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 |
Street Photography is all about being ready. You don’t have time to check settings, check focus or, even second guess yourself. No time to chimp. Its go go go. As such, its important to use the right settings for the given conditions. So, what settings are we talking about?
First is dealing with exposure based on given lighting conditions. If its day time with mid-level light set your ISO settings to Auto with a range of 200 to 800 ISO. Set your Aperture around f/5.6 for a wide-angle lens or f/7.2 for a standard lens on Aperture Priority. This will automate the process of keeping your shutter speeds as high as possible. If your camera allows it, set a minimum shutter speed of 1/60th sec. or 1/125th sec if shooting with a standard or zoom lens. At these apertures the DOF should be adequate to make sure your subject matter is in focus. If you have enough light, you can probably bump up to f/7.2 and f/8.0 respectively.
As you get to darker evenings or gray wintery days you may want to change the ISO settings to a range of 400 to 3200 ISO depending on how good your camera handles low light and digital noise. Some very good high-end cameras are very acceptable at 6400 ISO or even higher. Test your camera in low light to see what works for you and at what ISO settings your images start falling apart due to lots of noise. This is something you should always know anyways for Low-Light Photography, Night Photography and High-Speed (4000th or 8000th Sec.) photography.
Once you are on location, set your camera to the proper settings (or better yet, use your custom Presets or Quick Menus) and take a few test shots. What Shutter Speeds and ISOs is your camera getting images with? Remember, you need decent speeds, or you will blur your images. But, not at the cost of having a lot of digital noise caused by high-ISO’s.
If the lighting is getting bad, you can always drop your Aperture settings to f/3.5 or f/4.0. Remember that focusing will be more critical at these Apertures and you will also have shallower DOF so less will be in focus in front and back of your focus point.
Recommended Exposure Settings for beginners:
- ISO Auto
- ISO Range Normal Light – 200 – 3200 ISO
- ISO Range Low Light – 400 – 12800 ISO
- ISO Range Night – 800 – 12800 ISO
- Aperture Priority
- Aperture setting for Wide Angle lens f/5.6 (plus or minus depending on light levels)
- Aperture setting for Standard (50mm) lens f/7.2 (plus or minus depending on light levels)
- Minimum Shutter Speed if you can set it (1/60th of a sec. with experience or 1/125th to start)
Keep in mind that you will still need to manually deal with Back Lighting Issues. Use Exposure Compensation for those conditions. An available Quick/Custom Menu option on a Button or Dial is great for this purpose. It allows you to have a Preset +1.5 (or your preferred setting) Exposure on an easily accessible Button or Dial that you can quickly switch to without even looking.
After your first outing have a look at all your images. Are many blurry? Was it because the Shutter Speeds are below 1/125th second? If the speeds are decent but still blurry, was it because you were moving or walking when you took shots? Or, were they relatively (90%) all good? How was the Exposures. All good? Were the Back Lit images all too dark? Time to address these issues and make some setting and shooting adjustments.
Over time and with practice you will be able to change your Aperture to f/2.8 to f/4 and will be able to use even use slower shutter speeds. As a beginner, your friend is high ISO’s, but you will eventually want to keep the ISO settings down to control noise later on.
Lastly is the Focus Settings. I would recommend you try your hand at seeing what gives you the best results. Manual focus is a great tool but you need an understanding of how to use it effectively (in a future post). If you use Auto Focus, set your camera to a Servo Mode designed for sports. The Camera will continuously track and focus and will work well for when people are approaching you. Now is the time to learn about these modes and about which modes will work best for the type and style of Street Photography you do.
So, many Street Photographers do not Focus at all. Or rather, do not focus each shot. You may have heard they use Manual Focus but even that is not quite right. What the do is ‘Pre-Focus’, or ‘Zone-Focus’ as its really called. Here are your options:
Auto Focus – Very few cameras have focusing systems that are up to the task of Street Photography. The amount of time a Camera Takes to focus is often more than enough to miss the shot. Some cameras like the Leica M series or the Fuji X-Pro2 can focus extremely fast, with the right lens. Some lenses are slower than others. Fuji for example makes a great Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R lens. Its faster and has nicer bokeh than the Fujinon XF23mmF2 R WR lens (it’s also more expensive), but it’s slower to focus. It’s also larger. A draw back. Auto Focus also doesn’t work well in very low light or at night. On the plus side, Auto Focus will always result in a properly focused image. Try Auto focus if you like but I would suggest turning to Pre-Focus. For Pre-Focus, the Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R lens has DOF Scales or Distance Scales which the Fujinon XF23mmF2 R WR does not have, and for Zone-Focus, Auto-Focus speeds are not relevant. They are still fast, just not as fast as the F2.
Tip: If your camera has a setting that lets you release the shutter even if the Auto Focus is not in focus, you can try turning this on. The camera will partly focus but you will get the shot at the right time. If your camera doesn’t let you take the shot because it is still trying to focus, you will miss a lot of shots. Not all cameras have these settings.
Manual Focus – So Manual Focus is just you, doing what your camera will do for you, faster than you can do it. This is why I say Street Shooters don’t use Manual Focus.
Zone-Focus – Remember I mentioned using a Standard Fixed Lens, a Prime Lens as they are called? With all their benefits like being sharper, more contrast, smaller and less expensive. And I suggested you get used to one lens at a fixed focal length like 35mm (or 50mm)? I suggested you would get used to knowing how close you need to be to get a full body shot. And that over time this would become second nature. Well, think about it, the distance for a full body shot will never change will it?
So, if you determine that a full body shot can be taken with a Fuji X-Pro2 and a 23mm Lens at say 5 feet, then a Pre-Focus set to 5 feet with an Aperture of say f/5.6 will always be in focus from 4 feet to 7 feet. So even if you move in a hair closer or further, you will still get the shot. You can do the same with head shots. Know what distance to focus at and you’re done.
How do you determine these numbers? Figure it out by taking a shot of a friend full length with your camera and lens you will use. Measure the distance from camera body to your friend’s eyes (where you want focus to be sharp). Then on a tablet, download a DOF Calculator or head over to DOFMaster and plug in the numbers. Note that they are dependent on the crop factor of your camera and lens used. Note also the results give you a range where the far ends of the range start getting fuzzy. In the example above the real numbers were 3.78 feet to 7.36 feet.
If you are doing Street Portraiture, then Auto Focus will be easier and better. But, for any shoot and go situations, shooting from the hip, or ‘extended arm’ shooting, learning Pre-Focus techniques is necessary.
Complications arise out of the fact that most new cameras are missing 2 key features. The lenses often do not have a built-in distance scale of the lens. Another, key missing feature is that the calculations above used to be done on the lens using the ‘DOF Scales’ or the ‘Focus Scales’. All old DSLR lenses used to have these. Many modern-day Street Photographers choose Manual Focus lenses that have these markings. You can still do it without, but it is much easier with the markings.Drive Modes – Some photographers swear by single shot modes when they can take one shot to get the image. Others use and love high speed drive or burst modes where they can hold the Shutter Release down and fire off 3 to 7 or more shots to get the image. This is mostly about preferences. Using a single shot forces you to practice more and get better at timing your shots. Yes you can increase your chances of getting the shot in Burst Mode but then you will have a ton of extra images to sort through later.
Recommended Focus & Drive Settings for beginners:
- Auto Focus – Learn about your different Auto Focus Modes like an Servo Mode that may work well for you – or –
- Zone Focus – Learn how to Zone Focus without DOF Scales or get a lens with DOF Scales
- Drive Mode – Set to Single or High Speed Multi depending on your preferences.
So whatever camera and lens you use, think about your exposures and the shutter speeds as they are so important. Then work on your focusing techniques in different situations and remember to practice, practice, practice. I would recommend using Single Shot Drive Modes with Zone Focus, but, there is no wrong or right way, do what you must to get the shot. See you on the streets!
Next up, Shooting Techniques!
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!
Before you head out for the very first time, either on our walk next week or on your own, the two first things you need to think about are Safety and Comfort. And they do go hand in hand. And by safety, I’m not talking about the big thugs most new Street Shooters worry about but rather making sure you do not hurt yourself out there!
Be aware of your surroundings at all times. The streets are alive. People are about, moving around, a clear path could have a dog there in half a second, oh, and watch out for cars. Then there are the cracks, pavers, and other obstacles. Over the years I have seen people fall, stumble, break gear and even an arm. From what I have seen it is all because people were not aware of their surroundings and not conscious of what was going on around them. Don’t just step out on the street to get a better angle! Look for cars and cyclists first! Also, don’t just step back, there’s a good change someone is behind you.
Learn to pick up your feet. If you drag your feet around most days and find you always hit little rocks, cracks, un-even pavers or slabs, you may want to make a conscious effort to start picking up you feet.
Street photography is not a race. You can slow down. Take the scene in. Look around. Be aware. This process of looking around, even behind you, all the time, is what can get you those great images. Things will not always happen in front of you. This is also part of being ready. I will discuss being ready in an upcoming post.
The next thing to think about is comfort and this leads to safety also. First and foremost, make sure you have good comfortable shoes with good soles! Your soles should not be old dried up rubber that becomes slippery in wet weather. Ideally, they should have some tread and they should keep you warm if the temperatures are colder.
The next rule of comfort is ‘Keep Warm, Keep Dry’. If you hit the streets on a cold winter day or a rainy day, it’s very important to keep warm and dry. Wear the proper clothing. For me a hat is essential to keep the rain off my glasses. It also helps keep me dry, and my bald head warm. If its cold, I’ll wear an appropriate warm jacket. If its wet, I’ll wear a parka. If I’m not sure about potential wet weather, I have a light packable shell that I bring with me.
When you are cold or wet, is when you will most likely make a mistake. Keep your hands warm in winter. Fingerless gloves work well. So remember, Keep Warm, Keep Dry, be Aware!
Note: You can click on most images on this site to get some commentary on the image or to leave comments or question on the image.
| Part-2 >
So I walked Main Street today in preparation for next weeks walk. Well, ok, so I could get a great doughnut and latte. And by the way, it was the best Peanut Butter & Jelly doughnut ever. Thanks Lucky’s Doughnuts! Another reason I wanted to head out was to use this camera as I have never used it for Street Photography. It will need some getting used to. All part of the process. Note: If you click on the images you may get some commentary and the Meta data is there!
I know I suggested we perhaps extend the walk down some arms off Main Street but perhaps we I should have considered how I do street photography. I like working smaller areas and found myself walking up and down Main Street several times. Again, it goes to learning about the area you are working. We can discuss this option and the benefits of this vs. the benefits of walking new streets (and why you would).
I encountered some really nice people today and again it reminds me of why I love doing this. A group of three young people I approached. One shouted nice ‘Leica’. They were more enthusiastic when I announced it was a Fuji. Anyways, had a nice chat with them and a got a few posed photos.
I spotted a great window decal (that we will visit on the walk) and a young couple eating behind the glass. I took a few shoot from the hip shoots but as I walked along, noticed I had missed it. 10 minutes later walking the other way I went back and they were still there. WTH I thought, and decided to properly frame and get the image I wanted. Took a bunch of shots. Then I went into the café and spoke with them. Ali and his companion were really nice. I let them know about this site where they may see the image.
I encounter a young woman with red sneakers I really liked. Quick, ask if you can photograph them. Sure she says, I get a few shots and then she introduces herself as Jen. I let her know about the site. I received a tanks and a big smile.
I must have spoken to about 20 people including a shop owner and my barista. When walking the streets, if you go where and when people live, rather than when they are at work, you get the real people. You get couples together. You get the friends having fun, or the two characters walking into the Weed shop. People are doing things, instead of being on their way to or from work, in a hurry. If you visit the downtown business district week day, yes, you will have the ‘Vancouver’s not very friendly’ crowd. Visit where people live their lives, smile, and you will meet the very nicest people!
A great afternoon.
This is a great opportunity to learn from a recognized long time street photographer. Ian has announced two Vancouver based Street Photography workshops for 2018. He has also announced workshops for Toronto, Montreal and Paris. The dates for the Vancouver workshops are June 15th to 17th, 2018, and August 10th to 12th, 2018. You may want to book early!
You can register for his workshops on his website here.