At the moment I’m interested in street photography and I’ve learned that it is much harder than I thought. I’m especially interested in capturing photos of people. I’ve made few observations that may help you too, if you’re a beginner like me.
Why are streets bad for shooting street photography?
The actual streets might be actually a bad place for taking street photos. The common problem is where to find subjects? Where to find interesting looking people doing interesting things? Instead of hitting the streets, I’d recommend going to events and other locations where there are lots of people gathering. On the streets people are just walking from point A to point B. They tend to look busy… maybe getting from work or just running errands. They’re just walking and most likely not doing anything interesting. They are not making gestures of facial expressions. Photos of walkers are typically boring. It may seem like catching the decisive moment when you manage to press the shutter while someone just comes into the frame, but that it self doesn’t usually make an interesting image.
When I got interested in street photography, here’s what I tried to do. (I’m still learning by the way, this is just where I am at the moment with my thinking process.) Without even thinking about it too much, I ended up taking pictures of walkers. For some reason it was the default subject for me. Maybe it is the most obvious thing on the street and the easiest thing to come across. Shooting walkers got very boring, very quickly. No actual content or story telling behind the images. Too simple and easy. My next step was to take photos beggars and homeless people. That is a cliche and somewhat unethical, exploitive, subject matter, but at least it was a step to a better direction — at least I was documenting a social issue and the actual subjects were not just walkers. That topic seemed a bit too forced and cheesy though, and I tried to make the next step forward.
I figured out that city events might be a good solution for taking photos of people on the street. Something like street parties, gatherings and festivities. Maybe even amusement parks, the beach and other places that are not streets. On these kind of locations people are more likely to do something else than walking from point A to point B. People are having fun, doing crazy things, wearing costumes and NOT just walking the streets like zombies. People are also staying still and just hanging around. Walkers tend to move in a straight line, parallel to the direction of the street. On gatherings and events, people are swirling around and facing different directions. That enables you to come up with very cool compositions. You also gain an instant ability to stay invisible, because you get to blend into the crowd where other people are taking photos too. You will just blend in to the rest of them — you’ll be totally invisible which is a good opportunity to capture some nice gestures and facial expressions. So far these kind of street photos are the best ones I’ve managed to take so far.
Previously I was struggling to produce images that didn’t look cheesy or forced. Shooting on events allows you to have that spontaneous feeling, which I’m usually lacking. I know many photographers are having a hard time finding a subject matter to shoot. Maybe they don’t have a life-style, hobby or anything else to document and have to turn somewhere else to find things to shoot. Doing photography just for photography’s sake doesn’t work very well. Often times it leaves you just wandering the streets pretty aimlessly, making you feel like you’re just wasting your time. That is very frustrating.
My favourite photographers are not even actual photographers. They just have some interesting hobby or life-style that they are enthused about and they manage to channel that enthusiasm into their photos. I used to be into hiking and wild camping and took thousands of iPhone photos of my adventures. I was just so excited about the subject that I didn’t realise I was photographing per se. I haven’t been yet able to establish a similar kind of connection with my street photography. I am merely searching for it at this point. If you are in a similar situation and having a hard time to finding subjects from the streets, maybe you just need to get out from the streets and move into a more fertile grounds. At least for me, I feel like this is the right path that is leading me to better street photography.