A Photographers Guide
What is Street Photography?
Sounds simple its just wandering about taking pictures of people!
What's so hard about that?
Well if its that simple then why do so many people find it so difficult?
Its easy to access
Doesn't require much kit
I feel uncomfortable
I don't know what i can photograph
Its not as easy as it looks
You may only get one chance to capture the shot
Lets Start at the beginning and decide what street photography is
Street photography is going into an urban area to take a photograph, it doesn't need to be an actual street or road it can be a piece of waste land or a shopping mall. - So don't be constrained by the title.
It can be
Colour or monochrome
Wide angle or long lens
It can be eye level , high level or low level
Street photography is a very rich genre with the widest range of styles and techniques. Take care that you follow the path and style that suites you as many photographers will passionately advocate their style and approach.
There are two types of street photography
An individual or a small group of people are isolated alone in an image.
Their situation and environment are placed into context by what is around them.
Isolation Photography (Type 1)
Melee Photography (Type 2)
A large number of people are captured in the shot.
It may be that all the people in the photograph are insignificant (Type 2a)
or it may be an individual is the prime focus of the shot and the others are incidental (Type 2b)
In 2a and 2b the environment they are in places everything into context.
Note In this style photographers often "shoot from the hip" which mean the don't use the viewfinder or back screen they just hold the camera in that direction and shoot and pray. You will never be quite sure what you captured till you get home.
Which type of street photographer are you?
You will find you have a preference for one or the other, although you will take both types of image one will predominate.
I am a type 1 as i love the isolation of the individual and the mood that this captures as you peer into their world.
Type 1 images are taken with a long lens
Type 2 images compact cameras and taken on the move with a wide angle lens shooting from the hip
Again this is not a hard and fast rule but is a differentiation
Are you photographing the person or the location?
This is not a trivial question and one you need to understand if you are not going to waste lots of time
You find a wonderful backdrop for an image say a piece of street art and all you need to do is wait for the right person to come along. This approach to street photography has been attributed to Henri Cartier-Bresson one of the pioneers of this art form.
These style of images typical need to be taken at an fstop of 4 to 8 to ensure that the background is within the depth of field and comes out sharp.
You find colourful individual and take an image against the best and most appropriate background. Often thes type of shots are taken at f2.8 to f4 as the backgound is less important and may be better being blurred
The Holy Grail
The right person in the right place. This does come along once in a while and you need to be ready to capture the image
Tips and Guidance for Street Photography
Here are a range of aspects that i would suggest you consider as you develop your street photography skills
Be aware of who you are were you are and what you are carrying as you may be an ideal victim if you are not careful. We photographers love derelict areas or the more rundown aspects of society because they take such great images and we get engrossed in what we are doing.
If your unsure of the area go with a friend - it will be more fun as well
Know where you are going
Know how you will get back to a busy area
Keep your eyes open and make sure you look at the people around you
where they are going
what they are doing
have you seen them more than once
Don't make your camera too obvious.
I use a BlackRapid wrist strap as this allows me to carry my camera in a discrete and secure manner and its easy to move it out of direct line of sight
Stay off private property and always remain in public areas
Have respect for those about you and those going about their daily lives.
You need to keep looking well ahead to see if an image is heading your way. If you are looking sufficiently far ahead your should have time to
find a backdrop
find a place to stand
set your camera
take a test shot
check your settings
If you can get yourself into place in nice time then it will be less obvious when the person arrives and you will be prepared, such that you can take the image in a causal manner
Don't have your camera set to single shot, if you can set it to burst mode of 3 or 4 images. When the backdrop is key you stand a better chance of getting the person in the sweet spot if you burst shoot.
What f stop should you use?
This is fairly simple
If you want the background in out of focus then typically f1.8 to f4 is sufficient
If you want the background in focus then typically f4.5 to f8 is sufficient
This will reduce your shutter speed so you will need to keep an eye on this to ensure its sufficiently fast
if you want the people to blur then you can allow the shutter speed to drop to 100
If you want to keep people sharp then you may need to adjust the iso to keep your speeds up to say 200
To ask or not to ask that is the question
If you see an image do you ask the person?
I am more of a No to this because i find that as soon as you interact with the person then the image is gone especially in my case where i like a more environmental image. If you are shooting a close up portrait then its good manners to ask and typically this will not adversely affect the image and may even enhance it if the person is up for the challenge. If you do engage with the individual and they are game to participate it is often a good idea to off to send them a copy of the image. If its a person down on their luck then a suitable donation the their "collection" may be more welcomed.
The people who i generally find enjoy some engagement and the image is not impacted are street artists who enjoy the chat and continue with their work unphased by you
If you find a backdrop that you want to use then you may need to wait and blend in to the background. The two things i have found that help with is are
Sit on the floor - people assume you are begging and blank you
Eyes wide open
Don't shoot with one eye closed as you need to have both eyes open as this will enable you to
Monitor traffic ( cars and people) so you can see when a gap is coming
Watch people whilst keeping you camera on the image area
Rules of the image
What photography rules apply to street photography
All of them
Rules of thirds and golden triangles
No blown highlights (unless high key)
Level (generally not always)
Good dynamic range
Read the image left to right
Person has space to move into
It needs to tell a story, create a mood or an emotion
Try not to get people overlapping
Most images work when you can see the persons face if its a head shot
If the person is walking then
Blur the person to show motion or
Have their striking lead foot off the ground
Alternative is to blur many but keep one or two sharp
The Process of Street Photography
You don't get it in one shot you need to work the space and the image as this video from Sean Tucker explains;
What are your rights as a photographer a constant and difficult question however some good reference points are;
What's Your Legal Position?
Some Good reading material
These books are worth taking a look at
For Further Inspiration
Please take a look at my street images on my gallery web site EKPgallery
Take a look at the following photographers to see how they deliver their street images.
Also take a look at these street artist and find where they have work posted