Street Photography – A Brief Guide
As a filmmaker I'm always out looking for ways to improve and change the way I use cameras to tell stories and create visual content. Unless you're very lucky, you probably won't be shooting films every single day to perfect your craft. The best way to fill the void I have found is to try my hand in some Street Photography. By doing so I can always carry my camera with me and try and capture the characters and stories unfolding in front of me, as well as practicing exposing and framing shots quickly.
Because I find it so effective, I've decided to write a few words on why it could help you too. So here's my quick run down on the art of Street Photography.
Keep it Casual
The idea of Street Photography is to be discrete when you're working. We're not talking Peeping Tom levels of hiding, but rather you need to blend into the surroundings and capture what's in front of you.
The best way to do so is to dress very low key and not use large back-packs or camera vests as you'll most definitely stick out like a sore thumb. You also don't want to be out in water proofs and walking boots as if you're about to trek the Brecon Beacons.
The same can be said for camera straps, I personally only use very plain design fabric or leather straps depending on my camera as it keeps it low key and doesn't scream out to near by people I'm using a Canon etc.
Use Minimal Kit
When I go out, I like to keep it really minimalist. I use a really basic camera with basic lenses, this means that there's less settings on the camera to worry about and less things to carry with me.
If you start walking through a busy town with a 5dmk4 and mammoth 70-200 f/2.8, you'll start turning some heads. If you have a small mirror less camera with a simple prime lens, no one will notice and most people who do will most likely thing it's just a little point and shoot camera any way.
The same goes for bags, I prefer to use a small casual bag (it's been called a man bag many times here in the office) as it doesn't look like I'm carrying a tone of camera equipment and also looks a lot more casual in your surroundings. The last thing you want to have with you is a huge 50l black rucksack knocking into people in a crowd. A lot of the time now, I don't take a case or bag with me and just leave the house with one camera and one lens, which is often small enough to fit into a coat pocket.
Travel to Busy Places
For Street Photography to be successful you (generally) need people to take pictures of. The best place for this is in busy places where people are concentrated. Markets, city centers, festivals and events are all great places for it. My personal favorite place to take pictures is London as there's always something going on somewhere, along with the huge diversity in people and places around the city, it makes for a fantastic day of just taking pictures.
I can get a return bus journey from Cardiff for less than £10 so there's really no excuse for not being able to go down for the day and get some snaps. But closer to home there's loads of busy places locally such as Cardiff market, Grange town and Cathays where there is loads and loads of character. The key is to look at where you live and pick out the lively and atmospheric places which will let you pick out individual stories and events going on in front of you.
Don't just use Black and White to be Cool
One thing I see all the time is people editing their pictures only in black and white when they take street images. This is one thing that really bugs me as color can say so much more about an image than having no color at all can. Take the pictures below for example. The center image (I feel) is more engaging with the individual in the picture where as the black and white edit is a much more general and un-engaging feel.
When you use color, you need to remember that color engages people with character and black and white tends to emphasis the textures in an image and creates a much flatter picture for the audience, depth is always key to a good image. Each can be use perfectly in the correct situation, but when black and white is used just because it looks "cool" in an image, it really feels like the photographer has cheated when building that image. But that being said, I do out put some images in black and white and do feel that it can really be used successfully when done correctly.
Bonus Tip: One thing I should also add is that if you intend to output in black and white, I would advise against shooting in black and white. Always take your images in color and change them later. Just in case you don't like the look of the images when it is black and white you still have the option to keep it in color.
Use Prime Lenses
I'm a big fan of using prime lenses for most situations (read our blog about lenses) for a number of reasons. In Street Photography, they have two major advantages.
Firstly they are incredibly small and portable against their zoom lens equivalents, this makes them much more economic to carry and more subtle whilst shooting.
Secondly I find that they really test you as a photographer. Not having the flexibility of a zoom lens makes you think much more about the framing of your shots in accordance to the lens you're shooting with and therefore will improve the speed and quality of the framing of your shots.
Accept it just doesn't always work
One of the things you must remember when taking pictures is that it doesn't always workout exactly how you want. Every time you take the camera out of your bag, you probably won't take the next cover photo for a National Geographic magazine (then again you might well do). But this is good as you will begin to start learning from your mistakes and slowly eradicate them from your shots. I've taken many pictures which I've spent hours editing just for them never to work. There's nothing wrong with it and it will happen a lot.
Normally, from a memory card full of pictures, I'll be happy with one maybe two images that I'll feel good about publishing. So I guess the moral is keep trying and eventually something will come out exactly how you imagine it.
Confidence is key when taking pictures on the street. The best way to get images is to be in the action and up close to what is happening in front of you. If you stand back you'll look like you're spying on people and often miss everything happening in front of you. Take the below images for example, the longest lens I used here was 40mm, allowing me to take a step into the scene an immerse anyone viewing the images.
So that's my brief guide to street photography, I hope it helps in some way! But remember, the best way to learn is to go out and shoot!