Urban streets are vibrant. People are hustling. Buildings and shops provide an array of geometrical opportunities. The play of light, shadow and reflections makes the urban street photography a major attraction for street photographers.
Famous photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier, and Diane Arbus harnessed Urban street photography with panache. You can also do it!
Here are quick tips for you to take your street photography to the next level:
1. Wherever you go keep the camera
This has now become a cliché among photographers – keep the camera wherever you go. Everyone knows it but very few follow this religiously. I’ve got tons of photography opportunities while driving or walking in the streets. I tapped few of the opportunities and missed the others. If I hadn’t keep the camera with me, I would have missed all the opportunities.
If you feel holding a DSLR is a big ask, no sweat! You’ve a smartphone with you. Smartphones produce great quality photos these days – leverage it and frame every photography opportunities thrown in the streets.
2. Make best use of composition in busy streets
Urban lifestyle has very busy backgrounds – buildings, roads, vehicles, crowd etc. You may find it difficult to isolate a subject and get rid of distractions in the frame. The composition rules which come handy in these situations are:
i. Leading lines: Roads, diagonal shadows, straight buildings, windows and doors are your best friends to make right composition with leading lines.
ii. Rule of thirds: Divide the frame in three equal parts – horizontally and vertically. Keep the subject at one of the intersection points. Research says the eyes go naturally to one of those intersections in the frame – that’s why rule of thirds has been most popular composition rules.
iii. Fill the frame: Fill the major portion of your frame with the main subject. This is especially true in portrait photos. It ensures that the main subject stands out in the whole frame.
iv. Blur the background: With DSLR, blurring background helps separating the subject from the background. A good prime lens such as 50mm f1.8 or 85mm would help producing nice and soft bokeh in the background.
I’ve mentioned the most frequent uses of the composition in my book ‘Street Portrait Photography’. Make use of those rules based on their merits.
3. Identify your source of light
Street photography is mostly done during the daytime and hence Sun is your main source of light. Depending on the position of the subject, the source of light also varies. For example, if a person is standing in the shadow, light reflected from walls or roads become the main source of light.
Street portraits need extra care because you would need catchlight in eyes for close portraits. Plus, you need to play right with shadow to provide shape and depth to the person’s face.
4. People are integrated part of street life
An element of life makes urban street photos lively. A person walking past the street or people talking to each other or kids playing or someone reading in the park – makes the photo much more appealing than simply capturing the architecture.
5. Photographers rights
It’s very important that you understand that what are your rights as a photographer or a photojournalist at public or private places. You can take pictures at public places and use it for editorial purpose. You can’t use it for commercial purpose till you’ve the model and property release of the person or any brand name in the picture.
6. Showcase your creations
Share your pictures on your social media sites or your blogs for others to help you with feedback or get inspired from your photography.
7. Night life is always special on the streets
I didn’t use to shoot during nights thinking that the light is not enough. With my Nikon D750, I got very good low light performance. Since then there is no stopping of photographing streets during night too. Raise the ISO and reduce the noise in Lightroom – that’s how you get great night shots!
8. Follow other photographers for inspiration
Follow photographers on Instagram or their own blogs to seek inspiration, latest trends and planning next shoots. Well, while following don’t create pressure on yourself if your results are not as-good-as theirs. It takes some time and persistent practice to get there. Follow street photographers not to get anxious but to stay conscious.
9. Travel other cities for diverse portfolio
I leverage all my business travels for my photography passion too. I hit the streets early in the morning and go to office in time. I make use of evenings for another photo session in the streets. If I get to spend a weekend it’s a bonus. Even if you don’t get official trips, steal some time during your family trips or if you can fund a visit to attractive destinations, do it!
10. Plan if you’re traveling to a new city
When I plan to visit a popular location in any city – I look at several photos and YouTube videos of the place to familiarize myself. This helps me understand what I can expect at the location and helps my planning. For example, if the place is crowded, I set my expectation right that isolating subjects may be difficult so identify right corner in the street rather jostling with the crowd. Another example, I research about the city – whether we can shoot on the streets, what is the people behavior, what are the best locations for taking pictures etc.
11. Find opportunity in your own city
I live in Gurgaon. The city offers lots of diversity for urban street photography. If I get bored of the city I go to New Delhi. Keep an eye on local events. People are relatively open for photos in events than their regular busy days.
Feel free to tag me on your Urban Photography and contact me in case you want to know more. Now, don’t be lazy – get your gear out and enjoy shooting.