Armed with an iPhone, the world and his aunt considers himself a street photographer nowadays, but it takes a certain intuition, perfect conditions and an element of luck to shot something special.
Before you even leave your front door study the masters of the craft: Henri Cartier Bresson, William Klein and Daido Moriyama, to name but a few. These guys were not capturing extraordinary times or unusual situations but their photographs remain iconic for their candid honesty.
It’s all about getting familiar with your camera so you can work fast, wearing dark clothing, keeping your elbows in and heading for the street! Here are five pointers to help you on your way…
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” — Elliott Erwitt
It might sound an obvious place to begin, but great candid street photography involves chance. With lady luck as your mistress it is important to give yourself good odds, so carry your camera everywhere you go and take as many shots as possible. Practise on your pals and at family occasions if you are self-conscious with strangers, catching them unaware for natural and unexpected images. It also is worth noting that you are more likely to take startling candid images in your own neck of the woods. Being familiar with the terrain frees up your mind and imagination to look for the unexpected.
Be Aware and be Agile
Wear good footwear and keep your eyes wide open. Think of yourself as a wildlife photographer anticipating human movement and behaviour in order to place yourself strategically where the action is best viewed. Patience is your friend and your new superzoom telescopic lens is not.
Seriously guys, leave the zoom lenses at home. Robert Capa famously said “If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough” and he should know. Candid street photography is about intimacy, immediacy and connection to your subjects – you are not a paparazzi. Be prepared to move in amongst and around your subjects.
As I said before, great street photography is not about the extraordinary, it is about the ordinary made exceptional, often through clever and unexpected framing. As when considering the composition of any shot, think about alternative angles.
At the same time as forging an intimacy between you and your subject you need to think of human beings as shapes, lines and angles in relation to their background environment. With street photography, carefully consider context, as the amount you include totally alters the mood of the shot.
One of my all time favourite street photographers, Saul Leiter, is a great example of someone who robs his images of all context for striking visual results. On the other hand a great way to create compelling candid shots is to frame your subject within their context, using the foreground to inform the most important part of the image.
Listen to the Light
The best street photography is au natural with as little post-production as possible… if you really want to create organically interesting work try to stick with the light you are given and work it to your full advantage. Get out early for clear, fresh shots and make full use of those atmospheric long shadows to create interesting effects and further distort the context we just talked about.
Different photographers have vastly different approaches to how truly candid they like their candid shots to be! Though you might not feel good about it, the most authentic street photography captures its subjects without them even noticing the camera. A great deal of surreptitiousness is won by knowing your camera like you know your own hand, allowing you to shoot quickly and discreetly without faffing around with exposure settings and the like.
If you want to go truly undercover there are lots of fun and sneaky tricks you can try. For example get your smartphone out, whack in the headphones and pretend to be having a loud and animated conversation, whilst all the while recording whatever chaotic scenes you find yourself in. It also pays to look out for subjects that are either massive extroverts or equally huge introverts. The former, exhibitioning their garish fashion sense or outlandish mannerisms will quite likely want to be photographed. The latter, immersed in their own inner world, will scarcely notice if the shutter clicks right in their ear.
The fact of the matter is that, even armed with these handy tips, original street photography is 98% flair and intuition. No book can teach that. However, if you are prepared to put the time into developing a style and technique that works for you, taking candid shots in the street can be one of photography’s most simple and rewarding joys.
What are you waiting for… get out there and start prowling your neighbourhood for visual delights!
What are some of your favorite cities for candid street photography? Any particular memorable moments you have? Let me know in the comments below!