Street Photography. A form of art and expression that can tell an entire story without a single word.
However, although rewarding, this can also be one of the most intimidating forms of photography, especially when you’re first getting started. When approaching this art form, there are a few important concepts to remember.
1. Choosing the Right Set-Up
Whenever you’re shooting street photography, you definitely don’t want to have the biggest, most flashy set-up. Leave the long telephoto lens at home, and bring out a smaller, wide angle prime lens. You don’t want to be the creepy person shooting people with a bulky lens from across the street. When using a wide angle lens, you are able to get closer to your subject. You would be surprised at how easily you can blend into a crowd this way. And as far as your camera body goes, you can shoot with just about anything you desire, but I do recommend trying to stick with something a bit smaller. Many street photographers even step out of the digital world, and capture those powerful moments on film. Shooting film slows you down, so that you focus on one shot at a time which will also improve your digital photography in the long run.
2. Discretion is Key
Having the right set-up is the first step, but how do you stay discreet when taking your photos? Holding your camera up to your eye to shoot a photo may be ideal for you, but sometimes this can be a bit obvious. If anyone notices, you can throw off the natural flow of the street. One common practice among street photographers is shooting from the hip. That way, the camera tends to go undetected because it is not at eye-level. This can also result in some interesting perspectives to spice up your photos. You can also stay under the radar if you make it look like you’re just a tourist taking photos of something in the background and people typically won’t think anything of it.
3. Be Careful
One of the biggest fears a lot of people have when shooting street photography is that someone will react violently to their photo being taken. However, as long as you are being cautious, you will most likely never run across this situation. Have a friend come along with you, and always shoot in a rather busy or crowded place. Not only will there be more subjects for you to shoot, but a person is less likely to negatively confront you in front of a crowd.
4. Wait for the Shot to Come to You
One common mistake that is made within street photography is actively seeking out subjects. It’s our instinct to go find individuals to shoot or to keep walking around until we finally see that interesting subject we were looking for. However, this is the beauty of street photography. It’s less planning, and more waiting for that perfect moment. Instead of going around trying to find something to capture, instead let the photo come to you. Find a nice street corner or a café, set-up the background and framing, and wait for people to walk into your frame. This will give you more time to compose and pre-focus your photo, then you just have to wait for the right moment.
5. Don’t be Afraid of Talking to People
You have to remember that you and your subjects are both just people, so don’t be afraid to speak to them. One thing you may have to do sometimes is ask people if you can photograph them. This seems intimidating, but personally, I have never had someone turn me down. Just say that you’re a photographer, mention what made them catch your eye, and ask for a photo, rarely will anyone object. Sometimes people notice you taking a photo of them, and they may strike up a conversation or at least glance your way. Don’t try to hide the fact that you took a photo of them, instead acknowledge them, smile and wave. As long as you’re confident in this, you will always put them at ease from any odd thoughts they were having about you taking their photo before.
6. StayQuick on Your Feet
Lastly, one of the most important things to remember in street photography is to always be ready to take a photo. Be quick on your feet because you only have one chance to capture that specific moment since your subjects are real people doing real things. Famous street photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, coined the phrase “decisive moment” to describe this essence. It’s an exact moment in time, when several subjects correlate so perfectly that they can never be recreated again. To prevent missing the decisive moment, keep your camera on, and either be very familiar with your camera to quickly adjust settings, or shoot in Aperture Priority mode. You can set your f-stop and ISO, and your camera will determine your shutter speed for you. This makes it easier to shoot a quick photo because you don’t have to fidget with settings and risk missing the shot. Life happens fast, don’t miss it.
Can Street Photography be intimidating at first? Yes. Is it extremely worth it? Yes. Street photography is a unique art form that cannot compare to any other style of photography. It can seem scary at first, but take a deep breath and remember that people are generally positive minded and willing to support local artists. Next time you’re wanting to try something new with your photography, take to the streets, and you’ll be inspired by the stories you’re able to tell with your photos alone.