How to Photograph Street Scenes
[S]TREET PHOTOGRAPHY IS THE ART OF PHOTOGRAPHICALLY DOCUMENTING EVENTS as they unfold in public places. Its subjects are people, most often strangers, who are photographed without their knowledge or participation. But the photographs do not necessarily have to be pictures of people.
The public places where the subjects are photographed are usually street locations. Yet they do not necessarily have to be streets, nor the photography be done on the street always.
It can be shot anywhere, as long as it is open to the public to enter and leave as they please. Therefore, it cannot truly be done in a private place, such as a person’s home but can be done in such a public place as a hotel or office lobby
It is not so much about people and streets, as it is about the style of the photograph. As a street photographer, you take photographs of what you see in public places as coming to life before your camera. What you see must be meaningful to you, and must move you, as well as the viewer.
STREET PHOTOGRAPHY MUST TELL A STORY
Most importantly, your street photograph must tell a story. Consider the elements that go into your picture. What kind of story is it telling? Whether you are shooting on the street or in a park or in the mall, it is basically just telling a story.
STREET PHOTOGRAPHY IS CANDID PHOTOGRAPHY
Photographing street scenes often relies on the candid quality of images of people, caught unaware by the camera. While photojournalism often set out to tell a story in images for submission to the press, candid street photography simply captures people living an event in the most sincere way. It encapsulates the true emotions of an event more powerfully than posed photography can.
The photographs in the following video illustrate the meaning of this concept.
REASONS WHY YOU MAY WANT TO PHOTOGRAPH ON THE STREET
There are many reasons why you may want to photograph on the street. It could be to document an event, such as a protest. Or, to capture the architecture signs of graffiti or other symbols that may be unique to a specific area. Some photographers are just looking to capture everyday moments of people going about their business. Others will be attracted to particular characters that for whatever reason stand out. Protests can be a very good opportunity for interesting images particularly when they involve powerful messages.
Other street photographs work only because they involve some elements of humor or amusement. Perhaps, this is due to the clever juxtaposition of a commercial advertisement. It also could be with a person or in scenes involving dogs or other animals that may elicit some kind of emotional response. What many street photographers are drawn to is the relationships between the people and their surroundings.
Fun with shadows and silhouettes
While photographing street scenes can involve capturing people conventionally, many striking images make use of shadows and silhouettes, instead. This is particularly true in black and white images. The removal of color and details in these images adds mystery, and forces you to concentrate on the form of the person or object.
The most effective kinds of images here rely on cleverly placing the subject in just the right position. The purpose is to frame it by whatever surrounds it. Using exposure compensation in such conditions will allow you to render a subject as a silhouette. Photographing in the rain or just after can help to produce more dynamic images. Puddles and other wet areas can help to increase contrast in the scene.
TRAVEL LIGHT WHEN PHOTOGRAPHING STREET SCENES
If you are going to be photographing street scenes, you are going to be up and moving around. You are going to be shooting and trying to capture moments quickly. On account of this, you do not need a lot of equipment, and you really will not want to be carrying along a lot of equipment, either. You are traveling light. Usually, a street photographer will need only one camera and maybe one or two lenses – often just one is enough.
If you have to bring only one lens, make it a wide-angle lens – no more than 50 millimeters . If you can go even wider, you can go up close and personal with people and places. Just make sure that you capture everything your eyes can see. You are going to need a wide-angle lens if you want to capture the whole scene. Now, how do you use a wide-angle lens? This video explains:
PRESET YOUR CAMERA FOR PHOTOGRAPHING STREET SCENES
Pre-focus and set a higher f-stop, because you will be shooting quickly. Determine beforehand how far away you are going to be from your subject. Let’s say five feet. Go ahead and pre focus at that length and then set higher f-stop, so you can be sure to get everything within that particular depth of field in focus.
Do not hesitate to increase your ISO. You have to, if you want to capture and stop the scene. Since you are setting a higher f-stop, you may need to increase your ISO so you can still shoot quickly and have a fast shutter speed.
WAIT FOR THAT DECISIVE MOMENT
What is the decisive moment? The decisive moment is a fleeting and spontaneous event that you capture with your camera. The image that your camera has captured should represent the essence of the event itself.
This term decisive moment was coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson, a master street photographer, who introduced shooting in 35-millimeter. He got out among the people, and photographed them candidly. If you are not familiar with this guy, here is a video about him and about those decisive moments in his famous street photography.
For deeper understanding of this concept, spend some time reading the article How to Capture the Decisive Moment in Street Photography by Eric Kim. He starts by saying:
“How do we predict the decisive moment in street photography? I want to share some practical tips, insights, and thoughts on how to better capture the decisive moment— by predicting it beforehand.
First of all, capturing the right moment in street photography is the difference between a mediocre and a great photo. Timing is everything. Not just street photography, but life. You need to have good timing when starting a business, when investing in stocks, when asking someone out on a date, and when to shoot.” Read more…
BLACK AND WHITE IS THE PREFERRED FORMAT FOR PHOTOGRAPHING STREET SCENES
Most street photographers tend to favor photographing street scenes in black and white. The reason is that color can be distracting, especially when photographing street scenes. You have so many different colors that make your eyes wander all around the image and not focus in on what the photographer wants you to see. A black and white image takes away those distractions and helps to bring back the mood of that moment into the image.
However, there are certain images that really benefit from color. It really is just about what the scene is calling for. So, in the post-processing stage, decide whether to remove it or not. If color works well for your image, do not hesitate to retain it.
HOW TO BE COMFORTABLE AS A STREET PHOTOGRAPHER
One of the scariest things about street photography is that you have to get out there, and take photos of people who might not want to be photographed. How you get out there and shoot is your personal choice. Whether you get up in buddy’s face and really get in there if you have that type of bravery or if you kind of shoot from the hip or do some other techniques that are a bit less aggressive, that really is up to you.
If you are uncomfortable starting out in street photography, go to a place where there are many photographers. Maybe, go to a touristy type of spot in your area. There, you are not going to be the only one with a camera. That is a great way to start as well. It will make you feel right at home.
Getting out there and actually participating in the scene with people and integrating with them will lessen your fear, as well. Blending in and not standing out so much will make you feel better.
HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH STRANGERS WITHOUT PROVOKING ANGER OR DISAPPROVAL
Do not be conspicuous as a photographer
Try to blend with people on the street and not be conspicuous as a photographer. Do not carry your big camera bag. Maybe, bring a shoulder bag that you can throw over your shoulder to keep your extra lens and your memory cards in. Leave home anything that can make people suspect that you are out there to take their picture.
Do not be sneaky, trying to hide your camera. People are going to see it anyway, and if they object to having their picture taken, then just do not take it.
Respect your subjects’ wish
You must respect the person who refuses to be photographed. After taking his photograph, erase that image immediately, and do so with a smile. It lessens his aggressiveness.
Some people actually like to have their photo taken. You literally can walk to them, greet them with a hello and smilingly ask if you can take their candid photograph. Asking gives you validations and a feeling of confidence. This way, you do not feel as though you are stealing or robbing from them.
If you feel abashed when you take a photo of someone, just show him his picture after that. It may even make him happy, especially if the shot is a really good one.
When there is no need for permission
If your subject is situated at a far distance, you do not need to ask for permission. Just shoot, though most of the time you will not see the face of that person.
DIFFERENT STREET PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS AND TECHNIQUES
There are several tips for shooting street photography.
Shooting from the hips
Instead of putting the camera up to your face and making it obvious that you are about to take a picture of a stranger, try shooting from the hips. Pre-focus and set that high f-stop. Start taking photographs from the hip area where your camera is down by your hip.
This may result in many images of undesirable quality. However, it also may result in one image that is spectacular. And this technique is something that you do have to practice and get used to. You know what position to put your camera to get a good angle and get somebody’s face into the image.
If you have to put the camera up to your eye to shoot in a crowd, do it quickly. Don’t sit there behind your lens and keep looking through the viewfinder over and over and over again. When you see a moment start to unfold and you feel like it’s just that perfect decisive moment, put your camera up to your face. Take a couple of frames. Put the camera back down to keep that camera into a very subtle position, so it is not obvious. This will eliminate some of your fears as a street photographer.
Get your friend to assist you.
If you are bringing along a friend, have him stand next to the intended subject. You first focus in on your friend as though you are taking his picture, and then subtly move your camera to your subject. That is kind of sneaky, but it does help with making you feel more comfortable and getting you into the medium of street photography.
What about setting up a tripod?
If you are in a busy area, you may set up a tripod. However, you should first get the composition of your background ready. Then, just wait for people to walk by and take their picture, even without looking through the viewfinder. So, that makes it look like you actually are not taking a picture at the moment.
Do not be afraid to shoot the back of somebody’s head. It just might be a great image, even if it is not their faces. Just being able to shoot the scene and the back of somebody’s head can result in a beautiful image. So take all of those things into consideration whenever you are shooting.
BEST STREET PHOTOGRAPHY CAMERA
You can use pretty much any camera for street photography, even a smartphone, although one popular choice among photographers is a small compact with a large sensor and the fixed lens. The design and size of these kinds of cameras helps you to be discreet. The lens may offer only a single wide-angle or standard focal length. You typically will have a fast maximum aperture – this is great as it helps you to get a fast shutter speed that’s required to freeze motion from people.
Tilting-screen and touchscreen cameras
If you are buying a camera specifically for street photography, you may prefer one with a tilting screen. This will allow you to shoot from ground level or other unconventional positions for more creative results.
Cameras fitted with touchscreens will also help you to focus on a subject as quickly by touch. You may also benefit from a camera that can have its controls extensively customized. With this type of camera, you can change specific settings quickly, as the situation changes.
BEST CAMERA SETTINGS FOR STREET PHOTOGRAPHY
While you may want blur to be a feature in some images, it is important to remember to keep your shutter speed high to freeze movement. Cameras or lenses with image stabilization systems may normally try to use slower shutter speeds in conjunction with image stabilization. This can easily lead moving subjects blurred.
A shutter speed of around 1/2 hundredths of a second is usually fast enough to freeze the motion of a person walking. If you cannot use a wider aperture to achieve this or if you feel it will not be appropriate for your image, consider raising your camera sensitivity instead.
Sometimes you may want to use a small aperture to render as much in focus as possible. Conversely, using a wider aperture can help you to emphasize a certain subjects over others, and it is important to think about this as what is and is not in focus can be used to provide or remove context.
MOST POPULAR STREET PHOTOGRAPHY LENSES
The most popular types of lenses for street photography range from around 24 millimeters to 50 millimeters. Some of the most striking images, though, are the results of using less common options, such as fisheye lenses or super telephoto types. Although for anything that might be moving, such as vehicles, zoom lenses provide you flexibility, prime lenses are popular as they can be small discreet and have a wider aperture than zooms of around the same price.
EDITING YOUR STREET PHOTOGRAPHS IN LIGHTROOM
Sometimes you do not get the best image that you want. Your post-processing software should be able to help with this problem. The following is the introductory paragraph of an article written by Sebastian Jacobitz in his blog. According to him:
“Street Photography is about authentic scenes and not artificially created art in post-processing. Nevertheless, with the right editing, you are able to emphasize the character of the street photograph, and can also push your personal style. The post-processing should be very simple and I am usually done within a few clicks, but in this Street Photography Editing Guide, I want to explain the steps that are behind every single image of mine. Editing a street photograph should be part of your normal workflow and not be too time-consuming. You can spice up your photographs, but you cannot change the basic flavor.” Continue reading…
Photographing street scenes often involves capturing people in their natural, candid state. Though people are usually featured indirectly, it does not incorporate people all the time. It can include objects or environments where the scene is captured in a way that a decidedly human character is imparted in the aesthetic of the photograph. It often comments on the social or political landscape of the time. Therefore, it can be a wonderful tool to truly capture an event as it is.
Street photography is a popular genre among enthusiasts and professional photographers, but it is also something that even beginners can try their hand at. So how do you get the most out of it? This article has attempted to share street photography tips for beginners – how to photograph street scenes successfully.
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