The hustle and bustle of the city during peak hour can provide so many opportunities to capture some great unexpected street photos but it can also be quite an overwhelming experience when you first start out. Initially I had no idea what I was doing. For me it took time and many trips into the city to start feeling comfortable and a bit longer to figure out what I wanted to achieve with my photos. Every time I go out I continue to improve my skills and learn new things so I thought I would share some of the things that go through my mind when I’m shooting on the streets.
This blog post ended up a lot longer than I expected so I thought I would break it up into two parts for easier digestion. I’ve broken my thoughts up into 8 pieces, 4 detailed here and the remainder will feature in another post.
So let’s start with how I define ‘street photography’. For me it’s all about capturing an unplanned or unexpected moment, with a human element, that is visually interesting or tells a story. There are traditionalists who believe street photography has to be carried out in a particular way using certain focal lengths, subject matter and cameras but I’m of the belief of trying all kinds of approaches to find the technique that gives you the outcomes you are most happy with.
In my work I approach picture taking in a couple of different ways. I either go out to look for interesting characters and people doing things or find a scene that is appealing for some reason, such as the way the light looks or particular graphic elements, and wait for a person to walk into the frame to complete the picture. Sometimes I even get a really interesting character walking into an amazing space I have found!. But I will go into more detail about these aspects throughout this post.
01: Chasing light
It’s all about the light, after all that’s the thing that makes photography possible! A common held belief amongst photographers is that the best time to shoot is during golden hour, just before sunset. While I would agree with this I would also add that I have found some great light on the street at all hours of the day, even at noon. The harsh light shining between buildings can create strong shadows resulting in a dramatic, graphic look to photos.
But don’t just pack up your bags and head home when the sun goes down. I’ve found that some bland looking areas take on a completely different feeling once the city lights turn on. Shop front windows can fill the footpath with a wash of colour while street lights can create an unexpected mood to a familiar laneway.
Tip: Shoot at different times of the day to achieve different looks and feelings.
02: A face in the crowd
Anybody can take a picture of a non-descript random person and call it street photography. But what interests me is capturing a detail that helps tell a story about a scene or a subject within the frame. This could be the style of outfit they are wearing, what they are physically doing in the street or it may be as subtle as a hand gesture, catching someones eye or an expression.
However, one thing I try to steer clear of is the ubiquitous phone zombie. Expressionless face, eyes glazed over, head bowed and completely detached from the world around them. I find it much more refreshing to capture someone lost in thought or reacting to something that is happening in the real world.
Tip: Spend time looking for interesting characters and moments.
03: Go with the flow
It can be a hard slog relying on random moments to happen to capture a great photo. From experience I can tell you that there have been many days I’ve come home from a session of shooting with nothing remarkable or interesting on my memory card. It’s easy to get down about it, but I’ve found that the more I go out shooting the greater the chances are of snapping a great moment, which makes the hard slog all worthwhile.
It also helps me if I go out to areas I haven’t been to before. There is a sense of discovery and that feeling of seeing things for the first time. At the end of the day if I don’t take any amazing photos at least I had the experience of exploring somewhere new.
Tip: Shoot as often as you can. Everything gets better with practice.
04: Frame it up
With a background in Graphic Design, I’m naturally drawn to interesting forms and shapes when I’m out in the world. Understanding how elements within a composition can help create focus or direct a viewers eye to a subject can really help when shooting. When I’m struggling to find interesting characters to snap, I’m looking for elements such as frames and leading lines to help create a visually pleasing photo. If I find a great frame such as a window or a gap between a wall I would spend some time lining things up in my view finder and waiting for someone to walk into that frame to complete the shot. Obviously avoid the phone zombies in this situation too.
Tip: Take the time to consider your composition.
I hope these initial thoughts gave you a little insight into how I approach shooting on the street. As mentioned at the beginning, this is just the first instalment of my post in regards to street photography.
For part two of my street photography process click here!
All images captured using Canon 5D MkIII and EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens.
Check out my Instagram for more captured moments. Let me know what you think!