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!
< Part-3 |
This isn’t meant as an end all be all discussion about street photography gear. We’ll have that discussion on another day. It’s meant for the First Time Street Shooters that may have questions. Questions like ‘What gear should I use?’, ‘What lenses should I bring along?’
The nice thing about Street Photography is that ANY gear will work. An old TLR film camera, sure, lots do. A Graflex with a Polaroid back, yep. So, any digital camera will work. It’s important to remember that Street Photography is about getting in close and personal, and that ideally, you want it to be candid. So you want to get in close, but not get noticed.
This is where the right gear can help. My normal photography rig is a Canon 5D MK4 with battery grip, L-Bracket and a Canon EF 24-105 f/4.0 L or a Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 L series lens. These are big professional looking cameras that people seem to spot from a mile away.
When you approach strangers also, they are less afraid, or rather, more responsive to a smaller cameras rather than big cameras.
Another issue with big cameras is the police, firemen and security people. Even though here in Canada we have the right to almost any photography (know the law, don’t take my word for it), they always want to stop you from taking pictures. The key here is that they want people with BIG professional looking cameras from taking pictures. Try shooting with a big rig at the International Airport in Vancouver. It’s all perfectly legal, but chances are a Security Guard will most likely ask you to stop. Shoot with your phone or small pocket camera and nothing. Try it someday.
Anyways, the point is that small unobtrusive cameras tend to work best at not being noticed. When I used to shoot with my 5D MK2 for Street Photography, I would take off my L-Bracket and Battery Grip and instead of using a large zoom lens, I would attach a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM pancake lens or a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens which is just a little bigger.
There are several bonuses with this kind of setup. First is that it’s the camera you always use and you are comfortable with it. Secondly is that its cheaper than buying another camera and, buying a great lens for it like a standard 50mm f/1.8 prime lens is very cheap. Third, is these Prime lenses are sharper and have better contrast than their zoom based counterparts. Fourth is they are also way less expensive. The current Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM is only $129.00 US (Nov 2017) but you can purchased it for less on the streets and even less used. It is also quieter and faster and better at focusing that the larger Zooms.
The last bonus of using a fixed focal length lens like a 50mm is that it forces you to get in closer. It forces you to start noticing where (how far away) you need to be to get the shot, whether it’s full body or just head and shoulders. Over time as you get used to it, it becomes second nature. Zoom lenses will slow you down and will make you lose some shots.
Many street photographers like the wider angled 35mm lenses (or even 28mm). On the Fuji X-Pro2 with a crop factor of 1.52x its their great Fujinon XF 23mm F2 R WR lens. Using a 35mm lens does two things. First is that is forces you to get even closer, and second, is that wide-angle lenses have a greater Depth-of-Field at an equivalent distance and Aperture. More pictures will be in focus!!
There are other options for lenses, some get used for specific looks and we will discus this in the future. Most street photographers stick to one lens. It helps give them a look, a style, and besides, you’ll never have time to change lenses!
Is there a better camera? Yes. For years Street Photographers including the masters used the rangefinder type cameras like the Leica. Many photographers still do. Currently the trend is to move to mirrorless digital rangefinders like the Fuji X-Pro2, the Leica M, and a few others. Small cameras with an optical viewfinder (or hybrid viewfinder) are ideal. There are other great Street Photography cameras on the market.
Other camera specific gear I bring along are extra batteries and a lens cleaning cloth. On my camera I use a lens hood which is a very small unobtrusive lens hood and no filter.
Other things I bring along are my cell phone with several apps. The newest Google Maps works great and shows you what direction you are pointing in (important). Have a Notepad app like Notepad or my go-to which is AudioNote (Apple). AudioNote allows me to record sound while I take notes. Great when you’re in a rush and misspell things or when you want to do a quick on-street interview. I also bring business cards or you can even strips of cut out paper with your contact info or your website address to hand out, people will ask. It’s a great way to promote your website and to increase traffic to it. Lastly, bring your wallet and money including spare change for parking and handouts.
In a future article we will discuss other suitable cameras, monopods, tripods, remote trigger devices and other gear.
What I do NOT bring along is a camera bag, or any bag for that matter. They just get in the way. The spare batteries are small and easily fit in my front pockets or jacket pockets when I wear a jacket.
So here are my recommendations for those that are new to Street Photography.
- Make your camera as small as possible.
- Use a smaller fixed focal length prime lens like a 50mm or 35mm prime lens.
- If you do not own a prime lens, use your smallest zoom lens, set it at 35, 40 or 50mm and using black gaffer tape (or electrical tape), tape it into place so the zoom will not change while you are out shooting.
- Spare batteries
- Cleaning cloth
- Phone with Apps (or a notepad and pen)
- Business Cards (or printed information strips)
Once you have your gear sorted out, what settings should you use? Next up, settings!