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Street Photography for Beginners – Tips, Tricks & Techniques

CHAPTER 10-: This is the tenth chapter of “A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Professional Photographer.” – Do you want to learn how to do street photography like a professional? If YES, here’s a checklist of street photography tips, tricks & techniques for beginners.

Portraits, landscapes and animals are terms that are more associative with photography than the word street. As a matter of fact, street photography is something that even certain photographers themselves are not aware of, let alone the general masses.

It seems quite strange to blend in the elegance of photography with the gaucheness of the streets. That being said, urban photography or street photography has taken the world of photography by storm in the last decade or so, and it is something that strongly appeals to aspiring young photographers who think out of the box and have the burning desire to innovate and invent with each snap they take.

5 Problems You Will Face as a Professional Street Photographer

i. Fear of Strangers

The biggest problem that you will face with street photography is overcoming the fear of photographing strangers. Let’s face it, when you start taking pictures of people, you always rely on your friends, families, acquaintances or clients (in the case of freelance photography) to help you come up with the perfect photo.

Taking photos of strangers is something that is deemed inconvenient and uncomfortable for both the photographer and the subject. As a beginner in the field of photography, you are not expected to have the confidence to simply walk up to a stranger in the street or at a restaurant and ask him or her to be a part of your urban photography session.

ii. Embrace the Fear

The other problem that you are faced with when getting on the streets to take photographs is that you will most likely not be using telephoto lenses, which are not recommended for urban or street photography. As a result, you will be required to stand only a few feet away from the subjects and take a spectacular photo of them against a vibrant urban background without becoming nervous and fumbling with the camera.

This sounds like a daunting task, especially if you are the kind of person who is in want of socializing skills. The key in this situation is to embrace the fear. Running away from urban photography just because you are not comfortable with it is a sign of weakness as a photographer. If you want people to recognize you as a smart, creative and dynamic photographer, then you cannot afford to back down from a challenge regardless of how intimidating the job may be.

iii. It’s Good to be Afraid

Being afraid of strangers and being tentative with your approach to street photography is a sign of a good photographer. It shows your commitment to excellence in every step of your professional career and it also speaks volumes about how sensitive you are to the comfort and the convenience of your subjects.

If you were an insensitive photographer who could care less about their subjects, then you would have been on course to becoming a member of the notorious paparazzi which is neither respected nor loved in any part of the world. In short, it is okay to be a little concerned and a tad bit worried when trying to take photographs of random people in the streets.

iv. Practice Makes Perfect

Learning how to be good at urban photography is all about practising over and over again. With thorough practise, you will find out your weaknesses, add some firepower to set of skills and overcome your fear of interacting with strangers and using them to create memorable works of urban photography.

The socializing skills that you pick up from the streets will actually benefit you later on in your career as a professional photographer. It will help you to build stronger relationship with other photographers and clients who will be interested in your photography services.

As for street photography itself, it is an extremely fun, challenging and slightly addictive activity that will leave you feeling happy about your decision to pursue a career in photography.

v. Infiltration of Privacy

One of the biggest concerns with urban or street photography is the infiltration of people’s privacy. Before you can lace up your boots and head out into the streets, you must acknowledge the fact that by getting involved in street photography, you are putting yourself in a position where you are invading the personal space of another human being.

Some may say that taking a random photograph of a person in the street is harmless, while others may feel that it is completely objectionable. One thing is for sure, it is not an activity which is illegal (in public spaces) and it is on your shoulders to decide whether the act of urban photography or street photography is in line with your moral and ethical values. The debate has a more philosophical nature than a legal one.

  • Importance of Candid Shots

There will be people who will come up to you and tell you that no matter how good and innocent your intentions are, it is simply not right for someone to take another person’s photograph without their permission.

Now, any urban photographer will tell you that if you want to excel in street photography then you have to resort to certain candid photos where the subject has to remain uninformed and unaware that a photo is being taken of him or her. Without these candid shots, you are likely to end up with a rather drab and dreary urban photography resume.

Street Photography for Beginners – Tips, Tricks & Techniques

a. Be Mischievous, Curious and Sneaky

Long story short, you need to draw on your mischievousness, curiosity and sneakiness to be a successful urban photographer. Remember, the goal is not to hurt a stranger by taking their photos but rather to surprise them. Most people will not mind seeing their candid photo online, in a newspaper or a magazine as long as they have been photographed doing something pleasant in their everyday life instead of doing something abnormal and shameful.

Choosing the Perfect Camera for Street Photography

Once you have your intentions sorted out and have mustered up enough courage to take your photography skills to the streets, the question you need to ask yourself is, what kind of a camera should you bring along with you? There are certain cameras that can be labelled as perfect for the streets. You are likely to find the following features in such cameras.

  • A quiet shutter
  • Lenses that can be interchanged easily.
  • Fast Lenses. The F-Stop of F 2.0 or lower should be good enough to do the trick.
  • Zero or minimal shutter lag
  • RAW capture mode
  • Impress focus in poorly lit places.
  • High ASA for utility
  • An excellent viewfinder
  • Lightweight build and highly portable

These are some of the basic characteristics that you should look for when selecting a camera that will perform seamlessly during your street photography sessions. These features are more common to DSLRs than they are to point-and-shoot cameras.

As a matter of fact, you are unlikely to come across any point-and-shoot cameras that have a considerable number of the above mentioned features. Therefore, when it comes to urban photography, especially night time urban photography, DSLR cameras are undoubtedly a must have. Most of the current line of DSLR cameras is well equipped for urban photography.

  • Noiseless DSLRs

Regardless of whichever camera you get your hands on, it is important to make sure that you turn off any beeping or any other noticeably loud sounds made by the camera. You don’t want the people in the streets staring at you when you are trying to take pictures of them.

Not only will that disrupt your concentration, but it will also make them feel as if they are being stalked and hit on by the paparazzi. Surely, you do not want to earn such notoriety during the early stages of your professional photography career. While you are at it, you may also want to switch off the immediate playback on the LCD.

To minimize other avenues of noise dissipation, you can try out a few different combinations to figure out the highest ASA that can be used without being an attention seeking noisemaker. Thankfully for you, the DSLRs actually do allow you to stay silent.

Cameras such as the Cannon Mark II give you the option of using an ASA as high as 3200 without releasing a ton of digital noise in the image. In stark comparison to that, the point-and-shoot cameras will offer you noiseless images at only about 200 ASA, which will be of little to no use in street photography after daylight hours.

5 Street Photography Tips for Beginners Aspiring to Become Professional Photographers

1. Mix with the Crowd

One of the secrets of being a very good urban photographer or a street photographer is having the ability to blend in with the crowd. You cannot let people be aware of the fact that you are a professional photographer who is trying to capture his or her next big buck.

For example, if you are visiting a tourist destination in the city, then dress up like a tourist. Dressing the part is actually of immense importance if you want to sustain your urban photography practice. When you mix in with the crowd and appear the same as everybody else, it helps you to go undetected which consequently allows you to focus all your concentration on taking mesmerizing photographs.

2. Keep the Camera Fixed to Your Eye

If you are visiting a tourist destination or a popular site in the city, do not go around taking pictures of strangers immediately. Start with the landmarks or other objects of interest. For the first few minutes, do not try to do something different from the tourists or locals themselves.

When it’s time for you to shift to taking pictures of people, you are recommended to keep the camera fixed to your eye and not take it off even after you have taken the shot. While keeping the camera close to your eyes, you can skim and scan through the crowd in search of anything intriguing that might be worth taking a photo of. Move around with the camera and pretend that you are taking pictures of the landmark.

Under no circumstances should you reveal the fact that you are trying to photograph strangers. Most people will not be offended if you do photograph them, but it will make them feel a little unsettled and thus your candid shots will be ruined.

Once again, it’s okay to be a little tentative and scared under these circumstances. However, with continued practice, you will get better at this technique and soon you will find yourself standing a few inches away from your subjects and taking pictures without creating a modicum of suspicion in their minds. That’s the mark of a true street photographer.

3. Switch Off the LCD

Another simple trick of street photography is keeping the LCD off. Most DSLRs have a LCD screen on the back where you can view the image that you have just taken. Keeping it off allows you to hide the fact that you have just taken a shot, especially in low light environments.

In addition to that, turning off the LCD lets you look at the reflection of whatever is happening behind you. When it comes to street photography, it is quite important to have eyes on the back of your head because you certainly do not want to miss out on an exciting action performed by an interesting subject.

4. Shoot Incessantly and Bring Backup

When you are in the streets taking pictures of strangers and classic urban elements, you need to have a backup memory card and batter in your pocket. This is because throwing away pictures or deleting them is not recommended when you are engaged in street photography. The principle of street photography is, “for every good shot that you take, you have to be prepared to take 100 random, mediocre and useless shots”.

Just because you do not like a picture on the spot, does not mean that it is the worst shot you have ever taken. Wait till you go home before skimming through all the pictures and sorting out the good ones from the bad. Sometimes, you will take shots that may not appeal to you instantly, but after a few good looks, you’ll start getting ideas about how you can edit the picture and make it look absolutely stunning.

5. Be Honest

The last but not the least important thing that you need to remember about being a street photographer is that you should react with honesty upon getting caught or interrogated. If someone asks you whether you have been taking pictures of them, then your best option is to simply reply with an honest answer about why you took their picture. Most people will not have a problem with you taking their pictures as long as you can explain to them why their faces or activities have caught your attention as a photographer.

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