Let's Shoot Trash: A Non-Intimidating Street Photography Project

Let's Shoot Trash: A Non-Intimidating Street Photography Project

You may think the title sounds rubbish (pun intended), but hear me out. This project is a great entry into street photography to help you grow accustomed to shooting targeted concepts in public, instead of feeling overwhelmed of all the possible photo opportunities around you.

Although a large number of us feel comfortable to take our camera out of the bag and start photographing what goes on in the streets, there are still plenty of photographers who lack the confidence to use cameras in busy and populated environments, especially if pointing it at strangers. It's one thing to take a quick snap with your phone, because we are used to seeing that all around us, but pulling out your DSLR or even a mirrorless might make you feel insecure, for example, due to potential reaction of the public.

Two people walking by an old coconut on the ground
A very non-intimidating project to give you confidence in the street.

Reality is, most people do not care or may not even notice you, but to ease you into shooting a vibrant and busy environment, you may require just a little push or guidance, which will help your confidence and skills blossom the more you practice and work on it. For that reason, I devised a very basic street photography project that doesn't require any direct engagement with the public; however, it gives you the option to add people as part of your compositions, when and if you feel ready.

Why Am I Shooting Trash?

Firstly, I am moving away from this word and instead calling my project "Discarded." Whether you live in a big city or a rural village, there is no doubt that you will have noticed how quickly we discard everything around us, from clothes to food, and although there are practices and initiatives in place to move towards a more considerate way of living to preserve our world, the reality is that we've still got a long way to go. 

A red package discarded on the street
Don't aim for perfection in this project, instead focus on your composition, art of seeing, and putting it all together in a coherent manner.

So, after an accidental photograph, it got me thinking: instead of drowning ourselves in every negative thing that affects our lives and our world, maybe we could instead highlight the changes that need to happen through a brief visual social documentary and leave something meaningful for others while concurrently learning to create something out of completely nothing.

How Should I Start?

Firstly, to know when you have finished shooting something, you need to create a project deadline and requirements. Setting yourself a goal to complete a project will give you the push to go out and shoot it, instead of leaving it open-ended. In such a case, you may go outside for a couple of times, before forgetting about it and moving on with something different that may catch your attention. Set yourself a doable deadline based on your personal circumstances, for example, six or nine months. 

A rubbish bag laying on the street with people walking by
Swapping London's usual landmark shots for rubbish in Chelsea.

Giving yourself a finished product to aim for is just as important as setting a deadline. Whether you choose to create an online gallery, slideshow, a PDF, an eBook or an iBook, or a printed product, such as a magazine, a book, or an album, it's solidifying your goals even more and making the project more appealing to work on, instead of leaving all photographs in a digital folder, never to be looked at again. 

How Should I Shoot It?

The beauty of this project is that you can do it almost anywhere. The truth is that our humankind has reached even into most unaccessible areas in the world, and as such, we have left our footprint practically everywhere. What you'll start to find is that when you have such a specific target, you will be forced to be always looking. And the more you look, the more you'll start to see. Leave the beautiful sunsets or skyscrapers for another time, and try focusing on one thing at once. You'll start to notice that the more you do it, the more confident you'll start to feel photographing in public places. 

My only rule would be not to alter the scene because this is a street and documentary project, not a fine art shoot. This means you will quickly rack up steps on your fitness tracker, if you use one. As such, consider listening to some of your favorite music or a podcast or bring a companion, as you walk the streets looking for your next shot. This type of project would also be suitable for involving your children and working on it together.

Piece of rubbish on the street, with a pigeon and a person walking by
Play around with introducing movement.

In regards to compositions, consider some of these tips:

  • Include more of the scene to add more context to your image
  • Try to include people in some of your photos, such as their feet walking by and disappearing silhouettes in the background
  • Create abstract shots with visually pleasing lines, colors, or shapes
  • Use different angles
  • Utilize a variety of lenses to achieve different effect
  • Use juxtaposition as a way of composing, for example, an object in contrast to its location, contrasting colors and more
  • You can practice other techniques in this project, such as long exposure
  • Use light and shadow to your advantage and create interesting compositions

Pringles tub in front of Arc De Triomphe in Paris.
One way to photograph Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

I Finished It, What's Next?

Firstly, if you got as far as finishing it, congratulations are in order! It's certainly not easy to commit to personal photography projects, when you may be busy leading a business and caring for your family. However, every personal project gives you invaluable experience, whether that be in the shooting process itself, creating concepts, practicing your way of seeing, designing a finished product, or it could be personal gains, such as, confidence, determination, self-reliance, and more. 

A plastic bottle discarded in tall grasses
I genuinely enjoyed this project and it gave me a purpose to be on constant lookout wherever I went.

Experience aside, looking at a fully finished project is a gift in itself. Whether it is digital or in print, you will feel pride and satisfaction. This feeling will only increase over time when you look through your past projects or share them with your friends and family. 

I generally feel quite empty and almost bare the very second I have finished a project. It almost feels as if for that brief moment I don't have anything that I'm so dedicated to, but it soon passes, because I am always on the lookout for the next project to work on alongside my business. If you completed this, you may want to consider focusing more on people photography, and as such, this "Alone" project may be perfect for you.

An used beer can on top of a pay phone
I walked many miles as part of this project, but I also always carried my small DSLR with me in case I randomly come across a good photo opportunity

Do you enjoy working on personal projects? Do you give yourself goals and deadlines? Let us know!

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Jeff Walsh's picture

Why is all the trash so clean? The pringle can looks like an advertisement. Most of the trash I see around town is junky, dirty, and you know...trash looking. This looks like these things were placed for the shots...not saying they were, but in my opinion there's something unnatural about it. Like I said, I'm not used to seeing clean trash.

Anete Lusina's picture

Now, how does it? The Pringles tub I randomly saw while walking down the street in Paris, with someone clearly too lazy to bin it. I don't see anything clean about the street full of leaves or the grass with a discarded plastic bottle, or the trash bag on London street. See, the whole point about this project is to go and seek these opportunities, it's not about randomly shooting every piece of trash you see but finding those that make the shot, otherwise we could just hang about by the junkyard waiting for new trash to arrive. The simplicity you see in my images appears because I spent a lot of time and effort to find these shots, they don't come easy, and why would you do a project that's easy anyway? I would never "cheat" by setting up a scene, that's for people who want it quick, easy, and cheap.

Jeff Walsh's picture

I wasn't saying you set it up. I even said I wasnt saying that. I like the idea, but something about the shots felt off, and I can't pinpoint it. The idea behind the article was cool though

Anete Lusina's picture

Well perhaps that's the beauty of doing something so well that it appears to be like that. I've walked many hours to find the right thing to photograph and it shows. :)

Robert Thompson's picture

Irving Penn had the better idea. Shoot the trash in a studio on an 8x10 camera and make a platinum/palladium print. Then your trash will be art.

Anete Lusina's picture

Good idea but it doesn't teach you how to start shooting in the streets and it's costly, my project is not about that, Irving's one is a great one but it's a completely different concept.

Robert Thompson's picture

Guess your project wasn't about a sense of humor, either.

Anete Lusina's picture

Street photography is always about the photographer's humour. :-)

Scott Tyndall's picture

I do think your article is Brilliant! He in the USA there are similar themes. Love your perspective!

Steven Weston's picture

I've been shooting trash 🗑 for years. With your idea my cull pile won't be so large. No, seriously, this is a good idea and I'm going to do it. I remember a shot I wanted to make but was sans-camera. It would have been trash blowing across a parking lot. A lot of trash blowing in the wind. So that's another way to introduce movement. Thanks for the idea, Anete.