In the age of Instagram, what does it take to stand out? Photographers Charlie Kwai and José Sarmento Matos give their tips on how to cut through the noise.

Everybody should be able to express themselves, and in an age when so many of us walk around with a state-of-the-art camera in our pocket, that’s never been easier. Most of us though – despite our best efforts – may find it hard to graduate from taking photos of our cats or blurred selfies. However, a push in the right direction might be all that’s needed to unleash our inner creativity.

That’s why, on a sunny afternoon in October, Huck found themselves under the arches of London’s Waterloo Station in the House of Vans for a Vision Walk with two of our favourite photographers, Charlie Kwai and José Sarmento Matos. Charlie is a street photographer unwavering in his commitment to capturing street-level stories. José is an award-winning documentary photographer.

Vision Walks bring together some of the best photographers in the industry to share their tips and wisdom through a day of talks, shooting and editing. In our case, we sought out twenty of the most exciting, new and emerging voices in street photography to pick the duo’s brains, and show us what they learned.

Here we share Charlie and José’s advice on how to take great photographs, alongside the best work from the participants who joined us on the day.

Let there be light

“London is a great city to photograph,” José says. “When the sun is out, the light is excellent wherever you go.” Having grown up in Lisbon, where the hilly terrain often casts long shadows, he’s become an expert in making the most of what light he can get – something he extols as the most fundamental skill in any photographer’s arsenal.

Learning to work with light correctly is crucial for good photography. Beyond just making sure you can actually see your subject, it can add depth to an image or throw up shadows to frame a point of interest, transforming even the most ordinary street scene into a Rembrandt.

PHOTO: © Coco Petter

PHOTO: © Coco Petter

Stay patient

Patience is a virtue that José champions. If you have the patience to wait for the right light, then have the patience to wait for the right moment, too. “Be in the moment, don’t take a shot and leave,” José explains. “Something may change if you wait for a second longer, which could make a better shot.”

"I have always been very intrigued in the different ways sunlight can fall, so I headed out to find the most unusual lights, shadows and reflections. I settled down in each location for a few minutes and waited for the moment to strike. The one thing that I'll focus on after this experience is patience." - Ance Priedniece

PHOTO: © Nefeli Kentoni

PHOTO: © Nefeli Kentoni

Expose everything

Of course, if you’re not the patient type, or you’d rather not be at the whims of nature, there are other routes you can take. Charlie Kwai is well-known for the trademark use of flash in his photography. When he stalks the streets there’s no hiding from him, with his flash bringing out every blemish and pore on a subject’s face.

The East London photographer began using a flash on the street because he thought it made him look more professional, but he’s stuck by it for the “drama and immediacy” it brings to his work, and it’s a technique plenty of our emerging voices were happy to try out for themselves.

"I had been wanting to try street photography using flash for a while and this was the perfect opportunity, I  learned how interesting it can be to introduce your own light source in a scene, instead of working with the available light." - Nuno Raposo

PHOTO: © Nuno Raposo de Oliveira Guerreiro de Sousa

PHOTO: © Nuno Raposo de Oliveira Guerreiro de Sousa

Be bold

In many ways, Charlie and José are like chalk and cheese. One patient and observant, the other brazen, nimble and in-your-face, but the respect they have for each other’s approach is clearly evident. Both are in agreement that confidence and professionalism is key when out on the street, even if only one of them is shining a flash in their subject’s eyes.

José believes that “being a street photographer is like being a voyeur a lot of the time. You can disappear into the background. But it can be important to approach your subjects to get the best shot sometimes”. It’s a suggestion that makes a few in the audience squirm in their seats. “You’ve got to believe that you’re a professional and act like it,” Charlie adds. “If people think you know what you’re doing they won’t question it.”

“I never used to like getting outside of my comfort zone and I was never one for small talk,’ Charlie says. “I get that taking photos of people on the street can be scary, but you’re not doing anything illegal.”

“The trick is to make people feel special,” he says, “whether that’s with a smile or a thank you. There’s nothing to worry about. I’ve been doing this for years now and I’ve only been punched once.”

One valuable lesson I took from the day was to relax and look confident when taking street photographs. As Charlie said, if you look the part - and look like you know what you’re doing - people will believe you and won’t bother you. - Barbara Premo

PHOTO: © Adrian Crapciu

PHOTO: © Adrian Crapciu

Kill your darlings, drown
your puppies

Don’t forget, a photographer’s work isn’t finished when the shutter closes. That’s when the hard work truly begins. Choosing what to leave on the cutting room floor can be just as important as taking a photo in the first place.

“For me, every photo I take needs to tell a story,” Charlie explains. “If it doesn’t do that, it has to go no matter how nice it might look.”

But when you’ve only got seconds with your subjects on the street, how do you find the story behind the photo? Shoot first, think later.

When Charlie created his work Overtime it came at the end of a months-long process of finding threads in his work,  recurring images, or motifs that he simply couldn’t get away from. In this case, it was candid portraits of bankers in the City of London – he cut everything else.

“If there’s one thing you have to learn,” José adds, “it’s you have to be prepared to drown some puppies if you want to find what makes your work stand out.”

"It was just the light in the subjects eyes that was making her cry but I thought it was more intriguing to leave it ambiguous." - Imogen Forte

Olivia Bee takes a Vision Walk

Thank you to Charlie and José for their time and expertise, and to all the photographers who took part for sharing their exciting work. Check out the gallery below to see the full Vision Walk collection.

To see Charlie and José’s work you can visit their official websites.

Read more stories from This Is Off The Wall, an editorial partnership from Huck and Vans.