Overcome Your Street Photography Fears With Steven ‘Sweatpants’ Irby

steve sweatpants street photography

Have you ever looked at the work of street photographers and wonder how they do it? Not just the composition and timing of the shots I mean, but how they can go out and just point their camera at strangers?

And also how it’s easy for them because they’re somewhere photogenic like Istanbul or Tokyo and you’re stuck in your uninspiring hometown where there’s nothing to shoot anyway?

These are two common beliefs that could be holding you back from ever trying street photography. It’s hard to get over them alone, but having someone who can show you the ropes and put your mind at rest is a huge help in getting you started.

To that end, if you’re struggling with that yourself, I think this short video class from a photographer called Steve Sweatpants is very much worth your time.

Called ‘Street Photography: Capturing Unique Images’, it’s available on the superb CreativeLive platform and is one of over 1500 classes you can get access to for just $13 a month.

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Who is Steve Sweatpants?

Before we get into what is in the course, here’s a little background on who the man behind it is and why you might want to listen to what he has to say.

Steven ‘Sweatpants’ John Irby is a self-taught street photographer from New York City. He co-founded the popular Street Dreams magazine, which publishes quarterly, and is still its co-owner and director.

The work on his Instagram feed is top notch and is probably one of the reasons he’s also a brand ambassador for Sony cameras.

I genuinely enjoyed watching him go through his process in this class. As well as bringing lots of energy, he was very likeable, unpretentious, and highly inspiring.

What is in Street Photography: Capturing Unique Images?

The ‘Street Photography: Capturing Unique Images’ class is broken down into six chapters, if you include the short Class Introduction. They are as follows:

  • Class Introduction
  • Street Photography Gear
  • Subliminal But Intentional Framing
  • Capture The Little Things
  • Pacing, Patience & Persistence
  • Empathy is Key

After the second chapter where Steve explains why you should carry as little gear as possible, the class moves to the streets of Seattle and adopts a YouTube-style vlog format where you follow along as he explains his process while shooting.

You get to see the rationale for choosing a scene and lining up the shots, how those shots looked in the moment straight out of the camera, and reasons for taking multiple ones at the same place. At the end of each chapter, you also see a selection of the final, edited results.

Occasionally showing the camera settings on screen is useful, but I like how this wasn’t a focus. The whole thing is more about just getting out and shooting than it is the technical stuff.

Chapters three and four talk about a couple of simple yet effective ways to make good photographs to document your day, while chapters five and six are more about the mindset it takes to produce them and also make sure they have meaning.

Some practical takeaways from this short video course

There are countless ways to do street photography, and none of them are necessarily right or wrong. Different people just do things differently.

Having done a lot of street photography too though, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what Steve advised in this class. So some practical takeaways from it that I would echo are as follows.

First up, as touched on earlier, is to take as little gear as possible. Minimal gear and only one bag. You can also limit yourself to one lens all day, even if it’s a single focal length. You can read more about why this is a good idea on this post and also on this one.

The third chapter, called Subliminal But Intentional Framing, talked about the way Steve composes a shot. It’s the same way I mostly do it too. Rather than looking for interesting people to shoot, you can consider finding an interesting background or scene and waiting for someone to enter it.

Giving yourself permission to fire off some warm-up shots is a great tip too. If you’re ever out with your camera and aren’t really feeling it, force yourself to just take some photographs. It doesn’t matter if they’ll be keepers or not. The idea is to get your juices flowing. It always works for me.

The final takeaway that I hope can help you overcome an obstruction to you shooting – perhaps the one that your town is boring – is that your photographs don’t have to be mind-blowing.

You will get better the more you shoot but if you’re just starting out, just do it for yourself and enjoy the process rather than worrying about what other people will think of the results.

These next images are some of the extra pro-tips that often pop up during the class.

Who is this street photography video class for?

This class isn’t a technical guide designed to explain every function your shiny new camera has or every composition rule you have to be following. Because you don’t actually have to follow any.

It’s more like a demonstration for if you want to shoot some street photography but never have and are unsure of how to go about doing it.

You don’t need to get in a stranger’s personal space and shove your lens in their face. You don’t need to have the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. You just need to get out there, wherever you are, and ease your way into it.

Again, having done plenty of street photography myself and in a similar way to Steve, I don’t think this class was made with people like me in mind.

It seemed more like the inspiration and ideas you may need if you’re just starting out, as well as the reassurance that you’ll be okay doing it.

If you’re already beyond that, it’s probably not for you. There are still plenty of other photography classes you could check out on CreativeLive, though.

These next images are some examples of the final results shot while making the class.

Closing thoughts on Street Photography: Capturing Unique Images

Despite not being the target audience for this class, I did enjoy watching it and seeing how someone else shoots. It was great to see the whole process and having the photographer talk through it, from finding the scene to the final results.

The production quality was good and the vlog-style made it all very relatable. If you’re nervous about trying street photography for yourself, I’m sure this will help you see that you can do it without getting into any sticky situations.

Good street photography is not an easy thing to make. The truth is though that you getting out and shooting anything is an achievement. It’s certainly better than shooting nothing.

This video class can give you the reassurance to do just that, but the big question is: is it worth spending the money to buy it?

And quite honestly, I’m going to say probably not. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it.

Because of how CreativeLive works, for a price similar to this one single class at full cost, you can buy a monthly pass and also have access to over 1500 others.

And if you buy an annual pass, the monthly rate is around half of this one class. Do either of those and you can watch it anyway and then see what else there is to learn on the platform too.

So that’s what I recommend you do instead.  😀

Improve your photography today!
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Sign up to the great value CreativeLive Creator Pass and learn from hundreds of photography and editing classes, on demand and presented by some of the industry's best experts.

… p.s. if you think this video class can help others get over their street photography fears too, why not help them find it by sharing this review?  😀

written by
Hi, I'm Lee - creator of My Favourite Lens and the one whose work you're seeing whenever you read a post on here.
I shoot as much film as I can in as many different cameras as I can, and I enjoy playing with vintage lenses on digital cameras also.

Everything I do and what I learn along the way gets shared on here, to inform and inspire you to get out and shoot as much - and as well - as you can too.

2 thoughts on “Overcome Your Street Photography Fears With Steven ‘Sweatpants’ Irby”

  1. There are a couple of things I’d definitely agree with (I’ve seen Steve’s course in the past).

    1) Yes, don’t bog down with gear. Try to use a single camera/lens
    2) Warm up. I’ve always found the first few (dozen!) shots aren’t worth keeping, at least for me. No different to warming up before a gym session, I’d guess!
    3) The subliminal thing is sometimes called “fishing” I think. For a nervous photographer that’s a nice way to start shooting.

    • Cheers, Amin. Yep, I’ve shot with just a prime for years now. Might be a different one that I go out with, but it’s always really only one per session. Agree with your other points too. Warming up and not worrying about bad shots at that point + fishing are a couple of good ways to get things going for sure. 🙂


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