Humans of New York creator: Try working less

Brandon Stantion Humans of New York
Brandon Stanton, creator of the Humans of New York blog, shows an image he took of a man named Carl on February 22, 2013 in New York City's Union Square.

Americans should reconsider how much they work.

That's one of the top takeaways Brandon Stanton, the creator of the hugely popular Humans of New York blog, has learned about modern life after photographing and interviewing 10,000 people.

He often asks: What is your biggest struggle? And what do you regret most in life?

"Balancing my life is an answer I hear a lot," he said. "Balancing work and family."

People go on to tell him how they wish they had skipped that marketing conference and attended their daughter's 8th grade dance instead.

Related: Sweden flirts with six hour work day

New book: Humans of New York: Stories

It's also telling that Stanton finds Midtown New York -- home to many law firms and investment banks -- to be the hardest to photograph for his blog.

"You can't get in front of men or women in suits and their lunch," he joked Wednesday at the Barnes & Noble in New York's Union Square. He was there to celebrate the publication of second book "Humans of New York: Stories."

The event was packed with fans from all over the world -- from Mexico to Pakistan. Over 15.6 million people now follow his blog.

There were also many New Yorkers he had photographed in attendance. Stanton greeted many by name, even if it had been months since they spoke.

"I haven't seen you for one year. I'm surprised you remember me," said one taxi driver.

Stanton continually tries to put the spotlight on others. He shared the stage with Luis, a young "geek" who's big personality has become a fan favorite on the blog.

humans of new york barnes and noble
Luis plays with his very own marionette, presented by Ricky Syers at the 'Humans of New York: Stories' book launch.

What Stanton looks for

What Stanton looks for has changed dramatically from when he first started photographing people at age 26.

Initially, it was all about the image. He would hunt for ideal moments to capture.

"My first idea was I was going to take 10,000 photographs and plot them on a map [of New York]," Stanton said.

Then he realized it was a good idea to ask for permission before taking a photograph, especially of opinionated New Yorkers.

Related: Wall Street's exclusive '10 p.m. club'

15.6 million blog followers and longer posts

Over time, he started talking more and more to the people he was capturing, learning there was "magic" when you put a quote with a photo.

Now he typically spends 30 to 45 minutes with someone. His blog followers have probably noticed that the posts have gotten a lot longer.

"When you get deep enough into someone's story, you almost live it with them," he said, admitting that he has cried plenty of times, especially in his recent work with Syrian refugees in Europe.

Now age 31, he is flabbergasted at the success of the project.

His advice: Experiment more

Despite meeting numerous celebrities, including President Obama at the White House, Stanton still wears jeans and a knit sweater and goes everywhere with his Canon EOS camera and Georgia grin.

He never trained formally to be a photographer. His advice to people is simply to do what you love everyday.

Even at 26, when he was living in dingy Brooklyn apartment eating what he jokes was "cat food," he would spend at least an hour photographing every day, even on Christmas.

"Humans of New York did not result from a flash on inspiration," he writes in the forward of the new book. "It grew from five years of experimenting, tinkering, and messing up."

He used to worry about copycat blogs and sites. Now he welcomes them, seeing it as a movement to encourage people to get to know their communities.

"I never know what kind of people I'll meet just by stopping to take a photo," he said.

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