If you’ve got a camera to take street photos with (any camera) then at some point you’ll want to take your first street phot. It can feel pretty scary to start. The pressure of taking a good photo plus the fear of taking someone’s photo without their permission can feel overwhelming. So today I’m going to look at a few quick tips to help you take your first street photo.
My top tip for shooting street is to just start. It’s so obvious but can be very difficult to actually put into practice. It might feel a little overwhelming and uncomfortable to take picture of people you don’t know on a street but ultimately, if you want to do it, you’ll just need to start sometime. To help you out, I’ve got a few practical suggestions that will help you get going in street.
Find a stage
The easiest way to get started is to use an approach where you “find a stage”. That means you find a good background or setting which a person will look interesting in. In general a good background will be plain, easy for a figure to distinguish themselves against [i.e. Not dark with a dark subject or light with a light subject] and have some elements which draw attention to a subject (i.e. a slopping roof that comes down towards one corner).
When you find your stage, you just wait for someone to enter it and get into a good position. This works well because you can go looking for something interesting, give yourself plenty of time to set things up and ultimately you can pick the person whose picture you want to take. If you want to wait for someone not to notice you at all, go for it.
Make sure you relax and just act naturally though, if you stand to the side with an intense stare, when someone notices you, you’ll look like a real creep! Remember, what you are doing is okay, you’re not trying to harm them and just relax.
Go with a friend
Having a friend can be a really good way to get started. You’ll give each other confidence, you can spur each other on AND people are less likely to think you are some weirdo because you’ve clearly got at least one friend. Plus, if things really do go bad, you’ve got someone to back you up. Of course, going with a friend makes you look more obvious too so be aware that people will notice you more and you might get in each other’s ways.
Plus it can be good fun challenging a friend to step out of their comfort zone with you. Sometimes you can get competitive and spur each other on.
Dive in at the deep end
I was really scared about shooting people on the street for a long time So to help me beat that fear, I started diving in at the deep end. I tried to think of the most difficult situations or the subjects who’d scare me the most, and went after them. After that, everyone else felt a lot easier. Obviously, there are different ways to go about this. I don’t suggest you go up to a big group of tough looking (drunk) men and then fire a bright flash close into their eyes late at night, that’s asking to get beaten up. But this is where street portraits can come in handy, they help you learn how to relate and react to people on the street, explain yourself and calm down tensions.
Diving in at the deep end is high risk and high reward. You’ll probably get some negative reactions but you’ll realise that those reactions are really that bad. People might shout at you, but they soon walk away. People might give you a dirty look, but it ends. I want to be clear, some people won’t like you taking their photos and diving in at the deep end will intensify those reactions, but it is the quickest way to build confidence.
Pick a date in the future and build up
If you find yourself procrastinating and putting off going out, then pick a date further in the future (maybe a week or two) set it as a firm commitment, nothing to stop you from doing it, and remind yourself as you build up why you want to take these images. Think of the places you will go to, the type of things you want to keep an eye out for and get some inspiration before you do it.
Start without people
If you really find street hard, try starting without anyone in the frame. Often I’ll try and take five photos as quickly as I can when I leave the house just to get myself comfortable. These could be of the fence next door, or just down the road, the sky, whatever. These are often terrible so I know that things can only get better and I’ve got used to pressing the shutter button.
For you, maybe you’ll find that stage and just take a few shots of the stage without people to get going. Assuming you aren’t shooting film then you can basically shoot for free and it costs you nothing to take bad photos. Just get started pressing the button and losses up your trigger finger.
Take photos of people’s backs first
Eye contact is a scary thing and having someone look right at you when you snap can feel very intimidating when starting off. So start by getting some snaps of someone’s back. Then try getting someone from the side without them noticing, finally go for face on.
Honestly, I don’t like this method that much, I find it can lead to someone wasting months gaining confidence via a series of slow realizations that the vast majority of people aren’t going to harm you. I am a much bigger fan of facing your fear (people are going to notice me) and just diving in. However, I know that is me and other people aren’t like me. So if this is helpful for you, go for it.
Take street portraits first
Some people say that street portraits (a photo of a person with permission) aren’t real street photos. Who cares. Street portraits are a great way to get more used to interacting with people which massively reduces the fear of taking people’s photos on the street. It also gets you more used to taking people’s photos heads on and going up close to random people.
Street portraits were the key for me to get past my fear of street photos. It helped me overcome my fear and find the joy in street photography. Personally I prefer candid shots but if I find myself starting to be held back by fear, I go back to street portraits.
Find your own way
You may well have a different way to get started with street photography, that’s fine but the most important thing is to just start. As soon as you start, it gets easier. So give it a go. And if you have a different method, let me know below.
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