Hopefully, every one of us who picks up a camera, and ventures out onto the street will want to improve as a street photographer. I’d like to think that a little bit of improvement does wonders for our mental health. So without further ado, I’ve thought back to when I first picked up a camera and tried to list down some of the things that will hopefully help you improve.
Firstly I think it’s important we understand what the term “Street photography” means.
What is “Street photography? In it’s simplest form, street photography is taking candid pictures in a public space. Colin Westerbeck writes in Bystander, “is a kind of photography that tells us something crucial and the nature of the medium as a whole, about what is unique to the imagery that it produces. The combination of this instrument, a camera, and this subject matter, the street, yields a type of picture that is idiosyncratic to photography in a way that formal portraits, pictorial landscapes, and other kinds of genre scenes are not.” — Blake Andrews, David Gibson, Nick Turpin, 2016
- I feel as a final concluding point, I want us to have a broader view of street photography– rather than contracting what it is or isn’t. I think that one of the beauties of street photography is its democratic and open nature– that anyone can participate in it regardless of where they live, what camera they shoot with, or the subjects they decide to photograph.
I think that in this sense street photography is a lot like rock music. There are a billion types of sub-genres of “rock” music– and each of these sub-genres says that they are the “true” rock music– and that the rest of them are either phonies, fakes, or posers. — Eric Kim
- Street photography, also sometimes called candid photography, is photography conducted for art or inquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places. Although there is a difference between street and candid photography, it is usually subtle with most street photography being candid in nature but not all candid photography being classifiable as street photography. Street photography does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. Though people usually feature directly, street photography might be absent of people and can be of an object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic. — Wikipedia
So In summary, it doesn’t have to have people in it, it can be in a private or public space. It’s not setup and is always shot candidly. You’ll see that there is no real true definition. Everyone has their own interpretation of what street photography is and its broken down in too lots of sub-genres.
1. Improving confidence. It’s incredibly difficult when you first start out if you pick up a camera with a 35mm lens and just start shooting blindly into the public. Depending on what camera you’re using, some being bigger than others, you’ll feel that you have a big red sign on your head that says “Look at me !” Thing is, in most big cities, people are so caught up in their own worlds that it won’t take long before you can become invisible. When I first started, I didn’t have a clue about what street photography is, other than it involved taking pictures on the street. My first camera was a Nikon D50 and the only lens I had was an old Tamron 70 -200.
Every lunch hour, I’d take my camera and just go out and shoot. London. being an incredibly busy city meant I’d pick a spot, and just try and get people walking past. One of the things I now realize was starting with a longer focal length, was a great way to build up confidence. You have more distance between yourself and the subject, more time to compose the scene and its a great way to put the basics in place without throwing yourself right in at the deep end. So when you first start out, it may be easier to start with a lens with a longer focal length. Once you feel confident with this lens, then move closer with a 50mm or 35mm.
2. Talk to People. If you go about your practice in an ethical manner then you’ll not only feel better about what you’re doing but also realize that by communicating with the general public isn’t a hard thing to do. Set yourself a small side project that involves taking pictures of people on the street Actually stop them, and ask if you can take a portrait. You will get a few people that’ll say no, but you’ll also get quite a lot of people who’ll say “Yes.” This step really helps break down barriers between yourself and the general public, if gives you the confidence to not only talk to people but also a realization that people, on the whole, are generally friendly and open to having their pictures taken.
3. Reading and discovering. You can get so far in street photography when you begin to hit a natural plateau. You’ll maybe shoot a lot of portraits, or something a bit abstract but there comes a time when if you’re really passionate about the subject you begin to dive a little deeper.
One of my greatest pleasures over the past few years has been discovering all sorts of photographers through photo books, some obscure, some not so but by just looking at their work, in print, in sequence means I get a deeper understanding of the process that they went through to produce those pictures.
Just by looking, reading and absorbing as much of this as possible opens your eyes to new creative possibilities.
These are a few of my personal favorites,
Minute to Midnight — Trente Parke
On Street photography and the poetic image — Alex Webb & Rebecca Norris.
Ice Breaker — Mark Power
Small town Inertia — J A Motram
All that life can afford — Matt Stuart
One other thing about books, don’t just buy books on street photography, look at other subject matters too, sometimes you’ll get some more out of a book thats completely unrelated.
4. Father Time.
Probably the most important one, and hence why I left it last. The more time youre spending on the street, experimenting, and trying to find your voice, the better you’ll become. I’m not one of those photographers who can spend 12 hours walking the streets hoping that something will turn up.
I’ve got a much more methodical approach and that’s to challenge myself personally. This manifests itself in a number of ways, from choosing what camera I’m going to shoot with. what I’m going to shoot, and how I’m technically going to approach the task.
The beauty of the street to me is that every time I can force myself away from my computer, something new, something unexpected will display itself and that’s what keeps me going back. Spend time on the street, but use that time intelligently.