What is street photography?
In its essence street photography is the unique vision of your experiences and encounters while walking the streets of the world.
Through the frame of the photo camera, you show your vision of the world. The candid moments and stories you see developing in front of your eyes captured in a moment in time to never happen again.
As a street photographer, you are an observer, a storyteller of the candid, unobstructed moments in time.
Ethics and Law
Every country has its own set of laws. In the majority of them, you can photograph in public spaces. You can also make images of people. When you make a portrait, often they agree when asked, When you explain how you are going to use the image and they allow you to create the portrait they agreed with your terms.
When using the images made in public places for non-commercial purposes is in most cases and countries allowed. When you want to sell your pictures for commercial purposes (read advertising) and a person is recognisable you need a signed model release form.
How to do street photography
When you start shooting the streets, it will be awkward at first. Fear takes the overhand. You want to shy away. Maybe pick up a zoom lens. And the first day your images will be bad. The best advice is just to walk around, experience the street and ‘see’ the images develop. You do not have to make them yet. Just ‘see’ the image, when you are confident enough just pick up your camera and shoot some pictures. Build up your confidence but photographing a lot on the street.
After a while, it is time to ask a person to make a portrait with them. Just stand and photograph or if you are confident enough direct them a bit.
With time your confidence will grow. You can always take a street photography workshop to learn from your peers and sharpen your skills.
What camera to use?
I use a Fuji X-Pro 2 with a 27mm pancake lens. But I have seen photographers use large format camera’s, DSLR’s, Mirrorless(like I use) and smartphones. Any camera will do.
I like the X-Pro 2 with the 27mm lens because it is small, quick, has superb image quality and it is unobtrusive. It does not show you as a typical photographer. I use a wristband to secure my camera so that I am quick when photographing.
Fear of photographing on the street
Use your eyes
So many people look but do not see. They just gaze but do not behold what happens in front of them. As a street photographer, you develop an extra sense. After a while you see your images form in front of you. You have to deal with fuss and stress because they make you unperceptive. You have to be perceptive to be able to make beautiful street images.
“When the photo is not good enough, you are not close enough” – Robert Capa
A common problem in street photographers especially when you are just starting is the fear of getting close. Closing in on your subject or street scene is hard and frightening but photographing on the streets with a 70-200 zoom is also hard.
Getting closer means you have to work the scene, as a street photographer you develop a nose for inspiring street scenes. They form in front of your eyes. That specific person that walks towards you when you are photographing at that particular spot in the street or when walking around and you see that scene developing. Take some images or ask a specific person to pose for you. The image is as much a photo of you as a photographer than the person or persons in the picture.
A moment in street photography happens so fast that you do not have time to think. Shoot, make the image and think later. You saw something in the corner of your eye that triggered you to create that image. When you get home, and you develop or import the photos remember the scene and find out what made you make the picture.
Often enough my photo’s are rubbish because I did not frame it correctly or what I thought I saw did not happen.
It is ok to come home after a day of shooting with one or two usable images.
Be ‘in the moment.’
Experience the street, look for emotions and gestures. Try to engage with the persons in the frame without connecting(it is possible) with them. More often they look into the camera curious of what you are doing while look behind their backs. There is a specific technique for it. By becoming so close to them, they automatically think you photograph behind them.
Wear good shoes
Street photography is all about being nimble, Walking around in search for a specific street scene or a beautiful street portrait is becoming part of the street. You are photographing and walking around, just like all the other people on the street. After a while you blend in, become part of it. People do not see you anymore.
When photographing in the streets, it’s all about being spontaneous, Being in the moment, experiencing the street and becoming part of it. When every time you make(not take) a photograph and look at the screen of your camera. You are more engaging with your camera than with your surroundings. I never chimp. And only when someone approaches me and asks about a particular photo I look at the screen. More often to show the image and maybe delete it or show it after I made a beautiful street portrait.
I want to be surprised. I often download my image in the train on my way home or when I returned. I leave the pictures on my hard drive. After a couple of days, I look at the images with fresh eyes. The ones I like I will use.
The quest for light
‘i am forever chasing light. Light turns the ordinary into the magical” – Trent Parke
As street photographers, we are continuously looking and searching for light. Light makes an image magical. We can use a different stance. Frame the picture a certain way, but as street photographers, we cannot influence light we can only use it to our advantage. Search for that beautiful light before it is gone. Use the shade to your advantage.
Imperfections are good.
There is a search for the ‘perfect’ image, grain free, perfectly lit, low iso, smoothen out. But street photography is about making choices and making your mark on the moment.
When we shot film (some still do) black and white had lots of grain in the images. Grain gave the image character, a ‘soul.’ Nowadays it has to be perfect. But when you are looking for that moment on the street you often do not have time to compose the ‘perfect’ image. The image is just that. Develop the picture in lightroom or any other tool to your liking and do not be afraid to darken it, or lighten it, add or remove grain. But do not alter the image, Do not remove or add items from it. In my opinion that entirely not done.
Take photos for yourself.
You are your audience. Take images to please yourself. To hang them in your own home or bundle them in a book just for you. Do not care what others think of them; your vision is the only important one. Every street photographer developed his or her signature over time Develop your own signature and roam the street and show your vision and stories.