Street Photography! This is some exciting stuff. Many of you are totally oblivious to photography and the wonderful community of photographers. Never mind, this article just might capture your attention towards this awesome genre of photo making. For those who are already familiar with this art form, I hope that you will enjoy reading this post.
As the title suggests, street photography is all about capturing life on the street. We, as photographers take up the mantle to capture the most obvious and visible scenes in our surrounding. I’m sure you have many questions like Why do we do this stuff? What is so important about it? and likewise. So, in this article, we are going to deal with such intriguing questions and in the end, there will be nice little tips to help you on your way to becoming a Street Photographer.
What is Street Photography?
So, let’s start with the most basic question – What is Street Photography? and the answer is, there is no fixed definition, set of rules nor any boundaries on what can be called as street and what not (barring a few ones which I’ll be discussing shortly). The point is, it is the most flexible, pictorial and one of the toughest genres to pursue. Not that the other genres are easy, it is just that the intricacies of the street like interacting with people, their behavior towards cameras, lighting, and expertise of your gear, makes street photography somewhat complex.
I am a street photographer and have been practicing it for the past few years but in no way, I consider myself an expert of this art. I don’t think anyone should call themselves a street photography expert because you always learn something new, witness something new on the street. Every time you go for a walk for a shoot, you come back with something delightful and full of life, something which only you have captured with your camera. This process of learning and exploring takes an entire lifetime. I hope you understand my point.
As for the boundaries of street photography, let me explain them in detail. I wouldn’t call them boundaries as much as limitations set by people on themselves. The first is – Candid shots. In this era of fake candids, people often merge this concept with street photography. Candid means un-posed and I prefer them over the staged ones. People often portray staged shots as street photography which is not the best practice. Though the shots come out to be very appealing, they do not represent reality. It is unnatural, often morphed. We don’t want that! Nobody wants to be lied to, isn’t it? In the same way, it is immoral (at least for me) to twist the reality. There are times when talking to people and making them comfortable with the idea of photography is okay! But asking them explicitly what to do and what not is certainly not what street photography is about.
Another thing which people don’t realize is that these images are not to be morphed. The core idea of street photography is to portray reality. If you play around with morphing, digital illustrations, digital painting, etc, you will end up with something that is called fantasy. Morphing and digital art is a completely different stream and one should never smudge this border. Let me give you an example, look at this image below. One can easily make out that it is not real. The sky never looks this way, does it?
Street photography has always provided me with a sense of fulfillment. I’ve had countless encounters with amazing people living inconspicuously among us. It opens your eyes and forces you to believe that what we see is not always the truth. It allows you to talk to people, interact with them, know their culture and most importantly you realize that every shot you take is a story and it’s up to the viewers to come up with their own.
Anyways, the big question is Why do we do this or Why does this branch exist? The simplest answer to this is to show the people, a reflection of our society, the place where we live in. Today’s life has become a rollercoaster, full of speed and ups and downs. In this so-called era of modern times, we don’t stop and bother to look around, to see how beauty can be found even in the tiniest of things. Different people have different reasons- to some, it is a way to portray the society, to some it brings joy and for some, it’s a matter of responsibility, a debt to future generations to preserve the street thriving with life.
Street photography does not demand a lot of gear. You can easily make do with a single camera body and just a couple of lenses! This is one of the main reasons why beginners are so attracted to this form of art. I have seen many people using street photography as a stepping stone and moving onward to explore new genres. But well, from my experience I can list out some guidelines for you all. So here are a few things which you must keep in mind before choosing your gear for the shoot.
The camera is obviously the most important tool here and if you are using a point and shoot, then well you are kinda set. But if not, then continue reading this paragraph. See, the important point is that street photography has to be done on the street which is full of people. So how would you like if a photographer points a big bulky camera at you in the middle of the crowd? Wouldn’t it be awkward? Of course, it will be. My point is you have to be inconspicuous in the crowd. How can you do that? Take a smaller body with you on the shoot – If you are to buy a new camera go for the mirrorless series. They are small, light and powerful. The Sony Alpha series is definitely worth looking into. Not that DSLRs are no good but it is better to have a smaller camera.
Instead of taking your entire arsenal, take one or maybe two lenses with you only. This again relates to the above-mentioned point that the more you attract attention the harder your work is gonna get. Also, you don’t need a superzoom or anything above 140mm because you need to be flexible, so having wide-angle lenses definitely helps. My advice is to keep your focal length in between 18mm or lower to 105 or 140mm. Nikon produces the 18-105 and 18-140mm both. Canon makes an equivalent 18-135mm. They are fantastic pieces of glass and should be enough for your daily photographic needs.
Note: If you want to learn to compose take a prime (35mm or 50mm) only and go shooting with just that lens. The lack of ability to zoom will teach you to manually move back and forth and a lot about elements and their placement.
Well, honestly you won’t be using a tripod much in this field of work because you are constantly on the move and you won’t have enough time to set up a tripod and capture a moment. A tripod only comes in handy when it is almost dark on the streets or if you wanna try out something creative like headlight trails or something to do with low light. But it never hurts to carry a Gorillapod. They are light and can easily fit in your bag. Here is a detailed review of the Joby Gorillapod.
Well, that’s all I can tell you about choosing gear for street photography. It is not rocket science and if you have ever done street photography before you will surely be able to relate with them. Next up I am gonna talk about some really nice tips which are easy but will require patience and continued practice from your end. So here are my top 5 tips for budding street photographers.
1. Setting the Exposure
Street photography requires you to be very precise and fast when it comes it operating the camera. One must be extremely familiar with all the menus, buttons and dials on the cameras. This is because you will be working in varied lighting conditions and good knowledge of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is necessary.
Most people are not comfortable in using the manual mode because the chances of making a mistake while setting the exposure and missing a shot are maximum here. You can start with the shutter priority mode and shoot for a few days. Then once you are accustomed to the various effects of using different shutter speeds, you can switch to aperture priority mode. Take one mode at a time and master it, that’s how you will understand exposure. Manual mode requires lots of practice but once you are comfortable with it you will realize that you can be more creative with your shots.
2. Approaching People
Approaching people is an art and you cannot master it overnight. Sure, if you are good with communicating
with people this will be easy for you. Here the goal is not to scare people or leave them puzzled but to make them feel comfortable around you. Mind you these people are complete strangers and possibly possess a different mindset than you. You have to be open-minded while approaching them.
Once you are successful in doing so, they won’t mind you shooting around. If you interact with a group of children before shooting them playing or doing stuff, you are more likely to have better and natural-looking pictures than you would have otherwise. This is just an example but I hope you get my point.
3. Composition and Framing
Composition and framing your shot are essential parts of making a picture aside from the technical aspects like exposure. They can literally make or break a picture and one needs to put in a lot of time and practice is mastering those. The best way to learn how to compose is to study the works of distinguished people. There are many good photographers in each genre. Google them up or join photography groups on Facebook, ask people for feedback and try work on them. That’s how you learn. I personally enjoy pictures of Mr. Steve McCurry, Ansel Adams, Sudhir Shivaram and many more.
Remember you have to study them, the placement of elements in their photos, the exposure, the foreground and background and most importantly the implementation of compositional rules. Yes, there are many rules which one must keep in mind before making a picture. Here is a page that gives in-depth information about these rules (Click here).
4. Wait for the Right Moment
Impatience – There’s no place for it in street photography. But most people fail to realize that. If you have identified the perfect setting of your shot. If all the elements fit into place, the lighting is perfect, your camera is ready for that click of a button that will make a mind-blowing image and you are waiting for that perfect subject to arrive in the frame and complete the shot, then you must have the patience to wait long enough.
Wonders can happen if you wait for that opportune moment but remember that it happens only if you are patient enough to stay in the same position as a sniper. Stick your gun to your eye, take a deep breath and hold. Believe me this trick works and you won’t regret the pain and time. Many times, it so happens that the moment doesn’t happen, something goes wrong, don’t worry it happens with even the best photographers in the world. That’s just bad luck and nothing else. Keep clicking!
5. Respect People and their Privacy
This is by far the most important tip and you should always keep this in mind whenever you are shooting people. There are times when people just don’t want someone shoots their pictures, its completely natural and you as a photographer must not persist. No means a no!
There is no chivalry in shooting a person if you are infringing their privacy. Always respect people and their consent. There are times when people get aggressive but that’s okay, maybe that’s their nature, your job is to move aside and continue your job with a new subject. This lady here was kind enough to have a talk with us. She resisted anyone taking here photograph but once we talked, she became more comfortable. Had she persisted on not clicking any photographs, I wouldn’t have done it. But here’s the result. Always remember: Communication is the Key!
Phew, that was a long read and I believe you have a question in your mind – “How the heck am I going to do so much (changing camera settings, composing, following rules, etc) when I just have a moment to shoot?” I know it sounds intimidating but that’s what it is. It takes years of practice to understand the nuances of street photography but eventually you become habitual with all the concepts and then you begin composing and shooting naturally. That becomes your style!
Well, guys, there you have it that’s my take on How to do Street Photography. I hope you enjoyed reading and learned something. If you have any questions or doubts, questions, comments or feedback, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I’ll be more than happy to answer them.