From ‘The Big Apple’ to ‘The Big Durian’, every city around the world has its own unique personality and character traits. While cityscapes, markets and street signs all play a part in a city’s personality, it is truly defined by its inhabitants. While postcards and tourist videos show off a city’s polished attractions, a street photographer often presents a gritty authentic slice of life. And of course, what might seem a daunting activity to beginners, can be one of the most exhilarating and rewarding ways a photographer can express themselves. Before you dip your toe into the world of street photography, we wrote up a few things we thought you might consider first.
For many street photographers, there is no debate about what type of lens to pack in your bag – a 50 mm prime lens. This is seen as the ideal standard, as it provides a field of view very similar to what the human eye offers. The best street photography transports its viewer to a moment in time, and a 50 mm lens such as the AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G can give your photos a familiar intimacy. It also allows you to capture a reasonable amount of the surrounding scene, which endows your photos with all-important context.
There is an argument to be made, that a zoom lens allows you a better chance of truly uninterrupted moments; however, once the initial awkwardness you might feel about shooting subjects in the street subsides, we recommend getting in close to your subject matter.
Cities are in a constant state of motion. From the rhythmic movements of street sweepers to the harried rushing of commuting hordes, city life doesn’t stand still for the perfect moment. Capturing these fleeting moments is the essence of street photography. Whether your eye catches a rickshaw driver hurtling down a laneway, or a streetball game in full flight, two things are key to make sure you get a sharp shot: a fast shutter speed and fast lens with superior tracking capability on a moving subject. And to further your chances of getting that perfect shot, opting for continuous shooting mode instead of single shot can really pay dividends.
Unlike sunsets and full moons, there is no schedule that the streets adhere to. Don’t expect to head out with your camera for 20 minutes and strike gold. The best street photography captures natural, unscripted moments, and rather than going in search of them, it’s sometimes better to let them come to you. Find a busy street corner or an interesting streetscape, make yourself comfortable and watch the world unfurl in front of you. This way, you’re always at the ready to take a snap in an instant, and it also gives you a degree of control over your composition.
For beginners, street photography with people as subjects can be an intimidating prospect. It is often said that the aim is to ‘steal a moment’ and informing the subject in advance may alter the authenticity of your photo. If you see a moment, shoot it.
Do note that you should prepare yourself for the occasional negative reaction. Always be polite, explain that it’s a hobby, and offer to send them photos if the situation calls for it. If your subject is not comfortable being in the photo, it is important to respect their personal preference.
Whenever one is shooting for commercial usage, always be mindful to ensure the proper portrait and usage rights are attained before using the photo(s) commercially.
As mentioned, street photography requires a certain amount of boldness, but no photo is worth endangering yourself. When you head out into the street, it’s important to remember that there is an element of the unknown. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, but it’s important to keep your wits about you, especially when shooting in traffic-filled streets or unfamiliar neighbourhoods.