The world is full to bursting with great subjects that are crying out to be photographed. One of the best ways to refine your picture-taking skills is to hit the streets and engage in a little raw street photography.
Taking good street photographs requires plenty of experience, though. Before you get too involved in the process, review these misleading bits of “common sense” advice that often get thrown at novice street photographers.
Avoid making these mistakes and you can concentrate on taking the best possible pictures.
1. “Street Photography is Like Espionage!”
To some photographers, hitting the street is apparently their chance to play James Bond. Resist the temptation to go about your business in a sneaky way. You’ll find that trying to shoot covertly and dressing up in disguises actually draws more attention to yourself.
Don’t pay too much credence to people who suggest other forms of disguises, either. Some folks recommend dressing up like a tourist to take street photos. This is only useful if you’re working in tourist-heavy areas; in less-traveled streets blending in should be your first priority.
2. “Camp Out on a Great Site.”
The ideal spot for taking street photographs is someplace busy and vibrant.
When you find an area that fits your needs, it can be tempting to haunt it like a demented, camera-crazy ghost. Resist this urge!
It is possible to wear out your welcome on the street; hanging around for too long poking your lens into other people’s business will turn the locals against you.
There’s activity everywhere on the streets. You should be in constant motion when you’re looking for subjects.
Don’t worry about missing a great opportunity; there’ll be another one along soon enough. When you find a spot that really interests you, make it a stop on a larger journey rather than camping out there all day.
3. “Shoot First and Think Later.”
While it’s true that street photography requires quick wits and quick reflexes, don’t mistake it for an excuse to keep your thumb flattened on the shutter button. Shooting aimlessly is a great recipe for bringing home tons of forgettable snapshots. Shoot quickly, but shoot with purpose.
Try to develop an instinct for memorable subjects and moments. This is definitely a skill you can cultivate; experienced street photographers have a sixth sense about when to take their pictures. While you should always be alert and scan your environment for potential subjects, don’t snap your photo until you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to document.
4. “Bring Your Best Gear.”
The street is not the place for your 40-pocket vest and 20-pound camera bag. Divest yourself of all the non-essentials — and when you’re shooting on the street, virtually everything is non-essential. Bring one camera and one lens.
Most street shooters prefer 35 or 50 mm lenses; it’s difficult to capture intimacy with anything longer.
Besides staying light and mobile, leaving your gear behind also helps you blend into the crowd. The street is not the place for your fancy branded strap and attention-getting vest.
You want to appear to casual observers as a person with a camera rather than a photographer.
5. “Never Use Your LCD.”
One of the most common pieces of advice shared by experienced street photographers is to avoid using your camera’s LCD screen.
While this idea has some merit, like a lot of good advice it’s easy to take too far. Nobody is going to smack you on the knuckles if you dare activate your screen.
The act of “chimping,” habitually checking your screen after every photo, is a major time-waster when you’re shooting on the street.
Don’t break focus to look at your LCD when your subject is right in front of you. In between subjects, though, feel free to check some of your recent photos and adjust your settings. Your LCD can also be a handy tool for taking candid shots of willing subjects — most folks (kids especially) will want to see how your photos turn out.
6. “You’ve Got to Shoot Manual.”
This is a more general piece of photographic advice that often gets applied to street photography, where it’s wholly inappropriate.
It’s true that the manliest of macho photographers have a sneering disdain for automated focus settings, but the fast-paced nature of street photography almost always makes manual mode impractical.
Different street pros prefer different settings, with aperture priority being the most favored. Practice changing your f-stop quickly, as this is the easiest way to deal with light changes on the street.
When it comes to actually focusing your camera, you’ll probably find yourself working at similar distances over time. Dial in the right focus in advance so that you’re ready to point and shoot.
7. “Go the Extra Mile.”
Street photography is exhilarating, putting you very close to an endless array of promising photographic subjects. That said, don’t latch onto one person or scene and obsess over capturing it perfectly.
This ends up being a waste of time at best; in the worst-case scenario, it can draw very unwanted attention. Don’t be a stalker.
Every good street photography session is a journey.
Photo: @gypsybl00d – Bailey Barry
Don’t worry too much about how the last subject turned out, and resist the temptation to start following them. Instead, concentrate on what you might find around the next corner.
8. “Don’t Back Down!”
Some confrontational street photographers are adamant about your right to take photos in a public place. (Double-check the local legality of street photography before you hit the street, by the way.)
While it’s true you usually have a right to take photos in public, don’t ever prioritize that right over the privacy of the people around you. That’s an excellent way to get into a shouting match — or worse.
As with the last tip, you should never hesitate to abandon a subject if you can tell your attention makes them uncomfortable. An experienced street photographer will develop a talent for blending in and defusing potentially hostile situations, but you shouldn’t force it. Discretion remains the better part of valor
9. “Everybody On Instagram Likes it; it Must be Great!”
The ability to share photos around the world via the Internet is a powerful tool for both professional and amateur photographers. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sharing the fruits of your street-shooting labors; just don’t mistake idle comments for reliable critique.
Image source: pixabay
Online responses to your street photos can be motivated by a hundred and one different impulses, and it’s very difficult to tell which commenters are actually interested in your photographic skills.
The subject of interest might be your photo’s subject rather than your amazingly talented camera work. For constructive feedback you can rely on, stick to talking to photographers you trust in person.
10. “Upload Shots Every Day!”
Like any other kind of photographic discipline, street photography takes plenty of practice to master. You need to hit the pavement regularly and invest plenty of time in cultivating your skills.
With that being said, you shouldn’t feel obligated to share every last snapshot with the world.
Unless you have a firm, employment-related justification for posting street photos on a regular basis, don’t share your work just for the sake of sharing something.
You need to develop a critical eye regarding your own work. That means keeping your photos to yourself unless you’re convinced you’ve captured something special.
Street photography is an exhilarating and highly personal way to employ your photographic talents. Practice your skills relentlessly and get an understanding of what works best for you.
As the misleading “tips” listed here have shown, sometimes “sensible” advice gets in the way of capturing the most memorable pictures.
What tips have you heard that simply aren’t true?