In spite of declarations to the contrary, street photography is alive and continues to grow. How much of it meets the approval of so-called standard bearers is up for debate, but I think that’s ultimately a fruitless discourse.
We should all expect street photography to change with the times. That, of course, doesn’t mean it can’t be good just because it changes.
Exactly how does one achieve “good” street photography?
One way of getting good at anything is to avoid the mistakes others have made.
So, for all those budding street photographers who are reading this, following these 5 practical “Don’ts” will make your journey into street photography a bit easier.
1. Don’t Overpack
To me, street photography means a lot of walking. When you’re doing a lot of walking, it makes sense to travel as light as possible.
I’m always baffled by photographers who carry a bag full of gear just to do street photography. While I’m an advocate of the idea that any camera can be a street photography camera, I understand why seasoned street shooters tend to favor smaller, lighter cameras and lenses.
If you don’t have a small, lightweight camera that’s fine. You can still help yourself out by carrying the bare minimum — one camera, one lens. There’s no need to pack like you’re going for a hike.
Furthermore, keeping your gear to a minimum eliminates distractions and keeps you focused on the task at hand. You want to be able make quick decisions about when and what to shoot, not bogged down with whether you should stop and change lenses.
2. Don’t Overthink It
Street photography is largely about instinct. Of course, it can be helpful to watch videos and read articles to gain some insights on how others approach street photography, but your most valuable teacher will be experience.
Just get out there and do what feels right, whatever comes naturally. Worry about the results later.
As you continue to shoot and check your work at the end of each session you’ll gain a better understanding of what you want to communicate with your photography.
3. Don’t Rush
It’s easy to think that if you’re shooting in a fast paced environment you need to be moving as rapidly as everything and everyone around you.
The fact is, you’re going to be most successful when you slow down and simply allow life to unfold around you. If you spend the whole time speed walking along with everyone else, you’re absolutely going to miss shots.
Street photography can be exhilarating, but have patience — I can guarantee it will pay off.
4. Don’t Stand On The Sidelines
Wherever the action is, that’s where you need to be. Granted, inserting yourself into the midst of a crowd can be unnerving, but chances are no one in the crowd is really going to mind.
While I’m not a proponent of the Bruce Gilden style of in-your-face street photography, there is an undeniable dynamism to a photo taken within relatively close proximity of the subject as opposed to one that feels distant and impersonal.
Besides, when you boldly walk into a crowd, proudly holding your camera, you make your motives clear and you will be perceived more positively than if you were creeping around with your camera trying to sneak shots.
5. Don’t Spray And Pray
In other words, don’t do street photography in burst mode, hoping to get lucky and catch a great frame. Yes, I know for some people this method is a matter of routine. So if it works for you, keep doing what works for you.
But if you’re trying to learn the art of capturing that elusive decisive moment, you can’t rely on luck.
Furthermore, by shooting in burst mode you just create more work for yourself when it comes time to sort through all those photos and try to determine which ones are keepers.
Everything is more enjoyable when you shoot less and shoot with purpose.
The “philosophy” that underlies your street photography will have a much greater bearing on how successful you are than will gear, location or technical considerations.
Take all the “don’ts” above and throw in a “do”: have fun!