The last thing most new Street Photographers ask about is ‘how’ to shot. It’s very different from anything else you have ever done. Landscapes, sleep while you wait for the light. Indie Car Racing, wait at the hairpin turn and pan. It does closely resemble sports in that getting the timing down perfect is so important. But that’s about it. Street shooting is very organic. It moves much like if you are but a small amoeba inside an organism. You’re not on the sidelines, you’re in the game, as if you were on the football field in the middle or the scrum, shooting. You need to watch out where the ball is, if someone is near you, or about to hit you.
Luckily, there are no 300lb centers on the streets wanting to rip your head off. But, you do need to be ready all the time. Think fast. No second guessing. And your settings better be perfect, or you’ll miss the shot. We shoot blind from the waist or from the hip or high above our heads. When we do use the viewfinder, we usually only have a fraction of a second to get the composition perfect! Wait what? I have to deal with composition? (Yes, but more on that in the future…)
So where to start? The very first time you head out, try out your gear and the settings. Take a few shots and check to see if everything is ok? Are the shutter speeds where they need to be? Anywhere above 1/125th is great.
Next, just start shooting. Here are some techniques to think about.
Shoot normally – as you always have. This approach works well when people do not see you. But it won’t be long before they do, learn to get in and out quickly.
Tip: Remember to Stop or Pause just before you shoot. Yes, you’re in a hurry, but you want to be, need to be, still the moment you release the shutter. Taking a deep breath just as you’re approaching the shot helps some people.
If you worry about what someone may say if they see you, you can just look away and ignore them. This works but truth be told, so does smiling. And, often if you look at them, you get great interactions that you would otherwise miss, including invites to take a ‘posed’ shot. Go for it!
Sit still – no, literally ‘sit’ still. Well ok, you can do this standing up also. You can let people come to you. You can park yourself standing in a busy traffic area. People will come to you or by you. If it’s very busy there will be congestion and some good shooting opportunities. You can also sit on the edge of the sidewalk or a bench. I have gotten great shots sitting at outdoor café tables. If you’re a little too far back a zoom lens like a 70-200mm works well. Note that this is lazy and not intimate, up close and personal as street photography should be. Also, it’s very limiting in what you may capture.
Shoot from the waist – Have your camera hanging from the neck strap with your shutter finger on the Shutter Release Button and your other hand holding the camera ready to move it up, down, left or right as needed. The idea is to walk around this way all the time. After all you’re just holding your camera. People tend not to notice until the very last second when the camera moves and points their way. Too late, you got the shot!
Shoot from the hip – Grab your camera, ready to shoot with your right hand. Wrap the strap around your wrist so it’s out of the way and so if your camera gets bumped it won’t fall to the ground. Have your arm dangling by your side, camera in hand. Hold the camera so that the lens is pointing away from you to your side. You can change the angle up and down a bit, but you can rotate your arm to point the camera backwards or forwards. You can also swing your arm around the front of you and shoot towards your front left side. Again, because the camera looks like it’s just being held, people tend to ignore it.
Shoot outstretched (from above or down low) – Depending on the scene you may want to shoot down at a group sitting on a boardwalk or you may need to shoot from a dog’s perspective looking up at another dog and its owner at the end of the leash following obediently. This is done with the camera at the end of an outstretched arm.
The issue with ‘waist, hip or outstretched’ is that you are shooting blind. You can’t see exactly where the camera is pointing when you shoot. This leads to a lot of missed shots but also to some of the best shots. So, what to do?
Practice, practice and more practice. Like any activity or sport, you can train your neural pathways to get the image you want. With practice the lens will become a natural extension of your arm and you will ‘know’ exactly where it is pointing. You need to practice your ‘swing’ or ‘shot’ as it were. Try all three methods. Look at the results and try again. Eventually you will get the hang of it and will improve your techniques. You should be getting 70% to 80% of the shots you try.
Again though, remember to stop or pause as you release the shutter button.
Shoot scenes (Or Backgrounds) – Another option is to look for ‘scenes’. Look for great ‘backdrops’, or great ‘lighting’ or ‘archways’ or ‘reflections in glass or water’ or any spot where you want a subject to be. Park yourself and wait. You can even use a tripod and then you can wait for the magic to happen. This is how you can capture the proverbial ‘decisive moment’.
Approach people – Although not considered pure Street Photography, which should be candid, approaching people and getting posed portraits can be a great experience. ‘Street Portraiture’ is very common and many people only do Street Portraiture. You get to choose the ‘characters’ and you get to know a bit about them and, as a photographer you can decide to shoot a head shot or perhaps and environmental portrait if they are working a stand, begging, or just living life. Do not be afraid to ask people for their portraits.
It doesn’t matter which approach you use, they all work and with time, patience, practice, and repeated visits, you will get great results. I find I use all the above techniques depending on the location and my moods. Sometimes you just don’t want to talk to people.
Tip: Be ready with answers. Someone will ask you what the photos are for? Have an answer ready. Practice an answer. I use “I’m a street photographer and I love photographing people. I may put these on my web site.” This often opens up discussions and often leads to the subjects wanting information on your site. Even if your site is not ready yet, let them know but offer then an e-mail address so that they can contact you for a digital copy. I have met many great people this way. – or – Try “I’m a student taking a Street Photography Workshop. This is for class.”
Tip: Have business cards or pre-printed strips done with your laser printer with your e-mail address or your website address on it ready to hand out. Personally, I send them to my website and let them know my contact information is there. It drives traffic to your site, could lead to sales and the people you photographed could send their friends to your site if they see their image is posted there. People pay for traffic, here, its’ free. Work it!
“I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.”
See you on the streets!
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