With everything going on in the world, it’s a tough time to want to get in the middle of busy and chaotic crowds. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t practice street photography.
In fact, just the opposite. Street photography is just as much about photographing in quieter and less populated areas as it is in big cities. And right now (as long as you are allowed outside), it’s a fantastic way to clear your head and relax. Just make sure to be careful.
This may not be the first thing that most people think about when they think of street photography, but it’s just as important to the genre. People can still be an aspect of it, and it can be just as interesting.
Here are some thoughts about how to approach this aspect of street photography.
The transition can be difficult at first
Street photography in busy areas can feel tough enough, but the reality is that once you learn some of the tips and tricks, it’s actually not that hard to get comfortable with. There are so many people, lots of commotion and people with cameras are often expected to be around, so it can be easy to blend in.
Quieter areas can be the opposite experience. You will often be the only person on the street and you will stick out significantly with a camera. There’s just no way to blend in like in a big city, but I promise that it’s possible to work around this.
It will take more time to get comfortable, but over time you will find a way to act that will still allow you to get good candid photographs of people when you need to. The most important thing is to act like you’re photographing the background and not the people and to also just make it seem like you don’t think you’re doing anything wrong.
The more comfortable you act, the more people will allow you to do what you are doing. So while you may be able to get away with being very sneaky in a city situation, in a quieter area, it’s probably best to act fairly obvious, while still trying to sneak the candid shot when you need to.
Smaller cameras and prime lenses, of course, will help you out significantly in these areas because they are less conspicuous. People are warier of more professional looking DSLRs.
However, there is something to be said for working with a larger camera in these situations. The photographs in this article were all shot with a medium format camera, and I like that the size of the camera makes me more obvious. Yes, I’m more noticeable, but it also gives me a sense of legitimacy, which I find allows people to leave me alone and trust that I’m there for a good reason.
If you are having trouble creating candid shots in these quiet environments, and even if you’re not, portraits are an addition you should strongly consider. While street photography technically is about candid moments, the inclusion of portraits can add a wonderful dimension to a street photography project.
However, you want to make sure that people look natural. The portraits need to feel candid and real — fake smiles are out. If you come across someone who already looks great, you can ask them to stay in the same pose. Or you can tell a person to get in a comfortable pose that feels natural to them. Make them know you just want them to look real — it will help them to feel comfortable.
Or try talking to them to help them get more comfortable. Ask them an interesting question about themselves to get them thinking and to take what you are doing seriously. A good question can go a very far way.
Look intimately at your surroundings
Street photography is often mistaken to only be about people. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The environment is just as important as any people shots, and wonderful street photography projects have been created without any people at all.
The goal is to share a feeling or an idea, to tell a story or to describe aspects of an area to your viewers. Look for photographs that have something to them that’s right beneath the surface. Look for details, designs, structures and objects. It’s hard to explain what makes for a good photograph in these situations, but they’re out there.
Try not to disregard an area as having no good photographs. I promise, wherever you are you can capture something interesting, it just takes stepping back from yourself a bit, getting rid of your preconceived notions and taking your time to look around.
Revisit the same areas
I think the most important part of being successful with this type of photography is to spend a lot of time shooting, but also to be consistent with where you are shooting. Yes, exploring all over is great to do, but revisiting an area over and over again will transform your work.
It will allow you to learn the area more deeply over time, to understand the place and to get more comfortable with its rhythms. You will not only give yourself more time to come across great moments, but you will start to notice more things that you completely glossed over on previous visits.
As you build a portfolio from the area you will find that, over time, so many more moments will pop out at you. And make sure to go back at different times of day, in different lighting, at different times of the year and in different weather.
Figure out how you relate to the area
Great street photography has an intimate nature to it. The more you can put yourself into the project, the more interesting it will be.
Think about what drew you to the area in the first place. What aspects of it do you find interesting? Are you more attracted to wealthy areas, rundown places, happy aspects of a place? Or do you find the boring nature of a place to be its most fascinating feature?
The more you can connect yourself and your fascinations to the work, the more viewers will start to see you peeking through in your work. They’ll start to get a sense not only for the place but for the person that decided that this place was worthy of being photographed.