OK so you’ve been thinking about doing some Street Photography but never got round to it, I don’t blame ya as it is not a genre typically embarrassed by many especially if you’re only just getting into Photography. Hopefully, these 5 quick tips will help you in your transition or if you’re already an aspiring Street Photographer these will help improve your game while out on the streets.
There’s no doubt that you would have read your fair share of blogs and articles on how to approach Street Photography so I’m not going to repeat them here but instead, share some with you the things that helped me overcome the many obstacles that one faces in this genre of photography.
1. Warm up
No I’m not referring to the type you do before a running a marathon, the warm up I’m referring to is the type that builds your confidence before you start approaching strangers and asking to take their portrait. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pro or a beginner we all get nervous at some stage and it is important to shake off those nerves otherwise it’ll be reflected in your tone and body language. Typically what I do first before I even pull out my camera from my bag is to approach 5 strangers and just strike up a conversation, it could someone as simple as asking for directions to a certain location. This teaches you how to approach and engage a stranger and builds your confidence to approach someone for their portrait later on.
2. Take a wingman
Street Photographers are typically stereotyped as being “Lone Rangers” who roam the streets preying on unsuspecting victims but this is rarely the case, sure there are those who prefer to be alone so not to draw too much attention than say a group of 5 people all carrying cameras. But if you’re starting out for the first time it can be quite intimidating so having someone with you can help take some of that away can go a long way. You could have your friend stand next to a stranger who you want to take a candid photo of and pretend to photograph your friend but then at the last minute move your camera to frame the subject instead.
3. One Camera, One Lens
A common mistake I see far too often are people lugging around large backpacks with their entire camera gear, I’m talking about tripods, flashes, 3 or 4 lenses, cleaning kit, filters, accessories etc. 1 camera and 1 lens are all you need. By keeping it simple and carrying only 1 lens (ideally a prime) you won’t run into the issue of over analysing the scene and deciding whether it frame would look better in wide angle or telephoto. It also makes you think with on your feet, after all, your feet is the only form of zoom. More importantly, if you approach someone while lugging all that gear you look like a twat or someone I like to refer to as “All Gear But No Idea” but on a serious note you come across as intimidating.
4. Practice on your Opening Line
Politicians weren’t born with the natural gift of public speaking, it takes hours of practice. So before approaching strangers always try to have a few different opening lines or ice-breakers and practice them, whether with a friend, in front of a mirror or just in your head. When you approach someone you literally only have seconds to engage them while not looking or sounding like a creep and just like Murphy’s law – KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid well not so much that last part but you get the idea. Here are some simple openers to get you started:
“Hi there, my name is _____ I’m a local street photographer taking portraits of interesting people, would you mind if I took your portrait?”
“Hi sorry to bother you I just wanted to let you know that I like your ______ (piece of clothing or hairstyle) and was wondering if I could take a quick picture?”
“Hi I’m doing a project on the colour _____ and I noticed that you’re wearing a _____ coloured top/hat/shoe/scarf, would you mind if I took a photo?”
There are countless openers that you can come up with and they all depend on the situation and the subject but the bottom line is to be genuine there is no point faking it or using corny openers.
5. Have Fun!
Just have fun, if you’re constantly shitting your pants and getting sweaty palms each time before you approach someone then you’re not having fun and chances are the images you take will reflect that. There will be rejections so I’m not going to deny that but in my experience I’ve had more success than rejections, and they are usually genuine rejections i.e. they are running late to meet someone or are brutally honest and say they prefer not to have their photo taken, you’ll just have to respect people’s decision but at the end of the day if you don’t ask you don’t get.