Street photography is a very popular style of photography and there are people all over the world taking to the streets to see what they can capture. I don’t do it a lot of it, but I do follow some people that do, so I asked Shane Francescut from The Weekly Minute if he would write a post for you on Street Photography.
If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, it’s a street photograph. - Bruce Gilden
Street photography is a photographic style that many people enjoy viewing, but tend to shy away from attempting it themselves. And, from my experience the number one reason for not trying it is a concern for the privacy of others. I see street photography as a way of documenting a moment in time or telling a story about life in a certain place, at a specific point in history. There are many subsets to street photography – candid shots, street portraits, and architectural images, so I think the genre can appeal to a wide range of people.
In this article, I’ll attempt to ease your discomforts and relax your hesitations about street photography with a few tips and examples that I’ve picked up along the way. Photography is about experimentation and pushing your creative limits, and if you choose to ignore any one style of photography simply because of discomfort, then you may not discover your true potential.
Street photography has helped me learn a lot about myself as a photographer, and it has greatly helped me improve every facet of photography. Through street photography, I have become much more comfortable and confident when shooting studio portraits, I have learned to identify the key elements and angles that produce strong imagery, and I have learned to pay attention to smaller details that would have escaped me in the past. And with that, here are my seven tips to help you make stronger images on the street.
1. Stop moving
Our first instinct when street shooting is to wander the streets at a torrid pace, frantically searching for that decisive moment to capture and share. It is always helpful to casually walk about the streets, but pause at busy intersections during rush hour or let a few trains or busses pass while waiting on the platform, taking a few minutes to see what might unfold. Alternatively, find an interesting background and let the scene find you. I find that this is difficult to do because the urge to keep your feet moving is strong, however this technique can produce an excellent image, if not a whole series that you’d be proud to share.
2. Plan a route
Many people think that street photographers have a knack for capturing moments anywhere they venture. The truth is prolific street photographers take time before a photo session to plan the routes that they know will give them the best chances at capturing quality images. Plan a photo walk through a market, or an area with several outdoor patios, or shoot from an overpass such as a bridge or balcony above a busy plaza. I learned the hard way that aimlessly walking and shooting is a waste of time and most often results in nothing to show for it.
3. Ditch the zoom and use a wide-angle prime
I don’t necessarily agree that you should only use prime lenses while doing street photography, but I do agree that wide angle lenses help to tell better stories. Many of the images on my blog are captured with a focal length of 24mm-30mm, and I find that by getting more of the scene in a frame, the viewer gains a better sense and feeling of the moment. The other advantage to using a single prime lens is that you develop a consistent point of view, thus making it easier to visualize what an image will look like before you raise the camera to your eye. Many people struggle with photography because they use too many different lenses and focal lengths, and they never gain the opportunity to really learn how to use what they have.
4. Always carry your camera with you
Always, always, always take your camera with you when you leave the house. There will be times when you don’t pull it out of your bag, but if you have your camera handy you are far more likely to return home with some great images. I found that once I took this advice, I captured far more images, and the quality of my images greatly improved. This also speaks to owning a camera that is compact and light weight, but I’ll speak to that later in this post.
5. Smile often, be respectful, ask for permission
Friendliness, respectfulness, and permission have made it possible for me to branch into street portraiture. Granted, street portraits might not be the ultimate goal of everyone who tries street photography, but by being friendly with strangers it can help to calm your nerves and make the whole shooting experience a pleasant one. If your aim is to capture candid images and someone notices that you’ve taken their picture, feel free to complement an article of clothing or some other feature about them, and be on your way. People tend to respond very well when randomly complemented.
6. Capture movement
We see movement everywhere we look, but when captured in a photograph, movement adds excitement and wonder to a scene that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Movement can be captured through techniques such as panning, adding blur, or freezing action. Leanne has written on the topic of panning before, but that is difficult to do and takes practice. I tend to capture movement by combining a blurred object with a still object, but you can also freeze movement, such as in sports photography which lets our eyes take in a scene that may have otherwise happened too quickly to see in real life.
7. Shoot from the hip
When starting out with street photography, nerves and fear can easily get the better of us. To combat this, spend your first few sessions shooting with your camera dangling around your waste. You’ll be surprised with the results. Shooting from the hip achieves two things; first, it helps you train your eye to look for those decisive moments that make for great street photographs while disguising the fact that you’re taking someone’s picture. Second, it allows you to capture images from a different vantage point that is different from what we’re used to seeing which instantly provides a different point of interest.
I’m not a big fan of gear talk, but I’ll touch on it briefly here. You can read hundreds of articles about what people say is the right gear for street photography, however my simple take on the subject is this, use what you have, and if you’re in the market for something new then look for a compact and light weight camera such as one of the many new mirrorless offerings on the market. Fuji and Sony make several mirrorless models that are inexpensive and produce tremendous image quality, and there is a growing list of lenses available for all brands. As mentioned earlier, a wide angle lens allows you to capture more of a scene; however you have to use what you’re comfortable with. If you’d prefer to stand two hundred yards away from someone when you’re taking their picture, then by all means, use a long zoom. It ultimately depends on your style and taste.
As with anything in life, I suspect there might be dangers, however, Toronto is a very safe city and I have only been confronted on one occasion. The funny thing is that I wasn’t taking his picture, I was taking a picture of a colourful flower that happened to be lying next to his car and he was briefly concerned until he found out what I was doing.
While taking photos on the street I always recommend that you think smart, don’t put yourself in vulnerable positions, and don’t walk around dodgy neighbourhoods alone late at night. With that in mind, as long as your convey confidence and courteousness, you should be fine.
I am honoured, and thankful to Leanne for inviting me to share my knowledge of street photography with her blogging community. Leanne is one of the finest photographers I know, and she has done so much to help me and the rest of her readership become better photographers through her blog.
Thank you Shane for that great post, I certainly picked up some ideas and I might even have a go at this one day. Don’t forget you can go and see more of Shane’s images on his blog, The Weekly Minute, but for now, enjoy the above images in a gallery, and some more that Shane sent for the post. Shane will answer any questions you have, but remember we are all in different time zones, so it might take a while to get an answer.