Mastering the Art of Street Photography

mastering street photography - street photography
Of all the types of photography prevalent in current world, street photography has a niche of its own. It has a ton of ardent supporters & enthusiasts, who indulge in this genre of photography. So what is so special about this photography technique? Why would photographers think of shooting in the streets while they could have shot beautiful pictures in a serene location or in the confinements of a studio?
In this article, we will cover the intricacies and the motive behind shooting on the streets and also guide new street photographers the tips and tricks for a perfect shoot.

What is Street Photography?

Street photography is all about capturing random encounters. In this type of photography, you as a photographer can expose yourself to different situations and capture the raw emotions of everyday people, from all walks of life. It is not a necessity that you must shoot on a street or near an urban local, capturing pictures in public places too comes under this genre of photography.

Evolution of Street Photography:

Street photography has been practiced since the inception of photography itself. Also, as the invention of photography coincided with globalization and urbanization, street photography gained a lot of momentum as well. As the first photographs to be ever clicked were done on the streets, we can surely say that the start photography itself started with street photography.
Back in the days, photographers used to work on ISO 25 films and had to endure the long and grueling process of developing, printing & storing them. While now with full frame digital cameras at our disposal, we can effortlessly capture a number of images at high ISO, with little or no noise. Also, in the early days, photographers used to exchange their print with one another and collaborated to improve their techniques. Now, thanks to numerous social media networks, sharing images among photographers and photography enthusiasts has been simplified.

Currently, many street photographers denounce the use of any flash, image-editing or enhancement software, the likes of Lightroom and Photoshop. But if we take hints from the past, photographers then too had been manipulating negatives. They even used flash in street photography, which is evident from the samples of Jacob Riis, dated back to 1887.

How to get started- Street Photography Tips:

mastering street photography - vastness and intricacies

Given the vastness and intricacies involved, street photography is considered way difficult yet exciting than capturing macros and stills of different objects. Some of the tips to help you perfect your street photography techniques are:

– Use a wide-angle prime lens – Photography on the street is all about capturing the various subjects and elements interacting with each other. It is also the best stage where you can capture people in their candid moments. So you should try to use a camera with the wide-angle prime lens so that you can capture your subjects along with the pandemonium all around. You should avoid using a zoom lens, as it robs your image of the objects surrounding your subject and also makes your subject feel as if he/ she is under surveillance.

– Getting close – Use you wide-angle lens and approach your subject. You should be close enough to capture the details of his skin and also capture the various emotions and facial expressions on his/ her face. This will help you relate the emotions of your subject with the surrounding objects and condition. Using a 24, 28, or 35mm lens on a full-frame or crop camera is recommended.

– Always carry your camera – You never know when and where you would be able to witness a moment that moves you completely. So the best option is to be prepared. Try to equip yourself with a camera at all times, so that you never miss out an opportunity to capture that “Kodak moment”.

– Disregard negativity – People might often judge you when you try to capture images of the street. So the best way is to disregard such negative comments and carry on with your work. As it is not illegal to click photographs in public places, you should never be bothered by what people say. You should always have your perspective in mind and carry on with your shoot, no matter what others say.

– Asking for permission – Even though street photography is all about candid moments, you never know if your subject might get offended by the act. So rather than invading a person’s personal space in pursuit of the perfect candid moment, you should gleefully approach them and let you know of your intention and purpose behind the shoot. In this way, almost everyone would accept your proposal or respond in kind.

– Being respectful – A reason behind an action can solely judge its fairness. While shooting on the streets, you might even encounter a few beggars or homeless people. You would be tempted to click their pictures because they clearly portray the conditions of the less fortunate and how society treats them. But while doing so, you must treat them with respect and not make them feel like an alien or people to be frowned upon.

– Juxtaposition at its best – Street photography is considered to be uniquely fascinating as it renders irony, humor and the beauty of everyday life. In the street, you can juxtapose people with other entities and environment. You should look for signs and messages around that contradict the actions of the people around. You can even compare two different subjects of complementing or contrasting traits and how they interact with their environment.

– A story to pass on – The primary motive of every street photograph is to narrate a story. Your images should be able to capture the emotions of your subjects while their surrounding should lay a story for your subject. Thus, the amalgamation of your subject and environment should clearly convey the emotions of the individual in the picture and his mental state.

How to approach people for Street Photography:

mastering street photography - capturing images of complete strangers

Street photography involves capturing images of complete strangers, but it might not be welcomed by all. Even though photography is allowed in most public places, depending on the location, it might be prohibited. So you must ask for permission before doing any shoot. Also, if you feel shy to look through the eyepiece at the street and crowd, ask a friend to accompany you. It will help eliminate shyness and make the shoot a casual affair.
As a beginner, you should start photographing the crowd as a whole, and then you can even focus on various street performers or street vendors for your subject. While doing candid shots, you can interact with your subjects after you have photographed them and show the samples on your camera. Such gesture would inspire them and also instill trust.
You should be confident while clicking a snap and also be respectful to the individuals in the picture. You should never photograph subjects without their consent or force them to be in one.

What makes mastering street photography more challenging?

Street photography can depict a story in a single frame. So the primary aim should be to find a situation and to correlate with a story. In this endeavor, the challenging part is to pay attention to all activities around you and be quick to act when an opportune moment arises. You should have your camera ready for the perfect exposure setting so that you can capture a moment in a snap without any further ado.
Another challenge revolving photography in the streets is, to leap into the unknown. Because of the sheer volume of your subject and the different interacting elements prevalent, you never know what to expect. You should perceive every moment with an open mind and try to capture its sole essence.
But the most challenging part of street photography is approaching the subjects and capturing the candid moment of complete strangers. Few photographers choose to secretly photograph people by hiding their camera and clicking pictures through their buttonholes. Such method was implemented by Walker Evans in 1930’s & 40’s while he was photographing people of New York City. While a few photographers find it morally wrong and take the consent of the subject before clicking a picture. There are also few who adopt ‘fast shooter’ method to capture quick snaps of people, thus capturing candid moments of various subjects and without being seen.

Professional tips & camera settings for mastering street photography

mastering street photography - spontaneous and quick
As during the shoot you need to be spontaneous and quick while shooting images, you need to select the optimum camera setting that provides you freedom over the camera exposure while allowing you to shoot instantly. Thus the best setting and optimal shooting settings are:
– Exposure mode – Program shift
Focus mode – Servo or Continuous
Shutter speed – 1/125sec or faster
Aperture – f/5.6
ISO – 400
Lens – 18mm to 200mm
Drive Mode – Continuous
White Balance – Auto
If you want to introduce some variety in your images, you can play with camera aperture and shutter speed to introduce motion blur, create Silhouettes and bokeh. If you are doing shoot at night, you might require the need for a tripod to capture images in low light and compensate for the long exposure.

Food for thoughts

Now that you are well endowed with the necessary wisdom regarding street photography, it’s time to get inspired. Here are few quotes from some of the world renowned street photographers. Let’s see what they have to say.

– “If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough” – Robert Capa
– “Photographers mistake the emotion they feel while taking the photo as a judgment that the photograph is good” – Garry Winogrand
– “To me, 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.” – Elliott Erwitt
– “It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”- Alfred Eisenstaedt
– “I love the people I photograph. I mean, they’re my friends. I’ve never met most of them, or I don’t know them at all, yet through my images I live with them.” – Bruce Gilden
– “Seeing is not enough; you have to feel what you photograph” – Andre Kertesz

Things to avoid for mastering street photography

mastering street photography - mistakes that beginners
There are a lot of mistakes that beginners tend to commit while shooting on the streets. These mistakes might be minute or trivial, yet they can hugely impact the quality of your image.

– Being afar – When you are still dealing with your shyness to photograph complete strangers, you tend to take their pictures from a distance. This diminishes the potential of the picture and fails to transcribe the story behind the image.
– Using excessive blur – It’s a common mistake to focus only on your subject during their surroundings completely go out of focus. Shooting using large aperture lenses tends to create such issues. This robs your image of the intricacies surrounding the subject.
– Street artists & vendors – Street artists and vendors are the preferred subjects for most street photographers while they start building their portfolio. But since similar entities are targeted by other street photography enthusiasts, it looks monotonous.
– Over-processing – Over-processing is a strict no-no. After you have captured an image, you should refrain from overusing contrast, saturation, HDR or grains. Such processing makes the image look artificial and appalling.

In a nutshell, street photography is quite fascinating. It enlightens you by providing a way to look at people and their everyday struggles. So to capture the unaltered emotions of people, you should capture their images with least intervention and with utter sensitivity. You’re image should tell something about the people in it and their surroundings.