“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” — Elliott Erwitt
As a photographer, I consider myself something of a jack of all trades; fashion, travel, lifestyle, street, food — if you can name it, I’ve probably shot it. In fact, some of my best work has come from snapping stills of life, without the intention of using them for a project, paid gig or social media post — taking photographs has been and always will be second nature to me. Though what most do not realize about photography is that it is a depiction of history; in fact, street photography at its core is to observe and capture society. If you’re a photographer — enthusiast, hobbyist or professional — here’s some tips you need to know to get your next emotional, impactful shot.
The Closer the Better
I have to admit, the street photographers of today have nothing on our
predecessors. If you do one simple search for “street film photography” an abundance of images will appear showcasing life back to as early as the 1800s. In truth, what they had is something that cannot be captured today — the beginnings of a revolution. In fact, photography was unknown and not yet understood by the common man — as many cameras were only owned by elites who could afford the equipment. Yet, over time the process of photography grew, cameras became more accessible and transformed into a way of documentation — a beginnings of capturing the human experience at its core.
In the early times, getting close to your subject was easy. People were in awe and amazed by a camera that not many objected to being photographed. Cameras weren’t incredibly loud, so when shooting in metropolitan streets sounds were hushed by the racket of the world. And since the concept of privacy was not truly established and there was no means of global sharing — an image belonged only to a photographer and whomever they showed a physical copy. Either way, things have changed with our social saturation and getting close to your subject can appear impossible when discomfort seems to be the norm.
If closer is better though, how do we achieve this? Since, I’m not a fan of zoom lens for portraits — personal preference — I would recommend shooting with a fixed focal length such as a 50 mm. As you walk, get as close to your subject as you can and play it cool — in fact that should be the title of this section. Get close and don’t back down! Or hide behind other people and sneak your photo within the breaks of the crowd, this can add a feel of artistry and sneakiness to your portrait. I dare you to get as close as you can to someone and see what they do. You may be surprised by their reaction, whether flattery or irritation — both resulting in a powerfully, emotional image.
Work the Angles
Here’s a trick I’d like you to try and I cannot believe I’m giving this method out on the internet, but I think you’ll have some fun with this:
- Set you camera to an f-stop range of about 2.8–4.2 and adjust ISO and Shutter speed based on your lighting conditions. Also make sure you are in auto focus for these images. While some photographers prefer to shoot manual, using autofocus for street photography will guarantee the sharpness and precision of your shots.
- Place your camera around your neck and allow the camera to hang at a low vantage point.
- Walk through the streets as you would
- When you see something of interest, line yourself up and press the shutter as the camera hangs below — do not lift up to look in the viewfinder!
- Snap, snap and snap some more!
Now, you may not achieve award winning photographs from this method, but some of the results can turn out pretty cool. Based on your height and perspective, you will capture different angles without too much intentional framing. I stand at about 5'1 and a half feet (yes, the half is important) and always come home with images with a low vantage point, which I find to be a fresh take on my surroundings. Try this method and see what you can capture!
Take as Many Images as You Can
Take one photo, then another, then one more and keep shooting until your feet hurt and it’s time to go home — or don’t because sunrise street photography could make for some great images. But, you get my point. Street photography is meant to be an all day experience, because life my friend, moves fast. You could stand on one corner for an entire day and compile an array of images that are each unique and different — you could essentially capture the movement of a moment if you’re quick enough.
Treat street photography like a game and whichever player captures the most images of the day wins. It doesn’t matter if every image is perfect, full of expression or framed with intention — the purpose is to encapsulate a moment of time for your viewer. And don’t be that guy or gal who looks at the images and deletes along the way — that’s cheating and you’re missing out on something great that can be seen with fresh eyes once you’re done shooting.
Look for the Ordinary
The biggest mistake in street photography is spent looking for the extraordinary with such intent that you miss out on the ordinary. The mundane and repetition may seem “boring” but here’s a secret tip — it is where the magic lies. No one intends to act with theatric, interesting intention and if that were the case, we’d all be running around life, flapping our limbs and screaming “Look at me, I’m interesting.” We don’t act as if to be photographed at every second, therefore the reflections of ourselves are real, honest and truthful of the human experience.
When photographing on the street, capture what is interesting and appealing to you. For me, I seek out individuals who are sitting, standing, acting alone, the expressions of young children or people in love — my work is highly focused on people as they expand and move within a space. For others, it may be a new take on industrial neighborhoods, how affluence affects a community, the neighborhood pets causing ruckus in the alleys. In short, shoot your inspiration.
Follow the Movement
The last thing to note is that the movement is where you will find the sweet spot of the street. Although, it should be noted that there is art within silence and desolation — wandering down a side street can always lead to a new discovery. Yet, when capturing what a day looks and feels like, the motion of the streets is where the story lies. Walking, running, skipping, building, driving, dancing, flying — these actions can be discovered on every corner. But don’t stop at the obvious; movement can be captured in the streaming of tears, the wind blowing back your hair or the tying of shoe laces on the hot pavement.
If you’re a photographer (any and all kinds), feel free to drop me a link to your work below. I would love to see your inspiration and visuals of life!