STREET PHOTOGRAPHY FAQ
Ha! You didn't read my previous journals, did you?
Street photography is "un-posed, un-staged photography which captures, explores or questions contemporary society and the relationships between individuals and their surroundings".
Moments can be of every kind: ironic, sad, melancholic, surreal, wry, tender, beautiful, poetic, destabilizing, documentary. They all show aspects of life.
You can read my take on it here: Street, children, is a state of mind
I feel awkward/shy/embarrassed taking photos of strangers. How can I take photos of strangers in the street?
Take it easy, you are not committing a crime. Be relaxed, focus on your task, concentrate on getting your picture.
It might take a while to get comfortable and take confidence with taking photos of strangers. So start with easy situations: touristic places, fairs, public gatherings, zoo, amusement park and so on.
Start with a focal lens that makes you feel comfortable, take shots of the things you find easier to capture. And then step by step get closer and more daring.
At first, you don't even have to carry your camera and take photos. Start watching, noticing, seeing the details, the interactions, the connections that make a good street photo.
You might choose a place and learn to know it by heart. Knowing the surroundings, the happenings, the characters you are likely to find, often helps in street photography. It allows you to foresee and pre-visualize a photo, and be ready to capture it when it happens.
How can I make myself invisible?
The good news is that you don't need a camouflage battle dress, you don't need to become a ninja or to learn a spell or a potion, and you don't even need to be a Leprechaun or Harry Potter.
The best way to be invisible is to hide in plain sight.
Inconspicuous clothes, eventually a tourist map or guide, a backpack, whatever can make you look like a tourist in visit to the city.
There are a few things that can help you taking pictures unnoticed:
A small camera. A silent shutter (remove the blipping sounds and the assistance light! Don't use the flash!). A tilted LCD screen (god bless who invented it!). LCDs in general allow you to focus while watching somewhere else and just take a glimpse in the LCD.
Shoot from the hip. This technique needs a bit (scratch it, a LOT) of practice not to end up with a series of photos of the sidewalk...but a neck strap keeping the camera at your chest level, a hand keeping the camera steady and aligned, a wide aperture, and practice in evaluating where the camera is pointing...will allow you to take pictures without anybody noticing it.
Take your boyfriend/girlfriend/whatever friend with you and make them place themselves around you, or take photos over their shoulder (though I would advice you against this technique for your relationship's sake. Your girlfriend might feel hurt or pissed off).
How can I find my subjects?
Street photography is not a matter of subject but of approach.
Every character, every happening, every scene might be a good street photo.
"(Street) Photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them". Elliot Erwitt.
Street photography is a way to look at the ordinary and see the unusual in it, to look at everyday situations and find a decisive moment in them, to look at candid happenings and see iconic interactions between people and surroundings in them.
The ABILITY to SEE good subjects is a natural ability, which lies in the capacity the photographer has to select, organize, connect and reconnect elements, in the capacity to re-interpret reality, construct a narration, convey impact and emotion within a frame. Even if it is in part a natural ability, it grows, refines, and improves with time, experience, cultural and human growth of the photographer himself.
What is hip-shooting?
"shoot from the hip": to fire a gun that is held at one's side, beside one's hip. (This increases one's speed in firing a gun but is much less accurate.)
In Photography, hip-shooting simply means that we take a picture without composing it through our camera's viewfinder. We take it by roughly "aiming" our subject with our lens. The big advantage of hip-shooting is that the chances to remain unoticed and not interfere with the scene are big. The big disadvantage of this technique is the lack of accuracy, which most of the times leads to the need for cropping and straightening out frame afterwards. And of course the usually poor composition, since we can't compose properly by seeing exactly what we are shooting. Still, though practice rarely makes perfect, in hip-shooting practice makes better.
what is zone-focusing?
The photographer pre-sets the focusing scale of the lens to his working distance and lets the depth of field take care of the rest.
A detailed description of this technique can be found here: Hyperfocal technique tutorial
Which mode should I use in my camera?
How many times you deleted a wonderful scene, just because your subjects appeared blurry? If this happens to you quite often, consider using the Speed priority mode of your camera. Set the speed to 1/250 minimum and let the camera decide the aperture and the ISO. As you grow as a photographer you might find more suitable for you to use the Manual mode, not letting the camera decide anything on your behalf. Still, using a preset mode might save you some fractions of a second and we all know that the decisive moment rarely lasts more than that. In all cases, it's good to experiment and find out which mode suits you better, deciding your priorities. Is it the depth of field? the noiseless images? Or the crystal clear, sharp ones? In many occasions we can't have them all and we have to decide what to sacrifice and what to keep.
Well, some street photographers do. Few are even famous for using it. Though this is not the classic street photography approach, which is remaining invisible, discreet, kind, into the scene but not affecting the scene. Generally people don't appreciate being flashed while walking in the streets. And you can never foresee the reactions of your subject. I wouldn't try it if my gear is expensive or if I don't have a life insurance.
Which is the best lens for street photography?
We generally want to have a background in our street photos. And a telephoto lens will give us a nice bokeh but not a definite background. The kind of lens of preference changes according to the taste and style of the photographer. There are photographers that use a wide angle lens, others that use fixed lenses 35 mm, 50 mm, others that use a short zoom 24-90, 18-55. Better stay on the short side of the lens, especially using autofocus zooms. A wide angle lens brings us into the scene, showing our subjects in context. A telephoto lens puts distance between us and our subjects, squeezes the perspective and puts us away from the scene. I would certainly use a telephoto lens if I took pictures of lions and tigers. But in Street photography? I wouldn't say so.
How to edit a street photo? Should a street photo be in black and white?
Street photography is a 'built-in-camera' genre of photography. Its challenge is to make the best photo in your camera, without relying on the post production. It is a documentary genre of photography, and a documentary style means a not disruptive, not heavy kind of edit. A natural beauty!
So, keep the edit to a minimum amount. Straightening, sharpening, adjustment of colors, levels, tones. Sometimes photographers enhance the underexposure of a photo, enhance the contrast light/shadow to increase the surreal feeling of this kind of photo. Sometimes you'll find out that a photo works better in black and white, sometimes instead in colors. Black and white suits better frames with lines, geometries, that could get less visible with the distraction of the colors. Sometimes a color is too gaudy and affects a composition or the color balance. Sometimes instead colors ARE what makes the photo, they connect the elements, they lead the eye through the frame. Or they add to the impact of the image. Usually a photo works better one way than the other. Black and white can be tricky, so I'd suggest to leave street photos in color if you have no practice in edit.
The same applies to the cropping: crop the less possible. Crop with a meaning.
I found myself getting back to old photos and find them better in the original than in my own edit. And I learned not to crop and not to over edit my images.
Street photography and selective coloring is a big NO NO. Idem for fake blurring, or for photomanipulations of every kind. HDR and street photography don't get along well, street photography is meant to be the capture of a decisive moment, not two or three pasted together or reworked.
Fancy photoshop actions? Hardly make a street photo look better.
Film or digital?
Whatever suits you best! Both have pros and cons. If you are a digital user, try shooting film even for once. It's fun, it's different, it's classic, it's original. If you are a film lover, try shooting digital. You'd be amazed of the possibilities a digital camera gives you.