Learning Street Photography
From Henri Cartier-Bresson to Humans of New York, photographers have taken to the streets to make photos and tell stories.
Street photography is growing into one of the more popular genres, but it is not without challenges. New street photographers often find themself asking:
- What is the best way to get started?
- What are different approaches to street genre?
- How do I handle encounters with strangers?
- What are the legal issues I should know?
- What are the ethical issues and decisions I might face?
I have been answering most of these questions in my Shutterbug Life podcast and blog for several years. Now I have assembled my bests posts into one free resource. On this Learning Street Photography page, you can work through street photography advice, inspiration and training.
Get started learning street photography
Peering out the window of a coffee shop, I saw a very familiar process unfolding. People were arriving with big signs. I saw what looked like costumes, and over time a small crowd started assembling. In Washington, DC, that usually means a protest is about to start. It also means prime photography opportunities.
No time to finish my coffee, I grabbed my DSLR and headed out to the park to start my shoot.
Whether you happen upon a protest demonstration or even a parade, you have a perfect opportunity to practice street photography that tells stories.
There are so many lists. Five ways to do this. Ten ways to do that.
Today I’m going to share an essential principle of street photography, and there will be only one point. In fact, you can boil it down to one question.
Valerie Jardin is still modest enough to correct me when I refer to her as an expert on street photography, but it's not that she hasn't earned the title.
Valerie is a natural storyteller who focuses mostly street photography.
Her work has hung in galleries in the United States and in Europe, but she enjoys paying it forward most.
I know Valerie as the host of the weekly street photography podcast, Street Focus, and writer for Digital Photography School magazine.
They were all strangers at some point — Mickey who makes a good living impersonating Ben Franklin; Rocky who was part of a 24-hour vigil outside the White House; Andrew who was on a coffee bike crawl around the city; and about 30 random people I encountered.
I’m one-third of the way through my 100 Strangers project, which seemed like a good time to talk about the whole street portrait genre.
If you’ve ever wondered about street portraits, I’ll share what I’ve learned so far.
If you have a question about where and when you can legally take photographs, search Google for an answer. Chances are "The Photographer's Right" will show up near the top of your results.
The document has been downloaded more than a million times and is likely the most cited resource on photography ethics.
In this podcast, we we speak with the author, Bert Krages II. We dive deeper on issues of photography ethics, legalities, and the overall do's and don'ts.
I think by now we have all consumed a seemingly endless parade of street photography photos that are nothing more than images of people walking. Or staring at their mobile phones.
In fact, if we are all honest we know that we have probably contributed some of those photos ourselves. We can do better. Yes, I'm saying we.
We just need to consider these five reasons we are missing the mark and work together to improve the quality of street photos we create and share. I have some ideas in this video.
If you are looking for the two ingredients that will spice up your street photography, here are two videos.
From these excepts, I discuss two things that make the difference between boring and compelling photos — your mindset and your storytelling.
You probably don’t hear this enough.
You look amazing today! :-)
Who wouldn’t like to hear that more often, right?
While we are in the season of giving, there is one gift you can give that can make a tremendous impact on your portraits and people photos.
Give a huge smile with an honest and sincere compliment.
It doesn’t matter if you are taking holiday photos of your family or random portraits on the street. Find something you like about the person you are photographing and share that honest compliment with your biggest smile.
Then get your camera ready because the result will be far more natural and beautiful than asking your subjects to say cheese.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Shea Glover, a Chicago high school student, conducted an experiment to see how people reacted to being called beautiful.
She told each of her subjects she was taking a photo of them. Then with the video running, she simply says “I’m taking pictures of things I find beautiful.”
Here is a virtual workshop for aspiring street photographers and photojournalists. Henri Cartier-Bresson pioneered the concept of the decisive moment, which he explains in depth here.
Make some time to watch.
I find that my difficulty in taking pictures isn't an issue of time, but rather feeling self conscious. I am an introvert and feel invasive if I take pictures of people. I also don't like calling attention to myself. For example, today I took my chunky clunky Nikon D5100 with me on the way to a friend's house. I live in a large city (São Paulo) but I never see people taking photos on the street (unless it is in the super touristy spots). I couldn't muster up the courage to take my camera out of my bag and start clicking away at the images that caught my attention. Any suggestions?
I keep hearing it from photo tour clients as well as Meetup members -- "I don't like to photograph people." When I ask why, I usually get a one of a few reasons:
• You just find it difficult
• You have trouble capturing their personalities -- the photos never look right
• You don't know how to pose or set up the photo
• You don't know how to see the great photos
This month, we discussed how to have fun photographing people -- and how to do it well.
Whether your focus is on formal portraits, street portraits, or event photography, capturing great photos of people doesn't have to be stressful or difficult.
In this webinar, we discuss tips to help you improve your people photography.
If you have an interest in street photography, you've no doubt wondered about the rules for photographing strangers. When can you legally take their photographs? When someone says that you have no right to photograph them, are they correct?
As a photographer in the United States, you have wide freedom to photograph whatever you choose, and in most cases, the law is on your side.
Are you a journalist or a jerk? You could almost boil down the options to one of those two extremes.
During April's Free Photo Webinar, our topic, Street Photography Ethics & Legalities, focused on four decision points:
- To shoot or not to shoot
- To delete or not to delete
- To post or not to post
- To sell or not to sell
I met Yvette three times before I finally took her photo. And even then, something didn’t feel right about it.
Here is some inspiration for the aspiring street photographers among us.
First are two videos profiling New York street portrait photographers. The Sartorialist focuses on fashion on the streets of New York, and Humans of New York is conducting a photographic census of the city. Very different approaches but both inspirational to aspiring street photographers. The third video is a biography of Vivian Maier. This is a truly inspirational story.
I walked by Frank and Scott three times before I stopped and asked to take their photo. The two tattoo artists were joking around outside Tattoo Paradise in Adams Morgan, and I was out shooting street portraits for my 100 Strangers project.
I love taking street portraits of strangers, but sometimes the first one is always the hardest to get out of the way. I thought of this when I heard Brandon Stanton reveal that if he gets “cussed out” on his first photo request of the day, it is sometimes hard for him to recover.
If anyone has mastered the art of photographing strangers, it would be Brandon. As the creative force behind the Humans of New York blog, Brandon has taken more than 5,000 street portraits on his photographic census of New York City.
With that kind of experience, I thought he might be a good person to help motivate those of us who enjoy street photography but still stall every now and then. Here are some random bits of wisdom Brandon shared when he was the guest speaker on our recent Free Photo Webinar.
Free Photo Webinars focuses on storytelling and street portraits with Humans of New York's Brandon Stanton. He even inspired me to write the post Better street portraits: What I learned from Humans of New York.
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