Some of the most powerful images in the world have been captured by street photographers.
Street Photography can encapsulate many different genres of photography, from artistic photos to journalistic images, and architectural photography to portraiture. The image above is a shot I took in a public square as groups of people gathered and played Pétanque on the loose gravel, whilst everyone else carried on with their business around them.
Regardless of your photographic style, here are my 5 Top Tips for Photographing People in the Street:
#1. Be Open and Be Friendly
The absolute worst thing you can do is try to take your shots in a sneaky manner . . . it may be tempting if you’re just starting out and still building confidence, but trust me it’s not the route you want to take! You’re far more likely to evoke a negative reaction from people when they notice you taking their photograph in this manner. You’re never going to get the best photograph you can if you’re rushing to take the shot before you’re noticed . . . wouldn’t it be better to take your time, set up your camera properly, compose the shot and then take the photograph? Not everyone will be happy with you taking their photograph, that’s an unavoidable truth of Street Photography – but at the same time you’d probably be surprised by the amount of people that actually don’t mind! If you’re smiling and very honest about the fact you’re taking a photograph, the more likely it is to be accepted. Sometimes people will ask why you want to take a photograph – so always be friendly, pay compliments, and explain that it’s because you are a photographer. Which leads nicely on to my second Top Tip . . .
#2. Have a Chat
As I mentioned in #1 people will sometimes approach you and ask you why you’re taking their photograph . . . but don’t be afraid – this is sometimes the best thing that can happen! Once you’ve explained you’re photographer (and have been as polite and friendly as possible) your subjects are often far more open to letting you photograph them. This will usually lead to a far more relaxed situation, which will also allow for more shots and of a more calm and natural subject. One of my favourite things to do is exchange details – carry some business cards or take note of their email address, and you can even offer to send them a file or a link to their photograph. It’s a great way of building trust, and will often turn into a really interesting conversation. I’ve personally met some really great people this way, and still keep in touch with them now.
#3. No Means No
It doesn’t matter how friendly or approachable you are, sometimes people just won’t want their photograph taken. Most of the time the person will simply ask you not to take their photograph, in which case the best thing to do is politely accept their request not to be photographed and move on. If you have been asked not to take someone’s photograph, you will always be in the wrong if you continue trying to do so. Trying to photograph the subject after being asked not to can result in an array of undesirable situations – from verbal abuse to violence or police intervention – none of which you want to be involved with! Sometimes you will have already taken the photograph, in which case you should apologise and continue on your way. If this is not enough, then be sure to show them as you delete the image on the camera.
#4. Bad Weather is Your Friend
Photographers are possibly some of the only people that regularly hope for cloudy, stormy or (what is normally deemed as) undesirable weather. If you don’t . . . then you should! Bright sunlight will often lead to images with high amounts of contrast, blown out high-lights and underexposed shadows – all of which you don’t really want to be dealing with when it comes to street portraiture and photography. When the weather is more overcast, the lighting is usually more balanced and allows you to capture beautifully exposed images with wonderful detail . . . so when the Sun is shrouded in cloud it’s one of the best times to head out with your camera!
#5. A Little Money Goes a Long Way
In many parts of the world people are used to being photographed by tourists and travellers – to the extent that they will ask for money before they will let you take a photograph of them. This is more common in countries or regions with low employment rates, unique cultural traits, or high amounts of tourism. I’m sure it’s something many of you will be familiar with. Whether you choose to pay them or not is up to you, but you certainly shouldn’t try and take their photograph if you are refusing their request for money (as I explained in point #3). Sometimes making a small donation can go a long way – often people will rely on the tourism industry to supplement their income and in many countries your pennies can make a huge difference. This can also make a difference to the boundaries that are normally set for you as a street photographer. Instead of waiting and relying on the perfect moment to happen, you will be more able to ask the subject to ‘change their position’ or ‘look in a different direction’ – helping you to create the best image possible.
Every photographer has (or will develop) techniques and methods individual to them – from the technical aspects of photography to the interpersonal skills necessary to work with people.
Hopefully my 5 Top Tips to Photographing People in the Street will help you to build upon your existing skill set, develop new ideas and adapt your methods to create even more beautiful images.