WORK THE SCENE
When you arrive at a scene that you feel has potential, make sure you work it. Shoot from lots of different angles (kneeling, sitting, even lying down), and look for different numbers of people framed in different places. These stairs in the Tate Modern are a perfect example: just moving a couple of steps either way opens up a whole new composition. Explore them all to nail the best image.
FIX YOUR LENS
Shooting with a fixed focal length is an advantage in a few ways. Firstly, it means that you don’t have to spend time worrying about whether you should adjust your zoom to make a composition – it removes one more variable. Secondly, if you shoot with a particular focal length frequently you’ll get to know it. You’ll know instinctively when is the perfect time to raise the camera to frame the composition; when to stop walking and start shooting. Plus a small prime lens is much easier to carry all day on the street.
LOOK FOR LIGHT, COLOUR AND CHARACTER
For me, these are the Holy Grail of street photography! Get one right, and you’ll have a good image. Get two right, and you’ll have a great image. Nail all three, and you’ve got a belter on your hands! Light is the first thing I look for: I love strong contrast between light and shadow areas, and frequently try to use them to frame my subjects. Colour in street photography is all about contrasts and echoes. Colours repeating throughout the frame can draw the viewer’s gaze through the scene, and strong colour contrast can hold the eye. The final ingredient is character: what’s the story that you want to tell? Who’s the lead character in that story? What’s their context in the environment you’re shooting? Tie all these elements together, and you’re onto a winner.
SHOOT THE BACKGROUND
Be aware of what’s behind your subject – all too often, a great shot can be ruined by the background being distracting or just plain boring! My personal preference is to find the background first, frame the scene, and then wait for someone with the requisite character to enter it. If, however, you lean towards shooting character first, then be aware of the background, and if possible try to use the central subject to obscure any distracting elements.
EXPERIMENT WITH DIFFERENT STYLES
Street photography comes in many different “flavours”: street portraiture, environmental, urban landscape, still life, and candid documentary (plus many more) … experiment with all of them! Whilst I predominately favour the environmental style, I like to shoot street portraits and street still life photographs fairly often in order to add variety to my images, and to continue to challenge myself as a photographer.
I hope these first five tips were useful. I will expand on them more in future articles.
Let me know in the comments if there’s anything you’d like help with, or would love to know more about.