Street Photography…A Few Tips for the Photographer in Training (PIT)
Starting out in street photography for most is a difficult proposition. Let’s face it shooting bugs and flowers is a much easier task that dealing head on with a 300 pound guy in the middle of your lens. Bugs and flowers don’t talk back. On occasion people do. So, here are a few tips:
1. Get a simple camera
You do not need some big fancy DSLR with a 200 mm zoom! Start with a simple point and shoot or an old film camera with a fixed lens or even your iPhone or camera phone. This will force you to engage Shooting people from 1 block away is not street photography. You need to get up close and personal with your subject. Standing in front of a crowd with a big camera and lens will give you away. You will stand out like a big dork wearing pink undies on the 50 yard line at a football game. Small, compact and simple is the key!
2. Get in range
What? Get in range? At first, most are trying to overcome the fear of taking a picture of a human on the street at close range. I could tell you that in order to catch the perfect shot you have to be within 6 feet of the subject. At first, try to get within 20 feet of your subject, then 15 and to be the ultimate master of overcoming your fear of entering one’s personal space shoot for 6 feet or less. There are artful ways of doing this which I will discuss later in another post.
3. Don’t worry about assholes…
I think it would be foolish to think that everyone on the street is a nice guy. From time to time you will get an idiot! How you handle dealing with the idiot is another thing. There are strategies, like ignore him, look the other way, keep walking, tell them that you were taking a picture of something behind them or….whatever fits your fancy. There are no rules on the street. There are no laws here in the US that I know of that say you can’t take a picture on the street. Just be aware of your surroundings. There is no doubt that you will misjudge people. For example, I saw this “Hells Angel” biker sitting on the edge of a park bench in Seattle. I took an image of him from the rear. What appeared to be an elder woman ( I assume his mother) motioned him to say I was taking a picture. He turned around and said “hey!”. I said “WHAT!”. He didn’t say anything in return. I am pretty good on my feet. I am not a meek or small person, so I can get away with a bit of a bark every now and then. The bottom-line is beware!
4. When in doubt ask…
In open spaces my general rule is “just shoot it”. When in a more intimate space like a walk up window where the guy is selling pastry, ask. It does not have to be candid to be good. I have found that for the most part people like to have their portrait taken. There is a general sense of honor that goes with it. If they say no, just say thanks and move on. I have never had an ugly moment by asking.
5. Have fun…relax
Street photography is a hobby. It is supposed to be fun. Take your time and challenge yourself. For example, stand on a corner and just observe. The fact is that most people are not necessarily aware of what’s around them. They are generally on a mission to get something, buy something, meet somebody, go to a meeting, etc. They have no sense of the baby strolling buy or the pigeon eating crumbs off the ground. When you are aware and observe, you become a better photographer. Pick a location and wait for something to walk into YOUR scene. Get ready, pre focus and shoot at the moment you make it. Patience does pay off!
About Pete Ansara: Pete is a world recognized photographer based in Seattle, Washington.