When it comes to street photography, everybody has their own style and techniques. What interests one street photographer may not necessarily catch the eye of another street photographer. However in order for you to get a better grasp of what kind of styles there are in street photography, I have compiled a few elements that street photographers like to use to their advantage when constructing their images.
Play with Juxtaposition
Juxtaposition is a big and fancy word that artists love to use. If you are not familiar with the word, it simply means drawing a stark contrast between two elements in an image. One could use juxtaposition in his or her favor by creating an image that is interesting, ironic, or just plain uncanny.
For example, if you were to see a sign that says “get fit” and you see a woman eating an ice cream, that makes for an image with great juxtaposition. Or you can see a sign that says “get big” with a small person standing next to it.
Juxtaposition doesn’t always have to be between a sign and a person. It can be between two people (think attractive vs ugly, fit vs fat, or tall vs short). It can also be between a person and an inatimate object, like a person next to a tree, skyscraper, or car.
Juxtaposition can either be found naturally in daily life, or constructed by a photographer by framing his pictures to only include certain elements. If you are quick enough on your toes and always have your camera by your side, you will be able to capture those “Kodak moments” or as Henri Cartier-Bresson likes to call, “The Decisive Moment.” Furthermore, there may not be an apparent juxtaposition in a scene, but if you can capture an image at a certain angle or only include certain elements, you can create an interesting image.
Look for the Light
“Look for the light” is often what great photographers tell aspiring photographers. When the word “photography” is broken down, it literally means “painting with light.” Great street photographers leverage this to their advantage as well. Look for the light and make interesting and even magical scenes. If you are in a dark corridor and you see a single beam of light shining through, try to capture it so that it appears that a single person is under the spotlight. Such minimalist and simple pictures are beautiful.
Experiment taking photos during the day and night. They both have a life of their own. Although street photography can be favorable under well-lit conditions during the day, fascinating scenes can also be found during the night. As Van Gogh once said, “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” Experiment with light and shadows, day and night, bright and dark. Look for interesting lighting arrangements, whether it be the flashing lights in front of a movie theater or an alley with Christmas lights suspended above.
If you are able to use the light to your advantage, you can be an amazing street photographer.
Go for the “Candid Look”
As humans, we are naturally attracted to looking at other people. There is a strange enjoyment that humans have in studying the faces, voices, and expressions of others in a voyeuristic type of way. As social beings, we often also enjoy comparing our lifes conditions to the lives of others, or even living vicariously through others as well. Therefore when it comes to street photography, the common person loves looking at candid portraiture of people in public. There is something very pure about it, as a person’s true soul and condition can often be shown best when they aren’t posed—contemplating a certain thought or living in a certain moment.
Capturing candid images can be difficult at times. How can you take an image of somebody without them even noticing that you are taking their image? Remember one tip that you can try is “shooting from the hip,” or taking photos with your camera suspended at waist-level, shooting up. Also make sure to dress casually and don’t look too conspicuous in public. If you are going to the slums of a downtown area, it is probably best to keep your bright designer clothes at home. Be cognizant of your surroundings.
Also try to be discrete with your camera. If you have a DSLR, refrain from using a huge and clunky zoom lens, and use a small prime lens instead. If you don’t feel comfortable carrying around a DSLR, bring your point and shoot, which is even smaller and less conspicuous.
After you take images of your subjects, keep your eyes wandering and not fixated on one person. Pretend that other people can’t see you. Then you will truly become invisible.
Go for the “Shock Factor”
Bruce Gilden has definitely got to be the grandfather of this technique. One of his techniques can be as follows: He walks around the streets of NYC with his camera in one hand and a flash in the other. Once he sees an interesting person, he quickly steps in front of them, crouches, and takes a photo of them (flash firing and all). Naturally, this surprises many people, which makes for fascinating looking images. People often question this style, as they feel that the subjects are treated as “prey.” However one thing that people can’t argue with is that this approach is definitely legal, and can make for fascinating looking images.
I know only a few street photographers that have balls like Bruce Gilden and are able to have the courage to do such photography. I wouldn’t suggest it to the beginning street photographer, as this is definitely a much more extreme approach which takes years of practice to get comfortable and used to. Seasoned veterans and hardcore photojournalists, however, should have no problem with this approach.
Of course there are much more tips and techniques than those listed above. Stay tuned, I have a lot more stuff up my sleeve ;)