street photography

The Do’s & Dont’s of Street Photography

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Though people tend to underestimate the art of street photography, it is quite a complex style that requires some rules to be followed. It isn’t easy to capture life in all its honest glory outside the confines of a studio with all that fancy equipment. Street photography requires a certain set of skills. So, for anyone stepping out for a photography adventure on the streets, here are a list of dos and don’ts.

As a visual medium, street photography can be profoundly inspirational. So if you’re considering hitting the streets, here are a few basic DOs and DON’Ts to help get you started.

Do’s

  • Know the laws concerning street photography for the particular region in which you will be shooting.
    One of the main controversies surrounding street photography is that of privacy. You will inevitably encounter individuals who feel you don’t have the “right” to take their photograph. 

  • Practice good judgment and good manners.
    “Just because you can doesn’t always mean you should” is a maxim that is well suited to this topic. You may have certain rights while out shooting on the sidewalks of your city, but be smart about when, where, and how you use your camera. If you insist on taking a photo of the clearly perturbed 250 kilo man sporting scars and a scowl, just understand that he may very well insist on smashing your camera. But good manners go a long way, and more often than not, people are totally willing to be photographed if you don’t come across as a wanna-be paparazzo.

  • Shoot wide.
    The 35mm and 50mm lenses are classic focal lengths for street shooters for a number of good reasons. For one, these lenses tend to be relatively small, helping you as the photographer appear less intrusive to your potential subjects, as opposed to carrying around a long zoom lens. Are you bird watching or people watching? A normal to wide angle lens will also allow you to get reasonably close to your subject without having to point the camera directly at them, all the while capturing a good amount of contextual scenery. Furthermore, a wider angle helps create in those who view your photos a sense of inclusiveness; they will feel connected to the scene.

  • Be inconspicuous.
    Go to where the people are, where the action is. The ultimate goal here is to blend in as much as possible. If people have a heightened and uncomfortable awareness of you and your camera, their behaviors are almost certain to change. This would sort of defeat the purpose of street photography.

  • Look for things, people, and places that interest you.
    Focus on people who frequent establishments you’ve never been to; find people who are busy at work; allow your curiosity to be piqued by the circle of giggling teenagers or the eccentrically dressed street performer. Life is happening all around you, so capture the range of emotions and expressions that go along with it.

Dont’s

  • Don’t try to blend in by dressing like a spy.
    A trench coat and dark shades are not the type of attire that are going to facilitate successful street photography. The shady/sketchy chic look is going to be off-putting to everyone you encounter. Remember, the point is to not stand out.

  • Avoid being flashy with your gear.
    If you live in a place where everybody knows everybody and no one locks their front door, then you might not be so concerned with this bit of advice; but, if you’re going to be shooting in a typical city environment at DLPHOTO we would recommend leaving your branded camera strap and journalist’s vest at home. There’s high risk as opposed to virtually no reward in showing off thousands of rands worth of camera equipment.

  • Your camera is not a weapon.
    Don’t stalk people or sneak up on them and shove your camera in their face. Again, subtly is the name of the game.

  • Don’t obsess over camera settings.
    Exactly where you set your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is going to depend on the situation and you shouldn’t be afraid to change them if you need to, but here are a few guidelines to consider so that you can devote your full attention to potential subjects instead of your camera’s dials and buttons: autofocus. Manual focus is your friend, and pre-focusing may turn out to be your constant companion. Pre-focusing involves setting the lens to a predetermined distance based on how far away you tend to be from your subjects when you shoot them. Since you’re using a higher f-stop, you will be more likely to capture your subject in focus.
  •   Don’t Shoot People’s Children Without Permission!
    This is very important. People don’t like being photographed most of the time without their consent. Sometimes things get loud, or even ugly. Other people, don’t say anything, they let it go. Others, don’t even care. There are many  possible outcomes to a street snap of a stranger. But, one thing’s for sure. If you take a photo a someone’s child without permission, you can possibly get into loads of trouble. Taking the photograph of a child, especially if you are a stranger to it, is very provocative indeed, especially if  you are a typical male in your late 20s to late 40s.

Following this code of conduct is a good thing because it keeps us Street Photographers out of trouble and makes the Street Photography experience even better. So blend in, be aware of your surroundings, and take care when in the Streets! Have fun and snap away!