What Everyone Should Know About Starting Street Photography
Updated: Aug 4, 2022
Street photography is a very popular genre of photography yet I have been reluctant to do street photography for a few reasons, not least of which is the fear of invading people’s privacy.
Unlike other forms of photography, street photography, or candid photography, involves taking photographs of people, usually without their knowledge or consent. I have been slow to do that, possibly because of fear of doing something wrong.
To try and overcome this fear, I enrolled in a street photography workshop in my local city and this certainly allayed most of my fears and it also gave me a love of this type of photography.
There is something special about taking photographs of candid moments and natural interactions that motivates me to want to do more candid photography.
I have always admired street photography images. In the past they were often black and white images that seemed to capture a subject in a particular moment in time, depict a particular emotion or give a glimpse of a special relationship or human interaction.
I admired the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson before I realised that he was a master in this particular genre of photography, and have recently become familiar with the work of Fan Ho, who has been dubbed “the Cartier-Bresson of the East”. https://erickimphotography.com/blog/fan-ho/
I also love to experience different cultures, different values, different ways of life. It is the diversity of human existence that makes the world go round, and this is the very content of street photography. There is so much to see in the world, so many ways to explore human existence, so much to learn about the world and its people that we should never be short of subject matter and inspiring content for street photography. Some of the best street photographers have left us with iconic images of past times which give us a glimpse of a world we haven’t experienced first-hand.
Now that I have had my appetite for street photography well and truly whetted, have got out into the streets a number of times and have taken on board the suggestions made on my workshop, I have come up with some ‘Dos and Don’ts’ for anyone considering doing street photography for the first time.
Wear comfortable footwear
This might seem obvious, but for me it's top of the list. I was surprised at how far I walked on my first few outings and realised the importance of not having to worry about getting sore or tired feet because of the wrong footwear.
Talk to people.
While street photography is usually done candidly, that is, without permission and without the knowledge of the subject, I think it does make a difference, if people notice me taking photographs, to smile, say hello and tell them what I am doing.
While I try not to take people’s photographs too close up without their permission, it is often hard not to be noticed and I don’t want to appear sneaky, as if I am doing something wrong.
In these photographs I asked the people involved if I could take their picture and they were only too happy to oblige. Some people would call these street portraits rather than street photography; however, I think talking to people does help you to feel connected to the environment you are in and makes taking candid pictures that much easier.
Look for something out of the ordinary – an unusual angle, an interesting encounter, a candid moment, a gesture - something which will capture the attention of the viewer.
Have a purpose for your shot.
While street photography has to be fast in order to capture a fleeting moment, there are still some ‘rules’ that should be adhered to. Just pointing a camera at something in the street and taking a picture can’t be termed street photography. There has to be a purpose for taking the picture – a subject, a moment, an emotion, a ‘story’, so that the viewer will stop and wonder. We also need to make some decisions about composition ‘on the fly’, for example, giving consideration to how much of a scene to include, waiting for the right person or people to enter a scene, looking for the right angle from which to compose the shot, or just being drawn to what we see, as I was below.
Take lots of pictures.
The ‘father’ of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson, talked of taking at least 20 photos of a single scene then choosing afterwards the ones he considered to be the best. By doing this he tried to catch what he called ‘the decisive moment’. The decisive moment may be different for different people and each person has to know what the decisive moment is for them. With our digital photography it is easy to take lots of pictures on a shoot. Just be sure to bring a spare battery!
'Street' photography doesn't have to happen on the streets, it describes any type of candid photography. On a recent holiday I took lots of photos of these teenagers jumping into the water, but this was the only one which caught the moment where the girl could be clearly seen in action. To me it spoke of energy, courage, commitment and achievement. Unfortunately, I wasn’t close enough to capture the facial expression and emotion of the moment.
Look for emotion.
Streets are full of people and people are full of emotion. Emotion can be seen in the street through body language, gestures and expressions. in my opinion, trying to capture emotion is one of the most interesting aspects of street photography.
I took a number of photographs of these two people chatting, and picked out the ones that I thought best expressed some emotion
I think these two images do capture the candid nature of street photography
At times, go for ‘less is more’.
In street photography you don’t have to capture a full scene. At times I like to focus on feet, hands, hats, umbrellas, colours and shapes rather than on full body images. In the streets the only limit is your imagination!
Don’t be afraid of rejection – it happens to everyone! The best lesson I learned on that score was when I was participating in a workshop with an accomplished street photographer. He was sharing some tips with me when he spotted an interestingly dressed young man sitting on a bench. He approached the man, told him he was a street photographer and asked if he would mind if he took his photograph. The man immediately refused and the photographer politely thanked him and walked on. I realised that refusals happen to everyone and that if they happen to me, it’s nothing personal!
Don’t be afraid to experiment, be creative and to find ways to make the ordinary look extraordinary! That’s what street photography is all about!
"You don’t take pictures, the good ones happen to you." ~Ernst Haas