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A lot has been said about street photography and a lot will continue to be said about it so long as anyone has an interest in photographing people in public spaces.
The discourse on street photography covers everything from knowing how the law deals with taking photos of people in public to how you should dress when shooting on the street.
There are also countless guidelines, tips and rules circulating about street photography — most of which are at least moderately useful. But is there one rule that supersedes all other street photography rules? I believe there is.
The One Rule To Rule Them All: Be Present
This is really a state of mind. Of course, you have to physically be present in public places in order to do street photography, and I’ve previously addressed the importance of placing yourself in the midst of the action. While it’s not always necessary to get close to people, proximity can go a long way in determining how intimate your photos feel.
But being present involves more than simply showing up to any given location.
Being present is about awareness…
It’s about taking in the sights, sounds and smells around you. Photography may be a visual medium, but when you absorb non-visual sensory details you can use them to inform every shot you take.
Being present means that you’re attentive…
Mindful to the ways in which everyone around you interacts with others and with the environment. If street photography is about people and places, then it makes sense to convey that symbiotic relationship in your images.
Being present allows you to forget about the camera…
The camera doesn’t matter much. Dial in the settings that will work best in your situation and just focus on what’s happening around you.
Being present means following your curiosity…
Fascinating people and unexpected happenings are central to street photography. Don’t be content with replicating the type of imagery that’s popular on social media. Have the courage to photograph anything and anyone that piques your interest.
Being present means knowing and embracing your role as a street photographer.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it for work or doing it for fun. The aim isn’t for you to be the center of attention. Don’t make it about you by being rude, intrusive or unnecessarily boisterous. Similarly, don’t be sneaky and creepy. Shoot with pride and confidence. You’re a street photographer!
A red dot on your camera or a red ring around your lens doesn’t grant you any special powers. An astronomical follower count isn’t proof of your skill. What will ultimately be most responsible for your success as a street photographer is your ability to be present – in the moment.
Street photography typically revolves around capturing humanity, raw and unfiltered. Each moment is unique and can’t be reproduced. By being present — being fully aware of and in tune with your surroundings — you give yourself the best chance to capture something wonderful.