We often hear about the importance of finding one’s own style in photography. Anyone who has begun the work of discovering their own style surely knows how tricky of a proposition it is.
It’s one thing to have an idea of your stylistic leanings in a broad sense — maybe macro/close up photography is more your thing than architectural photography. That’s pretty easy. But there are also questions of style to be answered within any given genre of photography, including street photography.
You can identify yourself as a street photographer in general, but how do you define your style? The only person who can answer that is you.
The journey to find the answer can be a long and sometimes frustrating one, but below you will find 5 tips that will help you become more comfortable with street photography and, ultimately, shape your style.
1. Let Life Happen Around You
Those who are new to street photography too often give in to the temptation to go hunting for shots. It’s true that life moves quickly in areas where you’re most likely to engage in street photography, so the compulsion to chase after moments is understandable.
There are times when that approach works, but more often than not, you’re probably making things more difficult on yourself.
Instead, choose an interesting spot where there’s a lot going on and stick around for a while. Rather than spending so much energy chasing after people, you can let people come to you.
This method allows you to see things unfold in the distance and provides a better opportunity for you to react. Additionally, you may find that allowing people to enter your space as opposed to you entering theirs makes for a more comfortable dynamic.
2. Be Spontaneous
Every street photographer formulates ideas — mental images — of the kinds of shots they want to make. But reality quite often offers up something else altogether. Given this fact, you have to be adaptable to be successful in street photography.
Once you’re out on the street shooting, don’t get trapped in your own head. Take whatever the environment presents you with, even if it doesn’t fall in line with the plans you had for yourself.
No matter how out of the ordinary a shot might seem, take it. You can figure out whether you like it or not later.
3. Focus On Gesture
In portrait photography, you’re taught to focus on the eyes. What should street photographers focus on? You’ll get different answers from different people and they’re all likely to be of value, but I think gesture (a characteristic that encompasses expression) is where it’s at.
Admittedly, gesture can be a tricky concept to wrangle — it’s one of those things that escapes easy definition, but you know it when you see it.
For some, street photography is about capturing individuals who clearly stand out — those who are particularly attractive or bombastically dressed or obviously destitute. There is a place for all those things, but gesture is about something more nuanced.
Begin by looking for facial expressions, body language, and mannerisms rather than focusing strictly on outward appearance. Gesture will form the foundation for meaningful, relatable street photos.
4. Use A High ISO
Don’t worry about noise. Just about every camera out there handles noise pretty well. When you’re using a fast shutter speed to freeze motion (1/250 sec. or faster) and a relatively small aperture to keep everything in focus (f/8 or f/11), you won’t be able to shoot at ISO 100, and that’s not something that should concern you.
Exposure issues aside, there are street photographers who shoot at high ISO levels for aesthetic reasons. If you want the classic, gritty look often associated with film photography, shot at ISO 1600 (or higher if you like).
5. Abandon The Pursuit Of Perfection
Street photography is candid, it’s about the energy of life and the everyday people who make the world go round. Because moments worth capturing can happen in the blink of an eye, there’s always a chance that you won’t capture the moment perfectly.
Sometimes a shot that’s slightly out of focus or a bit blurry or awkwardly composed is a shot worth keeping because its imperfections convey the essence of the moment more authentically than a “perfect” shot would.
In short, don’t fall into the trap of always trying to make perfect photos; instead be on the lookout for perfect moments. If you don’t capture that moment perfectly, no big deal. Just get the shot.
The thoughts presented here can’t possibly account for everything you need to consider when trying to work out your style as a street photographer, but this is a good starting place.
Expand on each of these ideas, add more ideas to the list, eliminate ideas that don’t work for you. Most importantly, just keep shooting.