What is Street Photography?
Let me start by clearing up a common question... Street photography is not photos of streets, although I guess it could be. In essence, street photography is a type of candid photography done in a public place, be it a street, a restaurant or even public transport. It is similar in approach to photojournalism and mostly involves people (and/or animals) in a populated environment (which provides the context of a story told), such as a city. However, street photographers often focus on everyday lives of strangers rather than some kind of important event photojournalists are more interested in. Usually, street photographers try as much as possible to stay unnoticed when photographing. The goal of street photography is to capture scenes unaffected by the author of the work so as to show a natural story and subject. Story and subject are possibly the most important aspects of a good street shot. Henri Cartier-Bresson, arguably the best street photographer of all times, “the father of photojournalism”, had once said: “Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.” I personally love street photography cause you really can't screw it up. It's whatever you want it to be. It's a reflection of whatever you see. Nobody else will have the same street photos as you do.
All of the following pictures were taking during my recent trip to London.
This tip has had the biggest affect on the quality of my photos... at least I think so. Do you treat your street photography as if you are taking a beautiful stroll through the city? There is nothing wrong with this of course, but it is very hard to walk, pay full attention and still capture quality street photos at the same time. You will often find yourself out of position when a moment happens and it is much easier to be noticed when you try to get yourself into position. Finally, people are usually moving in the opposite direction of you and so it can be tough to stop your motion enough to achieve a sharp shot while framing correctly at the same time. All of this takes a lot of coordination to pull off while moving.
The key is to slow down. Make a point to stop every few blocks and wait for a few minutes. See what happens. You want the subjects to come to you and not the other way around. Explore your surroundings in a detailed way and wait for things to unfold around you. You will be surprised at the amount of moments that will occur while you are just standing around. Trust me... you'll think there's nothing or nobody around to take a photos of... just wait a few minutes. Stand in the same spot and wait... stuff will happen.
When I say close, I mean GET CLOSE. Get so close so that when you are taking photos of people on the street that you can see the perspiration dripping from their forehead or the texture of their skin. By using a wide-angle prime lens (as mentioned in the before point), you will be forced to get close to your subjects. The advantage of this is that the wide-angle lens will give you a perspective which makes the viewer of your images feel as if they are a part of the scene, rather than just a voyeur looking in. Not only that, but when you are taking photos really close to people, they often think that you are taking a photo of something behind them. I recommend using either a 24, 28, or 35mm on a full-frame or crop camera.
Shoot some shots without people
Street photography is often wrongly associated with being entirely about photographing people on the streets. Street photography is about people, or more specifically about human nature, but people don’t need to be present in the scene. There are an infinite amount of opportunities out there for epic street photos without people. You just have to look for them. But let’s not confuse a street photograph without people with an urban landscape. An urban landscape is a straight shot of an urban environment, such as a simple shot of the Empire State Building. Street photos on the other hand say something about human nature. They have a message to them.
Check out their eyes
If you want to improve your street photography (or portraiture) by a thousand percent then paying attention to a person’s eyes is the way to do it. People can be so skilled at hiding their emotions on their faces but their eyes will never lie. I see too many street photos with blank stares these days. Search for that hint of emotion in a person’s eyes and it will have a transformative effect on your photography.
In addition, direct eye contact can be extremely important. It creates a powerful connection with the subject. I usually try to avoid being noticed and so I often don’t aim for eye contact but sometimes waiting for a person to look at you is exactly what a photo needs. The photograph will still be candid as long as you capture the subject in the moment that they first look at you and before they are able to react.
ALWAYS carry your camera with you
Like you've never heard me say this before! You have heard this a million times and probably 500 or more from me and you know that you should, but you always seem to find excuses or reasons NOT to always carry your camera with yourself. “It’s too heavy, it’s annoying, it’s a hassle, it’s frustrating.” I’ll tell you what’s frustrating. Missing the perfect photo opportunity (the decisive moment) and regretting it for the rest of your life. I have to admit that is a bit dramatic, but it is true. If you always carry your camera with you, you will never miss those “Kodak moments” which always seem to happen at the most unexpected times. I have taken some of my best images at the most unexpected moments—images that would have been impossible to take if I did not have my camera by my side.
Hopefully this helps you a bit and most of all encourages you to go out and take some street photos. Remember, photography is not done behind the computer screen, but on the streets with a camera in hand. Honestly when it comes down to it, all this obsession over cameras, lenses, and gear doesn’t matter. Grab your DSLR, point-and-shoot, iPhone, or whatever and hit the streets. The beauty of the world awaits you—don’t miss your chance.