The art of street photography can be an extremely rewarding experience for photographers who are looking to capture the current state of the human condition. Candid street photography has allowed artists to capture the nature of the world and reflect on how society truly acts when it does believe it is being watched. If you’ve begun your venture into the world of street photography and already have a good handling of the basics, here are some tips to take your work to the next level.
Stop Being Afraid of People
The number one issue that fledgling street photographers have with their craft is that they are afraid to approach people. Due to the idea that street photography is a focus on the humanity around us, this can be quite a significant problem. A good portion of learning to overcome your fear is understanding what exactly you are afraid of when it comes to people – do you think they will yell at you? Do you think they will attack you? In practice, I’ve never had anyone react violently or viciously towards my process, but I’ve also never tried to take photographs of someone I believed might be hostile or whipped my camera out in known crime areas of the city.
There are two methods for snapping a photo of someone; one is to ask their permission, and the other is to not ask their permission. Quiet simple, right? Obviously, asking their permission would kill a candid moment, but you can obtain some excellent portraits from the situation. Just last week, I was in a restaurant with my camera when I saw a gentleman in what could only be described as a ‘dapper suit’. I kindly asked him if I could take his picture and was able to get him to stand exactly where I wanted. That photograph now sits on a roll of film next to me, ready to be developed. The worst that could have happened? He could have given me an odd look and said no, then I would have gone on with my day.
When people see your camera, they want to know why you are taking photographs and that your intentions are pure. If you capture a snapshot of someone and they look at you, simply smile back and bow your head – a simple action like this sends positive signals and helps to comfort people who may be wary. If someone asks why you took their photograph, be honest; tell them you loved their hair, the clothing they were wearing, or the way the light was shining on them. If you decide to approach someone for a photograph, be sure to smile and have an air of excitement to your words. The key is to put people at ease.
Your fear of people will take time to overcome. By simply going out on the street and snapping more photographs, you will find yourself becoming more confident. Just remember to smile and be honest with your subjects; they may be wary of the situation, but your entire demeanor will direct the situation. Also, be sure to carry business cards on you, many people want to see their snapshot once it is developed!
Learn to Look for the Moment
Many photographers don’t know what they should be taking photographs of when they go out street shooting. I can’t tell you what to shoot exactly, but I can tell you what I look for when I am out around town. As I walk, I tend to focus on what people are doing and the expressions on their faces. For me, emotion is a large part of street photography; I am trying to capture the joy and hardships of life with my camera. I keep an observant eye to see what the people around me are feeling. A couple smiling together while at a coffee table, a woman collapsed on her knees in stress, or a man lost deep in thought – all ranges of emotion I aim to capture.
You may find that when street shooting, your own interests weave their way into your photos. I have a great joy in shooting photographs of people reading magazines or books. I cannot tell you why these subjects bring me as much joy as they do, but my mind finds them as points of interest. I also personally love to depict people in suits against contrasting environments – maybe a properly trimmed businessman against the poorly maintained tiles of a subway station.
You must find an interest and photograph it yourself. Just remember that you are capturing life around you and that life is made up of emotion – that is the human element.
Learn to Wait for the Moment
In complete contrast to my last tip, you must learn to also wait for the moment and be patient. Unless you are on the streets of a major metropolis, chances are there won’t be a million opportunities walking around. However, you can create your opportunities.
Find an area where the light or background is perfectly as you like it and then just wait. Chances are that someone will walk by the spot you are waiting, and you can snap a picture of them perfectly setup in your ideal scene. If you lucky enough to be in a busy area, you may be able to wait for exactly the perfect subject.
While I was in New York City recently, I saw a rusty old metal garage door aside the sidewalk. I could see, on my left, a man approaching. I raised my camera and framed the metal door. Within seconds, the man walked into my frame, and I snapped the photograph I wanted.
While the world may be full of moments around you, use your eyes to note spots of interest – strong areas of light or simply interesting backdrops, and then wait for your subject to walk into your frame. As the famous saying goes, “let them come to you”.
Take Closeups of People
The majority of street photography today seems to be taken from quite a considerable distance, whether the photographer is using a telephoto lens or simply taking a wide angle shot, no one wants to get close. However, did you know that you can take close-up photographs of people without them even realizing it?
One possible method is to stand close to someone and take a picture of something above them (it can be a tree leaf – get creative). Then, when you are bringing the camera down, you snap their photo. Many people will think that you had taken a picture of something else and then are reviewing the image. Unaware that you are not chimping, but instead continuing to photograph, you can obtain some stunningly up-close images.
Another option is to pretend you are taking a quick panorama and snapping the photograph as you pass the subject. It is important to note that because of your hand’s movement, you will need a relatively fast shutter speed for this trick.
Lastly, an option I had not even considered, but was introduced to me on a Facebook group, is to make use of your camera’s built-in Wi-Fi capabilities. Simply hang the camera around your neck, initiate remote control from your smartphone, and then snap away without people even realizing what you are doing. I can’t speak for all manufacturers and mobile applications, but the iOS app for the Fujifilm X100T allows complete manual control over the unit.
These tips won’t always work, but can be an excellent way to try and get that close-up photograph you want.
Acknowledge that Street Photography is Not Perfect
Lastly, you must begin to acknowledge that not all street photography is perfect. While many other forms of photography allow you to setup the ideal composition ahead of time, sometimes the candid moment you are seeking has to be decided upon in seconds. As a result, photos may be a tad bit blurred or the focus isn’t 100% spot on – stop worrying.
While you can obtain great results from street shooting, some of your best shots may not be ‘technically’ perfect. Learn to love your work and enjoy what you are doing. You are capturing humanity with a lens.