Street photography is one of the most feared and uncertain types of photography, in which almost nothing is in your control and almost everything is based on luck, persistence and the ability to see and capture the moment. A lot of new photographers who like street photography for its classy/candid look and feel typically get nervous to actually do it, as it demands a lot of time & devotion, ability to interact with strangers and sometimes even ability to handle stress if things go wrong.
Also the success rate of these types of shots is very low, as you get a lot of sub-par shots when you come back home and try to edit them. A lot of factors are there that can go wrong very easily, such as: improper focus, background distractions, photo bombing, etc., not to mention the need to occasionally face people’s anger and their security issues. But guess what? That is the reason that makes street photography so satisfying and fulfilling, because after so much frustration, when you get “the shot”, it is worth all the effort you put into it.
As in any field, if you carefully analyze the problems, you can come up with some solutions that will produce the best results with very low chances of getting things wrong. I am by no means a pro street photographer, but over time, I have come up with a list of techniques that work for me most of the time.
- Look for interesting faces / emotions.
This is by far the easiest step in getting interesting photos. Look for older people or children. Their faces are very expressive. Also, people with unique clothes and emotional state make your photos pop because of their unusual settings.
- Look for related or contrasting backgrounds and foregrounds.
Street photography is all about the complete environment. You should try to guide viewers from the subject to the background. And to do it seamlessly, your background should be related. Highlight your subject, but try to put some meaningful and unobtrusive background as well. Don’t try to completely remove it or use too simple of a background, as it might not complete the story. Sometimes a very contrasting background makes a strong visual statement as well. Play carefully within limits.
- Look for some truly beautiful geometric compositions.
This is where street photography gets visually very interesting. But it is also difficult to master such shots, as you need to be able to see the right angles and learn how to compose images, so that they look appealing and engaging to the viewer. If you learn to nail such opportunities down, you will be coming back with stunning results. Remember, good composition is always the key to a successful image.
- Look for some tried and tested conditions.
Look for nice reflections on glass or stagnant water on streets. Contrasting lighting conditions both during the day and the night are also very dramatic. Symmetry and repetition are also very pleasing to look at.
- Shoot in both color and black and white.
It is very tempting to shoot in black and white for its classic look and its ability to suppress a lot of background distractions. But aside from these reasons, you should try learning other aspects of B&W like shadows, textures and contrast. B&W tends to give a sharper look to images as well. But color has its advantages too. Sometimes a photo with color is more interesting than B&W, because we are used to see the world around us in colors.
- Always wait for the DECISIVE MOMENT.
This is by far the most important point of street photography. Before you release that shutter, just think whether it is the right time to take the shot. What if you wait a bit longer to see if there is a good opportunity for a more interesting subject or more beautiful light? In street photography, timing is everything – that’s what creates the story.
Below are some additional side thoughts that you should keep in mind – they might come handy:
- Be courteous to your subjects at all times. Don’t try to exploit them. If they don’t want to be photographed, leave them alone. You will get a million other opportunities. Be ready to say sorry and smile, and never confront with local people.
- Make yourself familiar with the place. A little planning will never hurt. Try to come to the same place again sometime later. You will be already familiarized with locations and its settings. That will help you to plan your shots in advance.
- Talk to people after you photographed them. Give them your business card. Ask them if they want these photos and send them the photos later as a courtesy. Make them your friends. It will be much more fun and less daunting.
When you go out to do street photography, don’t expect every photo to be a masterpiece. Street photography is very difficult, so be patient and try to enjoy the whole process of getting shots and not just the final results. Try to improvise as you learn. These are just a few pointers that I compiled for myself and they do work for me. Overtime, you will come up with your own bag of tips and tricks, especially once you develop your own vision and style. I work in the Middle East where people are generally quite suspicious of cameras and people trying to photograph them. But if you have a nice, friendly smile on your face and you are not intruding their personal space aggressively, then it becomes an enjoyable process for everyone, potentially yielding very gratifying results.
This guest article has been submitted by Imran Zahid. Imran is originally from Pakistan, but has been working as a software consultant in Oman during the past few years. Photography is his lifetime passion and he really enjoys street photography in particular. If you would like to see more of Imran’s work, you can check out his 500px portfolio, or his Flickr page.