“There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.” –Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the earlier practitioners of street photography.
Street Photography is a genre in itself. For some this is the only way to photograph. For others it is an uncomfortable feeling. Some photographers love it while others shudder at the thought of being surrounded by unknown faces.
What street photography is not?
Any photograph of the street which does not have a story to tell is a wasted effort. Black and white photographs of everyday life is NOT street photography. It has to convey drama, an insight into human nature or the scene captured. The photographs should speak for themselves and tell their story. Everyday things that happen around us when captured properly can convey many things.
Street Photography is Fun
Street photography is not necessarily shooting only on the streets. Try capturing moments in offices, market, grocery store, bus and railway stations, shopping malls, subways or even parking lots. Any place which catches your fancy can become your studio. It is important to capture the candid moments which are full of emotions, soul or human nature. Sometimes this includes photographing without even seeking permission from the people in the photograph. This is where a street photographer should act responsibly and be sensitive to people. Though permission is not sought for, the photographs should not be offending to the people in the scene. Be confident but do not be creepy.
(Nikon D200 with Nikkor 18-35mm, f/8, 1/125 sec at ISO 100.)
With the digital cameras, the preview screen is a great tool. I frequently use it to show to the people what I have captured. This does the required ice-breaking and I am able to start a conversation. Once people become comfortable, capturing images is no more a challenge. However this does not mean asking them to pose. Let them go about doing what they had been doing but make them comfortable so that the camera does not intrude into their privacy. “It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.” – Alfred Elsenstaedt has very rightly said. For true candids, sometimes even this initial interaction can be counter-productive. People may become conscious. Take a call. You have the camera, you decide. It is your photograph after all to create.
For becoming good at street photography, developing a strong visualization is important. Things happen and change at a fast rate. Perceive the surroundings and visualize the photograph even before you lift the camera. Sometimes it may also require predicting what is about to happen next. With time all the good street photographers develop this intuition.
The decisive moment. Henri Cartier Bresson said that in any scene or event that is happening before a person, there is one and just one moment where the drama is the greatest and the story being told is the strongest. This is the decisive moment. A second too early or a second too late will not create such a powerful and impactful photograph as the one clicked at this decisive moment.
(Is this man a spy? Is he a journalist? Is he hiding from someone? His stare at some distant object combined with his squatting position creates an air of mystery.)
Some quick tips for the street photographer in you –
Camera settings: Use a wide angle to normal lens. These will force you to go close and the photograph will speak for itself. Use the f/8 rule and set the camera mode to aperture priority, Auto-ISO helps especially in the new generation cameras with very low noise at high ISOs.
Lomography: Be quick with your camera. (learn from lomographers. Lomography) Take your camera everywhere. Shoot from different angles or levels. I sometimes wish we still had TLRs to shoot from the hip.
Seasons and Hours: Different seasons and different times of the day convey different feelings to the photograph. Rainy season beautifies everything and the streets look beautiful in the evenings with shimmering reflections of the lights. Did you ever wonder why night scenes in films usually have wet streets? It is for these wonderful reflections. Evenings and nights add their own flavor to the streets. Try motion blurs too.
Black and White: “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!” – Ted Grant, the father of Canadian photojournalism, has once said. Nothing expresses the importance of monochrome more than this. Colors distract. If there is nothing to be said by the use of colors then it is better not to use them (Black & White). This however doesn’t mean that colors should not be used. Whatever seems to make your composition more powerful is fine. Use colors if you have to for getting that impact.
Think beyond humans: Even images without people can tell strong stories. Street photography does not mean that every photograph should have people in them. Common place things, buildings, alleys, city-scapes and even animals can be great subjects.
(The horse is intrigued by my presence and seems to look at me from over his companion, the other horse is peacefully enjoying his siesta.)
Try some of these –
Try building a relationship between two independent elements. These can be juxtapositioned elements or subjects which are simply contrasting in their nature.
Show emotions which are difficult to define. See the picture of the elderly gentleman in the beginning of the article. Is he angry or is he frowning or is it just an expression of awe looking at the fine car.
What contributes to the image and what does not? Be critical and remove all the distractions. Focus on the details. Blur the background, wait for the extra people to walk out or use motion blur.
Be confident. If you don’t blend in the scene, people will not be very comfortable with your presence. If your body language and movement conveys a feeling that you belong in that area, people will simply ignore you. This is the most important aspect that every street photographer should try to imbibe.
Study the works of famous street photographers but do not try to duplicate that. Understand their photographs and develop your own way of seeing things.