing your shots tight and carefully from the beginning, you won’t need to crop them in post processing. This makes your shooting style more goal-oriented and less lazy, haha. Come on, if you only want to have that girl wearing an interesting hat filling your frame, walk closer and take that shot instead of cropping the shot afterwards.

One of my main objectives now is to be more fearless street photographer and to shoot closer than I have previously done!

Shoot a lot

Matt has been shooting the streets of London for about 20 years, which has given him his signature style, confidence, and the knowledge of the great shooting locations. Ever since the workshop I’ve been trying to find clean backgrounds combined with the sunlight coming from the right direction in the streets of Helsinki. It’s been so difficult! There’s no shortcut in finding the great locations. You just have to shoot and shoot. It will also make you find your own style.

Edit and get feedback

The most useful part of the workshop was when we had to edit our shots from the first day down to 10 of our best shots, and peer review them with Matt. The hit rate of a good shot in street photography is really low, so it’s useful to have your photos peer reviewed by someone you trust and who can give you honest feedback. After the review session in the workshop, I’m more critical about my photos. It makes me try harder when I’m out shooting. This is why I sometimes ask for feedback from my friends who know about photography.

Final tidbits

Thank you Matt Stuart and my fellow workshop attendees Filipa, Frenzie, Günther, Hannes, Helmut, Luca, Matt, Miguel, Mike, René, Rodrigo and Wolle. Your company made the workshop even better and more fun than I had anticipated. Thank you also for teaching me: how to pronounce Cristiano Ronaldo’s name correctly (Schistianu Ghonaldu, right?), that most Italians are architects, that Maledives is the perfect place to learn scuba diving, how to plan your personal photography projects, about the German-Swedish relations, and that it takes only 12 minutes to walk from the Barbican Centre to Poppies Fish & Chips in Spitalfields.