7 Tips To Make Your Street Photography Easier

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It is no surprise to say that street photography can be challenging, at times, and even more challenging in certain countries due to differing customs and laws. But that doesn’t mean that street photography is impossible, nor that you can’t make it easier to practice. Photographers should work hard to overcome the difficulties facing them when doing street photography. In this article I've shared some tips that any photographer will find helpful.

Clearly, you need to be quite close to your subjects to capture nice images, but 99% of the time, your subject doesn’t have a single clue about your identity or the reason why you are photographing them. This can lead to uncomfortable situations, which can often escalate into bigger problems involving the law. With this in mind, take the following reminders to heart.

Know Your Law

Whenever you are doing street photography, make sure that you are familiar with the local laws regarding photographing people in public areas. Also, make sure you know which areas are classified as public, and whether there are any government buildings in the background which might be illegal to photograph. In my own country, for instance, it is forbidden to photograph government buildings (even though that law is rarely enforced), but issues can arise when such illegal photographs are used for commercial or even editorial purposes (especially in an unstable political climate).

Avoid Eye-Contact

In practice, you would usually make eye-contact right away in order to engage people. That lets people know that your attention is focused towards them, and it encourages them focus on you. When you avoid eye-contact, however, it is usually easier to move around unnoticed, even though you are wielding a big camera. This probably won’t work at all times, but it will improve the odds of you going unnoticed.

Big Lens – Big Problems

https://c4.staticflickr.com/8/7690/16498707754_950b34d8e2_b.jpg Photo by Matthew G

Big lenses attract attention. That is why most of the street photographers use Leica’s and/or other mirrorless cameras. This camera is smaller, so it makes you less suspicious and you can slide easily between people without them noticing that you are actually taking pictures. When there is no choice but to use big lenses on big DSLR cameras, then you can pretend that you are doing something else while taking the pictures. For example, try to use live-view, and hold your smartphone in your other hand.

It Is Not All About 50mm

I’m still not sure why, but most of the street photographers stick to 50mm and they avoid almost all other lenses. That doesn’t mean that street photography is exclusively reserved to 50mm lenses and nothing else. I’ve seen great street shots taken at 8mm with a fisheye lens, and at 300mm with a good telephoto lens. Don’t limit yourself to just one focal length. Remember: the only limit is you. If you feel like it, use a long lens, or fisheye lens, or whatever lens you think fits the scene best. There is no issue with focal length.

Diversions and Distractions

https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2211/2486979870_511cc2b099_b.jpg Photo by Simply CVR

Recently, while I was watching a video on YouTube, I observed how one street photographer went around unnoticed with a videographer behind him. The trick was this: diversion. This means that if you (like the photographer in the video) are using something – or someone, rather – as a diversion you can probably go unnoticed as well, even if it is just your buddy holding your spare (or even broken) DSLR as if they were photographing something else. This can help draw the attention of your subjects away from what you're doing.

Start a Conversation

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4011/4492162777_da444b5326_b.jpg Photo by Nishanth Jois

Often, it is good to start a conversation with people and explain to them what you are doing and for what cause. This is particularly helpful for elderly subjects. Most of the time, folks won’t mind you taking a picture or two, if you are nice enough. This will work in your favor even after you take the shot. What I mean by this is that you can easily distract your subjects by asking them something trivial and completely unrelated to your activity. For example, if you just took a shot of a school teacher walking with a bunch of kids and she notices you, approach her and ask her about the school she is from and whether she needs any help. In the time it takes for her to answer you, the thought about the picture you took may be far gone from her mind.

Confidence

Probably the most important thing you can do to improve your street photography is to gain confidence. I know that this sounds cliché and maybe even unimportant, but it affects your body language quite a bit, and thus affects the reaction that the people around you have. When you are confident enough, people tend to treat you with more respect, viewing you as a capable professional. They will trust you to get closer to them.

Do you have any tricks that make your street photography any easier? Feel free to share them down in the comments. I’m sure that other photographers will like to hear them.

About Author

Photographer who loves challenging and experimental photography and loves sharing his knowledge about it.

swivel screen live view works well. have your camera manual on your lap like you are just trying to learn how to work the thing.

I’ve bought a 35mm prime with a focus scale on the outside of the body. Set the focus to something like 2m and shoot from the hip.
Line the shot as you walk towards the subject and fire several frames as you walk past. Most people are too preoccupied to notice any noise the camera might make. If they do hear something they won’t suspect you as you don’t appear to be interacting with your camera.
I have turned the strap over so that the colour and logo isn’t eye catching and draws less attention.
Takes plenty of practice and is frustrating and rewarding in equal measure.

I’m hooked though…

Shooting from the hip can be rewarding, but on the other hand it is too much of a “spray and pray” moment. I tend to keep things more at my control, but surely shooting from the hip is one of the many ways to go.

Additionally, when I try to shoot street photos I tend to ditch the strap completely, I rely mostly on the hand strap for that matter.

Cheers!

You shouldn’t use a bulky, large frame DSLR to do street, they only make you look like a nosy tourist. A medium body (Olympus, Sony, etc) camera will work fine if you can’t afford a Leica or other rangefinder. Turn off AF and learn how to zone focus and preset your focal range such that the subject is within the focal range of the lens then a trick I use is to hold the camera up to chest high, finger on the trigger and then look away to the side like you are looking at something else while firing. As one of the other posters said I also ditch the huge colorful neck strap in favor of a hand strap allowing me to carry the camera in my hand to my side instead of around my neck.

two things

1) take off your sunglasses – especially in emerging countries, people want to see your eyes – sunglasses are an unnecessary barrier (cf how US military in combat zones always keep their sunglasses on – how do you expect them to build rapport with the locals ?)

2) sit down at a good shooting spot and stay there, let the other people move around while you shoot away. they will notice you less or think you are a professional working on a specific subject, not on them. People who move attract attention, people who don’t, don’t….

Best option I ever heard

While using live view or monitor mode. Hold the camera up to your eye and act like you are shooting a photo of something – preferably high in the air (upper part of a building).

Then as you appear to be reviewing your shot on the back monitor, you can actually frame and shoot.

Simple but very effective.

In Oxford, where I teach I suggest students photograph the many tourists. They are usually in groups and distracted, they are unlikely to leave the comfort of the group to confront you and they often do the strangest things that they would never do at home. You can use this almost anywhere you go because there seem to be tourists everywhere now!

Hi Dvonzo!
First let meet thank for all the great articles you write, they are always really useful and full of practical advice.
One thing that works really well for me is to have some business cards in my pocket. I had some made at moo.com for little cash, they have a variety of my pictures on the back. If someone seems or gets upset, I just pull them out say I’m a photographer and let them choose one.
So far it has always got smiles from there on.
Cheers
Rod

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