Street photography has been defined by different photographers in their own distinct ways, often reflecting their unique viewpoints and somewhat revealing the inspiration behind their work. Instead of going into that list of definitions we shall be delving into the world of street photography itself. In the process we shall strive to become better at capturing stunning images from the streets.
It is a bizarre and a serene world coexisting at the same time. Streets I mean. Somehow, on one hand, street photography manages to capture that seemingly endless flow of humanity, capturing its pulse and the progress of humanity over decades and documenting it for future generations. On the other hand it also captures the emotions that revolves around us, the upheavals, the destructions, the grief and the momentous joy that punctuates our lives. Look at street photographs from different decades of the past century and you would immediately be transported back into time, experiencing what people of that particular time in history had experienced, sharing their emotions. Street photography is a very powerful genre of photography. In some form street photography is an offshoot of journalistic photography. It records the actual, un-fabricated truth and leaves the part of judgment to the viewer.
Seeing what is transpiring
The ability to see through clutter and to identify what is worth photographing is probably the single most important talent that a street photographer should possess. When you first begin shooting this genre of photography you will often be confronted with a huge deluge of information. The cacophony that surrounds us in our everyday city life can literally numb your creativity. You could be lost for ideas not knowing what to shoot or what to leave out. This is where this talent will come handy.
America’s cup by Mario Mancuso
Look for moments that are beyond obvious. By that I mean moments which you are unlikely to come across on an everyday basis. These are the moments that are worth capturing and worth keeping or sharing. It is true that half of good street photography can be plain luck, but the other half is certainly about grabbing those chance and converting those fleeting moments into images.
Street photography is a powerful way to tell stories. One aspect of street photography is to convey what one sees in all one’s honesty to the viewer. Arguably, the greatest street photographer of the past century, Henri Cartier Bresson, had this enviable way to tell stories through his imagery. Whether it is on his extensive travels through China, India and Mexico or his delicate work in the streets of America, during the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and beyond, he always had this way to make images that connect with the viewers.
selfy kiss panorama by Mario Mancuso
Notwithstanding whatever has been discussed above, proper composition is what makes a picture come together and make sense to the viewer. The viewer does not have the luxury to be standing where the picture was taken. The photographer has that and with that he has the responsibility too to convey what he saw and not the clutter that he made it from.
Watch those lines and capture those when you can
Street photography is a wonderful genre where you can play around with straight lines. Parallel, perpendicular, horizontal and so on. Parallel lines appear to meet over a distance. It is an optical illusion, no doubt, but the effect is beautiful when captured in photographic compositions.
The good thing is they don’t even have to be actual lines, like a curb or a tram track. It could just be a hint of a line that is made by anything else, like a man sitting on a chair in a position that creates a diagonal line.
Diagonal lines can often induce a degree of tension in your photos. This can be introduced with a technique called the Dutch tilt, like it has been done in the image below. Simply tilt the camera in your hand when composing.
smoker by Khalid Hameed
Framing your shots
Framing entails a technique where you use elements inside the image to put around the main subject. Straight lines, branches of a tree, a window, anything works, really. You are free to use your imagination.
Using different techniques, like shooting from the waist
Street photography encourages you to be creative, not just in trying unique perspectives but also unique ways of taking photos. e.g.; you could attempt at taking images from the waist when raising your camera to your eye may attract attention.
“comicon” #4 by Mario Mancuso
Keep the equipment simple
One thing that you should take care about, pursuing street photography, is keeping the complexity level of your equipment to the minimum. In fact it would be ideal if there are no complexities at all! The best equipment is one which allows you to raise it to your eye level and shoot. No fiddling with the focus ring, the zoom ring or any other buttons. Simply point & shoot. Well, in fact, that’s what a lot of successful street photographers use. You can use a Mirrorless camera that houses a larger APS-C sensor as well. There are plenty of good cameras within a thousand bucks. DSLRs are heavy, cumbersome and are not tailor made for street photography. Smaller rangefinders or Mirrorless are the best.
Henri Cartier Bresson used a Leica 35mm rangefinder camera for the best part of his career. The fact he had used it extensively over his career meant that it had almsot become an extension of his eyes. He knew what he would capture even before he had raised the camera to his eye. That made compositions effortless. He would silently appear at the spot where he wanted to be and waited for the right moment to press the shutter release.
Practice changing ISO number or the aperture number without having to look at your camera. Know where the focus ring is and how much to turn to get a subject in focus without bringing it to the eye level. A bulk of street photographers shoot with a narrow aperture. That allows them to have a large part of the scene to be sharp. It is not advisable to tinker with the shutter speed when you are already using a small aperture. If you use a slower shutter speed you risk image blur and if you use a faster shutter speed you risk an underexposed image. That means you need to bump the ISO number.
The worst thing you could do as a street photographer is to wear bright attention warranting clothes, carrying big bulky cameras to show off and or pretending you are from out of town. Wear what the locals wear, stay out of sight, hidden in the crowd, use small, barely noticeable cameras, leave your flash at home and shoot silently.
Learn from the masters
You have a whole wealth of knowledge to learn from in the form of images taken by the greatest exponents of street photography. Thanks to the internet, almost all of these images are now available to you at the expense of a few keystrokes. Study these images. Soak in what these photographers are trying to convey. Understand why these compositions work. Also study the lighting, the angle of view and guess how the photographer may have positioned himself relative to the subject when taking the shot.
V&R by Mario Mancuso
Practice, practice and practice
It takes time to get a hang of things as a newbie street photographer. Initially, your images would be poor. Either the lighting would be incorrect or the positioning of the camera. Your exposures would be disappointingly either over or under or you could end up never capturing the decisive moments. Don’t get disheartened by all these. These are only the necessary steps in your path on your way to make you a more refined street photographer. What’s important is to learn from them and never make the same mistake twice.