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LinkedIn Learning

Photographing the street in a busy, urban environment

In this video, Steve Simon takes us to Times Square in New York City, and walks us through best practices when creating street photographs in hectic, urban environments. For more LinkedIn Learning videos about photography, click here.

Hey, everybody, we’re here in Times Square. As a street photographer, I don’t think there’s any busier streets in the world than right here in Times Square. We’re here at night, so the challenge is to get moments and street shots here in Times Square. I

t’s busy as you can tell. There’s all kinds of stuff going on. I’ve opted for my DSLR mainly because it’s very fast to work with. I’ve got a fast lens here. I’ve got fast autofocus here with it and also it’s high ISO capability. I know I’m gonna be shooting at high ISOs but you know what, 3200’s the new 800. I’m not afraid to go up in ISO to get what I need to get sharp images of the crazy action that we’re gonna encounter here in Times Square.

This video is from Street Photography: Candid Portraiture by Steve Simon

Blending in with the crowd

You can see I’m disguised as a tourist from my native Canada so I can blend it because chances are when you look around there are a lot of tourists here and that also makes it a little easier for us as street photographers to be in a place where there’s a lot of tourists because they’re here for the same reason. They’re recording, taking pictures, and they’re not necessarily gonna get upset or even pay attention to you with all the other distractions that are here.

I kinda have to take a deep breath because there’s so much going on that it’s a little overwhelming and for a street photographer when you see a lot going on, you kind of have to pick and choose, so I was caught, and you have to be fast because you see something over there, it’s gone, but there’s something happening over there, so I’m moving all around.

I don’t know if you notice me with the balloons over there but there were all of these balloons in all different directions and I don’t know what it’s gonna look like but I was just kinda shooting, shooting, seeing what kind of serendipity I would get with the lights behind. Hard to know but you gotta shoot a lot when you’re in a place like this.

Technical settings

The other thing about this area here it’s just so crazy. Everything’s happening at the same time. There’s a lot of great opportunities. Your technical needs to be taken care of. It’s very challenging, the light is constantly changing, the billboards are changing. I like to stay in aperture priority. I have to make the picture lighter or darker depending on what I’m including in the frame if I include a billboard that’s fairly bright, I’m gonna have to overexpose a little so I set my camera to easy exposure compensation and that’s a great way to quickly adjust exposure when your camera is gonna be fooled by it. So, in dark scenes I’ll underexpose, in bright scenes I’ll overexpose a little bit.

The other thing too is I’m back button autofocusing so if I see something I can react really quickly. Auto ISO’s got my back. I set it for a minimum shutter speed of 250th of a second. I want my image just to be sharp so auto ISO floats up to whatever the ISO needs to be for the lighting conditions, maintaining a minimum shutter speed of 250 or 320th of a second so I know that when I aim, focus, and shoot it’s gonna be sharp. It’ll neutralize any camera shake and most subject movement if that’s what I want. So, it’s challenging from a technical standpoint as well.

When they notice

Now, the other challenge I had when I was here was I kinda stole a moment between a couple kissing and they caught me and they didn’t like it. And, so, I talked with them. They asked me what I was doing. I told I was a street photographer. I made my pitch for street photographers everywhere. They weren’t buying it. They really felt more comfortable if, they asked me to delete the pictures. Frankly, I’ll have to admit the pictures were not the greatest but I respected his wishes because I know that there’s gonna be other pictures here and since that time I’ve gotten plenty of kissing couples in Times Square and that’s it, roll it off your back. It really ended kind of civilly and that was great.

You know what, I think it’s time to move on another part of Times Square. We can stay here all night. I mean, it’s constantly changing. There’s gonna be great opportunities but maybe it’s time for a change of scenery. Let’s see what we can get elsewhere here.

Lead photo by Nicolai Berntsen on Unsplash

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