Getting Started with Street Photography

Street photography, according to Eric Kim, is …the joy of walking, being in public places, a love of fresh air, a love of being around other people, the joy of thinking, and the joy of making photographs. It is many things to many people, but most practitioners, whether deliberate or not, record a kind of people’s history and the fabric of society around them. The process of street photography for me starts with a journey, often into the familiar. Still, as I photograph, I become engaged by the unfamiliar and discover a greater understanding of my surroundings. In other words, I am “seeing” more, and my photography eye is engaged, and my style is beginning to emerge in the images I am making.

Photographing strangers can be difficult, and there are times you want them to be aware of you as a photographer and times when you do not want them to be aware of your presence. Every photographer has a preference for how and whether they approach people and how they make candid or uncandid photographs. I have attached five videos of individuals who take different approaches to photograph people.

Street Photography Styles

In this first video, there is a variety of street photography styles. It is a quick illustration of many different photographers and how they approach street photography.

Eric Kim a well-known street photographer, in the video below, gives a great example of a more active style of street photography. One in which he engages actively with his subject. This means the images he is getting will also reflect how the person interacts with him, rather than interacting with other elements or other people. It is more of a portrait technique

How to interact with the scene, Eric Kim

Zack Arias, in the next video, is more interested in capturing people engaged in their activities and does not really want them interacting with him. At the beginning of the video, he demonstrates how to allow the subject to lose interest in your presence so he can make an image of an artisan engaged in his craft.

How to capture photographs without disturbing the scene.
Mystical Marrakech | Street Photography with Zack Arias

Garry Winogrand tends to be more obvious unless he attracts unwanted attention. The seven-minute video starts with him being interviewed and at minute 1:25 as his photographing attracts unwanted attention. To avoid problems with the individual, he then begins to fumble with his camera looking out into space and behaving in a manner that appears like he might not be quite all there. You can see it again at the minute 2:30.

Robert Frank’s book The Americans was a seminal work of photography with a foreword by Jack Kerouac, an important 20th-century photographer. The one-minute and seventeen-second video below shows him on a bus making a photograph in a way that does not alarm anyone on the bus. You can see when people look to see what he is doing. He fiddles absentmindedly with his camera.

Joel Meyerowitz talks about the framing process and how it creates meaning within the photograph you choose to frame and make. He implies that it is important to put into your frame the unspoken relationship or impending relationship between things when taking street photography rather than making copies of objects.

Fred Hertzog

Huge Brownstone

You will notice in this video the unique way he holds his camera behind his back, hiding it from view then when he sees something he seems to dance into the scene with his camera. If you are interested in his M3 works click here.

Thoughts on How to Approach Street Photography Locally

There are several ways of interacting with the street, and some people are uncomfortable doing what Eric Kim does and directly engaging with the individuals. Zach Arias’s methods might be easier to start with; here are a few ideas of where you might practice his approach:

  • Find a local coffee shop with sidewalk tables and sit with your coffee.
  • Find an intersection where lots of individuals are changing buses or shopping, locate a piece of street furniture you can sit on or an alcove in a building you can lean against.
  • Subway entrances may also be a good source.
  • Locate yourself near a bike commuting path.
  • Locate yourself across the street from a busy bus stop.
  • A busy bridge pedestrian path may also be a good source.
  • Often cities have open markets or farmers’ markets, which will have a lot of good opportunities.
  • Outside concerts or sports events.
  • Check your local papers for street events that might work.

These locations may be easier to start with, and unlike Kim’s approach, where he is engaging and getting images that reflect his interaction with the subject, here you will be getting images of people interacting with each other or engaged in getting through their day.

How to Blend In

Before you set out, give some thought to what you might wear that will make you appear part of the general scene you are going to go into. If it is a commuting scene, wear something that will make you look like a typical commuter or wear what those hanging about in the area might wear. Try and minimize your gear or make sure it is in a packsack that does not scream professional photographer. Perhaps bring something with you, like a newspaper, notepad or book that you can use as a prop.

Once you have come to rest in the area you have picked, either sitting on street furniture or leaning against a building or at a café table, take your time getting settled in, perhaps placing your bag, books, shopping or coffee, so you appear to be staying for a while. Spend some time watching the movement in the street and thinking about how people generally move past you and how this engages with the background. Consider whether you want to have a sharp background or diffused background. Consider how close you may be to the individuals who walk past you and what f/stop will you need to keep them completely in focus. If you choose a lower f-stop to blur the background make sure it is so low that some of the bodies are out of focus unless that is what you intended. Think about how fast the speed has to be so they do not blur unless that is your intention.

After a while, take your camera out, check your exposure settings and fiddle with it for a while; this will allow time for you to blend into the location and feel comfortable having your camera in view. Take a few practice images, and spend some time looking at your images. Once you feel comfortable, start composing an image that people may walk into. In these situations, it may be possible to set the camera down on a table and operate it from your phone. This way, when an interesting situation walks into your scene, you can trigger the camera from your phone, and this will not disturb those you are trying to photograph.

Relocate yourself once you have exhausted the possibilities to a different vantage point and repeat the process. If anyone approaches you and questions what you are doing, you can tell them you are taking a course or learning how to use your camera. Usually, this gets a smile and solves the problem.