Street photography may seem simple on the surface, but it is actually a very complex and nuanced form of photography.
Despite what some may think, the genre goes much further than just photographs of people in public. It is an art form that combines one’s personal vision with hints of documentary photography, storytelling and flat out chance. When done well, the sky is the limit in what you can portray.
But how do you do this well? How do you get past the phase of just capturing random moments and happenstance to start building and sharing a vision? How do you make your work more intimate and more unique?
While I’m not trying to tell you what makes for good street photography— because that’s such a personal opinion — the goal of this article is to help you bring out what is interesting for you.
Here are my tips to help bring out that vision.
Become familiar with the same areas and visit them constantly
To create photographs that are intimate, you first have to know your subjects well. That involves exploring the same places over and over again.
Yes, you can do great work with limited exposure to a place. Yes, you should explore new areas often. But it can’t be argued that the more you get familiar with an area, the more nuanced your work will become.
As you go back to an area over and over, you will find yourself becoming more comfortable. You will learn the people, the pace and the feeling of the area. You will know where the best spots area, the best light at different times of da, and you will start to anticipate moments in ways that you were not aware of on your first visits.
And most importantly, you will notice more. It is frightening how so many obvious scenes will pop out at you that you completely missed the first handful of times you visited the area.
I’m a walker and I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you are too. Street photographers generally love to walk and explore. But there is an importance to slowing down and waiting when you find a good location.
We spend all of this time looking for interesting places, so one of the most important things we can do is give that location time to present us with the perfect moment. This is how many special street photography moments are created. A special location + time = magic!
In addition, it will be easier to photograph people in more intimate ways if they are entering your personal space instead of you entering their space. This will change the dynamic of photographing them significantly.
And even more so in these times of social distancing, I find it can be much easier to capture a respectful and safe photograph that doesn’t invade someone’s space if you are already in place and waiting for people to come by.
Visit quiet places
Busy places will usually yield the most chances for interesting moments to happen. That’s the nature of the game, to put yourself in a spot where things happen.
That being said, just as many interesting moments can happen in the quietest of locations. Go purposely to places that are quiet and ‘boring,’ and figure out how to get a good photograph there. Figure out how to explain the area.
This tip may be much more necessary as well as we tried to avoid busy areas as much as possible for the time being. Escape people, go for a quiet walk and over time you will start to find fascinating photographs without any people in them. Shoot around the block from where you live. It doesn’t matter where you are.
You will find the photography opportunities to be very different from the busy areas, but the best shots will be just as fascinating.
Focus on expressions, eyes and gestures
To create intimate photographs, it’s important to show emotion and feeling as often as possible. One of the most effective ways of doing this is showing the emotions we want to portray in other people.
Try to find people who are feeling what you are feeling and then capture them showing these emotions. This is tough to do of course and takes time, but the more you focus on it the more it will work out for you.
Watch the looks in people’s eyes, the expressions on their faces and the gestures in their bodies and wait for them to reveal their inner feelings. And if you see this occur, shoot quickly! Often these moments pop out for an instant and then disappear before you know it.
Read up on the masters and educate yourself with photo books
Learning from the works of other photographers is integral for finding your own voice. By seeing the wide variety of inspiring work that is being done with this genre, you will start to file away the best photographers and photographs while you are out shooting. This will help you figure out what it is that you want to show and how you want to show it.
In addition, I highly suggest learning more about classic street photography books and purchasing some to study. It is one thing to learn about the works of photographers on the internet and on their websites, but books are the final form of street photography for many photographers.
This is where they show their vision and there is just as much of an art in sequencing a book to tell a story as there is for taking the best photographs. This is where a photographer’s vision truly shines.
Find your voice
Think about yourself and your area. What is it about both of these that you want to bring out and show? The more you know about yourself, the more this will show in your work.
Search through your work for photos that begin to show this, think about it during editing and pay attention as you are walking around photographing. This is a tip that takes a lot of time to develop. It’s a slow but steady path, but over time, the more you think about this, the more you will start to see your body of work come together.
Craft your vision while editing
The editing phase is just as important as the photographing phase. This is where you can assess how you are doing and where you can pick out the most effective photographs that begin to show your vision.
Group your photographs into ideas, themes and similarities and build on these over time. You will notice these groups will morph and change significantly over the years as your body of work grows and as you become more in-tune with what you are trying to say.
See how different photographs play off each other and explore how sequencing can develop an idea or feeling. And after enough time, you may find that you have a cohesive book of work as well!