Street photography aims to capture those candid moments of everyday life when people have their guard down and busy going about their everyday business. With the rise of mobile photography it has become increasingly popular due to the unobtrusive nature that the mobile phone camera offers but also because it’s a camera that is always with you.
Within street photography there are many different factors that help contribute to the make up of a good photograph. A lot of these are influenced by a photographers approach, their mindset, the subject matter, technical skills and vision but also there is a certain amount of luck involved too.
Below are 8 ways that will help improve and focus your approach to street photography.
1. Observe and be patient
The street photographer needs to demonstrate a passion for their craft. You need to open your eyes and observe the world around as it passes by. Take a moment to stand back and watch people as they go about their daily business. It is important to slow down, to take things in. If you are always on the go and rushing about then you’re more likely to miss good photo opportunities. You are essentially leaving your photography to chance and in a very hap hazard fashion. Think of it like a hunter stalking his prey. Be open to the what is going on around you. Look for photo opportunities long before they happen. Prepare yourself so that when a potential opportunity arises you are ready.
2. Find a great backdrop
Keep an eye out for great backdrops that will provide an interesting focal point or background to the scene. Look for patterns made by shadows on a sunny day, for interesting graffiti, advertising posters that convey a visual contrast in messages as an unsuspecting person walks by. Look for reflections in windows, at the surrounding architecture, or for lines of perspective or sweeping curves that will lead a viewers eye into an image. Once you have a great backdrop you have your stage set, all you need to do is wait for the people to enter the stage and bring your shot to life.
3. Look for the light
When shooting street photography (or any other genres of photography for that matter) always look for the light. The presence of the sun will not only make colours more vibrant but it will also introduce strong shadows which can add further interest to your chosen scene and subject. Taking the same shot on a dull day would give a completely different result. Mastering the use of light is a key element which will bring an otherwise dull scene to life.
You would be wise to study the work of other photographers such as Richard Koci Hernandez or Albion Harrison-Naish, they are both modern day mobile photographers who make excellent use of the light around them.
4. Work the scene
Once you have found a suitable backdrop or subject it is important to work the scene. Don’t just settle for your first shot you take, try viewing the scene from different angles and view points. Move in close to your subject, get down low, if possible get up high. Don’t just settle for your first shot, try different compositions. It is amazing how the slight tilt of your camera can make such a big difference to a photographs composition so be sure to try framing your shot in different ways.
5. Look for the story
Street photography is just as much about the story that an image tells as it is about the technical aesthetics of the photograph you take. The ability to capture and tell a powerful story in a fleeting moment in time is a very difficult skill to master but one that will propel the standard of your photography to a whole new level.
Look for contrasts in the messages conveyed in your surroundings. Maybe that message is in the form of a large advertising poster and the contrast lies with that of a lone figure walking past? Or maybe you are lucky enough to capture someone in fancy dress as they walk down a busy and bustling city street.
I highly recommend you check out the photo by Mark T Simmons titled ‘The Blue Pill’. It beautifully illustrates the way that a photograph can tell a powerful story in a split second. The image captures a city businessman on this phone at the moment he receives some unwanted news. Around him the world carries on its merry way but for the businessman his world has stopped in time. The expression on his face, his stance, the contrast between his frozen moment and the hustle and bustle of those around him as they go about their day, leaves the viewer asking questions about his situation. It is this ability to capture a moment in time, and leave the viewer thinking about the story behind the photograph that adds an extra dimension to what is otherwise a 2 dimensional image.
6. Be Bold
How you approach your subjects in street photography will largely depend on the type of person you are. For many their approach is in your face, to get up close and quickly take the shot. For others the thought of taking this approach can be gut wrenching and for this reason they choose to step back and blend into the background. As the saying goes though, ‘Fortune Favours the Bold’, getting in close to your subject will help give a more intimate and personal connection. This is where the smartphone camera comes into it’s own. As long as you are not so obviously in your face with your approach you can easily get away with a lot more than you could using a more bulky DSLR. You can hold you phone differently so you aren’t seen as obviously taking a photograph, you can trigger the shutter in a variety of ways such as with the headphone volume switch or volume buttons on the side of an iPhone.
Being bold in your approach requires confidence but with practice your photography will benefit.
7. Know your camera and your apps
It is important to know your camera and the apps you use. The smartphone camera can have its limitations that other DSLR cameras can easily cope with. Knowing the limitations of your smartphone will help you to avoid such situation or if necessary work with them. As well as the camera make sure you know the apps you use and the results they will give. Make sure you choose the right app for the right situation. For example using Oggl in low light might result in a slow shutter release or blurry shot whereas Pro Camera 7 might be able to take such conditions in its stride.
8. Be prepared, have fun and practice, practice, practice
Finally, always be prepared, have your camera to hand, be ready to take a shot. You never know when a photo opportunity might happen and not being ready can result in a missed shot due to the camera being in your pocket or that you simply were not prepared. Often in street photography opportunities come and go very quickly and will never be able to be captured again so be ready.
Street photography can be very rewarding, everywhere you go there is a shot to be taken, a story to be told as people walk past you and with each passing the stories change from the couple in love to a passing drunk, or an elderly lady smoking a cigarette outside a British Heart Foundation charity shop.
The key with street photography is to enjoy it and have fun but also practice, practice, practice. The master Henri Cartier-Bresson once said “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst” and this is most probably true. If you are to improve your photography skills then you have to get out there and practice. It is only through the doing that you will improve your photography and hopefully achieve something special.