Choose the Right Lens
The right lens is a matter of ambiguity as there are different schools of thought as to which is the best street photography lens. People have shot with the 50mm, the 35mm and even the 16-35mm with great success. I can’t put my finger on any one of these and say – aha! That’s the best lens to shoot street photos with.
If you have neither or the only lens you have is the 18-55mm, even that can be a good lens to shoot with. The basic requirements to be a great street photography lens would include the ability to capture a wide angle perspective, focus fast and produce clean sharp images of the scene in front. Most lenses when they are stopped down to f/5.6 or roundabouts would be able to do that. But then there are some lenses which are super sharp even at f/2.8.
A telephoto lens will almost never work. Not that you can’t shoot images with it. But when you shoot from a distance, because that is essentially what you’d have to do using a telephoto lens, you lose that personal connection with your subject.
No matter which lens you pick, you need to have a solid idea of what it is capable of doing. There is no point in carrying the best lens that money can buy and not having the slightest idea of how to use it.
‘When in Rome, do as the romans do.’ This is an adage that is probably more relevant to street photography than any other aspect of life. As a street photographer the last thing you need is to draw attention to yourself. That is counterproductive. A street photographer needs to blend in and that is probably one area where the beginners get it all wrong. You don’t have to wear camouflage or act like a creep, hiding behind bushes or walls stalking and shooting people from a distance. But the least you can do is not to stand out in the crowd.
The first thing that you should do is to dress appropriately. If the neighborhood is a bit conservative, you are likely to draw attention if you wear bright or less clothing. Local attire is the best if you are travelling. Watch what the locals wear and then try to emulate the fashion trend. Remember, it’s what on the other side of the lens that’s of interest to you.
Scout for New Locations
When I initially started dabbling in street photography I was lost for ideas as to what to shoot? It was all familiar territory for me. The same people I would meet every day, the same bus stop, the same places I’ll be every day. I couldn’t just point a camera at these familiar faces one morning and say I am doing street photography! I needed a change of locations. That is when I started hopping on to unfamiliar busses and travel to places in my city that are not within my usual route of commute.
If you are travelling in a different city try to go to places which offer you glimpses of the local life. People interacting over a cup of tea or a glass of bear, playing chess in the park or playing music, basically going about their daily life usually are interesting to capture and are great subjects for street photography. But instead of playing into monotony. Capturing what comes easily try to look for something that stands out.
That brings us to the next point – composition. We have heard, read and spoken about composition way too much. I don’t think we can put any more emphasis on the value of a good composition. We all know about the Rule of Thirds, the golden ratio, simplicity, leading lines, repeating patterns and those sort of things all too well. But what I am particularly referring to is uniqueness in composition and storytelling.
The best street photos are the ones that tells a story. Random images generally don’t do that well. They often end up without a meaning and that is never a great thing. The best images are the ones that captivate, forces us to think and to ponder before moving on to the next image. If your images cannot captivate a mind beyond 5 seconds, then it has probably failed its purpose as a street photo.
Processing in Monochrome
The world isn’t black and white. It is full of colors. These colors are what make our images lively, contrasting and vibrant. But at times too much color can be a distraction. It tends to take away the focus from the subject. Street photography is one such genre where this is true.
Monochrome works well with street photography. Colors are not primary in your compositions when shooting still photography. It is the underlying story or the subject that assumes the position of importance. Thus, when shooting street photos, you have to learn how to find the story and how best to capture it. It would help if you can also visualize what you are about to capture in black and white.
Of course you will need to shoot in color and post-process in RAW. Because that is what gives you the greatest tonal range at your disposal when you get down to post-process your photos. When you retain all the color information of your images you can individually adjust the luminosity of these color channels (after having dragged the saturation slider all the way to the left) individually to create the maximum contrast.
Incorporate Light and Shadow
I am a big fan of the histogram. So much so that I look at a scene and start to imagine what the histogram would be like if I were to click an image right then. I like extremes too. Extremes in the sense I prefer to clip my shadows and blow out my highlights. There’s nothing wrong in that. It actually produces more contrasty photos. I like that. As long as you know what you are doing you don’t always have to keep the histogram right in the middle.
Capture Form, Shape and Patterns
Speaking of shadows, form and shapes. They are a great way to create depth and dimension in your images. In the absence of colors that is the one true way to ensure that your images pop. Basic shapes such as circle, triangle and squares are all around us. But in the vibrancy of colors in your everyday photography they are sometimes lost. When the colors are stripped the basic shapes reveal themselves creating visually aesthetic images.
Patterns are interesting too. Patterns create a sort of rhythm that is repetitive and harmonious. It immediately catches the imagination of the viewer. And when you break that pattern, the point where that interruption happens becomes the point of focus of your image.
Lines, I am sure, you have already found to be adding to your overall compositions. Parallel lines when they extend further into an image create a vanishing point. That mimics depth on a two dimensional medium. Thus, incorporating lines in your street photography is another way to spice things up.
Pre-focusing denotes focusing in advance. This is a requirement when you have pretty much set up the shot and is just waiting for the last missing piece to fall in place. Prefocusing ensures you are ready to press the shutter release whenever the moment arrives. This increases chances of getting a good capture.
Use the Motor Drive
Shoot in continuous high mode. That will ensure that you will have a number of shots in your hands to work with. Regardless of whether your camera shoots at 5, 6 or more images per second, continuous shooting is better than using single-shot mode.
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