Recently I came upon the work of Los Angeles street photographer Medhi Bouqua. He takes incredible portraits of the people of Los Angeles, and I asked him to give me some of his insights about shooting these raw street portraits.
Medhi: It all began with the street and its surroundings: The Architecture, The street Lights,The cold Concrete, The bright sun, The people walking up and down, The poor, The rich, the young and the old. Street photography has taught me to never hold back from any subject that captures my eyes. I shoot my Raw Portraits as close up shots to capture the emotion, strength, struggle and beauty of people, with both my 35mm Nikon to print and my Rebel Xs Canon to share on the web, I use Natural lighting, no Flash and no reflectors.
I thought it would also be a great opportunity for me to give you some great tips about shooting raw street portraits, while using Medhi’s photos as examples. Read on and learn more.
1. Get close
The most important rule of taking raw street portraits is to get close. Now when I say close, I mean really close. As Robert Cappa once famously said, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you‘re not close enough.”
When taking street portraits, you don’t want to be a voyeur who simply snaps these photos from a mile away. You want to get up, close, and personal with your subjects. Get so close, it is uncomfortable. Get so close that your lens warps and disfigures their face. This is what makes a street portrait unique and memorable.
2. Look into their soul
Taking a street portrait is far more than just taking a photo of their face. It is being sensitive with your subject and looking into their soul. Capture their essence, and any concerns or thoughts which may be on their mind. Highlight the parts of their face which stand out and truly tell a story.
3. Don’t worry about the lighting
When it comes to “normal” portraits, you typically want good lighting (at sunrise or sunset) so you don’t get blown highlights in your images. However when it comes to shooting raw street portraits, this is what Medhi has to say: “Street Portraitures [are] shot raw without make up, only natural lighting used no reflector, or Studio Equipment.”
Therefore don’t worry so much about the lighting when you are out shooting portraits on the street. If anything, harsh lighting adds character to the subjects you are trying to capture. Feel free to experiment and don’t worry about all the factors. Just take the shot.
4. Bump up the contrast and sharpness
If you want to give your images that raw and gritty look, you want to bump up your contrast and sharpness in your images. Although there are many critics for over-sharpened images with too much contrast, I think that it ends up looking fantastic (if this is what you are trying to capture).
But remember, adding contrast and sharpening to a crappy photo won’t give you a better image. You need to start out with a well-captured image if you wish to create a memorable image.
5. Look for “characters”
When you are trying to take street portraits, look for people who interest you. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that you only have to take photos of homeless people or the destitute. Rather, seek people who you feel have an interesting personal story to share. Simply taking a street portrait of a homeless person because they are homeless is not only tacky but distasteful.
Do you want to see more work from Medhi? Check out his links below.
What are some of the tips and tricks you have when shooting street portraits? Leave a comment below and share your insights!