Street photography is one of the most challenging but at the same time one of the most rewarding genres of photography. Documenting people in their everyday environment is not easy – it requires patience, hard work, and sometimes even some bravery to be able to approach and photograph complete strangers.
Ultimately, time and practice is the only true way to do it, but there are many steps you can take to make it easier on yourself from the very beginning.
A good street photo needs a clearly defined subject. All the rules of composition, such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, use of negative space, symmetry, frames, etc. still hold. Try and tell a story with your images. Create photographs where the viewer pauses and asks questions. Here are some tips that you might want to consider, independently of your creativity.
Street portraiture is when you ask someone to take their portrait on the street. It’s simple, it’s quick, and it’s easy. In addition to getting some fantastic portraits and experience with portraiture, it is the best way to quickly become comfortable around strangers on the street.
By taking pictures of people in the street with their permission, you will learn is how truly excited most people will be when you ask them, and it will make you feel good about what you are trying to do. You will become the most interesting moment of their day and the story that they will tell when they get home at the end of it.
Pick a spot and let people come to you
If you are constantly walking around and moving, then it is so tough to not only see moments but to change directions and run into place without being noticed or feeling self-conscious. Doing this will make you feel like you are invading someone else’s space.
Instead, pick a spot with a lot of foot traffic or an interesting background and wait for people to come to you. This way, your subjects will be invading your space and the tides will have turned. You will feel much more comfortable photographing them and it will also be less likely that they will notice you.
Shoot from the hip and zone focus
Shooting from the hip is when you photograph without looking through the viewfinder. It is easiest to do with a light, wide-angle prime lens where you are used to the perspective so that you can frame correctly without looking. Zone focusing, or pre-focusing to a specific distance, is necessary for shooting this way and is a subject that needs its own article
Pretend you’re a tourist who’s photographing the background
Try not to look directly at your subjects and make it seem like you are photographing the background behind and a little to the side of them. Then, after you capture the person, keep the camera still like you are still framing what is behind them.
Keep a smile on your face and look lost, like other tourists. People give tourists a lot of leeways.
This is the true key to not being noticed. It’s so interesting, when you look confident like you know what you’re doing, then people will ignore you, even if you’re weaving your way all around the sidewalks. It’s when you look scared and tentative that people will start to notice you because they will pick up on that nervousness. After all, if you look nervous then you must be doing something wrong, right? And if you look confident then you must be doing something good.
When you think of the “typical” street photo, it’s black-and-white, crisp, and captures some candid expression or event (in motion if you’re good). So why not break that mold and go to the other extreme? Set up a tripod, break out the ND filter (or go out at night), close up your aperture, use a remote shutter, and turn the exposure up to 11 seconds or more!
Allow yourself to capture a blurry mass of humanity walking the streets while the street itself becomes the impossibly sharp backdrop to this blur of motion.
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Manuel Delgado is an award-winning photographer with a specialization in travel and documentary photography. He writes for Contrastly and is a Mentor for NGO Photographers Alliance, having led workshops in Africa with a focus on ethical and humanitarian photography. His work has been exhibited in Europe and the Americas.
Driven by an innate curiosity for his surroundings, Manuel´s process is mainly focused on capturing people in their natural environment; translating through his lens the subtle threads of daily life that are shared across cultures, borders, and races. Depicting people from diverse backgrounds, his work is united by a shared aesthetic that serves to tell each individual’s story. Manuel is currently living in Düsseldorf, Germany.