STREET PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE

Part 2: The revenge

5. Getting rid of fear


Fear is most likely the number 1 factor that keeps people for doing street photography. So if you are afraid of even getting you feet wet, you are not alone and I was in the same spot as you. Heck, I was so afraid, so shy of people I couldn't even look at my own brother in the eyes!

 

But being afraid doesn't mean there is reason to be…remember Fear means FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL. Here's something that happened to me…so here I was chilling in my room, and because the window was opened….a huge, black, six-legged monsters appeared. Well ok, I'm probably the monster in this story because I am talking about a cockroach but still. Look, I HATE cockroaches and I was afraid of it, there I said it, I was afraid.

 

But then something happened, I realized how foolish it was for something that is probably 500 times bigger than a cockroach to be afraid of it. So I just killed it and laughed at myself. Many people fear not so much street photography but fear pointing their camera at people. While people are not cockroaches, what you will realize is that people are cooler than you'd expect.

 

And the kicker is that you may end up enjoying it. I couldn't stand the taste of bell peppers as a kid, I would barf, now I eat them stuffed like there is no tomorrow! Likewise just because you are afraid to point your camera at people now doesn't mean you won't enjoy it later!

B. Exposure therapy

I conquered my fear of cockroaches and people by going cold turkey, but there is a more gentle way to go at it. Exposure therapy should help plenty, the premise is, the more you are exposed to the thing you fear, the less you will fear it (because you will eventually realize there is no reason to fear it in the first place). Kids who were dead afraid of dogs ended up playing with them trough this type of therapy. So if you fear street photography, here's 3 steps for you designed to getting rid of your fear of street photography by proving that there is nothing to fear from people:

 

 Step 1

Go out without your camera, go in the streets and from time to time, say Hi to someone, wave or nod approvingly all with a smile.

 

 Step 2

When you get comfortable with this, do the same again, but this time with your camera in your hand but do not make any shots even if you want to.

 

Step 3

When you are comfortable with this, you can finally start making images, but still, smile, nod and wave afterward.

 

The funny thing is, once you see that people are cool (1), and that most people are cool with the camera (2) you'll WANT to shoot by step 3. Inside absolutely everyone's heart is one thing and one thing only: The longing to matter. It drives everything we do. Take everyone you see in the streets and what do you do when you say hi? You tell that person, hey I notice YOU.

 

You can Literally alter someone's day by saying Hi with a smile. The science behind it is that it fires mirror neurons, we smile when we are smiled at, we mirror what we see! Now imagine that person was having a random day, you've just brightened it with a smile. The camera does essentially the same thing: it acknowledges people.

 

In the movie One hour photo, Robin Williams gives voice to the people in a photograph, he says:

“And if these pictures have anything important to say to future generations, it's this: I was here. I existed. I was young, I was happy, and someone cared enough about me in this world to take my picture.”

This is by far the best way I have ever seen put it. By making pictures of strangers, you make people feel special. Give yourself time, your heart rate will go up when you this for the first time, but you will come to a time where it will become second nature, remember the brain adapts quickly.

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C. Making vs taking images

The people around you reflect you in a weird way. Be negative and people are negative, be positive and people are positive. Not only because of mirror neurons, but also because negativity breathes negativity and positivity breathes positivity.

 

In other words, the way you are in the streets will determine how the streets respond to you. How would you feel if someone that reeks shadiness takes your portrait? You intuitively do not trust that person and you are immediately negative. Inversely what if someone if highly likable, smiley and rose his camera to make a shot of you. You'd wonder why for a second but you are still cool and even flattered that they would do such a thing, no?

 

Now being likeable and smiley are EXTERNAL factors, but it's what inside you that genuinely determines how you will act, you can only fake it so much. What you think determines you actions. What makes a person shady or confident is simply how they view what they are doing in the streets. If they think they are there to take pictures, to steal in other words they will act as thieves would. But if their intent is to make images, they know what they are doing is not merely taking images but making images, the posture and action changes.

 

So you can be a photographer that takes or a person that makes. The way you see yourself will determine how you act and how you act will determine the streets will react to you. How do YOU see yourself in the streets?

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5. An understanding of Street Photography


Street Photography being such a broad genre, I wrote many articles with tips, way too many to list here, check the bottom of this section for those. But I only had 5 minutes to give the best tip, it would be this.

 

Photography is essentially a transfer of feeling. It's a transfer between the streets and you, the image you make and the person looking at it. A successful image then is your inner response to what is in front of your lens, and being able to transfer that onto an image that is able to produce that same feeling into a viewer.

 

Sorry for the fancy schmancy wording, it's the best words I could find, but here's what I mean: So you're in the streets, focus on what you are Seeing, observe, look at everything. Something will produce an inner feeling inside of you, you make the image. The image has the potential bit it's not there yet, it's your raw material. You go home and fire up the computer, you bring the image to what you felt when you shot it, then you show it off to others in order to feel the same way you did.

 

So, yes I firmly believe that photographers deal mainly in feelings, they are there to replicate into others what they felt trough the medium of images. So it's not really about the images as images you see, it's about how you felt when you shot it. The more you that are in the images, the better they are.

 

Transferring a state of feeling is not easy tough, it has 3 legs it stands on, a photograph has 3 elements: The compositional, the emotional and the technical. Seek all 3 in the images you make, it's the Eye, the Heart and the Mind. Yeah, that's the motto of Inspired Eye, now you know why, the site seeks to develop all 3 aspects of the photographer.

 

If you've ever seen an image that is for all intents pretty nice but doesn't move you, it's missing some heart. If you've ever seen an image that is nice but has bothersome details like blown highlights, it's missing the technical aspect. Lastly, if you've ever seen an image that is emotional but doesn't quite cut it because there's not enough emphasis, it's lacking composition. Onto the menu of street photography tips:

 

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6. Street Photography settings


A. A matter of focus

With every single new camera released, it seems AF (Autofocus) gets closer and closer to being almost instantaneous. Certain cameras are so good in focusing automatically, you really do not need to know what I am about to say about focusing, if AF works for you go ahead! But if you've always found your shots blurry because you missed your focus, read on. Please note it's quite a bit technical, and cannot be any other way, so see the Photography basics if it's not too clear for you.

 

But ever wondered how those of the MF (Manual Focus) days did it? Well they had something even faster than autofocus, pre focusing. I mean what's faster than autofocus than simply not focusing at all?

 

Basically what they did, and many street photographers still do, is set up their camera so that a certain part of the imageis always in focus, so that all they need to worry about is the subject(s) to be within that area and they will be in focus. (Click here for an explanation of aperture).

 

Now since your area that is in focus gets greater and greater as you close down your lens (higher fstop number), most shots are made with apertures from about f8 on.

 

B. Hyperfocal distance

Sounds like spaceship engineering but it isn't: Hyperfocal distance is the distance that, if you focus on it, everything between half that distance to infinity will be acceptably sharp. (To optics nazis who don't like my explanation: Bite me!). That distance is not always the same, it depends on sensor size, focal length, etc.

 

That's pretty much it for that explanation, I personally can't stand the science behind photography too much, makes my head spin, so it's Illustration time!

3 things should pop to mind when looking at this: First of all, it's a pretty darn cool illustration (yep, love me some pixel art!), second this guy probably needs to get off the streets, a car is coming! and finally third….how do I know the distance that is the hyperfocal one?

 

Well that's where you head to Depth of Field master, put in your numbers and camera and it will crunch it for you. There's also some nice apps for Android and iOS that do that too! In depth of field master, put in your camera model but be warned, it does NOT know the focal length of the camera if it has a fixed lens.

 

Put in an aperture, use the actual focal length (for cropped sensors) forget about subject distance (we are looking for the hyperfocal, remember?) and look at the left:

 

The alternative approach is to check out these settings, they are a bit cookie cutter (same circle of confusion for cameras) but so far have not failed me.

 28mm

1/1.7 sensor @f5.6: 1 meter

mu 43 sensor @f5.6: 9.4 meters

APSC sensor@f5.6: 7.4 meters

Fullframe @f5.6: 4.9 meters

1/1.7 sensor @f8: 0.76 meters

mu 43 sensor @f8: 6.6 meters

APSC sensor@f8: 5.5 meters

Fullframe @f8: 3.4

 35mm

mu 43 sensor @f5.6: 14.6 meters

APSC sensor@f5.6: 11.5 meters

Fullframe @f5.6: 7.6 meters

mu 43 sensor @f8: 10.2 meters

APSC sensor@f8: 8.5 meters

Fullframe @f8: 5.3 meters


Or lastly….you can always focus at say 1 meter or 2 meters and make test shots from 5.6 on and see what aperture you are ok with. It's completely unscientific but I use it all the time. I just make sure I test beforehand.

 

But now that you know what the distance you should focus on, doesn't mean you know where it is, this is where digital fails us. Most modern cameras and lenses do not have a distance scale (those distance markings on a lens) nor do they even have a digital one (in camera schematic telling you that you are focused at X distance).

 

C. Knowing the distance you are focused at

So what's someone to do? Here's what my partner Don does and I'm passing it on to you, it's brilliant. Search your phone for a distance measuring app on your iPhone or Android.

 

Download the app and simply stay in front of a street sign or something and calculate the distance from you and the object. Go closer or further depending on what your settings are. So if you need to be at 1 meter, go back and forth until the app says that you are at that distance. When you hit the distance you are supposed to be in, take your camera and focus on the object, congrats you are in hyperfocal!

D. Zone focusing

Alternatively to hyperfocal you can use zone focusing, so instead of maximizing your depth of field, you focus only on certain predetermined broad zones, say from 1meter to 20meter or from 20 meter to infinity. As you encounter different situations, you focus on the different zones. The zones are entirely up to you and your shooting style.

 

This kind of focusing is useful when you can't use too small apertures for hyperfocal (say when the light is dropping) but it's better if your lens has the markings to indicate your zone of focus, because if it doesn't or you camera doesn't have a digital scale like below….well you have no idea what your distances are!

E. Pray focusing

It just so happens while you where changing your lens or whatever reason an image just appeared in front of you. Time for prayer focusing. Here's how it goes:

  • #@$@%%!! Please G_d let me make this shot, pleeease
  • (Make a few shots) Please please please lemme get this shot
  • Look at the screen for (un) answered prayer

And no I am not joking, prayer focusing works sometimes. It's better to try to get the shot than let it get away.

While you are trying to make the shot, you can also bracket the focus, say making 3-4 shots with varying focus hoping to land on the subject.

F. Focus peaking

If I know my settings, I would use Hyperfocal, but sometimes I have a camera and I have no idea what the settings are. Right now for example I have a camera that has a zoom lens and not only there is no way to know what distance I am focused on, I do not know the settings for the long zoom range.

So what I do is I turn on focus peaking (most modern cameras have this). I crouch on the ground and focus on the ground and play around with my aperture and focus until I see most of the ground as far as I can see is sharp. I then stand up, make a test shot, rinse and repeat until satisfied.

G. Shutter speed consideration

In normal, relaxed settings, you can probably make a nice shot handheld at 1/30th of a second and have the stuff in the image sharp. But in street photography where not only things in the frames but most likely you are moving, I'd keep around 1/125th of a second.

H. Flash street photography

Flash street photography can be done both in daylight and at night. Whatever the time, it creates a nice effect because if you select a high enough shutter speed your background will darken while your subject will pop out because of the flash. It's too long to explain about flashes here but read on these articles to get all you need to know.

 

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How to do flash street photography