Street photography, while perfectly legal in most places, can make even the most experienced photographers nervous. The thought of someone taking offence at us capturing images of them is an understandable fear, but there are several things you can do to limit the chances of this happening, and to diffuse the situation if it does. Firstly, there are two approaches to street photography for you to consider; one involves getting permission from subjects, while the other (and arguably more authentic) method relies on being candid.
Although it can take a little while to find the confidence to approach and ask a stranger for a photo, if they accept, your shooting isn’t going to surprise anyone. I’ve never been rejected when asking someone for a street-style portrait, and the secret is being courteous and polite. Start your introduction with a compliment, tell them that you love their hat/hair/outfit, and explain that you’re trying to build a portfolio of street portraits. You can also offer to send them the pictures you take. As long as you’re friendly, a surprising number of people will have no problem with a picture.
For non-posed and candid results, you may want to try taking shots without asking permission first. The three techniques below are a great way to start taking images like this without being noticed, avoiding any kind of contact or confrontation. However, while still perfectly legal, it’s this type of street photography that may cause people to ask questions if they become aware of what you’re doing. If they do, and despite the rights that you have as a photographer, the most important thing to remember is to again be polite. If someone asks what you’re up to, calmly explain who you are and why you’re shooting. If someone asks you to delete a shot, do so without fuss, explain why you took it, and apologise.
Three techniques for candid street photography
1 - Frame and wait - Many successful street shots work because of an interesting background that complements or contrasts with the subject moving across it. Find a potential scene and select your camera’s exposure settings. Then pre-focus at the distance you expect a subject will walk through the frame, and wait for them to do so.
2 - Shoot from the hip - Having your camera at hip-level while you shoot, as opposed to held against the eye, is a great way of putting subjects at ease. They may still notice the camera, but are less likely to think that you’re using it. Flip-out displays make this technique easy, while practising with a fixed focal length can also help you visualise a composition.
3 - Go telephoto - Typically short full-frame focal lengths of between 28-35mm are favoured by street photographers, but a telephoto lens can also be useful. While using one may draw attention from those close to you, it helps maintain enough distance between you and subjects that are further away for a candid capture.
A video version of this tutorial can be found here.
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