There’s just something about street photography, I can’t quite put my finger on it. Each day and even minute is different to the next, there’s the anticipation of what you might find while you’re out shooting and the fascination with hunting down the shot and being ready for it. Not to mention the knowledge that you’ve captured a candid moment in time that will never be duplicated. The city is organic and it moves like a river, you never step into the same spot twice. The buildings may remain the same for the most part, but the people are a constant flow. These photographs were all taken in Cambridge, England while I was visiting my parents this summer.
This is how I do things, it may not be the correct way or the universally accepted way of approaching Street Photography. Part of overcoming the fear of photographing strangers in a public setting is coming to terms with yourself, with how you want the photos to end up and how comfortable you feel intruding on strangers for candid shots.
What Gear to Use
For street photography, the camera itself doesn’t really matter so much. If you are nervous, you can try starting out with a small unobtrusive camera like a cell phone or a Point & Shoot Compact camera and still get great shots, in fact I love some of the street shots I’ve taken using my cell phone camera. If you’re shooting with an SLR, you need to make a choice on lenses. You don’t really want to take more than one lens out with you, not only would that be heavy to carry while walking around but while you’re fiddling around changing lenses to get the shot, the shot has already gone. This type of photography is often fast paced, things are easily missed.
I prefer to shoot wide angle for Street Photography, using my 17 – 35mm. Mostly because I like to get as much of the scene into one shot as possible, but also I like to be able to capture things as I see them and to be a part of the moment, rather than standing somewhere far away and zooming in on my subject. This is, however, entirely my personal preference and you should shoot however you feel most comfortable. I’ll talk a little about the ethics later.
The only trouble with my 17 – 35 mm lens is that it is a big lens and easily spotted, which could ruin your shot if you’re aiming for something candid. If blending in is your goal then it is a good idea to chose something that is physically smaller, such as a 35mm (or wider) prime.
What to Look For
Street Photography is a type of documentary photography, the primary focus is on people in public places such as streets, parks and malls. Shots without people in them are not usually considered to be true street photography, but I like to think that there is a little leeway when the shots contain objects that are used by people, show signs of people having been there recently, or are part of a series.
As well as people and human interaction, when you’re out shooting street photography the usual compositional and aesthetic rules still apply. While you’re looking for interesting people or human interaction, you should also be paying attention to your background and things in the background that will compliment your photo. Things such as interesting architecture, leading lines, reflections, shapes and shadows. Often it is the surroundings that really make the shot, and sometimes if you know that a certain area would make a great background you can set up your camera and wait for someone to walk into the frame.
If you’re not comfortable with wandering aimlessly and not necessarily getting any worthwhile shots at all, you can identify a few places where interesting moments are likely to happen, and stay in that general area. If you are nervous about being spotted while taking photos, you could try going to a place where everyone else has a camera too, such as a popular tourist spot or an event of some kind.
Rights, Ethics and Etiquette
Before heading out to shoot street photography, you should be aware of your rights as a photographer. This topic can be controversial but the general rule is that in the U.S. anyone may take photographs of whatever they like within a public space or a space where they have permission to take photographs. For further information check here and if you want more information it is a good idea to check with your state advisory and do some research of your own.
Your rights aside, there are also questions of personal ethics and etiquette. Each person will have their own approach, I generally avoid taking street photos where children are the main subject or are easily identifiable and don’t take photographs of anyone who is doing something in a public setting that I would not be happy to be photographed doing myself. This means that I miss the more edgy type of shot, but capturing those is personally not my intention.
This is also why I don’t like using a longer focal length for street photography, because of the intrusive nature of the shot and that the photograph would not be something I would be able to capture without standing right next to the person. Ethics and etiquette, as well as personal safety are more important than getting the shot, my own personal rule of thumb in regards to street photography is to treat others as you would like to be treated and use common sense.
Street photography is something I’m constantly trying to practice and get better at. Finding stories, or interesting moments hidden amongst the swarms of people within the city is just fascinating to me.