This article is to give some advice on Street Photography. It’s not about defining what it is, so I don’t care whether or not in should be in a public area or if it should be candid or not. I just want to share my experiences and what I’ve learned those times I walked around a city with a simple camera setup. Please keep in mind I’m not claiming I’m a professional photographer and I’m not giving myself a title of street photographer, I’m just having fun and learning every day.
This article is chopped in to a few different sections and hopefully it will help you to get started with Street Photography. Or if you’re already in to Street Photography, it might give you some new insights!
What do you look for?
For me, it’s all about natural, interesting and unique situations. This can be a unique or nice to look at person. It can be some great architecture. Great light, some (random) activities or action. But mostly it’s a combination of all these things. Think of people letting out their dogs, smoking a cigarette, walking around with a weird bag or cart. You name it. And sometimes it’s all just color related. Let’s say somebody has a blue and orange jacket and the background happens to have those colors as well. Then it’s not really about the person itself, but more about the combination of all colors in the scene.
To me it’s all about the beauties of the real world. Letting go of those perfect environments and staged settings.
How do you do it?
I think everyone has a different approach here. Some have a huge zoom lens and work like a sniper. They wait on one spot with a nice backdrop. Zoom all the way in, and wait to create photos of people that are 30 meters away. I don’t like this approach and I’m also pretty impatient so I just like to walk around and respond to a certain moment.
I never really use a zoom lens so I always have to get pretty close to the action. It’s important not to creep up to people. When I spot somebody I want to take a photo of, I always act like I’m interested in the building (or something) behind him or her. This gives me a few seconds to get closer without them thinking it’s about them and this gives me time to take a photo that is as natural as possible.
Of course there’s always a chance they will notice it’s about them. Just smile at them and act cool like nothing just happened. If they ask you what you are doing stay friendly and just tell them what’s up. Tell them you liked the way the light looked on their hat. Tell them those sneakers looked amazing with those marble floors. Just let them see they’re part of a cool situation.
What equipment do you use?
Most of the time I just hit the streets with a 25mm Leica F1.4 lens or an Olympus 17mm lens on my Panasonic GX8. And not to forget, a Peak Design Clutch. So when I see something I can just recreate the exact image I’m seeing with my own eyes. It’s sometimes scary to get close to somebody and there have been times where I just wanted to be able to zoom in a little bit but I don’t know, I like the thrill of having to put in some work to get to the subject. I need a sense of being where the action is. Next to that I also like this light and low key set up. I won’t have to carry anything around and because the lenses are fairly small people hardly notice you taking photos.
Of course there’s also times when I wish I was carrying my Olympus 7-14mm lens with me and I might get a Olympus 75mm in the near future but like I said, for me it’s all about a simple setup and being part of the action. I feel like you take the best images when you don’t have to worry about your equipment.
Anyways, I’m not saying my setup is the best Street Photography setup. You can also just your iPhone, buy a cheap point and shoot camera. Anything can work. However, generally I think lenses between 17 and 45mm are best for Street Photography with a Micro Four Thirds camera and personally I do really want to have a camera that can shoot RAW images.
So what’s the best time for street photography?
I think it really depends on a lot of things. First of all, what are you interested in shooting? Are you interested in unique characters? People in general? Or are you all about architecture? Or both?
I think a general rule is to use light to your advantage. And with light I mean any light. Some love the lights during the night. There are tons of interesting light sources to work with. Streetlights, neon signs, traffic lights, light from building sights. Others just like to go crazy during the Golden Hour. This is the period after sunrise or before sunset.
I personally prefer the mornings for photos. And not just the 7 to 10am part, but all the way to noon really. First of all it’s nice to see the city awake. People opening up their shops, people commuting or letting their dogs out. And since everybody is just waiting for their coffee to kick in they don’t really think about strangers photographing them.
Then there’s of course the sun slowly rising. Pristine light and later when it raises the light often creates great settings with great contrast. Really dark parts with a bright beam lighting up a face or person. I can really appreciate that quality of light in the streets.
It’s very important to always check and chase the light. For example, avoid trying to shoot in the afternoon. You will have harsh light and shadows, which creates tons of blown highlights. So if you do want to shoot in the afternoon, remember that during this time, light is more important than the subject itself. Turning around 180 degrees and looking the other way can often make all the difference.
If you’re someone who likes stats: you can actually use sites like http://www.suncalc.org/ to find the Solar data for a selected location.
That’s it! Again, I hope some of these tips will help you but keep in mind you will learn the most by just going out there. It really is a way of looking. You will have to find out what interesting subjects and backdrops are. What time of the day you prefer to shoot at. You will also have to find out what type of lighting and colors you like. How to grow some balls to approach people. And of course you will have to find out what camera equipment works for you and so on. It’s like learning how to drive a car. But once you’ve got it, it’s easy.