This is the year of challenging myself. I’ve had this nagging photography void that I couldn’t figure out until I saw an article in the paper last year about Vivian Maier. Vivian Maier’s story is incredible (please Google her). The gist of her story is she was a street photographer who started in the 1950′s but remained unknown until after her death when she was discovered by chance. I purchased her book of images and knew that was what I was missing. I pride myself on capturing candid moments of children and families, but this takes candid to a whole new level. This truly is everyday life captured. This is street photography.
Street photography is the rawest capture of human life that we all have access to. But it isn’t as easy as just picking up your camera, stepping outside and randomly shooting. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of failing in this art form. Think about it. You are literally taking your camera, hitting the pavement and photographing random strangers as they go about their lives and they aren’t stopping for you.
It’s intimidating. Scary. Extremely bold. Yet unbelievably satisfying and inspirational.
I recently went to my most favorite city on earth (next to NY of course), London. I picked a few extremely crowded locations and spent a few hours each day documenting London street life.
Here are my tips for delving into the world of street photography:
Shoot with a wide lens.
Two very popular lenses to shoot with for street photography are the 50mm and 35mm. A lot of hardcore street photographers feel that using zoom lenses is cheating but even more important in my mind, it is a bit creepy. There is a sneaky element to the zoom. I’d much prefer being closer and have someone ask me what I am doing, than look like some stalker with a huge zoom. So think about shooting with a 50mm or 35mm. All of these images in this tutorial are shot with a 50mm.
Forget about bokeh.
Remember, you are capturing life on the street as it’s seen happening. Anyone ever look down a street and see bokeh? Exactly. Besides, you want the buildings, cars and everything else to be in focus in addition to your human subject so you get a complete picture of the neighborhood and time period you are shooting in.
Go where there is a lot of action to help blend better. Don’t wear any screaming bright colors or anything that makes you stand out like a sore thumb. I equate it to how wedding photographers operate. You do not want to stand out and BE the subject. You want to capture the subject.
Shoot what interests you.
Photograph faces that have character.
Shoot contrasts (like the tired waiter on a break while leisurely shopping is going on around him). PS: Everyone smokes in London.
I love finding people so involved with their task at hand that they don’t even notice I am right. in. their. face. This subject was so into writing I was literally two feet away from him and phtoographed this at all different angles. Even in Piccadilly Circus where it is jam packed and not quiet at all, he never lifted his head. I would have loved to know what it was he was writing.
Up close with the tourists. I practically was reading the map with them! Remember I had no zoom, just a 50mm.
Capture what is going on right there, right now.
With the Olympics coming up for this city, the hustle bustle and construction is near sensory overload. The locals normally deal a lot with overcrowded tourist areas, and now they have to navigate through construction at every turn. Loved this gentleman’s face as he walked through one site. Says it all.
Look up down and all around.
Life isn’t just happening at eye level. It’s happening up on buildings, down on the ground, on a subway platform overhead or at hip level (I love the WAIT signals in London. So to the point.) Again, as with all photography, be very aware of all the angles you can shoot.
Be prepared for failure.
I’ll tell you this- I shot over 500 images and I ‘kept’ about 25 from my trip. Why? You cannot predict when something interesting will happen or someone will present themselves to you. It’s hard enough in a controlled environment like a house, but out on the streets, nearly impossible. Yes I kicked myself on a few out of focus shots, it just moved super quick even at my 500 shutter speed. Or someone would cut me off, and I got a back of a coat versus what I was going for. It happens. Shrug it off and be patient, because another interesting subject is literally right around the corner.
Be sure to continue this series by reading Street Photography Etiquette.
Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman, owner of JellyBean Pictures is a die-hard, natural light, lifestyle photographer in New York who loves to search for the light. Like her on Facebook and follow her blog to continue being inspired by her beautiful work!
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