Some of the readers of Art of Mob are new to the site. Flashback Friday will be a repost of some of the more popular articles. I'm kicking off the series with this article originally posted on April 12, 2013.
Street photography fascinates me, but maybe that’s because I’m an avid people watcher. Staged portraits are beautiful and can be very powerful but capturing people being themselves when they think no one is watching provides a completely different perspective.
I asked ten of my favorite photographers from Instagram and EyeEm if they would share some of their tips for capturing these images. Included are professionals and hobbyists, mobile photographers and traditional photographers (yes, I’m breaking my rule here about only including mobile photography on this blog!)
If you have any tips you’d like to add, please post them in the comments below the article.
I am a commercial photographer based in Toronto, and have been since I completed my formal training in photography in 1991 at Ryerson University here in the city. But my passion for photography started at age of 13, when I bought my first SLR. I have always been interested in photographing people, not so much in formal portraits, but more candid portraits and human activities. Not until I studied the history of photography at the university did I realize that what I had been doing was called street photography. One particular photographer's work that I fell completely in love with was work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. Though my commercial work occupies most of my time, my true passion in photography is shooting street photos. I vacation a few times a year from commercial work to travel to other parts of the world to do street photography for myself.
- Be ready: It doesn't matter what camera you use, learn what it can and can't do, learn its quirks. A perfect moment waits for no one. So preset your camera settings, or turn on your mobile phone and set it to camera mode. Most mobile cameras have shuttle lag. So you will need to factor that in when you shoot. Street photography is about capturing people and events in real time. You either got it or missed it. So be ready.
- Story telling: In my opinion, a photograph must tell a story. As we say, "A picture is worth a thousand words". So try to tell a story, any story, with your photographs. Your photo must trigger an emotion in the viewer. If it doesn't, then you haven't done it right.
- Understand human behavior: Watch people and see how they behave. You can predict their next move or reaction just by watching them. And of course, have your camera ready.
- Travel light: I almost never shoot street photography with my SLR. First of all they are too heavy to carry around. Second, people get intimidated by large cameras. I usually use a range finder camera with a fixed focal length lens (35mm or a 50mm), or I use my iPhone. Act like a tourist. I usually find people are not intimidated by tourists, but they are by professional photographers.
- Get close to the people. Get close into the scene. But remember people need their space, so not too close. Get close enough to capture the scene, to capture emotion or expression on people’s faces, but still leave enough room to show the environment. This will help you tell the story better. I generally don't ask for permission to photograph someone, because I am not too close to them, and they are not threatened by my presence. I do ask when I want to take a close-up. Most people don't mind if they aren’t threatened or intimidated by you.
I'm Eitan Shavit, going by the name @strongcomet. I reside in Tel-Aviv, Israel, with my lovely wife, Rachel, and an extraordinary dog named Cashew. Although I did study photography for two years after my high school graduation, I never took it to the next level, and only took photos on rare occasions or trips. Instagram made me come back to business, and I was thrilled by iPhoneography, photo apps and the large community of worldwide photographers that shares and gives immediate feedback and love…and for that I'm so grateful.
I would like to think of myself as a street photographer, but it turns out I'm off the streets most of the time, so instead I've become a "park" photographer. In the park, life is in slow motion: people sitting, walking, wondering, pigeons fed by old women, dog owners greet other dog owners and everything is quite relaxed.
When I'm on the street, I like crowded places, where I can blend in and get closer to people. Most people just pass by, not noticing everything around them, and I have an internal radar for such people. I also like to take photos of old people. They are far more interesting, and in a way, don't even know that my phone also takes pictures, so they carry on with their lives, leaving an unnoticed mark in my photo album.
- Always have your camera app on and working - Open your favorite camera app and leave it open and ready for shooting. Even if your phone goes into sleep mode, when you switch it up again, your camera will be ready to shoot instantly.
- Always shoot with your audio off or with earphones. You don't want people to hear the shutter sound and attract attention, do you?
- Plan your shoot - try to plan ahead, if possible, the subject, the angle and the distance of your shoot. Try different angles. Don't be afraid do go lower and get a powerful angle, or even raise your hand up and take your shot from a higher angle. You'll be surprised at the result.
- Light - One of the most important aspects of your photo is the light. There will be a huge difference between a shot taken at noon or one taken at dusk. Sure, you can adjust the light with apps, but you cannot recreate a yellow light that falls miraculously on a wall, and creates shadows of people passing by. If you find such a light in an interesting scene, just stand there for a while, wait until someone comes into your frame. Sometimes the wait is as exciting as taking the picture itself.
- Take a lot of photos – Not so long ago, we were limited by 36 images on a roll of black and white film, but now digital photography has taken away this barrier, and we can shoot as many photos as we want (though I'm still struggling with a 6GB iPhone, with almost no free disk space) Take as many as you can in every scene. Take the best ones, arrange them in albums for later edits.
My name’s James Neame, a hobbyist photographer living in Kent. 95% of my photos are taken in London, where I work. I enjoy the challenge of photographing people being themselves, going about their everyday lives, and trying to build enjoyable images on this basis. Although I love using my DSLR, there is something magical about having a pocket sized device which can capture, edit and share your images, on the move.
- I’m very much a candid shooter. I prefer my shots to be about people being people. When they realize what you’re doing they tend to change their behavior. This means either laying in wait and capturing people as they pass, being sneaky (below), or just taking a brazen “lens out” approach and hoping people are too busy to notice you. This works more often than you might think!
- Shooting from the ear. A great way to get up close to your subject, I’m sure this is a familiar trick to a few people! Most mobiles can be set up to shoot with a press of the volume button. It’s not totally convincing but holding the phone to your ear while snapping is less obtrusive than plonking your phone in their face. It takes a bit of practice but can yield some interesting results. Other stealth methods would be holding your phone up while gazing about frowning, as if you’re looking at Google street view and trying to work out where you are; holding the phone right up to your face as if you have bad eyes; or literally shooting from the hip! Be warned though, you need to be holding the phone still to get a decent image – at least I do with my good old iPhone 4.
- If you’re going stealth, turn off the shutter sound!
- Consider subject and background. These are the two elements I concentrate on when looking for photos. Subjects, for me, are almost always people. Backgrounds are more vague; they don’t have to be a recognizable part of the photo – strong areas of light and shade, striking bands of color, other people even. I’m always quite pleased when the background compliments the subject or makes an ironic or humorous connection with it. Many of my photos don’t have both a strong background and subject, but my favorites do. Oh, and don’t forget the light, always about light!
- Don’t be afraid. There’s no law against taking photographs in public…yet! Suspicious behavior may get you noticed (more so with a “big” camera!), and this is a whole topic of discussion which is too deep to be covered here. However, if people don’t want their picture taken, they will either get out of shot, turn the other way, or let you know their objections. I’ve never had a confrontation whilst shooting the streets; several conversations with interesting folk, other photographers and so on, but no fights! Maybe it helps to look a bit mental, but that’s just me concentrating! Some street portrait shooters like to engage their subject before asking to take their photo, which can produce some amazing results, but I prefer to catch the moment unplanned and capture the humanity and (hopefully) humor of the situation without the subjects being able to prepare.
Jürgen Bürgin was born in Lörrach in Germany in 1971. He studied German literature, linguistics and economy in Freiburg and received a degree at the Albert-Ludwigs Universität in Freiburg in 1998. In 1999, he began working in the movie business in Berlin as public relations manager for a film PR agency and has since participated in the PR for numerous movie releases in Germany. As a creative counterpart to his daily job he works as an urban and street photographer, and has been shooting in Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, London, San Francisco, Chicago, Tokyo and New York. In 2011 he was shortlisted for a Sony World Photography Awards in the category After Dark.
- Does it really have to be street photography? I mean why?
- I think 95% of street photography is boring. And the ratio is getting worse.
- You did not yet answer question one.
- There are no rules for good photography. So don't expect to find some here. And don't believe anyone who says there are rules.
- Photography is about yourself. About life and arts. About light and darkness. About perception.
Will (Woody) Hermanek
My name is Will (Woody) Hermanek, born and raised in New York, Long Island. I am 30 years old, married, with kids. I started my photography hobby in May of 2012 when I found Instagram. Ever since then I have been obsessed with capturing moments in time. When speaking with others the best advice I received in the beginning was to, Just Keep Shooting!!!
- Always be ready. There are amazing captures happening around us all the time, but shooting them isn’t as easy as it looks. For me I always have my native iPhone 4 camera on and ready to go when I am out in public. The best moments always occur when I am not prepared for them. Always expect the unexpected, like I said before amazing captures are always happening so be READY and aware of your surroundings.
- Patience. When in a certain location, getting a perfect shot doesn’t happen on the first try or sometimes the second or third. I may have to revisit that spot a number of times. But when I stay determined and most importantly PATIENT I eventually get the shot I anticipated or a lot of the times better than I had hoped for.
- Light patterns. The best times for me are early morning around 9, during lunch time which is noon, and early evening before sunset. This allows me to utilize the most from natural sunlight and gives great shadows and the contrast I want in my images.
- Get up Close. The closer the better, especially when it comes to portraits. It took me a little while to realize when I started shooting with a mobile device that I must get as close as I can to get a clear sharp image. When shooting portraits I try to get only a few feet away from the subject or closer if I am able. For my street shots anywhere from 5-20 feet on average, after that detail on the subject can be lost. But objects are a different story like buildings, cars, etc.
- Have no fear!!! By not worrying about what others think of me with my phone in hand, what I might be doing, or how creepy I may sometimes look in a certain situation allows me to get up close and personal with subjects to get the shots I want. We are taking photos not blood!!! Be outgoing and courageous, and in time with practice you will sharpen your skills, and street shots will just become second nature.
Find Woody: Instagram
Dilshad Corleone aka @italianbrother on Instagram, albeit in love with the old 35mm format, considers himself to be a true iPhoneographer. Dilshad’s work has been exhibited internationally and graces the walls of private owners around the world. Dilshad is a columnist for Theappwhisperer.com and a member of WeAreJuxt.com. In addition, he has just finished filming an inspirational video promoting mobile photography.
I still remember my very first feature outside the walls of Instagram. It was here on iART CHRONiCLES! The very first to believe in me. So many things have happened since then! It is, therefore, only with great pleasure that I agreed with Geri when she asked me to write five tips on candid street photography.
Please bear in mind I am no expert and there are some truly great photographers around that can tell you a lot more than me. Before I go into my five, I’ll give you one bonus: find your favorite street photographer and look at his/her photographs, spend some serious time just looking and analyzing and absorbing what the great ones have done!
- Don’t be afraid, nor be timid! Get as close to your subject as possible! You are not doing anything wrong!
- Keep looking, observe and take your time to do this, all the time! There are so many opportunities that one can miss by just switching off, be always alert.
- Find what you like, shoot when you feel, there are moments that you will just say: “I’ll do it later or I cannot reach my phone/camera just now”, well, then you may have just missed some great photos. So shoot, shoot and shoot and do it with you heart and your gut!
- Look for the light, play with it and create silhouettes of people!
- And when you see a character that you want to snap, be creative, fake a phone call, talk louder so that he/she can hear you, and keep getting closer, once you are close enough tell your imaginative friend that you are checking your messages and will put him on hold for one second - at that point you can start snapping to your heart’s content! Done! Have fun and let me know how you get on!
Born in northern Sweden, I grew up with a dad with an interest in photography, who taught me the first steps in the darkroom.
Moved to Stockholm after military service and started studying photography and working as an assistant to a commercial photographer where I stayed for a few years before moving to the U.S. where I worked as a freelance assistant in New York and studied photography at Ohio State for about a year. Returning to Stockholm, I opened a portrait studio in the mid nineties and started a second one after a couple of years. I am currently a full-time photographer.
I´m married and have a son, age 12.
- I do most of my street photography traveling the subway where I find it easy to approach people since they often are occupied with an interesting phone conversation, interacting with someone or just busy looking cool.
- Always be an observer is good advice. Don´t follow the stream, stay a little bit aside and watch. Leave home twenty minutes early in the morning and spend that extra time looking for interesting objects and backgrounds, don´t always rush.
- Give your street photography lots of time and practice! Try different angles and light. If you´re not satisfied with the result, go back and do it again. Practice in finding the interesting parts and expressions that every person has.
- Get to know your mobile phone and always keep it ready so you don´t miss any good shots
- Change methods, find a nice background and wait for the right moment or do it the other way around. Challenge yourself all the time.
I currently participate in several photo walks organized by Instagram, Made in NY, and some photography workshops. There are a few locations that I love to go to, including Union Square Park, Washington Square Park, and Coney Island. Parades are also great places to take pictures. All of these locations provide unique scenarios, interesting crowds, and great ambiance to capture some amazing images.
- I capture candid moments by taking 10 to 15 shots of my subjects and then pick the ones that really speak to me.
- I like to consider myself a stealth photographer because I like to pretend I am either lost or looking for something I dropped in order to capture that perfect moment.
- I carry a snack in the same hand as my iPhone in order to hide the device!
- I shoot using my headset and try to do it from the hip.
- The only time I ask for permission is when I shoot shoes, legs or dogs just because I have to get down on my knees and don’t want to look too creepy! People have responded positively because I compliment them or tell them that I am a photographer, so they let me take all the shots I want.
As a novice candid street photographer these are five things I try to practice (below).
- Be bold, get closeDon’t hesitate, if someone catches your interest, get close (run if you need to) frame, shoot! When you think you are close enough, get even closer. This very often produces surprising and interesting results. By the way, the headset volume button is perfect for shooting from-the-hip, or when you want to be discreet.
- Scout backdropsAlways be aware of what backdrop you are working with. They are perhaps not typically what makes a picture pop. But a bad backdrop will easily ruin an otherwise great shot. Scout for interesting buildings, textured walls, negative spaces, etc. and wait for someone to pass by. Think about where in the frame you want the subject before you shoot.
- Practice, practice and practice moreStreet photography is fast and it’s not always possible to plan the shot. Sometimes you will only have a split second to frame the subject. Fine tune your photography skills, study other street photographers and practice until these skills become second nature.
- ExperimentExperiment with light, perspective, framing and especially with post editing.
- Use Snapseed’s Straighten and Crop toolsStraightening leading lines can add punch to an image. If you are shooting from your hip, your images may benefit from straightening leading lines in post production. Where possible, crop things that distract and that do not compliment the overall image. BlurFX is an excellent app for blurring uninteresting backdrops.
Find Tracey: EyeEm
Ian is a hobby photographer living in England.
- Tell a story – Street photography is about capturing unplanned moments amongst the ebb and flow of everyday life. Beautiful unstaged moments that would otherwise go unnoticed. There’s humor, drama, beauty and sometimes sadness in the moments passing before you. Capturing this narrative and telling a story within a single still shot is what I always aim for. I usually miss but every now and then all the elements fall into place like magic. Sometimes I’ll find a real interesting subject or character but all the elements aren’t in place. It usually pays to follow them for a while until the backdrop or location helps bring the whole story together and shows off the subject to best effect. Take loads of shots; work the scene.
- Location, Location – Sometimes we become overly familiar with our surroundings and a little jaded, however great moments are awaiting wherever you look, especially in busy urban environments. Working in London, the underground is one of my favorite haunts with an endless supply of wonderful characters, subjects and backdrops, and with the added benefit that most of the time people are stood still, with most staring at phones, so you can be inconspicuous whilst doing close-up portraits. Try and wait until the tube train has stopped at a station before snapping if you want to get a clear and steady shot. Often if you spot a great background or some wonderful light then it could be worth hanging around it for a while and waiting for the perfect subject to set it off.
- Be ready. Be daring. Be quick – Have your phone with you at all times on the street and have your camera app primed and ready in your hand and not left in your pocket. I use Camera Awesome which comes with a big button option which allows you to trigger the shot by touching anywhere on the screen. Comes in handy when you’re shooting from the hip which is my method of choice. Take lots of shots as you don’t always frame as you’d like or even catch what you wanted when you’re not looking at the screen while shooting. Takes a bit of trial and error but the hand-eye coordination comes pretty quickly. Getting up close is also crucial if you’re looking for street portraits. Using this discreet method helps if shooting from the hip.
- Simplify - Sometime the aim is to capture the whole street scene in front of you, however the city is a pretty overwhelming place, so don’t try and capture it as a whole in one shot. Instead focus in on small areas and individual stories that are interwoven and unfolding before you. When you spot the subject that interests you, try and keep the framing of the shot simple, leaving out as much of the distracting elements that don’t add to the story you’re telling. When you’re in a hurry shooting with a mobile phone sometimes the limitations of this prevent you from framing and simplifying in the same way you can when lining up a shot with a DSLR and zoom lens. Thankfully that’s where the various editing tools and apps at our disposal come into their own. There are endless options for simplifying and focusing attention on the subject and scene as you originally envisioned it.
- The Edit – Noir Photo, Big Lens, Snapseed, BlurFx and Dramatic Black & White are just a few of the great tools out there for you to add another dimension to your photos and help show your interpretation of what you first saw and felt when shooting the scene. In particular, it often allows me to simplify the image to really focus on what elements were important in telling the story.
Find Ian: Instagram
Thank you to all who participated in this feature. I learned a lot from your words but even more from studying your images!