Street photography is a very exciting genre of photography. Exciting because you will never get tired of shooting photos on the streets. When I first heard about street photography, though, I wondered how on earth could someone point his camera towards a complete stranger and take a snap? Much as I wanted to try street photography myself, the thought of a less than friendly repercussion discouraged me each time. However, the lure of street photography was much too strong for me to ignore. On a recent trip to Sikkim I had some time in hand while my better half went street shopping. I decided to put to use some of the tips that I myself picked up.
Shoot from the waist
Picking the camera up to the eye level and then pointing at someone can be a little too obvious. People tend to get anxious because they know that you are photographing them. One way to avoid this and get a natural shot is to shoot from the waist. Now, this will take some time to perfect. Your first few dozen shots are likely to be disappointing. But as you keep persisting you will become a lot better. The greatest benefit, once you master this technique, is that you will be completely detection-free.
Set the focal length at 50mm
50mm is widely considered as a standard focal length, meaning the same perspective that the human eye sees. On a full-frame camera that would be easy to set. It takes a small calculation to set it on an APS-C camera. APS-C cameras have a cop factor of 1.5x or 1.6x (depending on the make). That means the perspective that a smaller APS-C camera sees is slightly smaller than what a bigger full-frame camera sees. To arrive at the comparable focal length for a smaller camera divide 50 by the crop factor. If you are using a D7100 e.g., the comparable focal length is = 50/1.5 = 33.33. No lens will have a marking for that focal length. Just leave it at 35mm (which is marked in all zoom lenses that cover that focal length) and you would be fine. On a Canon DSLR like the 7D, the comparable focal length will be = 50/1.6 = 31.25mm.
Regardless of whether you shoot from the waist or from the eye-level, you will need to ensure that your images are sharp. There could be a little bit of motion blur due to your subjects moving while the exposure was made. But that is okay. A bit of motion blur gives a sense of movement in the image. Overall, however, the image must be sharp. To ensure that shoot with a small aperture (big f-stop) and a fast commensurate shutter speed. Shoot in RAW to give yourself some leeway. If the light is changing constantly or you are pointing alternatively towards subjects that are either too dark or too bright your exposure meter will be jumping all the time. Another thing is the white balance. All of these can be corrected in post processing when you shoot in RAW.
Bonus tip – Set your camera to continuous mode. This way you can have at least a couple of shots to choose from.
Practice Makes Perfect
The best analogy that I can think of for a street photographer is a gun slinger. The quickest draw will win you a duel. If you are slow you will be dead. There will be moments when you will not have much time to react. Like in the image above. The kid was looking straight at me and I only had about half a second to react.
Just because it takes a few bucks to own a copy of Photoshop and Lightroom, you don’t have the license to go overboard with them. I have seen some really poor post-processing. Remember, you are a photographer and not a photoshopper. Concentrate on the bit that’s about making images and not about manipulating them. Having said that, a little bit of white balance correction, contrast and exposure adjustment and even conversion to black and white is ok.