I recently put together a Cheat Sheet for street photographers. Since then I have been getting lots of emails with questions about street photography.
Whilst my aim is to respond to these personally, I realize that I cannot do this as quickly as I would like. So I have put together a list of the top 10 most asked questions so you can have the answers immediately.
If you aren't able to find what you are looking for in this list then please leave a message, with your question, in the comments section below and I'll respond to it directly.
Well, that depends on where you are in the world. I would always recommend looking up any laws around street photography before you head out . Some countries are stricter than others, especially if you plan on selling the images. In many countries, if you are on public property then you can legally photograph but do double check. For example, Canary Wharf in London is actually private property. But just because you can legally photograph, doesn't mean you should.
Honestly, any camera will do. That’s one of the great things about street photography - you don’t need any special kit. Your camera phone will do just fine. But if you do want to use something else, then generally speaking the smaller and less conspicuous the camera the better. And lens wise, a fixed 28mm, 35mm or 50mm are the standard recommendations. But as I said shoot with what you have. It’s about how to see not your kit.
This is a very common fear of many street photographers, even seasoned pros. Start by photographing people in a busy place and from further away. If the four tips on the cheat sheet haven't helped then you could try photographing people from behind and gradually work up to photographing them face on. I always find that knowing why I want to take the image helps too. Then if they ask me what I am doing I can have a conversation with them about it. It can be anything as simple as I am photographing people with red coats today, or people who are wearing awesome hats.
Different countries find different things acceptable. Generally, I would say don’t photograph children and in some countries women, even if they are in a public place. It depends on the culture of the country you are in, so check that our first.
Also, I don't photograph vulnerable people (ie homeless people) unless I know that the image I take will be published and do some good, in which case I might take the shot. But I know plenty of people who feel differently to me on this. If you do want to then I think that it is helpful to ask the question, why am I taking this shot and if the answer comes from a good place then go for it. If not then I personally would think twice. But you need to find your own way with this one because everyone's own moral and ethical code is different.
There are lots of things that go into making a great photo from the subject matter to the composition. But if I had to name just one then I would say an image that tells a story. It might convey an emotion, maybe it is funny, or intriguing but it must provoke some sort of reaction in the viewer and make them look and think a little longer than normal. That’s what I think makes an image truly memorable.
Pretty much anything you find in a public space, from people to locations and even details. This is what is so great about street photography because it means you can photograph things that really interest you, which in turn will mean your images will be better.
This is a tricky one really as they are all important in their own way. At least they are all important to try out and then to break if you want to. I would say that the one that has the most immediate effect on any image would be the rule of thirds. It's not always appropriate to use it i.e. when you are really close up to someone, but I think it’s the one that can bring about the most effective change in the quality of a photograph most quickly and easily.
I have thought about this one a great deal and I am not sure I really have an answer. Take lots of images, go out and shoot and shoot and shoot. That’s one way to get your eye in and help you to see interesting things. But if you aren't sure what you are shooting for then your images can lack direction. So I would say have a purpose in your photography, even if just for that day. Know why you are taking each image. A person sitting on a bench is just a person sitting on a bench so why do you want to take that shot, what will be interesting about that photo if someone sees it in a 5 years time say? That's not to say you should over think what you are doing but I believe an idea of why you are photographing something or someone is a good one.
This is a question that is often debated amongst street photographers and the answer depends on who you ask. For some people candid (ie unposed) photography is street photography. For others asking permission is fine. I think it's ok to ask permission if you feel more comfortable doing so. The only thing to be aware of is that your photos will have a different feel to them. So do try to be brave and take some candid shots when the situation allows you to do so. But I think both are valid forms of street photography.
Personally, I like shooting manually. I like the control I have over my settings and the overall outcome of the image, however, there are times, when it is very difficult to shoot manually. For example when the light levels are constantly changing, like on a day when the sun keeps going in and out of the clouds. In those instances I would recommend setting your camera to shutter speed priority 1/250th sec and allowing it to do the rest. That way you will know that anyone moving will be frozen. And failing that program mode is just fine. It is better to go out and take pictures and enjoy yourself than to become stuck on technical details and never shoot anything.
And finally, one way to really improve your street photography is to look at the work of other street photographers. There are some really amazing photographers out there, both past and present. Here are a few of my favorites. Check out their work and let me know what you think: Elliott Erwitt, Joel Sternfeld, Robert Frank, Alex Webb, Bruce Gilden, Martin Parr, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winograd, Trent Parke.