Street photography is not exactly one of the most popular choices for fresh photographers especially those who has just bought their first set of photography equipments, this is especially true locally here in Malaysia. More than often the new-comers to photography would choose more glamorous photography genres such as fashion photography, modeling and portraitures, as well as travel and landscape, where the photographs have been overly publicized by all photography and travel magazines. I find it very sad that not many would even consider exploring the beautiful streets of Malaysia, and many local photographers here, even the professionals would rather spend their time shooting a boring empty flower pot at home, rather than go out and hunt on the streets.
I am relatively new to street photography, and have only been consistently doing it for about two years now. I still in the experimental stage, and nowhere near professional or at a level to be compared to the work of legends and many famous photographers out there. However, I am comfortable at the pace I am moving, and more importantly I have enjoyed myself immensely while I was on the street, every single time. Undoubtedly I have gained so much doing street photography, and I have improved to be a better photographer on the whole. There is so much someone can learn and benefit from doing street photography diligently, and I want to share them here.
All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Sigma 30mm F1.4 lens
5 Reasons Why You Should Do Street Photography
1) Build Your Confidence
One of the most important thing I have benefited from doing street photography (at least once or twice every single week, without fail) is building up my confidence. The most challenging blockade that a photographer who just started street photography would be approaching the subjects before photographing them. It takes guts to walk directly up to the people you want to photograph, to strike a conversation, to make that connection, and to ask permission to have their photographs taken. Your confidence will determine whether you make your shot, or break it. If you look like you know what you are doing, holding your camera confidently, speaking calmly and in a pleasingly friendly manner, your subject will most likely be at ease and be willing to let you snap their photographs. Confidence matters, not only in approaching your subjects, but to get that “look in the eye”, getting that friendly, engaging and lively connection when your subject looks directly into your lens. The warmth you capture is actually in response to your confidence that you exude in the first place.
Building confidence does not happen just like that, and it takes lots and lots of time and practice. I started shooting with tele-photo zoom lens, from a long distance, because I was too afraid to get too near my subjects. I slowly forced myself to move closer, and closer, and then my lenses shifted from the zoom lens to 50mm prime lens, and subsequently 25mm. The closer I get to my subjects, the less distant they appear to be, and the photographs appear more connected and engaging than ever before. At first there were many awkward look from my subjects, as if they were wondering what I was doing with the camera pointing at them. The confidence level was not there yet. But the more I did it, the more I can do it with less pressure and higher success rate.
I believe the strongest secret is in the smile. The smile is the first sign language that you use to open up the connection with the stranger. If you are confident, you will show it in your smile, and the following conversation and actions. But you cannot exactly lie through your smile, if you lack confidence, it shows. If you were nervous, it shows. If you are new to street photography and do not know what to do when you get too near your subject, it shows !! Nonetheless, do not worry too much, just smile away. The more street photography you do, the more you will get used to how to start that secret smile, and as you slowly store up the confidence level, it will happen as a second nature.
2) Train Your Reflexes
While you are shooting on the streets, you have to be fully aware of your surroundings, and respond quickly when you come across a photography opportunity. The best photography opportunities happen at the most unexpected time and place, hence being ready at all times, and having the ability to react reflexively is important. How do we exactly train ourselves to be quick in responding?
When one is presented with a scene, to photograph it, there are a few things to be done: 1) Set the camera control and settings accordingly 2) compose the shot 3) perform autofocus 4) fire away and make sure you got the shot. It is not exactly as simple as just pointing and shooting, though there are many ways one can do so to simplify the steps (Zone focusing cuts out the step to autofocus, most photographers discourage chimping, and some use “Programme” or “Auto” mode letting the camera do all the calculations). However, one of the main problem that many new photographers would face is missing many shots, simply because they were not ready, or not reacting fast enough. Even if they make the shots, many of those shots come out blurry, out of focus, or wrongly exposed, and badly composed.
Photography opportunities do not wait for us to slowly set our camera buttons, compose left right center and front, and do multiple tests takes to grab the best shot. Sometimes, the window of opportunity is so narrow that you might only get one shot. There are dozens and dozens of techniques and methods to boost such need to speed in reaction. The most important variable in the equation is not the camera settings or techniques, but the photographer himself. The photographer must know what he is doing, and must do it effectively, for the subject he is shooting. When you are being thrown into real life shooting situation, you cannot give yourself too many excuses of missing the shots. If you are not fast enough, the more you shoot, the more you will have yourself be prepared in the future. The camera will be an extension from your body, and you will be able to operate it by touch and feel. As the next opportunity presents itself, you will nail it down.
Such reflex requires constant exercise. It is like any other sports, may it be tennis, or football, or archery. Accuracy and speed depend heavily on your discipline in following your routine practice. Photography is the same, how efficient you are in capturing your photographs also depends on your consistency in shooting frequently. Street photography can keep your reflexes in shape, if you do it religiously.
By the Column
Facing the light
3) Develop your Vision
A good photograph is not only about how well a photograph is taken, but also equally as important, is the subject content. Many photographers know all the advanced modern techniques and photoshop methods to achieve incredible looking images, but many of those photographs also lack the important element: the subject or story to tell.
On the street, it is crucial to be able to “see” and identify the subjects. Recognizing an interesting subject is not an easy task, and not having “the eye” will make it even more difficult. Everything will just appear to be plain and ordinary. Usually, we are trying too hard to find something so extra-ordinary or different from usual that we have overlooked many subjects which may appear normal, but have good quality in them. The trick is not to stress too much on unusual subjects or difference, but to find the beauty in ordinary or lesser things.
What sets a great photograph apart from an ordinary photograph is the choice of subject, and how the photography brings out the beauty in the subject in his photograph. If he was not able to see the beauty of the subject in the first place, how then can the beauty be translated into his photograph?
Shooting on the streets is shooting the subjects which appear mundane and ordinary. They are the things that you encounter every single day walking by, the usual people that you pass by and do not give a second glance. They may not hold any significance or purpose in your daily life, but they live and decorate the streets. Now, to develop the vision, you have to take a few steps back, and find the beauty in those ordinary subjects. “See the beauty”, find the subjects. As you progress further and further in street photography, the way you see things may change, and you may have different interpretations of the similar subjects you have encountered before. Your visions are changing, evolving, and constantly readjusting itself to your growth in photography. You will come to stage where you will frown upon many new photographers who tried out street shooting and tell you “I don’t know what to shoot!!”. And you will nudge them by saying “you are not seeing hard enough, or you are not seeing correctly”.
4) Self Discovery
Amongst so many categories of photography, I would think that street photography is the one that has the free form. You may approach it from any angle you want, and shoot whatever you want, as long as you have a camera, and you are on the street shooting away. It may be just a plain I-Phone, or a compact point or shoot camera, or that crazily expensive Leica, once you are on the street shooting, you are doing street photography. You may choose to shoot portraits of people, or just the scene of the busy road during sunset, or that can of Coke lying by the drain with water gushing down. There are no restrictions. You determine what you want to shoot, and how you want to shoot it.
While you are shooting, and the more you go deeper and deeper, you will develop your own distinctive shooting style. Since street photography can be done often with no serious damage to the wallet (seriously, it costs nothing, just a bit of your petrol to get to the location and maybe time), it is a place to do trials and errors. Who cares if you come home with not that many good photographs, what will the consequences be? Nothing !! But every single time you shoot, you learn. Every single time you are on the street, you discover something new. You discover something about the camera that you may not know before. You may discover something about yourself, probably your preference in certain aspects of photography. You will find out what you dislike. All this will create your own style, your approach to shooting, and your outlook on photography. The more you shoot, the more you learn about yourself, and the more you improve and develop your own photography.
5) It is FUN, and FREE
I call my street photography sessions as “shutter therapy”. It is a way of relieving myself from the accumulated work stress over the week, and just have plain fun while I was shooting on the streets. When I am so engrossed in finding that next photography opportunity and doing all I can to make the shot as perfect as possible, I find myself setting aside my worries and troubles, and just focus on photography. This has induced the therapeutic effect on me. Every single time I am shooting, I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and even if I do not have that many useable photographs, I still come home with a wide smile.
I strongly believe this is how photography should be: FUN. And it should not weigh you down in costs. You do not need a very expensive equipment for street photography. Eric Kim has recently posted on his blog (written by a guest blogger) on why compact point and shoot cameras are good for street shooting. Any camera in hand can be used as a weapon on the streets. The objective is not to create an award winning photograph or to make a technically perfect image. Hence, the best camera is the camera that you can bring with you at all times, and is there when you need to use it.
My "kaki"s for the day: Luke Ding (top left), Yeow (Bottom left) and Mun Keat (bottom right)
I personally find street photography to be very rewarding in many ways. I have had my “shutter therapy” sessions every single week, and I encourage any photographers, especially the new-comers to pick up the camera (whichever camera you have), take a stroll down the street in the city or any sub-urbs where you know there are people and interesting subjects, and start snapping away. You do not know what you are missing until you are actually out there shooting !!
To those of you who religiously practice street photography, do add your thoughts and other relevant points into the “Reasons Why You Should Do Street Photography” !!