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For many digital photographers, the term, street photography, evokes excitement, adventure, spontaneity and the opportunity to capture great raw and gritty or cool and contemporary images of real life. Street photography can be all these things, but in actuality, it is one of the toughest types of photography, requiring well-honed skills, quick thinking and reaction and an incredible amount of patience. Capturing the excellent street photographs you’ve seen or imagined is much more about hard work than adventure. In fact, you’ll never experience the adventure unless you follow a bit of a process first to become familiar with street photography and be able to bring home great photos.
Think Before You Shoot
As mentioned above, street photography, especially for the beginner, requires plenty of patience. At first, every movement and activity may seem like worthy subject matter; and you may feel compelled to fire your camera randomly and constantly to make sure you record it all. That’s already a bad start. In fact, the best way to start may be to leave your camera at home and spend time on the streets looking for the best subject matter. Yes, you may kick yourself that you don’t have your camera with you, but it’s more important to learn what you can shoot, so you’re able to spot those photos quickly when your camera is in your hands.
You can even take this experiment one step farther and take your camera, but don’t shoot any pictures. Once you find good subject matter, determine how fast you can bring the camera to your face and frame and focus on the subject. Until you’ve developed a quick-reaction skill, you’re not likely to capture great street images. Then, keep these tips in mind:
Don’t be afraid to miss great photos because even the most experienced street photographer tends to miss more than he or she captures.
You must learn to anticipate the action you want to photograph before it happens, just as many sports photographers must do.
Don’t be concerned about developing a style or using one particular technique at the beginning. There are many ways to approach street photography; and you should try many of them before you decide which works best for you.
Once you’re ready to try some street photography, it’s best to equip your camera with a zoom lens. Good focal lengths are 28–300mm, 24–105mm or 70–200mm. This will allow you to position yourself at some distance from your subject, so you have more time to react, frame, focus and shoot images during this learning process.
Instead of wandering the streets looking for elusive subject matter, pick a location that is an interesting environment, with plenty of foot traffic, even light and good backgrounds. Then, set your exposure (f/stop, shutter speed and ISO) and wait patiently for those great pictures to develop before your eyes. Look for people with emotional expressions or dressed differently, and lines, patterns and colors that accent your primary subject matter better. Now that you have the camera in your hands, you can extend your earlier non-photographic experiment to practice and improve your framing and focus reaction time. You also want to learn which exposure settings match with certain times of the day or lighting conditions, so you know, for example, that shooting on ABC street at high noon requires XYZ settings.
A thorough review of the images you’ve shot is also a great learning laboratory. Notice your strengths and weaknesses, and then consciously work to repeat the strengths and improve the weaknesses. Often, great street photos are not immediately evident until you view them in editing software and begin to adjust and manipulate the images.
Read Part 2 of this PhotographyTalk.com article for the next steps in becoming a street photographer.