Street photography might seem daunting to some, I know quite a few folks that are intensely interested but never make the jump. To rememediate, here’s 10 street photography tips for beginners to get started shooting.
1) Street Photography Doesn’t start in the streets
Before I hit the streets, there’s usually a mode of transportation to get there. That can be a bus, a car, whatever. The thing is, I never assume the shoot starts when I actually reach my destination. I have
my personal driver, I mean wife that drives me on occasion but it’s mainly bus and train. I got this great shot below in the bus to Miami:
Most of my Haiti body of work like below were taken from a car:
Check out Colen’s photos from a car also. The difference between us two is one of security, he had to stay in to be safe, I was tied to my family. The trick is to previsualize, anticipate, shoot at high speeds, lock your Aperture, and click the shutter release a half a second before reaching the scene. It depends on the speed of the car and the speed of operation of the camera.
I point the camera to whatever is interesting, that can be outside or inside the car, bus or train. The image below was shot a few minutes before getting down on the bus:
And this one on the way back:
Granted, if it’s the subway it will be less interesting outside than the bus but inside still has some interest. I have a friend who likes to shoot inside the subway:
There is so much that can be done just with the modes of transportation to the streets. Let’s take the bus for example, there’s photographic opportunities at the bus stop, looking outside at people that are inside the bus, there’s shots to be made inside the bus, there’s also looking outside from the bus….
If you live in a big city like NYC, Philly, LA or other big city, you are in heaven, Public Transportation is where you will find the best characters. Be safe tough, don’t shoot shady characters….or they will make you an offer you can’t refuse. Here’s a great image with my partner Don, the other guy behind our photography magazine.
Get this: We didn’t even hit the Streets yet!
2) Just be open: Street Photography has lots of preconceptions
What is Street Photography? It is an umbrella term, and is more plastic than anyone thinks it is. It’s urbanscapes, portraiture, documentary, etc. I always find it useful to ask “what image comes to mind when you hear the term “Street Photography?” Whatever comes to mind, you either let others define what Street Photography is for you or you define it yourself.
You have to be open to the streets, what comes your way. So forget about Street photography ideas, it’s about you. If it’s a candid then shoot, if it’s an urban-scape, then shoot. Street Photography is where all of the photographic styles like portraiture, candid, etc converge and I believe we should make the most of it.
Street Photography in itself is a very very bad term in my opinion. Garry Winogrand put his finger on the problem by doing a reductio ad absurnum (Taking an argument to it’s logical conclusions) on the term “Street Photography”. If Street Photography is about Photography in the Streets, is his Photography in the Zoo, Zoo Photography?
You can take it further by asking if the images in the first point can be called Car Photography? Bus Photography? Subway Photography? I dislike the term Street Photography because it brings the idea of a narrow style of Photography, while in fact it’s very embracing of many styles. So shooting around the house IS Street Photography……confused? think of it as Life photography instead.
3) Zone out, hone in
We all deal with lots of stuffy stuff. Bills. Job. Coworkers. etc. My list is long, and when I go out to shoot, I got to throw it all away or else I won’t hear what my heart tells me to shoot. Minor White calls it “Meditation”, I call it “Shut up your mind”. Yes, his words are sexier than mine, but there is no confusion in the way I call it (Eastern meditation? Materialistic meditation?).
I personally recommend listening to music, it gives my mind something to chew on. So instead on focusing on all that’s going on in my life, it focuses on what’s playing, and at some point, I will forget about the music and be able to focus on photography. Plus music makes you feel surreal, in your own world, floating in the streets.
Whatever works for you, when in the Streets you have to listen to your heart when it says “HERE!!! Shoot” and actually do it. If not at some point you will be so used to ignoring it that you won’t hear it anymore. When you shut up your mind to all the stuff that’s going on in your life, you allow it to focus on what’s important in the moment: Photography.
4) Best Street Photography tip: Get closer*
If your work is not good enough, you are not close enough. This is many Street photographer’s creed. It’s been completely misunderstood. Being Physically close to your subjects won’t do anything, besides creating an interesting point of view that is. What he meant was, be close to your work. Be connected with it. Know what you are doing. Just think about it, look at Capa’s pictures, how CL O S E was he? Not that close right?
So either he didn’t know what he was saying, or he knew and it was misunderstood. Get close to your Street Photography, put your heart into what you are doing, care about what you are doing. If your pictures are not good enough, you are not connected enough to your work. That is the best street photography tip ever. Get close to your own photography, be connected with it and it will be better.
5) Respect your subjects
Don’t do unto others what you don’t want to be done to you. It’s called the Golden Rule (it’s actually not, it’s the Silver rule…but that’s for another time) and I think it applies in Street Photography. Forget Photography, it’s common decency, human to human relationship.
Some Street Photographers are downright rude, and the worst part is they wouldn’t like to be treated the same. Call it personal policy: I will not infringe on another’s personal space for a picture. It’s disrespectful of others, I might win a photo, but loose as a human being, fail too many times as a human being, and you’ve failed in life.
Respect your subjects, they are not just a part of your picture, they are also people that must be respected. Don’t push other’s buttons by cramming your camera in their faces, you might get close, but you just got further as a human being. I used to do that, I mean someone talking on the phone and WHAM!!! 10 inches In YO FACE!!!!! Let me tell you, after taking the picture, I was not like “Yipppee!! I got a picture!!!”, it was more like “Olivier, you are an @**hole”. I want to be a great photographer, but without sacrificing common decency.
When it comes to flash, I think Bresson gets it right in an interview: “It’s like shooting a gun at a concert, it’s the brutality”. I occasionally use my Ricoh GRD IV’s flash in the streets, but never in a disturbing way. Bresson gives the example of photographers cramming the flash right under the subjects nose when ready to take a photograph.
He talks about respect for reality, the light, what we see. I’m personally not that obsessed with reality, but I think we must also respect our subjects when it comes to flash. Ever had a speed-light fired in front of you? Try it. It’s not fun. If you wouldn’t want someone to do that to you, why do it to others?
6) Fear is in your head
I have a detailed explanation on fear and Street Photography here. Fear is good, it helps you run when you have to. If you didn’t fear while zombies run towards you to eat you…you’d be zombie meat!!! It’s there to protect you, it’s your built-in safety mechanism to make your run when you have to.
Fear is good. Irrational fear is bad. Irrational fear is fear that gets out of proportion to the point of being paralyzed. Do you know that some people never get out of their homes because they fear an asteroid killing them? What to understand about fear is what are the odds of a fear realizing itself?
I can safely say that all of my past fears never came to pass. Fear feeds on itself, so once you start to fear it will tear you apart. The person that is afraid of Asteroid will also be afraid of cars, buses, eventually other people (they might be a psycho killer!!!) etc. Faith is the opposite of fear, and they are both mutually exclusive muscles.
If you fear doing street photography, all it takes is one step in the direction of faith to conquer it. It all goes downhill from there (in a good way), you will fear less and less until it stops. I used to be so shy, so fearful, I couldn’t look at my own brother (didn’t grow up with him tough but still) in the eyes!
Read the full article, but in a nutshell, you have to acknowledge the fear, and choose to do it anyways. You have to show fear who the boss is. It’s either fear (you won’t go out to shoot) or yourself (You go out to shoot anyways). The more you show fear who the boss is, the more it will let you be the boss and not annoy you as much.
As time goes on, you will realize that your fears were very irrational and that fear is a choice beyond the original impulse. Plus if you follow the tip above on respecting others, there is really nothing to fear. People are usually glad to have their pictures taken, it stokes the ego. I was in a subway once and I noticed in the corner of my eye that a guy was drawing me!!! Felt so good that I kinda always turned my head so that the person could draw me. It’s the same effect when you take pictures…..strokes the ego.
7) Go out light
My main kit for anything personal photography is made with a compact, pocket camera. I used to be a huge gear head and all I can say now is that less is more. Before I had my Nikon D80, Kata sling bag, a few lenses, all sorts of gadgets (Epson p5000!!!), I always had to worry where to put that bag, always have it in a safe place, and felt out of place when I dragged it in restaurants.
I’m much happier now that I shoot with a premium compact. I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I had that kit, every time I had to shoot, it felt like work. I had to prep the bag and all to go shooting :/ Batteries, lenses, P5000, P5000 battery, caps, filters…….
Simplicity is the key I believe, the less stuff you have between you and the Streets the better it is. Plus you will have limitation creativity (the idea that humans are more creative when restricted) on your side. One side effect of going out light, it’s that you won’t look like a photographer. People are instinctively aware of the camera, if something looks like an inoffensive toy, they won’t care as much they would a guy with a telephoto.
Also If you shoot DSLRs… the big ones can put some strain on your wrists, so be careful. The usual lens for street photography is usually 28mm, 35mm, but again it’s preconceptions 🙂
8) You are also part of the Streets: Make Self portraits
The Streets…it’s where everybody is, but it’s where you forget you are also part of the Streets. They provide ample opportunities for Self portraits because you are also a subject. Look out for Shadows, reflections, refractions, and the like.
Your photography is how you see the world, and that includes yourself……Self Portraits is the way you see yourself, or the way you think others see you amongst other things….
9) Finding yourself in the streets
Finding yourself, doesn’t that mean self portraits? Nopes. Photography is much about the outside world that it is you. It’s how YOU see the outside world, so your personality is all over the pictures by how, why, what you frame or choose to exclude. Remember to shut your mind and open your heart? Your heart is who you truly are, and the Streets is where your heart is laid bare for introspection. When you are in the Streets it’s THE time to ask yourself some hard hitting questions:
– What is it about Street that makes me enjoy it so much?
– What catches my eye? Geometry? People? Why?
– Why do I keep shooting the same subject?
– Why is it about shooting a certain way that attracts me?
– What is it about taking pictures of people?
When I’m out in the streets, I ain’t husband, photographer, blogger, whatever, it’s Olivier, and Olivier has to deal with his heart. Finding yourself is the way to truly get close to your work. But only you can answer the questions above for yourself.
Like Capa said, you have to be in tune with what you are doing, and you do that by knowing why you do things. What are you looking for in Street Photography? You’ll find the answer inside. Don’t strive so much as to make pictures from the outside, but from the inside….. It’s where the magic happens. At the end of the day, street photography is about finding yourself and finding your own voice.
10) Not everyday is a good day
Imagine streaming water with some little gold nuggets floating in it from time to time. That’s photography. Sometimes you come at the right time with your net when a gold nugget happens to flow through the streaming water. You might get one or many more gold nuggeta. But sometimes, nothing happens, no amazing OMG shots, just some ok shots.
Well that happens, especially when you go out thinking it’s going to be a productive day. That happens to me but that’s not a reason to stop shooting. Sometimes I think I’m fooling myself being in the streets with my camera, that’s how bad it gets, but I don’t let it get to me. The Day might be bad, but there is other days to shoot. The way I see things, if today is a bad day photographically speaking, it’s the perfect training day for tomorrow’s pictures.
11) Post Processing happens before making the image
When out in the Streets, I know exactly how the picture is going to look like before even taking the picture. Film photographers got used to a certain film, I’m used to presets. I’m so used to a preset called 8th Street that I can see it when previzualizing, and I can even compensate for it. I know how it handles highlights and shadows so I shoot with it, even if it’s in my mind only. I can only recommend to stick to a certain type post processing because once it’s part of your workflow, it will start being part of your eye. It’s like being a painter and being used to your paints, you know how they mix, how they look like with more or less water, etc.
12) Happy accidents are ok
Sometimes the surprise you get as a photographer does not happen in the Streets but in the computer or darkroom. Sometimes you get a gem of a shot, and you are even amazed that you got it. That’s called a happy accident. I love them, I used to get them as early as my Graphic Design days.
But when I picked up photography I used to feel like a cheat when I got a great shot pretty much by chance. But imagine my surprise when I learned that many great shots were in fact happy accidents.
Take this one from Henri Cartier Bresson for Example:
It’s one of his most well known yet it was pure luck. He couldn’t even see the man jumping, he put his camera through the cracks and he pressed the shutter. “It’s always luck” Bresson said. Ironic, no? It’s the image associated with the decisive moment, even he felt uncomfortable when they started analyzing this shot, how the foreground also contains jumping figure and so on…..
But the point remains the same: In Street Photography, sometimes you get lucky. Just like a good partner, you don’t ask how come you got so lucky, you simply appreciate. Happy Accidents are ok, even iconic ones.
13) Complacency is your enemy
If it rhymes it must be true! But more seriously tough, Complacency is very easy in Street Photography, especially if you are used to the same place over and over again. If things don’t challenge you from the outside because it’s not new, it’s time to look harder even more. I think that Complacency, just like appreciation is not a product of external factors but of inside mentality.
I make it a point, especially when I go out to a familiar place, to throw out any preconceptions I have of the place and throw it out to see the place afresh. It’s not the same place, might be the same physically, but not the same because the people are different. It’s human to become complacent, just think of your camera. When you first got it, it was ecstasy, but a month down the road you are already used to it. The Streets can get boring if it’s the same place, but I always challenge myself to keep finding new ways to enjoy shooting there.
14) Beware of distractions
Do you know Winogrand? Bresson? Kertesz? Good. Let them be them and let’s focus on being ourselves. I’ve found out that there is nothing more detrimental to one’s own Vision than shooting another person’s Vision. Remember that the streets is where you find yourself, your own Vision, and it’s not about doing what everybody else does….It’s about doing things and seeing things your own way.
As much as the Master Photographers are great, I believe too much time is spent looking at what they did instead of what we ourselves are doing right now. Being yourself means truly shooting your heart out, not trying to please anybody but yourself.
I hope you are now more confident in shooting street photography with these tips. The short version of the whole article is: Be yourself, Stay focused, and keep on shooting….
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