It was famed American documentary photography Dorothea Lange that said, “Put your camera around your neck along with putting on your shoes, and there it is, an appendage of the body that shares your life with you.” Walking up to a total stranger and asking to capture their image can be a daunting task. Once you give it a try, with the help of some simple tips below, it can become quite addictive. Photography of candid or engaged subjects can result in stunning anthropological studies of the streets we call home.
So we invite you to go out, walk down your street, and find inspiration in the people and places right under our nose. This tutorial is a simple list of insider tricks and tips on street photography, which covers both the technical and the more social aspects of creating stunningly personal street photographs.
1. Shoot with a portraiture lens
Having a great lens designed to capture portraits will make things much easier – look for 50mm (F1.4) or 85mm (F1.8) lenses that excel in capturing portrait subjects. As technology progresses, these lenses are getting smaller and smaller (so you don’t have to carry a large lens around with you) and are incredibly lightweight.
2. Set your camera to it’s widest aperture setting.
Depending on your shooting environment, having a wide aperture will isolate and define your sitter and allows for a shallow depth of field, meaning you’ll find the compositional focus falling on your subject. This trick is how many great street photographers manage to highlight one person, or action, in a crowded street.
Always set your camera to its widest aperture setting when shooting crowds. (Photo: "Praying for Money" by Zoltan Madacsi)
3. Don’t use a frontal flash!
Don’t use a flash! Remember you want to maintain a low profile. Rather than blow out your subject, bump up your ISO nice and high if you’re in low lighting (don’t go too far or you’ll lose quality) for beautiful tonal quality in your image. If you’re after a blown-out high fashion shot, flash can work to your advantage (think about shooting front or or slightly from the above of your subject).
4. Have your camera settings saved and set up before you ask to shoot someone.
Check if you camera can have ‘pre-loaded’ settings that you can input a couple of modes, for example, ‘low light street’ or ‘rainy street’ or ‘morning sunlight in the countryside’. Once you’ve mastered a few basic manual settings it will make approaching someone to ask for their portrait much easier. This way, you can snap quite a few shots of the in quick succession without having to fiddle or fumble around with your gear. We recommend you take advantage of your trusty Auto Focus, as even the best eyes often fatigue quickly when shooting in busy and changing conditions.
Never use frontal flash or your subjects' faces will be blown out. (Photo: "open-eyed" by Victor Bezrukov)
5. Keep the Auto Focus Assist light off
If you’re taking candid photographs, be sure to keep a low profile and be polite. This includes making sure the small warm white Auto Focus light doesn’t give you away, and bug other people (especially if shooting in confined spaces, like the train). If you’re taking a street shot of someone without their knowledge, keep the light off and your flash hood down, otherwise you could spoil the mood and your photo, as well as making some people uncomfortable when a camera is around.
6. Always have your gear on your body
Ensure you keep your camera on your body (round your neck, over your shoulder, diagonally across your chest), to make snapping street subjects a breeze. Follow the golden rule: if your lighting allows you to shoot at more than a 60th of a second, you do not need a tripod. Some people will argue an 80th or 100th of a second, but at the very least you can get in focus portraits without a tripod.
7. Get permission
Depending on your local laws, you may or may not be allowed to photograph people without their consent in public places. Either way, it’s always polite to ask (even after you’ve taken the shot). When approaching someone for a portrait, be polite, fast and try and give them a card or let them know your Redbubble username so they can find the portrait online. On that note, before putting your images on RB, your blog, or anywhere online, get verbal permission by casually asking if you can upload your subjects image. It could save a lot of hassle down the line (especially if you want to publish the images again elsewhere).
Don't make your subjects angry! Always ask for permission. (Photo: "Streeter Kid" by Daniyel Lowden)