The photography tips series is written by Pablo Raw. You can learn more about him here.
There are as many definitions of Street Photography as street photographers, so I’ll just focus on my experience and techniques taking photos of people in everyday situations.
So how do I do it? Sometimes I just ask people if I can take their picture! You’ll be surprised to know that I have never got a “no” for an answer (well, maybe once). The advantage of this is that you can get really close to the person and get the details of clothing, facial features, jewelry, etc. and since the person is posing for you, sometimes you even have the time to do more than one shot. When I ask, I ask them if they’d like me to email the photo to them, and they are often quite eager. In the case of street performers, I have found that most of the time they’ll let you take their photo if you put some money in the bucket.
Most of the time, I carry a zoom lens with me. That allows me to take photos from a distance without people noticing that I’m doing it, and therefore acting spontaneously and casual, which is one of the things that makes this type of photography so interesting. The distance also allows me to introduce more elements on the photo (backgrounds, cars, other people) that can help me tell the story.
The inclusion of a person in the photo can sometimes help the viewer get a sense of the scale of the objects, e.g. an oversized doors that otherwise would look normal. I sometimes sit in a specific place, such as a park, and just wait and observe people from a distance. Patience is usually rewarded when suddenly there’s some cool interaction between people or their pets, etc. , but you have to be ready. Do a couple of test shots while you are waiting, in order to have the right settings on your camera.
Continues after the jump.
And what if someone notices me? Well, if someone comes to confront me, I just kindly show their photo with a smile on my face, and even offer to e-mail it to them if they want. Now, not everybody likes their photos to be taken in public, and so you need to be prepared for some potentially awkward situations. On rare occasions, I have been threatened to be sued, to call the police and cussed in several languages!. I know my rights as a photographer (we’ll talk about that in another column), so I just try to be respectful, and of course stop immediately if the subject is upset by my photography. One time, a person found her photo on my flickr photostream and asked me to immediately take it off, which I did.
Tips for not being noticed: Just take the photo you want, and then check it on your screen or look away without looking directly into the eyes of your subject.
A photographer friend uses an interesting technique so that the person looks straight into the camera when she takes the photo. She has an assistant next to her, and once she is ready to take the shot, the assistant yells something or whistles really loud and when the person looks at him, she takes the photo (I really want to do this someday!). In some cases I use a technique in which I’m pretending to take my assistant’s photo, but I’m actually taking the picture of somebody else who is behind her.
If you want to practice this type of photography, I recommend going to the many rallies or street events that happen in this city (i.e. High Heel Race, Neighborhood Festivals, etc.) where there are lots of photographers, and people are distracted by what’s happening on the street and don’t care much about cameras. During the summer, one of my favorite places to go is the Drum Circle at Malcom X Park; there is a lot going on there on Sunday afternoons!