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News & Insight

Unemployed Man Turns Full Time Street Photographer With 1.5 Million Facebook Subscribers

By Joseph Cha on October 16th 2013

Brandon Stanton, creator of “Humans of New York”, is not your average street photographer. He doesn’t have a lot of technical knowledge, and does not have a lot of photography experience. He only uses one camera and one lens, the Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 50mm f/1.2 L lens, not the most subtle camera outfit for street photography. One of the most impressive things about Brandon is his enormous following on Facebook. 1.5 Million people subscribe to him on Facebook to see the pictures of strangers he posts. But why? Why on earth would you subscribe to someone who posts pictures of people he runs into on the streets?

What separates Brandon Stanton from other street photographers is his approach to his subjects. He doesn’t just snap a photo and walk away, but he approaches potential subjects with a genuine goal of getting to know them.

Stanton says, “what I’m looking for is a story, always looking for a story, and you’ll find that the stories in peoples lives, the ones that are the most meaningful, impactful and the most interesting tend to revolve around a certain emotion.”

"I used to crawl around like a lion and roar at people to make my friends laugh. Of course, I used to drink a lot more than I do now."

“I used to crawl around like a lion and roar at people to make my friends laugh. Of course, I used to drink a lot more than I do now.”

 

I spotted these two from a block away. They were walking away from me, so I chased them down to see if I could photograph the girl for a microfashion post. When I finally caught up to them, however, I noticed that the father was reading to her as they walked.

I spotted these two from a block away. They were walking away from me, so I chased them down to see if I could photograph the girl for a microfashion post. When I finally caught up to them, however, I noticed that the father was reading to her as they walked.

Three and a half years ago Brandon Stanton was a bond trader in Chicago. It was around that time two things happened, Stanton bought a nice DSLR camera, and he got fired from his job. Being an optimist, Stanton saw this as an opportunity to do something positive with his life.

Stanton says, “I woke up, I lost my job and I woke up, and now that I’m fired I have all this thought and energy to put into any direction I want.”

So Stanton chose photography, and like many photographers, he wasn’t a hit overnight. And not everyone was supportive of his new career.

“My mom basically thought that this was my glorified way of not working.”

But he kept at it. He took pictures everyday, he kept working at his craft and sharpening his photography and people skills.

“Here I am doing this all day long with absolutely nothing to show for it. And so this went on for 6 months, I photographed every single day. I photographed on Christmas Eve, I photographed on Christmas. I photographed on New Year’s Eve, New Years Day, all day long.”

tumblr_mufcqhFdx01qggwnvo1_400

“The more times I fall in love, the less sure I am about love”

"My daughter lives in Pennsylvania. She's working at a nursing home and studying to be an accountant. She's my pride and joy."  "Does she know you're homeless?" "No, she's got enough to worry about. I just tell her that I'm retired."

“My daughter lives in Pennsylvania. She’s working at a nursing home and studying to be an accountant. She’s my pride and joy.”
“Does she know you’re homeless?”
“No, she’s got enough to worry about. I just tell her that I’m retired.”

 

"When I was 20, I made a plan to get a good job and be secure. Now I'm 35, and I need a plan to be happy."

“When I was 20, I made a plan to get a good job and be secure. Now I’m 35, and I need a plan to be happy.”

There’s a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, but Stanton’s photos are worth so much more than that. When you look at his images, you don’t just see portraits, you see people in them. These people become real, and you can relate to them. You begin to understand their struggles and issues because of the stories that Stanton tells with them.

You see how much Brandon Stanton cares about his subjects. If they don’t like a photo he doesn’t post it, if they contact him later asking him to take down a photo he takes it down. He cares so much that he even went out of his way to help crowd fund a project that would help a little boy reach his dreams by sending him horseback riding at a dude ranch.

Brandon Stanton: Humans Of New York

It’s really inspirational what Brandon Stanton was able to achieve in his short photography career. For 6 months Stanton just kept taking photos, and didn’t have much to show for it. His passion for photography and people eventually gained him a huge audience who enjoy and appreciate his work.

Making the decision to pursue photography full time is very difficult. It’s not secure, you have to invest a lot of money in it, and there are always doubts that cloud your mind. Brandon Stanton took the plunge, but not to be a successful or a rich photographer. He simply did what he wanted to do, and that makes him happy, his subjects love their photographs, and his followers enjoy his work.

Check out Brandon Stanton’s work at www.humansofnewyork.com

[source: picturecorrect.com]

About

I’m a photographer and cinematographer based in Southern California. When I don’t have a camera in my face I enjoy going to the movies and dissecting the story telling and visual aesthetics.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Larry Fasnacht

    Made me smile. Found it to be very inspirational. Thank you for posting it.

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  2. Justin Lin

    Richard, thanks for sharing that quote. In today’s world it’s easy to tell when you meet someone that is truly genuine and full of passion for what they’re doing. Lighting, composition, etc. will never have as large of a lasting impact as a great idea.

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  3. richardesign

    “People don’t buy what you do, but what you believe in!”

    -Simon Sinek

    Really inspiring story. Time to think!

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