This is a guest post by Max Therry of Photo Geeky.
Traveling gives you great opportunities to photograph and record the places you visit. Street photography is a great way to capture the atmosphere and people, and you don’t even have to go abroad to do it – visiting towns and cities near where you live and shooting street scenes makes great practice for when you head off on your travels.
You may feel a little apprehensive about taking your camera into the streets to photograph people, but all you need is some common sense and patience. This article will give you some tips and advice on how to go about capturing street scenes without you feeling intimidated or accidentally offending someone.
7 Awesome Street Travel Photography Tips
Shoot the Images You Like
Often, it seems like the “photography police” takes pleasure in telling people what their images are “supposed” to be like, and that it isn’t a proper street/fashion/travel/portrait image because it “doesn’t fit the rules of the genre” etc.
That’s a shame, because attitudes like that stifle creativity and stop people experimenting and enjoying their photography. Don’t let anyone tell you that your type of street photography isn’t valid – shoot the images that speak to you, not what you think you “should” be shooting!
Keep an Open Mind
You’ll come across many different people and cultures on your journeys, and it pays to keep an open mind and relaxed attitude towards the people and local customs. Try not to judge, even if you don’t personally approve of some things – you’ll get some great images because people will be more relaxed and open around you if they know you’re not condemning the way they live.
At the same time, try not to interfere or get involved in people’s personal lives – keep a respectful distance.
Ask for Permission for Close-Up Shots
It’s always better to ask someone for permission to take their photo close up, if you can. You don’t have to stop and explain at length why you want to, just smile and gesture towards the person and then your camera. This crosses the language barrier (if there is one), and the people will either reply “yes” or “no” to you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for permission. If someone does say no, respect their decision and move on, but don’t let it get you down, or stop you from asking someone else. You have nothing to lose by asking, and a warm smile will go a long way to getting someone to say “yes”!
As a courtesy, you should offer to send them a copy of the edited images if they have internet access, and are willing to give you their email address.
Photograph Festivals and Markets
If you don’t feel comfortable with asking people for permission, you could try going to places where people often expect to be photographed, and are used to it, such as festivals, street performances and tourist markets.
Don’t be afraid to take images of interesting scenes in these places. You’ll find your confidence growing the more you do it. If you do take photos of street performers, it’s only right to put some money in their hat or box after you’ve finished shooting.
At long last, street photography doesn’t just have to be only about people. The buildings, street food, markets with local produce, the vehicles, or even shapes, textures and colors can all tell us about the place you are in. Shoot in your own way, with your own style.
Tell a Story
What is it about the place that you’re in that fascinates you? Is it the people, the buildings, the scene unfolding around you? Capture the essence of the place in your own unique way.
One thing you can do to give your street scenes a dramatic look is to turn your images black and white in your image editor. Traditionally, street photos used to be black and white because the absence of color means you concentrate more on what’s happening in the image, instead of being distracted by the color.
Henri Cartier-Bresson was, perhaps, the master of street photography, and you can learn a lot from his images, as you can also learn and gain inspiration from Vivian Maier’s work in the streets of Chicago.
I wouldn’t recommend shooting in black and white mode on your camera, as all you’ll get is a color JPEG that has been desaturated by the camera. You’ll get much better control and great results if you shoot in color and convert the images to black and white in your software – there are tools (like Tonality or B&W Effects) designed specifically for working with black and white photos.
Don’t Aim for Perfection
With street photography, it doesn’t really matter if parts of your image are blurry, or there are some overexposed highlights. It’s all about the people, and the interaction between them.
You will also need to be quick and sure when you shoot street, because it’s too easy to miss those little moments that speak volumes in a photo, such as a fleeting expression or an incident. This is one of the reasons why you should get out and practice your street photography at home, so you know your camera controls instinctively, and can shoot quickly.
It doesn’t really matter what type of camera you use, or what gear you have. You can take great photos with just a smartphone, and for street photography they are lightweight and unobtrusive. But if you decide to use your camera, below are a few setting suggestions to start with.
As light and lighting conditions differ from place to place and season to season, it’s impossible to pin down exact settings, so the following are guidelines for you to start from:
- For fast-moving action shots of parades and performers, set your camera to Shutter Priority (Tv mode on Canon) for DSLR, or the Sports/Action mode. Set your shutter speed to above 1/250th second to freeze movement. The camera will choose the aperture and ISO settings automatically.
- For portraits and close-ups of people, choose Aperture Priority mode, or the Portrait mode on your camera. For AP mode, choose an aperture of between f/2.8-f/5.6 for good separation of your subject from the background. You may need to use a tripod if the light is low to avoid blurry images.
- For long-exposure street images after dark with ‘ghostly’ figures of people walking on the streets and light trails from vehicles, you will need a tripod and should set your camera to use Shutter Priority (Tv for Canon). Set your shutter speed to 4 seconds as a starting point, and reduce it until you get a pleasing result.
- For wide-angle street scenes, set your camera to Aperture Priority mode and set your aperture to between f/8-f/16 to get the entire image in clear focus.
Hope that these tips have inspired you to think about shooting street photography. Enjoy your travels!