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The noble pursuit of street photography requires a good measure of cunning and bravado. Of course, there is the ever present hurdle of luck and opportunity. Beyond knowing your streets, their patterns and ad hoc events, getting that wonderful shot is a guessing game.

When you are in the right place and you see the converging paths that will result in a great decisive moment, you need to be able to capture the scene. This can be learned and practised. Here are some practical tips to help you build your street photography confidence.

I feel like I’m wearing a sign that says, “Look everyone, a street photographer!”

I know what you mean. When I first started out, doing street photography, I was so focused on seizing photo opportunities I could see people staring back at me. On numerous occasions people I spotted as a potential photo saw me and moved away. Market vendors are deeply suspicious and, even now, I still get glared at.

I quickly realized I was missing shots because I was looking conspicuous and acting a bit weird. That slow purposeful walking and excessive bobble headed looking, then stopping and staring for longer than normal people stop and stare. Very conspicuous.

Watching

What changed?

Tourists. London is a tourism mecca and even on week days, the capital is buzzing with visitors from all corners of the globe. I take quite a lot of photos of tourists but, when I don’t want them in my shot, they can be quite annoying. In fact, tourists annoy everyone as they parade through other peoples’ photos with no remorse. Here’s the real value though. While people are irritated with tourists being in their way, they are also tolerated. Others, particularly locals, don’t shy away from their business. They jostle through the visitor throng, or continue their conversations. Tourists are, for the most part, ignored!

This was a great revelation for me and, as a street photographer, I decided to be just like a tourist.

Don’t look conspicuous

Days Gone By

Dress casually and for walking

Check the weather and wear layers for the best and worst of the predicted forecast. I would steer clear of photographer jackets and other ‘practical’ photographer clothing. Think tourist: jeans, sweaters, hoodies, etc. I’ve tried a street photo walk in a three piece suit after a morning meeting. Don’t wear a suit either!

Personally, I recommend a small camera

Before you all jump to berate me, this is my recommendation for being inconspicuous as a street photographer. I used to walk the streets with a 1D Mark IIn and a 50mm f/1.2L lens. An extraordinarily capable camera with a decent fast lens. More often than not, the people I paused to photograph would see this camera and curtly move aside because the professional wants to take a photo and we’re in the way. And the shutter! On a train, I would stealthily raise this camera and fire off a shot. The looks I would get from people being loudly ‘papped’!

Use the neck strap on your camera

Raising a camera from your side to your face could be enough to be seen. With your camera around your neck, raising it to your eye is much less apparent. Of course, you can point your body and shoot ‘from the hip’ without moving the camera.

Carry a small bag or backpack

I take a spare battery, SD card, lens cleaner pen, business cards and a waterproof bag. That’s all, for the entire day’s shooting.

You don’t need a tripod.

Now step forth and be bold!

Hard Sell On The Vintage Cameras

So now you look pretty much like a stereotypical tourist with a camera, how do you act like one?!

Tourists look around a lot and walk slowly, but casually, taking in the scenery. As an exercise, try putting your camera in its bag and just walk around taking in the location. Can you still carry off that casual saunter with your camera in your hand or around your neck?

The second tip, and equally as important as the first, is to look through people rather than at them. Tourists look at the scenery and other people are simply obscuring their view. People will quickly realise they are not the focus of your attention if you are looking past them to what is behind them. It will take a while, but you’ll become practised with seeing a potential photo whilst still looking nonchalant.

Personally, I shoot with a rangefinder. Most of my shots are from around 15 feet away, so I leave my lens focused at that distance for quick response captures, like when someone walks toward you.

Otherwise I will focus for distance and then frame the shot. The trick here is to focus on another object which is the same distance as your subject. Then turn to your subject and shoot. You have minimized the time you are gazing at them by focusing elsewhere.

Street Portraits

Girl Without A Name

Occasionally I will see someone who would make a great street portrait. I carry business cards around and this supports my brand as a street photographer. It’s this that gives me that needed boost to actually approach someone.

Be bold and polite and, this is imperative, know how you want them to pose. You have one chance to get them in position, after all, they’re doing you a favour.

As I approach the person I might say, “Hi, I really like your outfit/tattoo/hair/etc and I wondered if I can take your portrait?”

Take one shot. Check composition on your LCD. Take one more if necessary.

This is where I thank them and hand over a business card. I explain I’m a street photographer and point out my web site so they can go find their picture. This post photo exchange makes me feel less of an intruder and, hopefully, they are not fazed by the two minute distraction either.

Final thoughts

Hopefully these small tips will help you take street pictures while getting over the nervousness of simply trying to take photos. Through practice and experience, you will learn how people react and what you can get away with.

I don’t like to invade the intimate privacy of people or chase them down or ask them to walk back along the route I liked, so I do have a line I won’t cross, but I don’t miss a shot through lack of confidence.

Good luck!

2014 was an eye opening year for my photography. I realised I am still not capturing a real sense of London and I took quite a break to further think about the message to be conveyed in my images.

There were a few decent snaps though and here are some, in no particular order.

Descent

Puddle Jumper

Hot Wash

The Apple Effect

iAngel

Please Open

The Walls Have Eyes [Explored]

Baker Street [Explored]

Step 4 For Phone Calls [Explored]

Time Enough To Sleep [Explored]

I’m not sure why I chose to take this guy’s photo, but being caught taking the shot has actually made the shot interesting.

City HeatCity Heat

Why this is a keeper is that it was baking hot and I distinctly recall being parched and in need of hydration. This guy, in boiler suit and gloves, is a contrasty harsh vision of the heat that day.

It could be my eyes too but, full size and from about 5 feet, the perspective is strange too!

I hope the Summer isn’t quite finished with us just yet.

Wandering through Gerrard Street only to pause at this chap who was staring intently at one end of the street. Who knows why, but his brolly could not have been more useless under the searing sun.

Zero Chance Of Rain

Walking round the West End and Mayfair, it was wonderful to witness tourists and London locals all soaking up the summer sun.

Sunny London Friday Afternoon Part I

Kids and water! Whoever designed this monument to Bill Shakespeare knew there would be zillions of kids and their families in the summer.

Sunny London Friday Afternoon Part II

Ye old drinking culture shot is a bit misleading, what with Londoners drinking each and every lunch time rain, shine, winter or summer!

Sunny London Friday Afternoon Part III

Not my usual style, but I took a few of these scenes giddy from the atmosphere, dehydration, call it what ever.

Hope your weekend is relaxing and sunny!

From London’s Streets

July 23, 2014 — 2 Comments

The challenging street photography continues with London’s ongoing meltingly hot summer. I’m not complaining, well I am a little about the harsh light, people on the streets are entirely different in winter and summer. Different like wanting to be outside versus having to be!

Head Start

The Look

Uphill Battles

Incidentally, the London Suit will wear jacket and tie 46 weeks of the year. 3 weeks, at the apex of summer, they’ll remove their jacket and tie and, transversely for the remaining 3, in the most inclement cold of winter they’ll don a winter coat. Which is just a knee length suit jacket with thicker material.

Enjoy the sun and the coming weekend folks.

 

I don’t stumble through Lancaster Gate’s turnstiles by chance. When I join Ian Brumpton for spritely street photo walks I have ended up here. The one other reason is to visit the Serpentine Gallery and their new Pavilion each year. Here’s a shot from my 2013 visit.

It’s a fast 10 minute walk through the well tended gardens to the Pavilion so, in this 30 degree weather, drink plenty of water!

Serpentine Gallery Pavillion, 2014, by Smiljan Radić

Smiljan Radić is the fourteenth architect to accept the invitation to design a temporary Pavilion outside the entrance to the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens.

Occupying a footprint of some 514 square metres on the lawn of the Serpentine Gallery, plans depict a semi-translucent, cylindrical structure of fibreglass, designed to resemble a shell, which rests on large quarry stones. This work has its roots in the architect’s earlier work, particularly The Castle of the Selfish Giant, inspired by the Oscar Wilde story and the Restaurant Mestizo – part of which is supported by large boulders.

The 2014 Pavilion is designed as a flexible, multi-purpose social space with a café sited inside. Visitors will be encouraged to enter and interact with the Pavilion in different ways throughout its four month tenure in the Park.