Many new photographers are somewhat scared to get into street photography. They can take great pictures but the moment it comes to photographing people on the streets in the subject’s natural ambiance, they pull back.
I have been doing street photography for over 10 years now & have done most of my street photography in New York City, San Francisco & Chicago. They are some of the best places for street photography & also the most challenging.
Here are 15 great tips aimed at beginners & photographers who are trying to get started with street photography.
1. Street Photography is an everyday work -it is a matter of building a habit of going out into the streets with your camera, lenses & films (or digital cards) everyday & taking photos. Alfred Stieglitz used to go out & shoot about 4 rolls of film almost every day for decades together in New York City – that is the dedication needed in this style of photography!
2. Choose what to carry in your street photography camera bag – you really need very few items in your street photography camera bag. Traveling light helps you to keep walking longer! Take a look at what is in my camera bag when I go out for street photography in New York City.
3. Get intimate with your subject -I personally do not like the habit of amateurs who take photo from miles away & runs away after a shutter click. More than amateurish, you are leaving the cake on the table – losing the opportunity of knowing your subject a little more. I would usually stop, photograph and make a general conversation for a few minutes. If I am carrying a pencil & a notebook, I usually note down their name, occupation etc that interested me in the first place to take the pictures.
4. Shoot a variety of subjects -there are an innumerable nature of subjects in street photography. Before you find your specific interest areas within the realm of street photography, just take whatever photo you want to. When I began shooting in the streets, I was taking photos of pigeons picking up grains from the foot path to people drinking coffee outside Starbucks!
5. Always be prepared on the streets – too many things would happen around you when you are on the streets. I always hold my camera in my hands ready to click even when I am walking towards a destination, prepared for the moment, any moment.
6. Always be professional -if you are planning to do street photography for a long period of time, you have to take your photography & your subject very seriously. I always recommend being completely professional at all moments when on the streets. It goes a long way to be courteous and polite & present yourself & your needs professionally to your subject. Be very sure, you would be running into many of the people you shoot on the streets more than a few times!
7. Know the street photography laws of the city -every city has its own laws for street photography. Check online for any specific laws in your city, details on where you can or cannot take pictures. In the US, the laws of street photography are very strict and you may run into legal issues if you violate them.
8. Make friends with other street photographers -this is a great way to know about great locations for street photography, local street parades and other festive events in the city. Although I prefer to shoot alone, I often meet up with other street photographers & ask for their opinions on subjects & locations.
9. Share your photos -since I take notes of my subjects very frequently, I often send them a few copies of the photos out of courtesy. That is also my way of expressing my thanks for their time. If I am posting any of their photos on my websites, I usually send an email or try to notify them of such displays.
10. Do not force or corner your subject -depending on what, where or who you are photographing on the streets, do not ever coerce your subject for a photo. If the person is not willing to give you the photo you want, move on to the next person. Not only forcing your subject for a photo not give you the ideal photo, you could be left with a very bad altercation with the locals. You will get the best street photo when your subject helps you to get one.
11. Observe & pick your moment in street photography -I have often missed the climax of a situation simply because I was just shooting without paying attention to the “bigger picture”. Anticipation is a great way to capture the best moment in street photography. This is especially true when you are photographing events like parades, street fares, live performances & such. Observe & pick the right moment. You would have fewer photos but each would be a great one.
12. Choose the right time of the day for best quality of street photos -cities with tall buildings & sky scrapers have the challenge of casting deep shadows & cause the exposure to go haywire. You could use a TTL speedlight flash to adjust for the uneven lighting or you could choose the right time of the day for street photography. The famous National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry always shoot before sunrise & very close to sunset. I am a late riser, so I usually pick the evenings for shooting on the streets.
13. Know your camera very well – while you are on the streets with your camera, your attention would primarily be looking out for subjects & quickly shooting them. That requires that you know exactly how your camera works in every possible situations. You would not have the time to figure out settings, exposures, modes, flashes etc while you are on the streets. In the same lines, always carry extra batteries, rolls of films (or memory cards) & lenses in your jacket pocket so that you could reach them without having to look at them.
14. Review your photos & improve your techniques – every street photographer evolves his / her own style of taking street photos. Every time you come back from a photo shoot, take time to review each & every photo that you have taken & find rooms of improvement. Only you can evolve your own style and make your mark.
The last of my 15 great street photography tips for beginners is probably the most important one if you want to succeed in making great street photos.
15. Don’t be nervous about street photography – this is probably the single most deterring factor for beginners to street photography. There is nothing to be scared of in street photography. If you do have this problem, begin your street photography just like a tourist. Much like how you would shoot when you are out with your family traveling in a new city, walk around & take photos. Passing as a tourist is the simplest & the easiest way to get by difficult situations since most people (including local law enforcement agencies & cops) are more forgiving of tourists than professionals!
I hope these 15 tips helps you as a beginner in street photography to get out on the streets & start taking some great photos. This post has photos of Caroline DeSangles & Libby Black along with her pit bull Chloe taken in various parts of New York City.