Artist Resources

Guest Blog: Street Photography – Hunting For Details

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If you enjoy taking pictures in the street, you already know it’s risky and exciting at the same time. You never know what you’re going to capture with your camera and the whole process is so unexpected and spontaneous. Here are some interesting tips that could be helpful when hunting for details in street photography:

“You have to tell a story about somebody, while he or she is totally unaware of being the main actor of your imaginary plot.”

1- Candid Photos.

This is what comes to mind first when doing street photography. There is an attempt to capture the soul of strangers when they are doing anything else and they don’t see you around. Candid shots are focused, to express inner emotions or personal experiences of random people: what they do, where they go, how they feel.

Taking these kinds of portraits are good exercise. You have to tell a story about somebody, while he or she is totally unaware of being the main actor of your imaginary plot. That is not easy at all. If you are shy and insecure, you would rather go to a place where people aren’t on guard from of a curious photographer. Parks, expositions, open air activities, local parties… People are quite relaxed in those places enjoying some activities but, above all, there will be more people taking pictures. So nobody will notice you. Take advantage of situations like these until you feel sure enough to go to the next level.

If you feel like a pro already, don’t doubt it. Go and ask your target if you can take a picture of them. Explain your project to them, what you do, your ideas and work. I’m sure some of them will be pleased and say yes. And don’t forget to ask them for an e-mail to send them the result. If this is too much for you, at the very least try not to make anyone uncomfortable and by using a zoom lens. Otherwise, you won’t get the spontaneous take you are looking for.

“Candid shots are focused, to express inner emotions or personal experiences of random people: what they do, where they go, how they feel.”

2- Architecture VS. Humans.

This tip it’s also about searching for folks in the street, but the main difference now is that you have to think bigger. Much bigger. We are talking big as buildings, monuments, churches and, why not, trees and impressive nature, for example. In this case, use every single person in your pictures as a measurement of their own context.

Your hometown architecture might be really impressive itself, but if you add this human element to the whole composition, the result will be much more appealing and meaningful.

Try to show how insignificant we feel next to huge structures, make the viewer notice how tiny we contrast with the world we’ve built around us. The main character is the surroundings. Humans are just an accessory to admire their greatness. By having this idea in mind, you’ll get powerful images. A wide lens will help.

“By adding a human element to the whole composition, the result will be much more appealing and meaningful.”

3- The Spotlight (light and shadows)

Putting together opposite elements in photography is always a win-win: either complementary colors, huge vs. tiny, or natural elements into an urban scene. You can try all your want, your city will offer many possibilities in every street. Open your eyes.

For me, one of the most charming contrasts I find in the streets is based on lights and shadows. Try to draw the viewer’s attention into the spotlight, where you should set the most important elements of your composition. Hopefully, somebody will pass by or maybe there’s some interesting object near by chance that you could use. If not, you can always bring some prop with you or just take a shot of the street itself without significant details besides dark and light. It’s up to you.

Shadows will be your ally in order to insinuate the surroundings, it’s like hiding information only those with a sharp vision can tell. Telling by not telling. You can play with multiple layers in your photos so people have to look for the different details, some of them less visible in the dark parts. Be mysterious and intelligent. You’ll get subtle images with a deep message.

“Shadows will be your ally in order to insinuate the surroundings, it’s like hiding information only those with a sharp vision can tell.”

4- Sunset.

Though this is related to the previous point, I feel it deserves a section of its own.

The light at sunset is magical and inspiring. The streets are full of a warm light and shadows are long and playful. Work on getting a great aesthetic and atmosphere. The orange lighting, sometimes a pink hue, will fit perfect in candids, especially if loving feelings or transcendental meaning are meant to be represented, such as a happy family walking by, a couple holding hands or a thoughtful somebody staring at the horizon.
You will notice that buildings and monuments look much more impressive too.

Also, when the Sun is too low, you can simulate some people are emerging from it, like in a Sci-Fi scene from a movie. Use a backlight illumination, capture some flares coming out and let the magic do the rest. Just look around and set your target. Remember you don’t have much time, that moment will last about one hour. So don’t miss your chance.

5- Street art.

Sometimes nothing goes as planned in street photography: you didn’t meet the right people to take candids of, the clouds or bad weather didn’t allow you to capture the best light,  or you felt your shooting didn’t bring out your best that day.

But you have an ace up the sleeve: street art such as graffiti, paintings, and urban illustrations will always be there for you.  Every city has tons of them on their walls. They are art by themselves, most of them are beautiful, colorful, inspiring and amazing.

Your challenge here is to add something of your own. Don’t just take a shot of incredible graffiti, in this way you are documenting more than creating your own art.

Stare at the street art you’re going to photograph for a while before you start doing your thing. Try to understand the meaning, what the artist wanted to tell us, and then use it as a canvas to your work. Take a look around and attempt unusual perspectives, integrate the surroundings, capture some details. This is your remake, but don’t just copy. Make something new from it.

“Don’t just take a shot of incredible graffiti…This is your remake, don’t just copy. Make something new from it.”

6- Look for timeless moments.

This might be something very subjective, but I’d dare to say you should prioritize on capturing timeless moments.

In general, don’t let the full artistic weight of your photography rely on unnecessary details that will overshadow the essence of your work. Think about universal concepts, unless you want to hint and make your intention clear at a later time. I mean, if you want to make allusion to a specific brand, modern technology or a contemporary situation you want to take a stance, it’s easy to understand you have to delimit the period we are living right now. Apart from that, try to represent scenes that will be understood today and in 20 years.

Rescue any picture you took 10 years ago. What do you have to say about it? If the answer is “Ugh, this is so 2007” (in a bad way), unconsciously you’re detracting from your own work just because it looks old-fashioned and out-of-time. If you agree, maybe you should fix that in your next projects.

Somehow I feel when you transcend any temporary fashion, your creation will endure over the years and future generations will understand what you wanted to express now.

“I feel when you transcend any temporary fashion, your creation will endure over the years and future generations will understand what you wanted to express now.”

Looking for more tips? Check out JoseManuelerre’s post on “Finding Inspiration When You Feel Lost“.

Make Some Noise
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Josemanuelerre

Street photographer of candid shots with a focused style on details and tiny stories. Welcome to my world.

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