31 Street Photography Tips and Tricks: Part 2

Friday, June 10, 2011

 To read Part one of this series go Here...

"I only know how to approach a place by walking.  For what does a street photographer do but walk & watch & wait & talk, & then watch & wait some more, trying to remain confident that the unexpected, the unknown, or the secret heart of the known awaits just around the corner."
                                                    --Alex Webb

16. Wear dark or bland clothes
Avoid looking like what popular culture thinks a “photographer” should look like with those weird khaki hats & fishing vests & parachute pants. Also do not be seduced by tourist garb. No bright colors. No logos. Buy nondescript clothing with camouflage, not fashion, in mind: earth tones or grays. Pay attention to what the locals consider appropriate.
It is often debated but you can never really look like a native. Adapting local costumes
does not work. But what really goes unnoticed changes with the environment.
Whatever you decide clothing that announces your origins should be left at home.

17. Smile
If you encounter reticence or hostility—smile. It works.

18. Show back of camera
Because of new technology, in tense situations you can share what you are doing with recalcitrant subjects by showing them the LCD. Often you allay their fears & make them a coconspirator. Choose your moments though, it does not always work.
In the overcrowded markets in Mumbai most people had no problem with me
photographing. But once in a while someone would give me the famous Indian
“head waggle”. Since we were in such close quarters begrudgingly I showed a
couple of people their image on the LCD. I was on display. Everyone saw me
doing it & it was easier as I moved around to shoot others.

19. Never make eye contact
You can stand right next to a subject & photograph them if you never make eye contact. Look past them, the other way, at the back of your camera, as if they are not even there.

20. Be brave
Never let them see you sweat. Fear is the biggest obstacle to getting good people photographs. Imposing on people you do not know, exposing yourself to rejection & ridicule is daunting. Give yourself permission to take pictures in all situations. You should never be obnoxious but you have to push past your trepidations. With time you will realize this is your responsibility.

21. Use your ears
You can become so involved in what you are doing that you lose track of other things around you but your ears are capable of hearing things that you do not see. Listen. Also when your attention is so intensely elsewhere you are vulnerable. You can hear negative forces around you. It is your security system.

22. Grow eyes in the back of your head
For your own safety you need to quickly develop “street smarts” so that you don’t get into trouble. Know your surroundings. In some cultures it is easy to take pictures. In others it is forbidden. Trust your instincts if the situation seems dangerous. If you must, travel with a companion who watches your back.

23. Know your limitations
It is only natural to get excited in a strange new place. Adrenalin kicks in. Therefore you can easily overdo it. Get in shape. Watch your step. Pace yourself.

Depending on the location I will design an exercise routine in preparation for it. The
bigger the rigors expected, the longer I train. Hot, cold, stamina, food are all elements
to be considered. You last longer.

24. Look the other way
When you are concentrating so hard on something you get tunnel vision. When the crowd’s attention is focused in one direction, don’t forget to turn 180⁰ around. Look behind you. The best pictures are often behind you & everyone else.

25. Embrace accident
There is no rhyme or reason to what will make a good street picture. Unlike all other art forms photographers make magic out of chaos. If you start with no preconceptions, your mind will be free to embrace new ideas. Reality can compete with your imagination if you open up to it.

26. Live in the moment
Embrace the situation. Understand the privilege of being in a rich or poor neighborhood. Absorb the feelings & smells & rhythms of the environment. Channel wherever you are, whatever you are seeing.

27. There is a photograph in every situation
Around each corner you will find the mysterious, abstract or photogenic. There are photographs everywhere. Whether local or foreign, it is your job to separate the wheat from the chaff & find them. The better photographers will move, adjust, add & subtract with their lens to perfect the composition but it is there. Concentrate.

28. Change the rules
Be proactive & develop your own aesthetic. Juxtaposition, accident, background can be rearranged in ways no one has seen before. Composition & content have classic traditions in art but photography is the best platform for change. Toss the rule book out. Who says street photography has to be black/white? It doesn’t even have to be on the street. Invent. Reinvent.

29. You cannot be all things to all people
Every country, neighborhood has a different personality. The protocol in every culture is different & you must strive to learn to accommodate each one in its own way. But you need to develop your own way, your own style that is compatible with alien agendas.

30. Language is no obstacle
When not sharing a language you have to find more effective ways to communicate. Learn to anticipate what is expected of you in social situations even if you do not understand so you are making enlightened responses. Besides photographers rarely have to talk anyway.

31. If it’s not working, move on
Time is precious. Don’t waste it. If you are waiting too long & nothing is happening, go to the next location. Don’t try to force a bad situation.

There are times when taking a photograph is tenuous or uncalled for. In certain mosques, civic buildings & museums, etiquette is understood. In other situations it may not be obvious.
With my assistant driving us back to the studio after an assignment I yelled for him to
pull over. There was an amazing scene outside an elementary school with brand new
white snow against black wrought iron fence & kids running around in the playground behind. I jumped out of the car, loaded a roll of film & started shooting. Within minutes the only other car on the road pulled over & a small, older woman got out & told me to stop. I continued. She came closer & told me I could not shoot the school. I reminded her we were not in communist Russia & I could shoot anything I liked. She informed me she was a nun at the school & she would call the police. I reached in my pocket, pulled out a business card & said “be my guest.” She grabbed my camera. A week later I got a phone call from Mother Superior. I told her my camera got a photograph of her teacher assaulting me.
1. where it is strictly forbidden &/or there are signs posted
2. it is not worth the hassle
3. when you are likely to aggravate a volatile situation
4. when you are outnumbered


Anonymous,  July 28, 2011 at 12:36 PM  

My friend Bernard pointed me – in his blog http://lephotographe-talkaboutphoto.blogspot.com/ - to the London Street Photography Festival, which is going on right about now, I believe. These guys are raising the question: "What is Street Photography?” http://londonstreetphotographyfestival.org/what-is-street-photography … definitely worth checking out.

Jolene@photographer London August 29, 2013 at 3:32 AM  

Above all the picture are looking so natural.It's a criteria of photographer to take this photo.Photograph can shows the word of the picture.So to saw the above all the picture I can hear the every speech of them.It's really an awesome feelings.

Allie@bolton photographer September 18, 2013 at 6:09 AM  

I think every place in everywhere in the world have some kind of mysterious and photogenic. The good photographer can find the fact and able to capture the perfect motions of the stuffs.Good photographer has good eyes and can shape the picture with some kind of artistic style.anyway, Above pictures are really brilliant and your pictures has language. i can understand the words of your picture. Thanks for sharing this kind of awesome article with gorgeous pictures.

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blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.