Street Photography Tips

Posted: April 30, 2012 in Street Photography
Tags: , , , , ,

Tony Ray Jones was an English street photographer. In the early 60’s he traveled to the U.S for studying for a Master of Fine Arts in graphic design at Yale. He moved to NY after graduating and got a job as an art director for CBS records but he was determined to become a photographer. In New York he became good friends with Joel Meyerowitz and became part of the NY street photographers scene led by Garry Winogrand.

Jones kept notebooks, a journal if you’d like in which he wrote down his thoughts, lists and plans about photography. In one of those lists, titled “Approach” he listed some tips for better street photographs. These tip are still valid today and can be used as a basic guidelines to better street photography.

There are many tip lists out there on the web, some repeat each other, some contradict each other, some have some good tips and some are simply wrong… I find this list to be simple, refined and a great way to start making good pictures.

I took the liberty to elaborate on some of those tips, I am not trying to analyze what Jones meant exactly but more giving my input on how I interpret these tips and how I put them into practice.

  1. Be more aggressive– just to be clear, this does not mean at any way that you should jump into situation that could become violent! In a way, this simple tip holds together some of the other tips. To me, being aggressive means to get closer, to become more involved and not to give up until I get my picture.

    Street Photgraphy by Sagi-K

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

  2. Get more involved (Talk to people) – For me, Street Photography has to be candid so talking to my subject before taking a picture in most times is out of the question. But saying thanks afterwards will be simply being polite and might save you from altercations. Some times I find myself so close to the scene that I become a part of it, talking to people is inevitable, so talk to people earn their trust and start taking pictures when they stop focusing on you and on your camera, although I have no problem to have some interaction between the people I picture and the camera, as long as there is no posing for the camera.
  3. Stay with the subject matter (be patient) – I have discussed this point in my Working the scene post.
  4. Take simpler pictures– We all know that making complex compositions with many subjects will create an interesting picture but sometimes minimalism works better and will create a strong image.

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

  5. See if everything in background relates to subject matter– I find this tip to very important. In fact this tip is one of the points that might stand in the center of the long going debate on the definition of street photography which I try to avoid at any cost, but let’s just say that a street photograph should show some interaction between the subjects or between the subject and its surroundings. A portrait with blur background is not street photography, it’s just a portrait even if it was taken on the street. Another aspect of this tip is more relevant today then ever as in modern street photography we see more often the use of juxtaposition between a person and an element in the background, it cold be a sign or a monument or anything else for that matter. In order for such picture to work, there has to be a visible connection or some sort of interaction. There are too many pictures out there of a person with a poster or a sign in the background that the connection is not made. The background in street photography is another subject, it’s part of the story just as the living, breathing subjects are and they have to work together.

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

  6. Vary compositions and angles more– Composition rules are a good starting point but rules are meant to be broken. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new and bold compositions, angles and framing, working outside of the box will generate interesting and unique pictures that will stand out.

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

  7. Be more aware of composition – although the last tips was talking about looking for new compositions and breaking the rules, the composition still has to be balanced. Avoid frames in which all the weight of the picture is on one side of the frame while the rest of the frame is empty and feels redundant.
  8. Don’t take boring pictures– Probably the most important tip and not just for street photography. It takes even greater importance today in the digital world we live in, in which we are exposed to hundreds or thousands pictures everyday that we go through them so fast without paying enough attention. If you want to capture the attention of your viewers you need to make interesting pictures. As street photography is gaining interest by many avid photographers, it is also misunderstood by many of those avid new comers to the world of street photography. We are looking for the special moments in the mundane life, without those special moments, big or small it’s just mundane and thus – boring…

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

  9. Get in closer (use 50mm lens or wider)– We all know the famous Robert Capa quotes about getting closer, they were good advice back when Capa said those things and they are still good advice today. Getting close allows us to be involved in the scene, to feel the scene and those feelings show in our pictures. If we want people to look at our photos and understand what we wanted to say and feel what we felt then you have to get close. Today, the streets are more crowded then they used to be, people are more aware of their privacy and they are more aware of cameras. Using a wide angle lens and getting close actually allow us to be less noticed, it creates uncertainty among our subjects as to who or what are we are photographing. You can’t hide the camera anymore so it’s size doesn’t really matter. We now stay unnoticed and we are able to keep it candid by using this uncertainty that we create.

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

  10. Watch Camera shakes (shoot 250sec or above)– Well this one really depends on what you are looking to do, what kind of look or effect are you looking for. Usually we are looking to freeze time and capture that special moment so this tip is right on but sometimes we are looking for something else, sometimes effects like motion blur make the picture. Don’t be afraid to experiment with long exposures but even then make sure that the static elements stay sharp enough. With today’s equipment and image stabilizers it easy to avoid shakes at lower speeds than 1/250 of a second.

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

  11. Don’t shoot too much – This one might contradict what I wrote in my Working the Scene post but it doesn’t. When we find a scene that we can work then we should work it but when we roam the streets looking for the next frame, we have to be focused, we have to see, hear, smell and taste the street so we can predict the moment to come and be ready for it in order to capture it with good composition and angle. Don’t waste your time on taking pictures that you know that they will not make the final cut, trust your intuition when to shoot and when to let it go, you’ll automatically start to shoot less.
  12. Not all at eye levelshooting from the hip– it is a well known technique to street photographers. We use it when we feel that raising the camera to our eye might give us away and interrupt the candid moment or might get us in trouble and sometimes it’s just a fast reflex to the scene in which we don’t have time to raise the camera to the eye and capture a fast moment. Shooting from the hip is just a phrase of course and it’s not limited to the hip… When we look at those images we also see that the unorthodox angles created by this technique produce interesting frames that feel stronger due to the angle the picture was shot at. So look for these different angles and master shooting from the hip. Another point that we must understand is that in some cases our eye level is higher than our subjects, so remember to bend your knees a little or even get down on your knees if needed to get the winning frame.

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

    Street Photography by Sagi-K

  13. No Middle distance – This one is pretty much the same as the Get in close tip. Middle distance will create flat pictures with boring perspective and remember that we want to avoid boring.

REMEMBER – these are just tips, they are just basic guidelines, nothing is curved in stone and you have to find what works best for you. But if you are interested in street photography and wish to start making street photos than these tips will help you to get started and put you on the right tracks.

  1. Shaul says:

    13 more rules to violate, but I appreciate your good intentions. When shooting on the streets (which sadly I don’t do very often) my only rule is “don’t think”. I’d rather be free and let the situations which occur around me inspire my photography. No rational restrictions whatsoever. Your tips do make sense, though, and I’m sure many will find them useful, so thank you.

    • Shaul, don’t confuse rules with tips. these are merely suggestions, take them or leave them, whatever works best for you.

      Don’t think – as in shoot by intuition is also a great tip 🙂

  2. Stamatis Gr says:

    Very well written and very good choice of pictures!

  3. mariusgeorgescufoto says:

    Inspiring and VERY useful.Thanks-I shoot street only 14 months ago,so i’m a beginner and I appreciate any lesson

  4. Sakis says:

    Great article !!!

  5. Sven says:

    Great article. Thanks for that!

  6. Damien C. says:

    Great article. The photos are wonderful.

  7. Rahul says:

    Thanks for such nice tips 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s