View Full Version : street shooting technique
I was just wondering how people go about shooting portraits on the street, are there any little tips and tricks you could pass on.
One main problem I have is balancing interesting subjects with equally interesting backgrounds/ settings. I have tried looking for settings and then waiting for someone interesting/fitting to come along, with mixed too little success.
I'm not too interesting in technical things, like lens choice/quick focusing methods etc, more your general approach and how you conduct yourself.
Well, I can only recommend you to look and listen to this Garry Winogrand movie (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl4f-QFCUek) on YouTube (there's also a part II linked to on the right hand side)
I get by using two tricks: look harmless (again, see Winogrand acting goofy, invent your own) and shoot a lot. There's only a few days a year that I get out and work for hours on a stretch but I'm doing my best to make them count. Two or three shots a roll that really work and five or six more that are close actually is a good score.
I find the most helpful thing is to try your hardest not to look sketchy. Don't try to hide your camera, have it hanging in plain view. Act like you are completely comfortable taking pictures on the street and people won't think you're up to something. If you see a subject you'd like to take a picture of try approaching and striking up a conversation or just plain asking if you can take their picture. This can be one of the hardest things to do, getting over the "fear" of talking to random strangers. Some people prefer the "invisible photographer" method, catching people that don't know their being photographed. I use this sometimes. It's funny, but I use the same method for street photography that I use for wildlife photography. Show up at an area, situate yourself somewhere, on a bench, leaning against a wall or something and just start snapping pictures (or even just mime taking pictures). This gets people in the area used to the fact that there's a camera around, and after a couple minutes they'll forget they saw a photographer and continue on with whatever they where doing.
There's a million different theories and methods for street photography, some good, some bad, and some will only work for some people. Find a method or two that you feel comfortable with and practice. Get to know the areas that you shoot. Look for cool backgrounds or angles, situate yourself so your background is composed, focus is set and then wait for subjects to walk into frame. I found the first couple months I started street photography my shots where terrible, but I got better and better at it over time.
My advice: Shoot like hell when something happens that looks interesting, edit ruthlessly afterward.
The thing about talking with people is that you can develop a rapor with them :) I always enjoy talking with people on the street... meet lots of interesting people that way. The pictures turn out differently though.
And to add to it: I agree with what's said above: Don't act sketchy or hide your camera. I have shot many times without people noticing (or if they did, even caring) that I was shooting.
Even so, street shooting can be a bit nerve-wracking especially in these times. One never knows if certain people are going to react negatively--or even violently--to having their photo taken. Further--especially if you take photos of children (and let's face it , they make great subjects, since kids are unselfconscious and are natural hams)--there's always the danger of being taken for a pervert, no thanks to the success our our media in pumping up the fear of crime. And of course, post-911, some cops think it's open season on photographers.
But a a pro photog friend of mine said, if you aren't a bit tensed up going into any shoot, you're really not that invested in your work, and you're not going to do that good a job.
I also find that shooting with a friend, whether they're shooting as well or not, helps. For some reason people seem to think that any activity, no matter how strange, that a group is doing together can't be that sketchy. It's the "lone photographer" that some people find disturbing
One thing I do if someone sees me taking their picture is to smile and carry on shooting with the camera to my eye. I've found that people seem to react better to this than taking the camera away from my eye, or trying to pretend I wasn't interested in them.
Interesting suggestions. I guess everybody has their own way of looking harmless.
Winogrands approach is classic to me, he always looks like some ignorant guy test driving his camera. Brilliant, I love looking at the man!
I find having 2-3 DSLR's with 200-600mm lenses and huge flash guns attached works really well, especially if you shout at people as you take the picture. ;)
What I do is walk around, listening to tunes, and taking pictures. I don't try to hide it, I am comfortable, I don't worry about my 'rights', I simply take photos and then delete 99% of them when I get home.
Quite honestly I think you have to find your own way. Everyone has things that they do that help them but these won't work for everyone; Disaster Area suggests shooting with a friend as it helps him whilst for me thats the most distracting thing that can happen - I prefer to be on my own. I find sitting and having a coffee outside, iPod on and watching the world go by before I get started helps me find, for want of a better phrase, some sort of rhythm.
There are also the 'universal truths,' i.e. relax, smile and enjoy yourself, know that you're doing nothing wrong or weird, these really do apply to all of us.
You can constantly walk around, exploring and hoping to find something along your path or you can find a spot with an interesting background, good light or thats very busy and stick to that small patch. I tend to combine the two, I may have four or five 'hotspots' in any one town/city that I'll hang around in for a while before wending my way to one of the others for a bit of a change.
Talking to people is another oft repeated piece of advice. I think this is simply good advice in general, you meet lots of interesting people from very different backgrounds - that's just interesting in itself. I don't ask people if I can photograph them, unless I'm doing a close up of their shoes or something that requires me to lie on the floor and have them keep still for a while, but I often strike up a conversation or have someone start one with me. Perhaps this comes from looking relatively approachable and people being intrigued by me taking lots of pictures. Which kind of leads me to the point about being open. Exactly how this is defined is probably very personal but you can be discreet with out being deceitful and obvious without being over the top. There are times when you wish not to be noticed as an expression or body shape may change, whilst there are also situations where being open, moving with the fluidity of someone who has nothing to hide will get you a shot that would have been lost had you been moving more slowly, more surreptitiously.
So there's lots and lots of good advice that will come your way, but you'll probably need to try a number of methods to find those that work best for you....and of course there's the simple fact that you'll need to hone those skills in the same way that any photographer hones the skills they'll need for the area that interests them; namely lots of practice, lots of shooting and a thick skin to deal with all the setbacks and disappointments.
As you know what kind of images impress you I'd suggest looking at those kind of shots and trying to work out how the photographer may have got them, come up with a little shortlist of ideas and then go out and try those ideas for yourself. One of the best things about photography is the experimentation, playing around.
I dont really do the "invisible photographer" thing very often, I think I might be an adrenaline junkie and I actually enjoy getting caught :D
But I do do it when I'm not in the mood for confrontation and I've picked up a couple of tricks over the years, other than the usual prefocus-preset exposure, use a quiet camera etc
Wrong: Point the camera directly at somebody. It makes for boring dead centre compositions and people notice you immediately.
Right: Place your subject on one side of the photo, try to balance your composition with something on the other side. Most people will think you're shooting something behind them, especially if you're close enough.
Wrong: When you finish taking the photo lower the camera and look at the person you just photographed to see if they noticed you.
Right: Keep the camera to your eye for another couple of seconds, then point it to something else. If digital press the button again. Put the camera down, walk. Never look at the person you just photographed.
Wrong: do those 2 things all the time.
Right: pick your moment to break the mould. For example a stare or a gesture can make a photo so you might want to wait for it or even provoke it by making your presense and intention known.
Its a body language art with dozens of fine nuances some of which I'm still struggling with. Good luck and post some photos!
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