Now that everyone on the street is a photographer, street photography has become even more popular due to iPhones and Android phones. Add to it that digital cameras are more reasonably priced than when they first came out, and you have a good mix of cameras that supports the genre.
Camera phones are one thing, but if you’re a photographer with a 75-300mm lens on your camera, a tripod, filters, a camera bag, and whatever other gear in your arsenal, you are going to be more of a presence in the street. Taking street photography to that level will require more, let’s say, tact than someone holding an iPhone.
If you’re a photographer with the above mentioned arsenal of gear, and are thinking about getting into street photography, let me give you some tips so you don’t scare away your subjects.
This isn’t Mother Nature
A lot of landscape photographers take photos of landscapes because they feel more comfortable in the fields, mountains, rivers, and lakes than they do on the street with people. Nature has its moments, such as looming storms, but for some, photographing people brings a fear that is hard to overcome. If this describes you, consider that people might just surprise you by making willing subjects. Much like wildlife, it comes down to how you approach them that determines your success. With animals, it’s often better to use a telephoto lens and be at a distance, so as not to invade their space. With people, however, a long, telephoto lens can be intimidating. Try using a portrait lens and get closer.
If you’re nervous photographing people, you’re only going to make them nervous. There’s an art to being nonchalant without being creepy. Part of it is being quick on the draw. For example, if you see some old men playing chess in a park, like the ones above, it’s likely they’ll be engaged in their activity and you have time to prepare your shot. Figure out from a distance where you want to stand depending on backlight and composition. Then set your camera to its likely setting.
If you are used to shooting in aperture or shutter speed priority or manual, then consider those factors before walking over. For example, if you shoot in aperture priority and you know there are going to be other people or distractions behind your subject, you will want a shallow depth of field. Set your aperture to 5.6 or lower before walking over there. This will save you fidgeting time and allow more time for composition and shooting your subject.
Likeability goes a long way in 99.9% of life. You could approach the men playing chess and ask them to photograph them. Offer them your business card or e-mail so you can send them prints later as a thank you. Be candid and open by telling them you’re new to street photography and are building a portfolio.
This approach will give them the chance to trust you and feel more comfortable. The only potential downside is if they feel the camera on them because they knowingly are being photographed, they might fall into “posing” more for the camera than going back to their natural game of chess. It’s up to you to sit back and relax so they follow suit. Don’t start shooting until they go back to playing the game and almost forget you’re there.
When to Zoom
It might be that there’s an obstacle, such as a fence, that would keep you from getting too close physically to your subject, which is when you’ll want to trade out that portrait lens for your telephoto. There will be other times, too, when you will want to keep a distance to capture your subject most effectively.
Whatever the scenario, doing so will still require a level of tact and skill that might take time to develop. Be patient with yourself and patient with your subject. Let it be in its natural setting, such as kids playing hopscotch or on skateboard ramps, and allow yourself to be in the moment. That’s when the best photography happens.
Take Lots of Pictures
While I don’t advise the adage of shooting arrows in the dark, I do advise taking a lot of well thought out images. Once you’ve settled in on a subject, take enough photos that you’ll have a good selection. You might want to consider shifting over to continuous mode and let the pixels fly once you have got your settings down and are zoomed it. If your subject is moving, like a teenager approaching on a skateboard, continuous mode will let you take ample images as the motion ensues.
Day and Night
Street photography is like landscape photography in that lighting will matter, and the best light is always going to be early morning and evening. But, don’t limit yourself to those hours. Night photography on a street can be compelling, as can middle of the day. At night you have the cafes and stores lit up. During the day, there might be couples enjoying lunch on a restaurant patio. Just watch for too many shadows, as you most likely won’t be using a fill flash for street photography. Note: I wouldn’t rule that option out, however. If someone agrees to being photographed, ask if they mind the flash.
For the people that you converse with, follow up and send them the pictures you took of them. If you got their e-mail, send them a JPG of the image. If they gave you an address, send a print. It sends a good message and those types of interactions help to encourage you to continue onto the next street. And they might even contact you asking you to take more photos of them!
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