I’ve never specialized in any one genre of photography, which is probably why I consider myself as an amateur in all genres of photography. Portraiture, HDR, landscapes, light painting – I constantly switch from one to the other, and enjoy them all.
One constant is that wherever I happen to be, I always enjoy going out for a walk to see what I can capture with my camera. While the majority of photos I take on these walks include people, I don’t consider that to be a requirement. Neither do I try to focus only on taking shots that document something in particular. So, I suppose I’m actually talking more about photo walks than about true street photography.
So, why do it? I’ve found shooting on the street is a great way to hone your skills in being aware of what’s going on around you, test different camera settings, practice using different lens, learning to be quick, and forcing yourself to think about how to create a compelling image. And, best of all, you never know what you’re going to find.
One of the allures of shooting people on the street is the opportunity to capture candid moments. This allows you to portray honest human emotions, which can lend to creating a memorable photo.
Of course, you have to deal with the innate hesitation we all have to taking a stranger’s photo. Will they get mad? Will they think you’re some sort of strange stalker? Ideally, you’ll be quick enough when you press the shutter release that they won’t even notice you – that’s how you get a real candid shot.
There are a few options you can use to get candid street shots. One is to go someplace where a lot of people are taking photos – a public event, or a park where a street performer is putting on a show. You’ll easily be able to take photos of people in the crowd without attracting a lot of attention. Another technique is to look for people who are so engrossed in whatever they are doing that they won’t notice you (someone feeding the birds in a park, for example).
A common ruse is to pretend you’re shooting something besides the person whose photo you want to take. An easy way of doing this is to set up a shot and allow the person to walk into the frame. If they notice you, just keep shooting even after they’ve passed by. Chances are, they’ll think they got in your way.
It’s just a personal opinion, but I don’t recommend using a telephoto lens to take candid shots of strangers. I’ll admit I tried this when I got my first telephoto lens as a gift, but the whole experience felt creepy and I gave it up immediately. I’m not saying don’t do it, I’m just saying it’s not for me.
Begin a ‘foreigner’ in all the countries where I shoot, it’s inevitable that I stand out and get noticed. This means some of the shots I get are of people looking directly at me. Sometimes this enhances the image, but other times (when they start ‘posing’), it weakens the shot.
When people notice that I’ve taken their photo, I always give them a big smile and offer to let them to look at the photo (sign language goes a long way here!). It’s always awkward to be caught taking someone’s photo, but so far I’ve never had any problem. It probably helps that I never take photos of people that purposely are unflattering – when they’re arguing, etc.
Exercising common sense and practicing common courtesy both go a long way into making amateur street photography a fun experience! The things you’ll learn, and the practice you’ll get in using your camera, both make it worth the time and effort.