A College-Level Course On How To Be A Street Style Photographer

To teach a course on street style photography, one must first begin with Bill Cunningham, and that’s exactly where we will start in my college-level course: Street Style Photography 101. Because, after all, it was Bill Cunningham who was arguably the first to take photography to the streets. He did so during WWII, and eventually narrowed his street photography to fashion. And so, what began as a passionate artistic endeavor has flourished into a manufactured industry that feeds the egos of partakers in and photographers of fashion week. In this course, we will propose that just about anyone can be a street style photographer—one just needs to be an observant pedestrian with a vague knowledge of f-stops and shutter speeds. Our primary emphasis, however, will be the aesthetic clues of an ideal street style muse. By the end of this course, every one of my pupils should be able to spot these cues from ½ mile away.
A final thought: whether or not you choose to embark on the life of a street style photographer is up to you, but once you make the decision there’s no turning back. You must surrender all of your self to my teachings and me if for no other reason than no photo agency will want to hire you after this foray.


  • Eyesight. O.K. if you’re colorblind, as fashion week is all about surprising people with odd blends of color anyway.
  • Must be fit. The reasons for this are twofold. 1) You will be chasing—literally running after—models and bloggers day and night, and a sweaty, panting double-chinned photographer is not a cute look. 2) You have no place being scrupulous or overcritical of people if you don’t look good yourself. It’s all about feigning authority (because remember: you have none).
  • An 8-page, single-spaced, typed essay on How The Sartorialist Depicts The Great Modern Idea of Thirst, Hunger, or Desperation in His Photos (with examples).
  • A strong “crouch” (see below photo).
le21eme / Instagram
le21eme / Instagram

Just as Gertrude Stein never handed over a plot idea to a budding writer, I can’t just paint a picture of the perfect street style candidate for you. The truth is, it’s not even so much a person as it is a feeling or an energy. The fashionista must be there, but not totally there; present, but not entirely present, if you catch my drift. And now, for the lessons:

1. Nose Jewelry.

Quick: two girls are walking towards you. They’re both visibly DJs, with neon fur-lined coats and hair to match. You know you’ve hit the jackpot, but—wait! You have only one photo left on your camera. Which girl do you shoot?

Answer: the one with the nose jewelry. When in doubt, ALWAYS choose the one with the nose jewelry. Remember: We’re the ones who made nose jewelry popular. Just look at your average septum ring; why would anyone in their right mind think, “God I really need to look more like a bull.” The answer is they wouldn’t. We just started shooting droves of girls with nose trimmings and, by extension, made them cool. They might be ugly—moche—but it’s always abundantly more important that we maintain consistency.

2. The boyfriend look.

Another marker for a stellar street style model is the “boyfriend” look. Should a lady be donning her boyfriend’s garbs, you, my friend, should take stock. Bonus points if she doesn’t even have a boyfriend because then we have the option to categorize her into the generic street style blog or into the street style blog with a focus on “independent women.”

3. If you can, never lose sight of Karlie Kloss or Hannes Gaby.

le21eme / Instagram
le21eme / Instagram

You want to have them on your radar and about 12 feet away at all times. However, if you slip up—look at your watch, for instance, to check the time and when you look back up you’ve lost them—there’s always the Asian backup. Street style blogs LOVE and Asian with a strong look, which means we love an Asian with a strong look too.

4. Pay no heed to the idle.

A rule of thumb: fashionable-looking people who have been standing in the same spot for over 15 minutes are fashionable-looking frauds. There comes a point where—no matter the number of septum rings, no matter how many layers of funky-colored lipstick you’ve applied or how many creepers you own—if you are stagnant in front of Milk Studios for longer than 15 minutes then you’re disqualified from the game. No photos should be taken unless the subject (le sujet) is in motion—swiftly walking to the next show, perhaps—or looking off into the distance, eyes never locked with the camera.

5. A red flag: a jacket that is fully on.

le21eme / Instagram
le21eme / Instagram

Street style photographers, you should not even GLANCE at someone who doesn’t have their jacket resting on their shoulders, arms dangling limply by their sides. There is only one exception to this and that’s:

6. Someone who seemingly wears their entire wardrobe at once.

Take the Beckerman sisters. They’re tremendous supporters of this look and it’s worked out well for them thus far. Yes, okay, they kind of Jeremy Scott and Shrek’s lovechild, but they’re on practically every street style blog and that’s all that matters.

7. Incest.

id_magazine / Instagram
id_magazine / Instagram

You want to keep your eyes peeled for any siblings or parent-child pair who enjoy a good dose of incest. Again, here’s where our moniker “slaves of fashion” comes into play. In some instances, we must forgo any moral or professional qualms in favor of what people want. And clicking on any street style blog will tell you that what the people want are the ATL Twins. Without even a smidgen of talent, and with a penchant for having sex with the same girl at the same time, we can only deduce that the appeal here is incest.

8. Two quick markers of a successful street style subject:

The neon-colored, floral, or plain old avant-garde-looking sock, paired with a rolled-up pant and heels is a street style blogger’s best friend. And headpieces—they go a long way for the street style logger and, in 8 out of 10 cases, are a one-way ticket to The Cut.

9. A car to match.

Someone who rolls up to a fashion show in a hot car that matches their outfit wants you to take their photo. And you want to take theirs too. Remember: they need us as much as we need them; it’s a mutually beneficial relationship and it goes a long way.

10. How to know you’re lost: a book.

olympialetan / Instagram
olympialetan / Instagram

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: being a street style photographer is no easy task. Oftentimes you’re dropped off in a foreign city, left to navigate your way to that odd, otherworldly land where people where sunglasses at night. One trick that’s always helped me find my bearings is constantly being on the lookout for books. Should some fashionable-looking someone walk past you holding a book, it’s time you open up your Google Maps and skedaddle, because you’re out of bounds. Once books start transforming into faux books—that is, purses that are disguised as books à la Olympia Le Tan—you can relax. You’re back home. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Writer at Thought Catalog. Follow me on Twitter.

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