Guest post today is by California based photographer and lover of Philosophy, Micahel Dees.
Dear streettogs, if you want to learn more of how to shoot street portraits, I just put together a 47-minute video lecture for you! In this lecture I cover what “street portraits” are (and how they differ from “street photography”), how to approach strangers, how to overcome the fear of rejection, as well as practical tips for shooting street portraits.
To learn more about street portraits, check out my Chicago Street Portraits POV videos on YouTube.
30 Tips When Shooting Street Portraits
Below are some of the tips I included from the presentation on how to shoot street portraits (and a few extra freebies):
- Keep working the scene until your subject forgets about you
- Ask your subject to move to an interesting background
- You don’t need to photograph your subject’s face
- Take a photo of your subject looking at you / not looking at you
- Focus on the edges
- Ask your subject to look down / look up
- Provoke a response
- Remember you’ll never see them again (don’t miss out on the opportunity)
- Be genuinely interested in your subject
- Compliment your subject
- Talk to your subject before asking to take their photograph
- Realize that just because you had a good interaction doesn’t mean it is a good photograph
- Look for dramatic light
- Ask your subject: is it okay if I move you?
- Slightly touch your subject to change their posture, direction, or position
- Ask your subject not to smile
- Shoot both landscapes/vertical photos
- Shoot from different perspectives
- Get close, then get closer
- Talk to your subjects while photographing them
- Realize a posed photograph can look candid
- Capture the “unguarded moment”
- Try to shoot with / without a flash
- Capture hand gestures (get their hands close to their face)
- Shoot the same framing more than once (realize that their face direction might move, or facial gesture)
- Look for the surrounding environment (environmental portraiture)
- Realize a street portrait is more about yourself, not your subject
- Try to capture an “authentic” look that doesn’t look too posey
- Focus on details (use macro mode)
- Don’t feel guilty about “wasting your subject’s time” (they love the attention)
What are some tips you have when it comes to shooting street portraits, or any questions you might have? Leave them in the comments below!
Hey streettogs, I just uploaded some slides for a free talk I did for Chase Toronto the other day on tips, techniques, and tricks to conquer your fear of shooting street photography.
You can also download the slides for free here. Enjoy! :)
I just re-read an excellent book titled: “The Art of Learning” by Josh Waitzkin. If you’ve ever watched the film “Searching for Bobby Fischer” (the movie about the kid chess prodigy)— that movie was based on Josh Waitzkin’s life.
“The Art of Learning” is a rare book in the sense that he became world champion not only in chess, but also later in competitive Tai Chi “push hands”. In the book, Josh breaks down how he was able to learn at an incredible pace, how he was able to push his own creative boundaries, and how he achieved excellence at a master-level.
For this article I want to break down some lessons that I’ve personally learned— which can help you in your street photography or life in general. Let’s go:
One thing I notice when I’m teaching street photography workshops is that a lot of photographers don’t like having their own photograph taken.
This is a huge problem.
If you want to build up your confidence in shooting street photography, I think you also need to be comfortable being on the other side of the camera.
My friend Todd Hatakeyama recently gave me a superbly refreshing book titled: “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking”. It is a basic primer on how to think more effectively when solving problems– and can help students, teachers, and anyone trying to learn or improve their skills.
Like always, I took away a lot from the book– and thought about the principles and how we could apply them to street photography. Here are some of the ideas I learned from the book:
The episode was fascinating to me— as I have always been obsessive with this idea of conquering your fear of shooting street photography.
I notice that out of all the workshops I teach, my introductory “Conquer Your Fear of Shooting Street Photography” course is always (by far) the most popular.
Street photography is one of the most difficult forms of photography out there. Not only do you have to rapidly compose, frame, and approach strangers— but you have to do so with the risk of “injury.” They might injure you verbally (threaten to break your camera, give you a dirty look and call you a creep, or curse at you) or they might injure you physically (try to grab your camera, hit you, shove you, etc).
(A.g.’s note: I asked some of the folks over at Streettogs Academy what part of their street photography they want to improve on. One of the many things that popped up was people are still shy going out to shoot or finding interesting places to shoot in. Hopefully this article gives you new ideas on where to shoot)
The best way to become good at something is if it becomes second nature. You have to constantly build habits and the right attitudes so you can turn something on and be in the zone when you need to. That principle applies to street photography.
If you are still uncomfortable venturing out in the streets, here are some places that can be a great venue to take street photographs without the fear of being hollered upon or confronted so you can concentrate on practicing and making images and not be wary of other things.
I’m sure that at one point in our lives as photographers shooting the streets, there was a time that we get asked to explain what street photography is. When I was starting out, I had no concrete idea what street photography is, let alone explaining to my family and friends. So here’s a simple list that could hopefully help you in telling friends and family about our artform.
Street photography is the most difficult type of photography out there. There is so little we can control, and it takes a lot of courage and confidence to shoot in the streets.
We are insecure. We don’t want people to be brutally honest with us. We like feeling liked. We don’t want to hear the truth, or at least what people really think about us and our work. We like it when things are sugar coated (I know I do), and facing reality can be tough.
I remember when I started photography, I thought I was awesome. I thought my work was incredible, and I deserved fame, glory, and attention.
Then one day, I remember stumbling on the work of the masters and the greats of photography. I then realized my work sucked in comparison to theirs.
At first I was discouraged. I though to myself: I could never be as good as them, why bother even trying?
I always thought to myself: the day I had unlimited money, unlimited time, and unlimited cameras was the day I could truly be creative.
Funny enough, I found out that wasn’t the case. Out of all photographers I’ve met, the ones that are most creative are the ones that are strapped on resources– the ones that have constraints.
One of the most exciting ways to live life is to avoid boredom. By following what makes us curious, passionate, and have fun create meaning in our life.
I think one of the great ways to guide our work in street photography is to avoid boredom.
A few days ago I wrote a letter to my 18-year old self, and gave myself some advice on if I started street photography all over again. I told myself things I learned in the 8 years I’ve been taking street photos. I wish someone told me this when I started off.
Similarly, I was inspired to write this post for young street photographers starting off. I think this can apply to both young photographers (age wise) and also street photographers just starting off (young, experience-wise).
Here I go, I hope you enjoy :)
While in NYC, I visited the ICP bookstore and picked up “Ping Pong Conversations: Alec Soth with Francesco Zanot”
a lovely photobook/series of interview questions. I found it to have lots of great wisdom regarding photographing strangers, editing, and projects.
I copied my favorite excerpts which I found was particularly helpful, especially to those of you who want to be more serious about your photography and projects. Read more to learn from him!
I think one of the most difficult things as a photographer is to stay inspired. How do we stay inspired to shoot everyday– when the boredom and monotony of everyday life sets in?
I recently read some advice by author Ray Bradbury for aspiring writers:
“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”
I think the same applies for street photography. To change the numbers a bit– I think it is impossible to take 100,000 bad street photographs in a row. I think it was Henri Cartier-Bresson who said, “Your first 1,000 photos are your worst.” I think in the digital age, it is more like “Your first 100,000 photos are your worst”.
Assuming you shot 100 photos a day, that would be 36,500 a year. So at that rate, you can reach the 100,000 street photos mark in 3 years. If you’re more prolific and shoot more– you can reach that 100,000 mark much quicker.
I think it is impossible to take 100,000 bad street photographs in a row.
One of the best pieces of advice I got on writing is the importance of writing without editing. Which means, turn off the inner-censor in your mind and write freely.
What or who is the “inner censor”? Well, the inner-censor is the little voice in your head which tells you “Oh don’t do that, that’s stupid. That sounds stupid. That looks stupid.” It is that inner-voice that prevents you from writing in a stream-of-consciousness flow.
- Smile at and compliment a stranger.
- Surprise a friend with one of your favorite prints (for no reason).
- Give a constructive criticism to a street photographer with 0 comments online.
- Promote the work of another contemporary street photographer whose work you admire.
- Go out and only shoot with 1 camera and 1 lens (and turn off your smartphone).
- Contact a local street photographer to go out and shoot together.
- Lend one of your favorite photography books to a fellow street photographer.
- Give away a camera you don’t use to charity, a photography program, or someone in need.
- Donate some of your time by teaching a photography class or lecture to less-privileged students.
- Give yourself permission to take bad shots, enjoy a nice coffee, and shoot to please yourself (not others).
How do you have a good day in street photography? Share your tips in the comments below!
- Don’t speak English (speak the local language)
- Don’t eat McDonalds or drink Starbucks (explore local food)
- Don’t travel with check-in luggage (keep everything to a small carry-on)
- Don’t keep to yourself (make new friends in the streets)
- Don’t try to see everything (it is better to see fewer places more thoroughly)
- Don’t travel without water
- Don’t be addicted to your devices (fast from social media)
- Don’t forget to keep a daily journal
- Don’t stay at an expensive hotel (use more money for experiences)
- Don’t go with a plan; explore, get lost, and be a flaneur
And of course– don’t listen to me. What else don’t you do while traveling? Add to this list in the comments below!
Nowadays. we are all really busy. We have countless commitments at work, at home, with our friends, and with our families. It is really hard to find time to shoot street photography. Not all of us can leave the obligations of the “real world” and just go out and shoot all the time.
Ironically enough even though I am a “full time street photographer”– I still find it really hard to make time to shoot. I spend a lot of time with emails, social media, blogging, finances, helping out Cindy and my family, and church related activities.
If you consider yourself a busy person, here are some tips I suggest to shoot more street photography:
- Don’t chimp (let your shots marinate)
- Don’t look at bad photos (study the masters)
- Don’t spend time on gear review sites when you’re bored (buy books, not gear)
- Don’t worry about your camera (the best camera is the one you have with you)
- Don’t mix black and white and color in the same set (aim for consistency)
- Don’t stop shooting (shoot a lot of bad photos to get a few good ones)
- Don’t worry about how many followers you have (shoot for yourself, like Vivian Maier)
- Don’t publish photos without a second opinion (edit ruthlessly)
- Don’t only take 1 photo of a scene (work the scene, there is more than one “decisive moment”)
- Don’t forget to have fun (life is short, shoot if everyday were your last)
What else would you add to this list? Share what you don’t do in street photography in the comments below!
I recently read something quite interesting about music. The concept was when you’re listening to music, you tend to listen to the treble (high notes) and tend to ignore the bass (low notes).
Therefore the author suggested to get a richer experience listening to music, focus on listening to the bass (not the treble).
So I gave it a go myself. I listened to some of my favorite classical music, and really paid attention to the low notes of the cello in the background (instead of focusing on the high notes of these violins).
Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.
I find this such a beautiful quote not only in life but also street photography.
Many of us are afraid of taking risks, of taking chances. We worry about failure. We worry that others will judge us for our shortcomings. We worry about the worst case scenario.
But in life, we need to take chances. We need to take risks. We need to give things our best shot. By simply not trying, we don’t make any progress and don’t move forward.
In street photography there are a lot of risks face. Risk of getting yelled at, risk of missing the shot, risk of pissing somebody off.
We often hesitate too. For example I have missed thousands of potential photographs because of that split second in which that voice in my head goes, “Don’t take the shot, you might get in trouble or you might upset the person.” The second I have that doubt, I end up not taking the shot (and greatly regretting it afterwards).
In sports players often choke too. This has to do a lot with the pressure to perform. The second basketball players start thinking too much, they often miss the shots. Wayne Gretzky was one of the greatest hockey players in history, yet he has missed countless goal opportunities.
But you won’t ever make a shot unless you take a chance.
So in your street photography take more chances. Be bold. Take risks. Don’t worry about making bad photos. There is a nice quote I like: “To double your success rate, double your failure rate.”
As my friend Charlie Kirk says, “When in doubt, click.” Don’t worry about making perfect photographs. Work hard, hustle, and work the scene. Take multiple photos from different angles. Crouch down. Take a step closer or take a step back. Don’t give up after only one photograph.
Work the scene
To learn more about working the scene and taking more risks, check out my article: “Debunking the Myth of the Decisive Moment.”
If you want to push yourself outside of your comfort zone in street photography, Check out one of my upcoming street photography workshops in Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Sydney, and London.
One of the most interesting concepts I’ve learned recently is the concept of “Systems” vs “Goals” from a book written by Scott Adams titled: “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.”
Basically Scott Adams says that in life we should focus on “Systems” instead of “Goals”. So what is the difference? Scott Adams defines a system as the following:
“A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run.”
“Systems” are daily routines or procedures we do everyday (which we tend to have a lot of control over). For example in the context of street photography, going out and shooting everyday is a system. Buying a street photography book once a month and studying it is a system. Meeting other street photographers in person to get feedback and critique on your work is a system. Systems are much more dependent on the process– not the final result.
“Goals” tend to be external accomplishments that we have far less control over. For example in street photography– goals include: getting 100+ likes on your photos, having your book published by a famous publisher, having a big solo exhibition at a prestigious gallery, and becoming rich and famous through your photography.
So in life and street photography– focus on systems instead of goals. Focus on the daily things that you have control over.
Systems focus on the small daily achievements you make– and the step-by-step progress you make forward. Goals tend to be focused too many on things you have no control over. Not only that, but we tend to get more disappointed by goals as they are harder to achieve.
In conclusion to gain more happiness and progress in street photography– focus on systems, not goals. Now go out and pound the pavement!
The photos in this article are from my new “Detroit” series.
I’ve had the pleasure of being a judge for a handful of street photography competitions: including the International Street Photography Awards 2012, the Urban Picnic Street Photography Contest in 2013, and the International Street Photography Awards 2014.
It was a fascinating experience being a judge– and it has taught me a lot of lessons in terms of how to judge others’ work. More than that, it has taught me to better judge my own work. Here are some lessons I’ve personally learned being a judge, and some tips I suggest when you enter a street photography contest:
It is that time of the year again— to make resolutions for the new year.
In 2014, I wrote a post, “40 Street Photography Resolutions Ideas for 2014” and I also wrote a post titled: “15 Street Photography Assignments to Re-Energize and Re-Inspire You” (inspired by the book: “The Photographer’s Playbook: 307 Assignments and Ideas”).
Below are some personal new years’ resolutions I am going to make for myself in 2015. I will probably break some of them, but will try my best to stick to them. This is advice I will give to myself— and feel free to pick any of these ideas for yourself (or modify them as you see fit). This list is inspired mostly by Nassim Taleb’s New Years Resolutions for 2015.
Here is my personal street photography resolutions for 2015:
- Don’t buy any photo books I don’t plan on re-reading.
Buy at least 1 photo book a month (and get to really know it).
Give at least 1 in-depth comment/feedback/critique (once a week) to a street photographer who doesn’t get any favorites, comments, or feedback on his/her photos.
Try to meet a lonely photographer once a month for a coffee (with no expectation of “networking” or “gain” on my end)
Don’t go a single day without taking a photograph (smartphone is fine).
Don’t own more than 1 type of camera (only own 1 35mm camera, 1 medium-format, 1 digital). If I accrue more than one of each type of camera, either give away to friend or sell. Don’t accept any free cameras (that I wouldn’t buy with my own money).
Walk for at least 15 minutes everyday to make photos (I’m becoming a fat and lazy car-dependent American).
Focus on education and creating value (not money, fame, or external recognition). Engaging the street photography community more and always try to help.
Make my photographs more personal.
Have at least 1 exhibition of my photos (and also curate at least 1 group exhibition). Teach at least 1 free workshop for charity.
What are some New Years’ Resolutions that you have for yourself when it comes to your photography? Share them in the comments below!
A.G.: Today’s feature is a bit different than the usual. As I said in the intro post for streettogs gallery, I would also love to see if you have a work in progress. Today is extra special because we have a photo book to analyze, dissect, and share opinions. But first, I want to share what I look for in a photo book.
A.G.:There is a fine line between cinema and photography. Good cinematography and good photography shows when you have a good arrangement of elements such as light, composition, and subject. But more often than not, a cinematographer has total control of everything while the photographer shooting on the streets uses what the streets provide. So when a photographer is able to show cinematic street scenes, that is a feat of skill in itself. That is why you should check out Ms. Helen Hill’s Mis en scene.
[Read more…] about Streettogs Gallery Feature: Ms. Helen Hill’s Mise-en-scène
When I first started shooting street photography, I was always frustrated that my autofocus would always be too slow to capture the decisive moment. After trudging around the internet, I was first introduced to the idea of “zone focusing” by Markus Hartel on his blog.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with zone focusing you essentially use a high f-stop number with a deep depth of field (f/16 or f/11) and have your camera pre-focused to a certain distance to get your photos in-focus. This is beneficial because although modern autofocusing systems are quite good, they are not 100% reliable. Using zone focusing when shooting street photography allows you to get far more keepers.
Regarding the settings, I typically use the following when shooting:
- Aperture: f/16
- ISO: 800-3200
- Shutter speed: Above 320ths/second
- Prefocus: 1 meter