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How To Be A Street Photographer On Your Trip



For some people, half the fun of a trip is in taking photos of your journey, but if you are tired of the average holiday snaps, like posing in front of the Eiffel Tower or saving the Leaning Tower of Pisa from tumbling over, how can you make your images extraordinary?

Many travellers are turning to street photography to capture the essence of their authentic travel experience.

Focus On Your Surroundings

Street photography aims to capture the human condition in public spaces. Photos are often shot in urban surroundings like a mall, a park or the beach - and obviously the street. It offers an authentic representation of society because subjects are going about their daily business. There are many ways to take creative shots without people as subjects. Some photos focus on the impact people have on the landscape, and images can include anything from domesticated animals or people's belongings to unusual vehicles.

photo-catA cat enjoying a lazy day

The Decisive Moment

Since you want to capture fleeting snippets of human nature, timing is the most important aspect of street photography. Being able to spot some of these moments on your trip is what will help you take a unique and original collection of pictures.

Ever think that you don't have an eye for photography or that your equipment can't measure up? The good news is that kit isn't everything and you can improve your eye. How? Practise, practise, practise and then practise some more. The nice thing about photography is that you can fit it into a busy schedule. Set yourself a goal, like taking one photo every day. Hit the streets for twenty minutes during lunchtime - that's when most people are out and about. This will help you improve your technique and the angles you use. It will also help build your courage to get closer to your subjects - a very important aspect of taking authentic photographs. When you're relaxed and confident, you will spot those special moments more easily.

photo-paintThe decisive moment

Equipment

When you're starting out, a smartphone with a reasonable camera is perfect. Familiarise yourself and experiment with the features, like switching from automatic to manual focussing and using "burst" mode that captures several photographs a second. Even professional street photographers opt for smartphones and small cameras to stay inconspicuous. You can get twice as close to the action while remaining unobtrusive. If you’re using an SLR camera, opt for a wide-angle lens for epic landscapes and tight interior shots. Be well prepared - always make sure your battery is charged and carry your phone everywhere you go; keeping it close to hand so that you don't end up missing those perfect moments.

Remember: expensive equipment and accessories can improve the quality of your photography but, before you worry about that, you need to grasp the basic principles of street photography and allow your eye and instincts to develop.

photo-streetMonochrome street view

Tips And Tricks

Now that we've covered the basics, let's look at some of the aspects you need to consider when taking street photographs.

Background

Look for themes in the urban landscape that can be linked to people going about their daily business. Using posters of people as a background has been done many times, but we all have to start somewhere, and looking for posters or artwork is an easy way of getting used to relating the landscape with the subject. Use a standard lens to focus on people in context. When you've decided on your background, approach at different angles and see what looks best. Try crouching to capture more of the scene. Sometimes it's good to lie in wait and see who makes their way into your line of sight. If you find an interesting area, go back to the same place at different times, since there may be diverse people who move around the same area at various points during the day.

photo-begCrouch and shoot from a different angle

Confidence and authenticity

Don't take portraits of people smiling directly at the camera; in most cases it takes the authenticity away. Many street photographers think that you shouldn't interact with subjects. However, eye contact can be important, since it will lend an intimacy to your shot. A nod or a smile is never wasted if you want to move into people's space. Every person and place will be different, and that is part of the excitement, but often some acknowledgement, either before or after the shot, will put people at ease. Images of people looking inattentive and natural are ultimately what you are aiming for.

If you like to get close to your subjects use a wide-angle lens. If you want to keep your distance use a telephoto lens. Zooming in or getting closer is a great way to draw attention to detail. Robert Capa aptly claimed that if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough.

Once you have your shot, move on, don't linger and make people feel uncomfortable. You do need to learn to be confident though, because street photography is not just about being an impartial observer, you have to interact with the world you are hoping to capture in your shots.

photo-bikeZoom in for great detail

Shooting from the hip, when your camera is situated somewhere near your waist or hip, can be a useful technique in street photography. Not depending on your screen or viewfinder means you can shoot inconspicuously. You can look away from or even behind your subject, so they think you are focusing on something completely different. You will probably take a few thousand photos with this technique before you start getting the hang of it. These days, with digital photography, it luckily won't cost you an arm and a leg to hone your craft.

photo-manGet close to your subjects

Shadows and Light

Remember you are supposed to be having fun! Experiment and play with shadow, light and reflections. As evening approaches, interesting shadows will emerge that will help you capture amazing shots.

There are many interesting characters out and about in the evening, so this time should not be neglected. The light is obviously completely different at night, and artificial light shouldn't hamper you; use street lights and electronic signs as light sources for your photos.

If you want to bring out the textures and shapes on your photo instead of having the viewer only focus on the colour, then play around with black and white compositions.

photo-nightTake shots at night for unusual characters and interesting lighting

Find a route and take your time

Restlessness is not your friend; you need to be patient. If you move around too much, you might struggle to focus on the world around you, missing opportunities. When you are walking, stop occasionally and have a look around. Wait to see if something interesting comes along. If you find an interesting area, go have a coffee or a beer at a sidewalk table - perhaps some interesting people will make their way past.

Although you should be patient and wait for the perfect shot by being still, capturing movement can result in some exciting images. Shoot from a pedestrian bridge or a balcony for an elevated perspective. If you feel the need to stabilise your camera, try using a travel tripod or rest your camera on the railings or against the side of a building.

photo-chinaCapturing movement can make a great shot

A few last things

Remember the classic composition techniques of photography still apply; like remembering that the rule of thirds is an easy way to help balance your composition. Also look for lines that will draw your viewer into the photo. These basic rules will help you take good photos, whether they are stylised or spur-of-the-moment street shots.

Most people don't mind being photographed but, if they seem uncomfortable, ask for permission. It is, however, not good etiquette to take photos of beggars. If you want to sell your pictures you will need releases, but if you are just taking photos of your trip to show your friends and family, this isn’t something you need to worry about.

Remember, be vigilant and don't get so distracted by your new skill that you are not aware of your belongings.

Most importantly: have fun, and enjoy viewing the world in your own unique way and finding moments that will amuse and astound your viewers.

photo-aboveThis shot from an elevated position still takes texture and the rule of threes into account