Photographing people in the streets is exhilarating, entertaining,exhausting, and educational. These lessons I mention are simple lessons that I often take for granted. Shooting with the street photography genre in mind is something that I enjoy doing and have been practicing for a few years now. So I’ll throw out this disclaimer: I am a student of photography with aspirations to be a journalist. I don’t get paid for any of this and I just want to share my experiences of shooting in the streets with other photographers in hopes of providing some insight as to what works and doesn’t work for me personally.
I don’t want to come off as a know-it-all street photographer trying to push whatever it is that I think defines street photography on you. The number one rule that I always fall back on in photography is: There are no rules. Photograph what you love and do it for yourself. If you are interested in my experience with photography, read on and I hope you enjoy it. I hope you’ll share some of your valuable insight with me in return.
1. Don’t hesitate
The number one biggest regret I ever experience while photographing people on the streets is every moment I miss because I didn’t just trust my gut. If you have a feeling something has the potential to be good, just shoot, don’t think. Why handcuff yourself waiting for perfection? Life doesn’t slow down for you so you can get a better glimpse, it’s happening and you’re missing it. Take off your lens cap and get snapping.
2. Take More Risks
Nothing ventured nothing gained. Whenever I see a spectacular photo the one thing I always think to myself is “how did the photographer gain access into that environment?” How did James Nachtway find himself hanging out with the family in between the train tracks? How did Capa get his shots of D-Day on the beach in Normandy? They all had the courage to be in the moment and the intelligence to put themselves there. I’m not saying you need to risk your life or anything, but taking the safe route will always get you the safe image. One of the most important lessons any aspiring photographer should learn is to get closer. When you think you’re close take one more step forward just beyond your comfort zone. Push yourself. Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.
3. Slow Down
Sometimes it’s best to take it easy. Meander about. Loiter. Blend in with your surroundings. The longer you’re in one spot doing nothing the less conspicuous you become. It’s amazing the way life can unfold in front of your eyes. If you’re patient the moment will enter your frame rather than you rushing around desperately seeking it out, trying to force it. My habit is to shoot fast and move on. I believe I do this to avoid any more confrontation than I am already causing by aiming my camera at them. This is a bad habit that I am consciously trying to remedy. Take a break, lean up against a wall for a little while, let life happen and see what unfolds.
4. Be Real
Show empathy. Be sincere. Listen. It’s amazing what people say to you if you just let them talk. When I’m not keen on being social I notice that my photography gets a little worse. I’m not participating with the people in my environment. I feel like I must put off a pretty strong “leave me the hell alone” vibe, because sometimes no one approaches me at all. It’s like I’m a dark cloud and people are instinctively running for cover when they see me.Other days I can’t get anyone to leave me alone.
I believe human beings are more intuitive than we give ourselves credit for. If your having a hard time being social or you’re feeling awkward and getting a lot of frowns and sideways glances while your out photographing, check your mental attitude. Are you frowning yourself? Is you’re mind clear and open to new experience? Or is it clouded with suspicion and self doubt? If it’s the latter, or you’re just in a sour mood, point your camera at the inanimate, work on some urban landscape, explore the world beyond the people. Save your human interaction for a time when you’re more receptive to it.
That’s the beauty of life, it’s unpredictable and multi-layered, filled with infinite possibilities.
5. Pay attention
Not everyone loves the camera. It’s okay to pass up a shot that you don’t feel right about. One of the advantages of living in a world with billions of people is that it won’t be long before you get another opportunity to land that one special shot we are all in search of. I think it is imperative that photographers who make a habit of shooting in the streets have decent enough street smarts to be able to recognize a potentially dangerous situation. In our quest to document life and answer whatever burning questions about it we may have it’s not uncommon to find yourself uncomfortably deep in unfamiliar surroundings. It’s a razor thin line between courage and stupidity. Be wary of your surroundings, be careful, and keep your head on a swivel. Trust your instincts and live to shoot another day.