For this article, I will share essential street photography tips to remember when you travel. I am no pro nor do I have taken lessons in street photography. Just a travel blogger who continues to improve my craft because I am a permanent beta, a work in progress.
When I travel I always take to the streets, the local market, and grocery stores, sit on the sidewalk for hours, and take time to compose a movie in my mind with all the sights and sounds happening before me. I don’t have any criteria, just whatever that seems to tell a story or something new that I don’t see every day. I’m sure you agree, that when you take the time to observe the local scene around, there are a thousand scenes that play before you and arouse your curiosity. That’s the time I aim for my camera and take a shot. But how to improve your skill in taking photos of the local street scene without disturbing it or losing that moment?
Blend in, be a local
Like what they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” So as not to stand out and people looking at you like you stepped out of a gothic novel or from the future. Dress down and be local. If you plan to take photos of the happenings around a Sunday market, then be cheerful as the locals are, greet the vendors and market-goers, and smile a lot.
Seriously, don’t scare the person you want to take a photo of. Avoid taking photos too up close or creeping from behind someone who is buying a bunch of flowers. Avoid stalking them and asking them to go back to the last corner and walk again. A big no-no.
People are also intimidated if they see you aiming your zoom lens at them. They will think that you’re a stalker and that you’re looking for them. Your photo should convey a happy story, not a horror story.
When taking a close-up photo of a person, or a person is your main subject, always, always ask permission first. Smile and make a short introduction of what you’re trying to do. Don’t feel bad or be angry if the person says no. Always be respectful. After taking your photo, remember to always give thanks to the person and bid him/her a good day. This is a golden rule when taking people shots wherever and whenever.
Leave the zoom lens at home
I use my DSLR with its kit lens from when I purchased it. I seldom use a zoom lens or a telephoto lens. I rather take a photo of the scene in its entirety rather than just take a photo of a man tendering to his goods in a flea market.
One more thing, kit lens are lighter to carry around than telephoto lens plus it makes you less intimidated while going around looking for that perfect shot. So when using the kit lens with your DSLR or mirrorless cameras, you’re actually solving 2 problems here. You’re not lugging around a heavy zoom lens like toting a gun at your subjects, plus you get a wider angle photo of the entire scene. Picture perfect.
Tell a story
At the ferry station in Hakone, Japan
Find that angle that tells a story. Find that juxtaposition that includes a slice of humor, irony or daily slice of life so the outcome is that when people look at your photo, they are also composing the story in their minds. This is what makes street photography unique.
So when taking to street photography, walk, sit, and move a lot. Try different angles. Find that juxtaposition that connects the person or subject to the environment or to the backdrop. If you’re in the middle of a Sunday flea market, try to look for that x-factor that made you look the second time. Maybe there’s something there so just snap away.
For the photo above with the tourists consulting a map and a guidebook, I took this photo because it reminds me a lot of me, of how I travel around new destinations. I still do it the old way, with a map and guidebook. So I took a shot.
Prepare your gear
It doesn’t matter what gear you plan to use, as long as it is ready to click away. It would be such a waste when a picture-perfect cute scene of kids playing by the side streets is happening right in front of you, and you realize you forgot to put in the memory card.
If you’re using a DSLR or a mirrorless camera that requires some setting adjustments, make sure that it’s already done before you leave your room. Fussing around your camera settings while walking around is not cool. It not only makes you attractive to muggers and bad elements, but it can also totally waste a perfect scene.
I usually leave my camera in aperture priority mode when in street photography mode for the entire day or night. I also usually leave my auto-focus settings to ON. This way, whenever I see a photo-worthy scene, I quickly click away and take about a couple of shots or more, shifting my camera angle when I can.
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Your street photography skills are always a work in progress. So when you reach a new destination just grab your gear, get out the streets, keep practicing, move a lot, change your angle and if something made you look and stop for a while, just aim and shoot it!