Street photography is one of the most versatile and challenging genre among all photography genre. There are lots of happening around us all the time. Among all the moments, which one you capture, how you capture, is difficult to choose sometimes. A good photograph needs a well-organized process of thoughts. After Street photography tips series #1, In this article (series #2) I talked about my top 10 street photography tips for aspiring photographers.
1. Choose your camera, lens carefully
Choosing right camera and lenses are the most important issue for every street photographers. There are so many photographers out there who become confused when it comes to choosing the right camera and lenses for go out and shoot the street. I also got confused so many times. Which one should I pick? Big body or small? Wide lens or Telephoto? Zoom or prime? Too confusing right? Trust me, it’s not as tough as it seems. Let me clear your confusion:
In the street, you need to blend with the busy crowd so that no one notices you especially when you shoot. Therefore, surely you don’t want to get noticed and look suspicious to the people around you. It could ruin capturing moment you seek. Even you cannot go close your subject without getting noticed most of the time.
There are many photographers use telephoto lenses (like: 55-250mm, 70-200mm) and shoot candid moment far for the subject. But if you want to get closer to your subject and take the moment closely, big lenses are not a good idea. So, choosing small camera and small lens is the most applied and effective combination among all street photographers.
Besides, as a street photographer you may want to carry your gear always with you, big camera and lenses also cause a problem to carry, rather carrying small camera has this advantage to carry with.
I personally prefer mirrorless cameras. Like Leica, Sony, Fujifilm, Lumix are made pretty good light-weight and small size cameras. And of course 28mm/35mm prime for the street.
2. Using “Zone Focus” will make you fast and quick.
You cannot find any street photographer who does not like to capture candid photos and decisive moment. Street photographers are always in search for candid and decisive moments at the street. And the moment will not stay for long time, so they have to be fast and quick to shoot the perfect decisive moment.
Therefore, though modern camera technology is getting update pretty frequently but, it’s not enough to capture as fast as the moment happen. If you can sometime, you are lucky but, most of the time, you can’t. You pick up the camera, compose the frame, focus the subject, and the moment has gone forever. One thing you can do at that time: regret!
Now, “zone focus” is a technique where you can pre-focus and set you depth of field at specific range of distance with a specific aperture. In generally, you tell the camera to focus everything between a distance ranges at a specific aperture, so that you don’t need to focus anything within that area/zone anymore. There are Apps on both android (Hyperfocal Pro) and iOS (Simple DoF Calculator) platform to easily setup your camera for zone focus. You just need to select your camera model, lens/focal length and aperture value. You can also visit this website (DoFmaster.com) to calculate your range. Here I give you a simple example using dofmaster.com:
In this example I choose Fujifilm X-100 with 28mm focal length at f/11 aperture with subject distance 6 feet, and here I see the range for this setup is 3.9 feet to 12.5 feet (total 8.5 feet). So, if you setup your camera with these settings, everything in between that range will be in focus and I don’t need to worry about focus anymore.
Once you set your camera to zone focus, you can have an extra advantage while shooting street and that is, you can fully concentrate at the moment and composition. You don’t need to think about your camera settings and focus (autofocus still takes some time to lock-on the subject).
Concentrate the moment, pick the camera and Bang!
3. Try unique perspective, low or high
Taking photograph with eye level is sometime boring, though we used to watch that perspective all the time. Although many street photographers out there shoot from eye level and they have done a pretty good job. But, changing perspective could give you a new flavour and feel. There are also many street photographers prefer to take shoot from hip angel or even get low for unique perspective.
By getting low or high, you can make your subject bigger/smaller and you can arrange your frame completely different way that we never used to see and that will be surprising sometimes. So, try to get low, who knows you could find some unexpected and surprising perspective. Get low and have fun
4. Wait for the moment/fishing technique
The most well-known and classic technique among all street photographers. Choose/Select an interesting background and wait for the subject come to your desire position and bang.
What do you do when you go for fishing, you wait and wait for the fish you sat for, sometime you get it quickly, and else you have to wait for long time. Similarly, in this technique you need to be patience to capture the perfect shoot. It may be quick or take longer you think, even you might not the perfect shoot the whole day long.
Your background could be anything interesting, like billboard, street paint, some direction, poster, pattern or even you can try juxtaposition. Once you identify/choose your background, you have to wait for the perfect subject who walks by and you capture the exact point you waited for.
I saw some photographer get over excited, and they frame the shoot which might looks candid but that creates an ethical controversy whether it right or wrong, that’s another topic, we will not discuss here about that.
In this photograph, I was passing the over-bridge and when I look down and saw this direction mark in the road, I stopped and thinking to take a shoot when someone passing the road. I have to wait about a couple of hours to get this shot because the road was busy and I wait until the road get free. I took this photograph with shutter speed 1/20 so that I can get some motion.
The father of street photographer ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson’, waits for hours to get the perfect shot, which he called ‘the decisive moment’. It seems easy but, without having patience, you cannot take the perfect shot. Choose an interesting spot and wait for the right subject to enter the frame is the key of success to many well-known photographers. Its classic, try it…
5. Using Window, Reflection and Shadow will make your photograph more attracting.
Street photographers are always searching and hunting interesting moment while shooting street. It’s not always have to be direct interaction, it could be any way.
Using window, reflection on glass or shadow could make your photograph more attracting and catchy. It may be a reflection from a barber shop, through a glass window, reflection on water, some blizzard shadow with the subject. There are many ways you can alter and make your photograph normal to an interesting photo.
Look at this photo, I took it from reflection through water, instead of capture it directly. It would be easier to understand direct view but it might miss the dramatic cloudy sky and the wave of life’s ups and downs of those day labor which I wanted to capture.
Therefore, a different way can give you different thoughts as well as perspective which is obviously more interesting than normal/direct way. We all sees our life in direct way, try to look different, be different and make different.
6. Experiment with shutter speed
Life is moving very fast. Nowadays, everyone is busy with their life. We look fast, act fast, move fast. That’s normal in this modern century. What if we hold our life a bit and watch moving it slowly?
In a general way, street photographers are preferred to shoot in faster shutter speed like 1/200-1/400 to freeze the moment by preventing any kind of motion and that’s good. But it might become interesting to capture with some motion by slower shutter speed a bit (example: 1/10-1/60). Think about ‘panning’, they look so interesting with motion all the frame except the subject, isn’t it! Creating a motion in the street could also bring you amazing photos. There are also some photographer’s uses tripod in the street to capture long exposure. See, everyone wants to take interesting photograph by experimenting so many different ways. Why not you!
7. Try to add emotion
There are various kind of emotion we express all time. It could be happiness/joy, sadness, surprise, distress, tension, thrill, etc. Incorporating these emotional feel by your subject or composition, you can have a great photograph that will talks.
Can you tell a story without having any emotional perspective? Probably not. If your photograph does not tell any story, the viewer will not watch the photo more than 10-15 seconds. Telling story with a photograph is the key of success of all photograph itself. It could live forever. You can keep the viewer long time in your photograph by emotional attachment.
There are so many photograph that makes you smile, think or even cry. Why is that? It’s the emotional attachment of that photo that connect with your soul and you start feel the content of that photo. The story has been started that moment.
Look at some famous war photo by “Rober Capa”, or ‘Worker’ by “Sebastião Salgado” or even “Henri Cartier-Bresson” works, you can feel the moment and the story jump right in front of you and you can spends hours with their photos.
Also, you can add multiple types of emotion by adding more depth in your photograph with layers which is the next topic of this tips series.
Every picture has emotion whether you know or don’t know yet. You just need to find and use it perfectly with your frame so that your photo can tell the story. Without any story your picture is worthless most of the time. You have to practice more and more to achieve such a talent of telling stories.
8. Create more depth by adding layers
If you want more depth in your photographs, create layers. You can capture multiple stories, multiple moments by creating layers. You know there are always three layers in your photograph (foreground, mid-ground and background), use those layers to create depth in the photo.
Have you ever seen the work of ‘Alex Webb’? The master of complexity. Study his work; you will be amazed for sure. I always admire his work.
9. Look for pattern, texture and leading lines
There are a lot of famous street photographers are using those elements in their photograph to create more punch. It’s interesting if your photograph having a leading line to your subject or there is a pattern in your photograph. Viewers like that kind of photo so quickly because it can be easily understandable and it connects the viewer easily.
You can find leading lines almost everywhere, try to incorporate that line lead to your subject. Leading lines does not need to be always straight, it could also be curve, wavy or any shape direct your subject. While shooting with periodical elements, it creates a pattern, and breaking the pattern will make your image more interesting. Always remember one thing about patterns, unless you break the pattern, it could go to infinity and the viewer might have lost somewhere out of the frame and will never look back, so, break the pattern and hold your viewer in the frame.
10. Most importantly follow your curiosity.
I talked in detail about this topic in my another blog where I wrote about my best 9 learning from the masters. You see, our life runs with curiosity, we see so many new thing everyday around us. Without curiosity we achieve nothing.
In the street, you should always be curious and search the moment that made your day. You don’t need to think too much, just follow your curiosity and shoot whatever you like.
Everyone is unique and different, everyone has their unique way of see the world, to present the world. By following your curiosity and shoot your interest, you actually capture your way of seeing the world and that will make you unique and that will also create your own style.