Aka: The world’s population is your model
‘Street Photography’ has been a bit of a buzzword in the photo world here lately it seems. Maybe it’s been around longer, but I’m hopping on the fan boat. It’s almost an adrenaline rush, especially when you’re new to the style.
What is Street Photography?
Street photography is a type of photography that features subjects in candid situations within public places such as streets, parks, beaches, malls, political conventions and other settings.
Street photography uses the techniques of straight photography in that it shows a pure vision of something, like holding up a mirror to society. Street photography often tends to be ironic and can be distanced from its subject matter, and often concentrates on a single human moment, caught at a decisive or poignant moment. On the other hand, much street photography takes the opposite approach and provides a very literal and extremely personal rendering of the subject matter, giving the audience a more visceral experience of walks of life they might only be passingly familiar with. ~ Wikipedia
Street photography & portraiture, to me, can be broken down in to a couple of categories. Consenting models, incognizant models, and supporting models. Each of these have their different levels of comfort that’s required. (I suppose technically ‘street photography’ could branch out beyond the realm of photos with people in them, but we’ll focus on people here)
Consenting (street portraits live here): You’ve asked permission for a photo. Whether it be a candid photo or staged, the point is they know they are being photographed. This won’t always be a verbal exchange, as many times you may be in a foreign speaking situation.
Incognizant (a nice blend of street photography and portraits): The person is still the main subject matter, but they don’t necessarily know that you’re taking a picture. Maybe they are deep in to reading a book, or are significantly far away to where they would not notice. Anything that makes them unaware of the photograph being taken. An example; a man fishing at the end of a pier, with a great sunset behind him.
Supporting (street photography by definition): There is a person/people framed in your shot, but they are really only supporting the scene, rather than being the definitive subject. An example; think of a night scene, a large building with windows glowing, and in the corner of a window, a woman silhouetted. The silhouetted person supports the content, but doesn’t define it.
Based on the above, there is really only one category that you interact with the subject, with consenting models. I feel that generally, as far as your comfort level with interaction increases, you work your way from bottom to top of the three categories. Supporting -> Incognizant -> Consenting. One common question I get when talking street portraits is ‘how do you get someone to let you take their picture?’ Well here we go:
- Ask. Just ask them. Whether it be ‘Hey can I take your picture’, to a simple raised camera motion with a gesture towards the subject (this is a good one for language barriers). I find that it’s best to have a good reason for wanting to take their picture. It shouldn’t be ‘can I take you’re photo you look really weird’. Find something worth complimenting. It can be as simple as their interesting shirt, or hair style. Don’t lie to someone, be earnest.
- Have your gear prepared. Every setting on your camera should be ready when you approach a subject. Nothing is worse than getting a look of impatience in your model. Well I guess getting a look of the middle finger is worse…
- Enjoy the interaction. This usually happens thru conversation. People generally like having others interested in them. You’ll quickly be surprised at how often taking someones picture leads to a chat, and a comfortable person will make a more pleasing subject. If conversation isn’t possible, stick with the most simple sign of enjoyment, a smile and polite demeanor. It will get you miles ahead when trying to work with strangers.
- Know what you are looking for. Try your best to compose your ideal shot before hand. Check the surroundings, where the light is, what is happening in the background. It’s okay to ask someone to turn around because the light is better, it makes you seem like you know what you’re talking about (you do know what you’re talking about, you’re the photographer!).