Steet photography is an exciting and challenging subject to test your camera skills. It involves capturing everyday life on the streets, and can include elements of portraiture, documentary and landscape photography. Street photography is often associated with travel, but there are opportunities to practice everywhere. Sometimes you can be at an advantage if you’re familiar with the place where you’re shooting.
As well as the technical aspects of photography, shooting documentary pictures on the street requires good people skills and the ability to react to what’s happening around you. Street photography is done candidly and usually without the subject knowing so you need to be confident and also respectful when out shooting. You must also know your camera to the point where you can operate it without thinking. Having to change camera settings or checking something often means the moment is lost.
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The following tips will help you develop your street photography skills.
1) Do some research.
Markets, cafes, bars and places where people gather to socialize are great subjects for documentary photography. If you aren’t familiar with a location, do some research before visiting to ensure you make the most of it. If you’re shooting in a foreign country, make sure you understand local customs and behave in an acceptable way. Historic buildings, fountains and churches are great backdrops for documentary photography in many countries.
2) Keep equipment simple.
Digital SLR cameras can produce great pictures, but they aren’t the first choice for many street photographers. It’s hard to be inconspicuous and blend in if you’re carrying a large DSLR with a long zoom lens.
Mirrorless compact cameras are becoming increasingly popular for all forms of documentary photography. They are small, light and completely silent. Top of the range mirrorless compacts have the same sensors and technical specifications as modern DSLRs. A rucksack or casual bag is better than a camera case if you want to avoid standing out as a photographer.
3) Get close to the subject.
Many photographers choose a telephoto lens for street photography, but this can isolate you from your surroundings. Shooting with a wide-angle lens allows you to get close to subjects and creates a sense of being there in the moment. Treat the camera as an extension of yourself. If you act naturally and show respect, it’s unlikely people will object to your taking pictures.
4) Don’t worry about image quality.
Capturing moments and atmosphere is more important than image quality when it comes to documentary pictures. Shots should be correctly exposed and focused, but don’t worry about the odd technical error. Composition, expression and drama are key to telling the story of everyday life on the streets.
5) Shoot from the hip.
Shooting from the hip is a great way to capture candid shots of people. The moment you raise a camera to your eye people behave differently, so shooting from waist level means more natural pictures. This is a technique you’ll have to practice, but it’s the way many great documentary photographers work. Set you camera to auto and use a wide-angle lens for the best results.
6) Edit when you get home.
Shooting the way people did in the days of film cameras has some benefits in candid photography. Checking the results on your camera’s screen will slow you down and draw attention. Be prepared to take a shot when you see something of interest, then move on to look for the next opportunity. Modern memory cards can hold hundreds of shots, so there’s no need to edit and delete shots when you’re out on location.
7) Stay within the law.
If you plan to sell pictures taken on the street, you’ll need the permission of people appearing in them. There are no laws about taking pictures on the street if they aren’t for commercial purposes, but it can still lead to problems if you act in inappropriate ways. Children are a great subject for travel photography, but you must be careful how you go about this. If people think you are acting suspiciously, they may contact local law enforcement.
Above all just be respectful and remain calm, most people will be fine with having their photo taken but on the rare occasion where confrontation might occur simply explain what you are doing and why and maybe offer a business card to identify yourself.
The best way to develop street photography skills is to get out and practice. The results may be disappointing at first, but over time your confidence will grow and you’ll develop an eye for capturing the essence of a place in pictures.