If you’re a digital photographer attracted to the streets, the often-stimulating atmosphere of the urban environment, then you’ll want to read this two-part PhotographyTalk.com article. It explains a process to learn to be a new street photographer or to improve your skills. Part 1 focuses on the frame of mind you must develop to capture the best street imagesand why you should start your street photography experience with a zoom lens. Part 2 introduces the use of a wide-angle, fixed-focal-length lens to advance to the next level of street photography.
Takin’ a Wide Angle to the Streets
Spend as much time as necessary using a zoom lens to become familiar with street photography, to learn how to be patient and to gain confidence by bringing home a few excellent photos. Then, once you think you’re ready to move forward, replace your zoom lens with a wide-angle lens of a fixed focal length (20 to 35mm). The only equipment you’ll need is your camera and the wide-angle lens and an extra battery, memory card and lens wipe, which will easily fit in your pocket. The primary goal is to move much closer to your subject matter than you were with the zoom lens. With a wide-angle, you’ll be forced to do so!
When you first use a wide-angle lens for street photography, pick a crowded location, maybe a tourist attraction. You’ll be able to practice your close-up technique without being noticed or interrupting people’s activities. It’s not unusual for some photographers to be hesitant about shooting strangers, spontaneously and at close quarters. If you’re one of them, then a technique you can use is to move an inch closer during each wide-angle street photography session. This is also an excellent opportunity to practice shooting from the hip to be even more inconspicuous. At the beginning, the results of shooting from the hip will probably be awful, but keep trying. Just like a Wild West gunslinger, you must draw your camera many times before you automatically hold it at the right angle.
Another benefit of moving closer to your street photography subject matter with a wide-angle lens is that you’ll be forced to set exposure and focus and to compose your images without thinking about these settings much. People and objects move by you so quickly that you don’t have much time for conscious thought; you must react instantly and correctly. As mentioned in Part 1, you want to know what settings are needed for each street environment, so most of those settings are already selected. Your attention must be on all the activity surrounding you and anticipating the pictures you want to capture.
In most cases, you should choose a fast shutter speed and don’t hesitate to break some of the rules when it comes to camera angles. Turn your camera diagonally. Use light creatively. Photograph a face in deep shadows with just a shaft of light across the eyes or shoot a sidewalk filled with people from a low angle with the sunlight as a backlight to silhouette everyone.
The final step in this process of becoming a street photographer is to switch between the zoom lens and the fixed-focal-length, wide-angle lens. This will help you refine your technique and style, so you can concentrate on taking the kind of street photos that interest you most and that you shoot the best. Just remember that even when you become a very experienced street photographer, you’ll always shoot a much higher ratio of forgettable, unusable frames to the keepers; in fact, that ratio could be as high as a thousand images to one or two outstanding photos.
Read these PhotographyTalk.com articles for more information about street photography.