5 additional methods (part 2) on approaching your subject in street photography

5 additional methods (part 2) on approaching your subject in street photography

This is an extension to my previous articles on approaching the subject in street photography. As you know, when taking candid photos of people on the street, it may extremely difficult to get close enough and the solutions are not always very intuitive. I’ve gathered a documentation of some of the techniques I use most of the time. More often than not, the situation dictates the solution and a great deal of improvisation usually occurs. Despite the improvisational nature of street photography techniques, there are a bunch of so called basic techniques that are really good to know. On the previous article I shared five of them and now I put together a documentation of five more. 

Here’s the link to the previous article and another closely related as well, in case you want to check them out.

1. The Swipe 

The swipe is basically a hip shot taken on the move, while you pass the subject. It is more or less a sunny day technique, because it requires a 1/500 or 1/1000 shutter speed in order to freeze any movement. You’ll also need a fairly large depth of field, something like f8—f16. I like this technique because it doesn’t appear that your actually approaching the subject. It just looks like your walking pass and minding your own business. Wrist and neck strap work both well. Just carry your camera casually (not lifted to your face) but keep your finger on the shutter — just as you’d just carry it around without any intention of taking a photo. If you don’t lift the camera up while you take the photo, it doesn’t look like you’re taking the shot. It just looks like you walked pass. You can get extremely close this way! Usually you only have one shot though, which is a disadvantage, unless you make multiple swipes from different directions. Could be weird looking though. 

The swipe enables you to be really precise with zone focusing too — if you’re better at it, than I am, that is!) You can plan in advance, while your approaching, how close shot you want to take. You can set your focus to, for example two meters, and as you’re approaching, take the shot when you’ve reached the two meters distance.  

Otherwise a good use of swiping, but I tripped over the cobble stoned street and caused a pretty notable camera shake. A faster shutter speed would have been advisable. This was shot at 1/250, which was too slow for tripping all over the place. A smooth swipe none the less, as my shot was not noticed.

Another great example of the dangers of any kind of hip shots. I utilised the swipe technique on this photo as well, but slightly mis-calculated the zone focusing and/or had too slow shutter speed, thus causing a slight blur. Oh well, just a little technical imperfection. Otherwise a good capture and a really interesting photo!

2. Allow them to enter your frame

This is a stationary technique as opposed to the previous technique. Let’s say you’ve detected your subject who’s maybe moving about in the vicinity — maybe walking towards you on the same street or just hanging around in the same area. Sometimes you don’t actually need to approach the subject. You can just let them to come to you. After you’ve spotted your subject, you can pretend to shoot the general street view or something, and wait the subject to enter the frame. You were there first and it doesn’t appear so dis-concerning if the subjects just happens to walk pass your camera. Sometimes people do the duck and cover thing though, because they are trying to be polite and don’t want to ruin your attempt to take a photo of a wall. This just goes to show you that they usually don’t have the slightest idea that you’re actually trying to have them in the frame. 

This isn’t the greatest technique to catch a specific moment in time, but it works if you want to capture interesting characters. I usually just manage to catch photos of people walking pass me with technique, and not doing anything particularly interesting. But if the point is to capture someone really who looks really interesting, then this trick works very well. 

Carefully composed and metered in advance and simply waited for the subject to enter the frame.

 

On this instance I wasn’t able to get as close as I would have wanted to, but the technique worked otherwise perfectly, because it of course appeared that I was shooting the big street sign and passers by didn’t feel as they were the subject.

3. Solo campout

This technique is related to the previous one. If you spot an appropriate place, that you want to use a setting for your image, you can just stop to hang around there for a while, and simply to wait whether something interesting will happen. Maybe a subject will emerge after a short campout. Sometimes I happen to stumble upon a spot that has a really nice architecture or lighting, but nothing particularly photoworthy happening otherwise. Hanging around for even couple of minutes can sometimes be extremely rewarding. You never know what’s going to happen next or what kind of people will come by. When the subject emerges, you are already there with the camera to capture the scene. Sometimes it is impossible to be in the right place at the right time. You can always be at the right place and just wait for the right time to come. 

This photo was taken after hanging around at the same spot for about 15 minutes. This is a waiting area for the ferry to Suomenlinna island and a bunch of people go by all the time. After a short while I noticed that this tired passenger practically collapsed to the bench for a short nap, which made my campout worth while.

Another capture of the same campout. The guy came to the waiting room and sat on the bench. The location and the lighting were both excellent. I happened to notice, that his hands were beautifully lit and the window reflections created great abstractions.

4. Campout with a friend

Oh man, there’s so much potential with camping out with a friend. You can look like a bit of a weirdo if you’re standing at the street corner alone with a camera for 10 minutes, seemingly doing absolutely nothing. But doing the same thing with a friend appears as you’re just having a conversation with a friend who you happened to stumble into. The possibilities are endless! You can locate your selves near to the actual subjects, but pretend to take each others portraits or comparing your cameras or just hanging around in general. While you’re doing that, you can slip in the actual street shots in between. You can get close this way because it doesn’t look like you’re after anyone. You’re just having a good time with a friend. No one can be bothered by a couple of friends nerding out with cameras on the street. 

5. Permission slip (street portrait)

I’m not the most outgoing person in the world and social techniques are always hard for me. Socialising can be very fruitful, even though you may end up doing that at the expense of candidness. How ever, I’ve noticed that you can still sometimes get really nice street pics just by approaching the subject and asking whether you could take their photo. If I resort to this technique, I try to avoid obvious poses. That way the photo may at least appear to be candid and not an obvious pose. But who knows though, maybe sometimes an intentional pose may be a good thing as well. The timing is really important. I’d take the photo while the subject isn’t looking at the camera, even if they take a pose. Because you have the permission to shoot, you can get as close as you wish. 

So far I have not (yet) received a rejection. Surprisingly many are up for a photo, which is a delightful thing. Many will be a bit baffled at first and may ask why, but after simply explaining that this is a little pass time hobby or something… most people will say something like “yeah sure why not”. 

This is as far as you can get from a candid shot, but I like the photo none the less a lot. I asked whether I could take their photo and they jumped up to give a nice pose. You never know how people are going to react, but I didn’t tell them what to do and allowed the situation to take it’s own natural path. Super nice and polite guys and I’m happy I got the shot.

This picture is also taken with a permission, but it’s less obvious because he’s not smiling or making an eye contact. Initially he actually made an eye contact with the camera, but as soon as he looked away, I snapped the shot. He was a super nice guy too, even though somewhat grumpy looking. I would have never guessed that he was up for the photo, but I asked anyways. I was surprised to hear him agreeing immediately without any questions or hesitations. I thanked him dearly and wished him a nice day. I think he looked very charismatic, but I wasn’t able to come up with any other approach for a close shot, so I decided to take the long shot and just ask.

 

I hope these tips help you! I’ll probably keep making more similar kind of posts as soon as I identify more techniques that actually work. These are all stuff that I actually use myself, but I’m sure it’ll vary a lot what works who who and in what kind of situations. I’m happy to share the stuff I’ve noticed to work. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the previous article as well, because it contains the five so called basic techniques.

And I’d also recommend this article as well: Practical advise on how to get close to your subject in street photography

Pekka

Graphic designer and a 35mm film photography enthusiast. I enjoy straight photography on natural/available light and in-camera techniques. I'm inspired by early and mid-1900's classic photojournalism, street photography and documentary photography. Currently shooting mainly with Leica M6, and Olympus OM-4.

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