Last week’s blog entry delved into what street photography is. This week, I discuss how I became interested in street photography, a genre practiced by only a relatively small number of photographers.
I must confess that when I started on my photography quest, I had never heard of street photography. My real immersion in photography had come during a trip to Europe. Like many others, I was mainly photographing architecture and landscapes of the European countryside.
After that experience, I decided to delve more deeply into photography. There was also a slight competition factor in that my brother has been a photographer for many years, and is very good at it.
In my quest for more knowledge of photography, I came across Scott Kelby‘s wonderful training site, KelbyOne.com. One of the first videos I found was a discussion between Kelby and Jay Maisel as they walked the streets of Maisel’s neighborhood. Jay Maisel is a well-known street photographer living in the historic district of Brooklyn, NY. He has published a number of books on photography and teaches street photography for KelbyOne training.
After viewing the video, the concept intrigued me. I was interested in capturing images of people but didn’t feel that I was ready for studio work such as portraits or headshots. Street photography seemed like an ideal way to capture images of people, but in a more natural atmosphere of ‘just being themselves.’
My First Attempts
Once I learned what street photography was, I was filled with some trepidation. How would people react to having their photograph taken on the street? Would they objective, even violently?
I began by taking pictures of people at a distance, occasionally with a telephoto lens. However, I quickly learned that most people do not object. Even when they become aware that they’re being photographed, they very often smile and sometimes even strike a pose. And smiling back at them helps ease any tension— theirs and mine.
Now, I rarely shoot with a long lens, and often am photographing from a distance of only six to ten feet. This is a reasonable distance. It’s not necessary to intrude on a person’s personal space by ‘getting in their face’ to capture a great photo.
Street photography quickly became my primary genre. My life has been filled with watching people. I couldn’t help but notice the interesting variety of people in everyday situations. So with street photography, I’m just taking the observation one step further — seeing it and photographing it.
It is also a factor that you can go back to exactly the same location a day later, or even an hour later, and find completely different situations and reactions.
Learning from the Masters
Street photography, as with any art, is a product of the individual style of the artist. While you should always work to develop your own unique style and view, it is helpful to review the work of those successful street photographers. By studying the work of the ‘masters’, you can learn to develop an eye for capturing what’s before you in your own way.
There are numerous books available featuring the work of a wide variety of street photography styles. Two that I have found helpful are:
Vivian Maier worked as a nanny on Chicago’s North Shore. In her spare time, she took photographs, mostly of people on the street and architecture. In a photography career spanning 40 years, she took more than 150,000 photos. However, these were largely unknown and unpublished during her lifetime. In 2009, Jerry Maloof, a Chicago collector who had discovered some of her negatives two years earlier, began posting her photos on the internet. She is now considered one of the iconic street photographers of modern times.
Somewhat of a text book that I also recommend is “Mastering Street Photography” by Brian Lloyd Duckett. This 2017 book is full of ideas and commentary on all aspects of street photography.
Finally, you can gain ongoing inspiration and ideas for framing street photos from an excellent publication called “Street Photography Magazine.” SPM is a monthly digital magazine filled with informative articles related specifically to street photography. One of my favorite parts of the magazine is the regular “Street Shooters” section. This contains staff picks of the top street photographs of the month as submitted by subscribers. I find these to be very helpful in visualizing how I might compose a similar shot.
Just Do It
But as with any other discipline, you can only learn so much by reading about it. As with any skill, you learn to be a great street photographer by just doing it.
I tried to get out a couple of times a week. But even if I’m not able to set aside the time for a dedicated street photo shoot — or ‘walkabouts’ as I like to call them — I still carry a camera with me wherever I go.
In a later blog article, I’ll discuss the camera and lens that I use most often for street photography. However, for purposes of this discussion, my ‘always have’ camera is an Olympus FE-230. This is a seven megapixel camera that fits in the palm of your hand. It is capable of producing relatively good photos.
And, of course, even if I don’t have the Olympus handy when an intriguing screenshot develops in front of me, I always have my trusty iPhone. Of course, the quality of photos produced by a cell phone camera cannot match those produced by a good quality DSLR. However, the world of street photography is fleeting. Capturing the moment with a so-so camera is far better than missing the shot entirely because the hefty DSLR and it’s oh-so-sharp lens are three blocks away in your car.
Share Your Photos
You might decide to make street photography your primary genre, as I did, or maybe you just want to take an occasional shot of that person on the street who captures your interest. In either case, I’d be interested in seeing finished photos you might like to share.
Send me a jpg copy of your photo(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the location of the photo, a short description of what drew you to the shot, and perhaps a little information about your camera and settings. Of course, include your name. I’ll feature those photos in a special gallery on my website, www.mikeworleyphotos.com.