Capturing street images – some photo tips and techniques
Enjoying the day in a new urban location or exotic destination, it’s easy to be absorbed with almost anything that comes across your way in terms of photography and what to capture. Sure you want to be able to photograph the unique attractions and street life that comes your way while you are experiencing the moment – but do they actually convey what you experience and a great POV (point of view?) Effective story telling through your photography with any street photography encompasses so many variables – the key is to trust your instincts, look for something unique to say and incorporate some of the techniques or photo tips below.
Make sure you are familiar with any restrictions – local, state or country laws prohibiting taking photos of people specifically in those areas. Some countries like France and now Hungary are starting to clamp down on any urban photography that focuses on people as a major part of a photo composition.
Understand that taking pictures for personal, editorial purposes versus commercial – projects (advertising) is still acceptable but also depends on local, state or country restrictions. Most photos taken in urban environments fall into the first category. Even if your image is of commercial value, any commercial/marketing firm will be requesting a location or photo release of each person included along with any local laws or permitting requirements.
Focus on your composition – look for areas that have great backgrounds and or foregrounds that present your subject well (Usually simpler is better as a rule). Think about available lighting, distracting details, and try to simplifying your overall composition by making tight edits. Part of the process of composing is to always be scouting around for a perfect location that makes your subject look good if it’s a person, object or some cool details you want to highlight.
Story telling in your photography is crucial – capturing urban images that tell a complete story to include who, why, where and when in your photos will tell so much about a particular subject. If you can concentrate on portraying a scene that tells us the story and answers most or all of these questions within the photograph, then you have created some amazing visual story telling worth sharing.
Be mobile – things change so quickly being on the street or some location and you will not be seeing the same thing happening again if you spend too much time changing lenses or cameras. The best thing is to stick to one good lens that you have mastered and can quickly focus and capture. Get your camera settings already set so you can take pictures instantly when you spot an interesting subject. You can even pull out your cell phone and start clicking away – just having a tool to work now with is more important than trying to get your camera ready and then missing the moment.
Try to create something special or unique with the mundane – This is not an easy task and requires patience, observation and sometimes luck, including perfect timing. Always keep asking yourself, “is there something in this location, subject or focus that does something special”, if you answer yes, then take advantage of the situation and start working on your subject – shoot in different angles or experiment with your composition. If the location or subject is just ordinary or flat, then maybe it’s time to find another location or better yet, wait for the right moment or subject to appear and start capturing that moment.
Be patient and wait for those dynamic scenes to unravel. If you found an excellent place to photograph, sometimes it’s just a matter of time before you get the right subject with a colorful outfit, an animated person or a group event or demonstration that creates some appeal and immediate sense of place. Take the time to observe the environment and be aware of everything around you. While you are waiting, make sure you are already have your camera settings already adjusted for fast picture taking – use presets on your camera or use settings that are programmed for fast captures with sharp precision.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with your camera or techniques. Urban photography gives you the opportunities to play and experiment with your camera and settings, using a cell phone or trying a new location or technique that you haven’t tried before. Being unique and trying something new is part of the fun in urban landscape and creating a personal statement or presentation that is all yours. Part of the enjoyment of being in a new space is the opportunity to have fun, explore and experiment in that new environment which may offer you a different perspective and viewpoint.
Focus on emotions – whether you find some children playing and sending out squeals of laughter or images that haunt you due to what you are observing, keying into the emotional impact of a subject is going to draw us in immediately
Shoot first and sometimes in burst mode – When you come across a scene that may only happen once, sometimes it’s best to concentrate on just capturing the moment and getting as many focused images as you can. The best way to doing this is to have your settings already prepared and set to burst mode for spontaneous events that will only happen once.
Consider what’s happening in the background. Having your main subject is nice but sometimes having an interesting background or activity happening that also relates to your subject can create a more dynamic and compelling presentation to draw us in.
Think of your subjects like paintings and how you would like to compose these images. When you consider masterpieces from Degas or Renoir – think about how the subjects are composed, their scale, perspective and interaction between subject and their environment. If you reference this type of aesthetic and composition into your photography, then your imagery and photography skills will become so much more powerful
Concentrate on the type photography based on the social media – that most of your audience is present in. If it’s Instagram, Twitter or Face book, the emphasis will be on cell phone photography and short post processing which you can send instantly and engage with your audience. Whereas using a digital camera or even a point and shoot may be better for your blog, Flickr or Pinterest postings. Many street scenes are effective based on your needs for social media tools and used in a variety of collaborations to target your base effectively.
If you are taking close-up images of people – make sure you either get permission first, create some gesturing with your camera, eyes or smiling and gesturing to see if it’s okay to proceed. Better to try to build some rapport and eye contact before you start shooting away especially when you are doing more portrait oriented imagery and you want candid moments and a relaxed subject that doesn’t feel too staged.
Go out there and practice – explore the streets and look out for: the small details and signage, fashionistas and street style, street food and vendors, architectural details and landmarks. Keep your eyes open to the unique or something that pulls your attention then just go for it!
Hopefully some of these are already techniques that you use and a few that you can start to practise and master. Please do check out any of the photo tips and techniques I’ve included below:
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