Street Photography is a classic genre of photography that used to encompass mostly black and white images. The contemporary category now includes striking color photography that still primarily focus on random encounters and subjects who don’t know they’re being photographed, but has also broadened to include staged photos, urban landscapes, and don’t always include people. But, if you’re looking for a few tips before taking to the streets with your camera or iPhone, we’ve culled some of our favorites for capturing the best photographs that live on the streets.
There are conflicting schools of thought on asking for permission when embarking on a street photography shoot. Some photographers believe that asking for permission ruins or undermines the random nature of the genre, while others believe it’s respectful to let someone know their photo is being taken. We believe context is key and photographers should use their best judgement when photographing and capturing images of strangers. In some cases, the picture demands the subject not know they are being photographed and in others — when subjects are particularly vulnerable or being used for a specific narrative — it might be best. There is no hard and fast rule and both are just as effective.
Lens and Camera Setting
You gotta know. It may be tempting to use a telephoto lens in order to capture detail from afar, but the result is not only distance from the subject, but from the energy, essence, and spirit of the photo. And the DSLRs are always good choices, but can be big and clunky and not suitable for the snap and go style of street photography. Most successful street photographers use wide-angle lenses and smaller, compact cameras to shoot. This allows you intimacy with the subject and lets you blend into the environment. Vivian Maier was notorious for using a camera at hip-height as not to draw attention to herself while shooting.
Street Photography expert, Paul Bence suggests avoiding zoom since it forces you to a fixed focal length and improves your eye for composition.
Every street photographer discusses this and it’s elemental to a good street photograph. Get close. Ignore the awkwardness, shake off the discomfort, and get into your subject matter. Street Photography is about energy and emotion and it requires you to get in close to capture it.
See The Whole Picture
A lot of new street photographers get caught up in the subject of the photo — typically the person at its center. However, urban landscapes often have incredible backgrounds and juxtapositions that can elevate an ordinary photograph into something truly incredible. Irony, humor, tragedy: these narrative elements are often found in the positioning of a subject within its environment, so don’t forget the background, the light, and what you are trying to capture about the context of your photo.
Shoot What You Know
You don’t have to be traveling through the streets of Hong Kong or in an unfamiliar alley way in a city you don’t know to capture good street photography. Walk your neighborhood, visit your local coffee shop, and start looking for the interesting narratives in your everyday life. This will afford you the benefit of a lot of practice and the joy of uncovering a few hidden gems.
Don’t Obsess Over The Perfect Shot
Out of focus, rushed objects, a crowded frame – be open to what the camera gives you and explore the narrative of your photography as part of the process. You also have the benefit of increasing value in editing, so be open to the imperfect picture. Its beauty might surprise you.