Friday, December 4, 2015

What are the rules of street photography?

Well really they are more like guidelines than rules.

So now you know what street photography is, vaguely anyways, and you have a camera. Now you will probably find yourself wondering what the rules of street photography are. Unfortunately other than actually making photographs there aren't any rules. Street photography is free flowing like the scenes you are trying to capture. However, here are 10 guidelines that can help you develop your style and produce more consistent quality photographs.

1. Cut out distractions.

Doing street photography while walking and talking with a friend may be fun to pass some time. But if you are constantly distracted by twitter, your friend, or your girlfriend, it will be impossible for you to concentrate on the world around you.

Good street photography requires you to be aware of your surroundings and anticipating moments of photographic opportunity. Trying to snag a shot while talking to your girlfriend about what to have for dinner is impossible guys. I've  tried. So mute the phone and go walking by yourself for a few hours. Your keeper folder will grow a lot faster this way.

2. Travel light

I get it. Your 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8 cover practically every shooting situation you might encounter and the bokeh from your 85mm f1.2 is just so beautiful. If you want to do a long exposure of course you need a tripod. What if you want to do some flash work? Might as well bring a few umbrellas just in case right? We are photographers. If you're like me you LOVE your gear. But you don't need to bring every single bit of kit for a photo walk.

If you shoot with primes carry 2 or 3 lenses. If you shoot a zoom you just need the standard. Keep your kit simple or you will overwhelm yourself with the possibilities and with the weight of your bag.

Everyday I carry a messenger bag with:

Olympus em5 mark II
25mm voigtlander nokton
10.5mm voigtlander nokton
85mm f1.8 and speedbooster.
1 flash and radio trigger plus the cameras accessory flash
Galaxy note pro 12.2 tablet

1 camera 2 extra lenses and a filter for video. Then a flash in case I need it or get hit with the mood to do something creative. All of this fits in one small messenger bag along with extra batteries and cables for my tablet plus a card reader. Normally one lens will go unused but since I never know which I'll want that day I carry all three. Most days I could do with 2 or just 1. In fact some days I choose to carry just one camera and lens and go for broke. Simple means less to worry about which means better concentration which means better photos.

3. Pictures of People's backs are NOT interesting!! Generally

Supreme is UNAMERICAN!!!!

While I can't say that every picture of people from behind is wholly uninteresting I can say that 99.9% of them are NOT interesting. Pictures of people's backs should be saved for when you can either:

A. Use a wide enough angle to give us some the same feeling the subject might be having so that we can imagine ourselves as the subject.

B. Point out a very interesting shirt the subject might be wearing or a tattoo or something.

The point is if I am looking at someone's back there had better be something more interesting to look at than plain denim. Leave the photographs of peoples backs to the most amateur of amateurs and give us some photos of people we can see and feel a connection to. 

4. Work The Scene

While many shots will be a hit or miss with no second chances there are others where you will have quite a bit of time to watch things unfold. When you have a scene that is not going anywhere go ahead and watch it play out. You can try different angles, different perspectives, different exposures, and even different lenses or lighting (if you are carrying a flash). Work the scene for everything it's worth. Even if your initial shot turns out to be the best nobody has ever become a worse photographer by engaging in more practice.

5. Get to Know Your Subjects

This has two meanings. Often our subjects are there then not. They breeze past us long enough for a snap then disappear into a sea of faces or ride off into the sunset on a glorious horse drawn carriage driven by a chinese cowboy. (Personal Experience) But other subjects stay more stationary.

When you have one of those and there isn't a language barrier try to get to know your subject. Interact with them. Be a part of the street for a bit. It might lead to some good conversation, better photos, sold prints, etc. You never know what can come about so you might as well try.

The second meaning is that you should pay close attention to people's habits. If you watch closely enough you will start to learn how people generally act. You will become able to predict their actions and interactions to an extent and be able to catch those moments easier and with more regularity than before. Study the street while you shoot it.

6. Try Flash

This may sound crazy but take a really wide lens, a powerful handheld flash, and shoot people in the face at point blank range. Meet the favorite technique of street photographer Bruce Gilden.

Very few have the cajones to replicate his particular method of shooting but there is no doubt that his controversial method creates some great results. Flash can bring a scene to life if you know how to use it. Other methods to try include fill flash and legitimate off camera flash.

All of these methods have found a place in my photographers toolbox and get dusted off whenever I get bored of the everyday available light work. 

7. Mix Street With Still Life

The human element may be an integral part of street photography, but nobody ever said that a human need actually be in the scene. Slow down and look around you. It is very possible to find great still life photographs that can blend very well with your street photography. They may not be amazing photos, but they can help paint a picture.

8. Let Fido Into The Picture

Those eyes can see into your soul
Street photography may typically be concentrated on people, but animals can have their place in it as well. Take a photo walk and instead of the people watch the animals around them. In many cities the animals within the city can provide just as much creative opportunity as the people around them. Animals can have their own culture and way of doing things. Their actions can be unique and interesting especially in countries like China where they are literally everywhere. So have a shot at these complex and interesting fluff-balls, they usually don't mind a picture or two.

9. Homeless People ARE PEOPLE!!

I am not totally opposed to taking photos of the homeless and crippled. In fact I encourage it. Acting like they aren't there and ignoring them during our photographic endeavors isn't nice. It is a condescending insult. However I am opposed to people treating them like they are some sort of aliens or monsters. Photographers all too often take a photograph of a homeless or downtrodden individual then run away with their lens tucked between their legs as if they are afraid the man missing an arm and leg is going to suddenly eat their face.

The homeless are people. They have stories. It is fine for you to take photographs of the homeless or crippled. But if you can't even manage a simple thank you, if you don't have the human decency to throw a few dollars into their bucket, if you can't have a conversation with them like any other person then you need to put the camera away and come back when you can. They are a part of life, reality. They deserve to be documented. What they don't deserve are heartless snapshooters pointing a camera in their face and then running away from them as if they were a circus freak.

10. Don't Get Your Head Stuck Up Your Rear

Street photography is great. It really is. I love street photography and it is my go to photo passion with a side of strobist work (still trying to work out how to combine the two). But don't let street photography go to your head. Don't be one of those street photographers who is so full of himself and his craft that you start thinking that street is the greatest achievement of photography and that it is high art, deriding any photo or composition that you feel doesn't tell you some magical story that in fact is dependent on each individual viewer. Those guys are jokes. You do not want to be that guy. That guy is a subpar photographer who spends his time on internet forums rather than out taking pictures. DO NOT BE THAT GUY!!!

Go out and shoot, try new things. Don't just do street, learn still life, learn architecture, learn landscape, learn portraiture. You will be a better photographer for it, a better street photographer, and probably less of a snobby jerk.

So thats my list for the top ten guidelines to improve your street photography. Rules of composition, objects, of interest, etc are very photographer dependent. Everyone has their own style and should embrace that. I won't tell you how to take shots like mine or anyone else's. What I will do is give you suggestions that can help you develop a mind that is open and capable of growing. I hope you enjoyed them.

If you have any recommendations for more rules or guidelines please leave a comment and it may make it into the next rendition of this list down the line one day. Also if you enjoyed reading this article please follow us by email or through google plus to keep up to date with new posts, photographs, stories from abroad and more.  

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