(Skip if you want to save time and jump to the real start)
I started this blog to write, gallery-focused, short, and informative articles. After reading numerous blogs and watching countless YouTube videos, I realized that I often only took away small, fundamental tips. What could be quick and informative turned out to be long and ambiguous. Street photography is a subject that has been covered in depth by far better photographers than me. So, if I were you, I'd stop reading now—just kidding, because mine includes a gallery, and what aspiring photographer doesn't enjoy a mediocre gallery?
I won't write eight pages discussing all the photography greats or even what qualifies as street photography. Instead, I'll share a few key components that have made me a better photographer, especially in this genre. I hope to streamline your learning process and offer a full money-back guarantee. If I’m wrong I want my money back.
The Real Start:
Let's begin with the obvious: a well-composed, perfectly balanced photo may be good but not necessarily great. In my opinion, a good photograph's key element is its ability to evoke emotion and tell a story. Perhaps a photo taken at sunrise in Santa Monica takes you back to your childhood, or an image of someone reading a newspaper with a striking headline in Midtown Manhattan resonates with you. Some of the most iconic photos ever taken aren't perfectly composed or technically flawless. The point is, photography, especially street photography, is subjective. Try capturing what evokes emotion in you and tells a story. Don't just follow this month's trends. Be yourself, be original, and avoid being as cheesy as this statement, but seriously, authenticity shines through the noise.
The Big Three (In my humble opinion):
- Dynamic Lighting
- Subject Matter
- Leading lines and framing
1. Dynamic Lighting:
This could be an entire book on its own. Look for dynamic lighting, as sometimes it alone can make a great photo. You can also "fish" by waiting for an interesting subject to enter the frame you have composed with great lighting, I find myself doing this constantly. For the sake of keeping this article somewhat short as promised we are going to break dynamic lighting up into two large categories.
Natural Light: which can vary throughout the day. During sunrise and sunset, the soft, warm light creates long shadows and a golden hue, adding depth and drama to photos. At midday, ( my favorite) harsh sunlight can cast strong shadows and highlights, creating striking contrasts!
Artificial Lighting: artificial lighting plays a significant role. Streetlights, neon signs, car headlights, and illuminated store windows introduce a dynamic mix of colors and intensities that can be creatively harnessed in photos.
2. Subject Matter:
Equally, if not more important than dynamic lighting which is why it's number two on the list. ( Some photographers will argue it should be # 1 but they can write their own article). I believe you can have a bad photo with good subject matter, but it's hard to have a bad photo with good dynamic lighting. (Thats why subject matter is # 2 in my book or article, ah whatever ). Even if your photo is plain, it’s usually aesthetically pleasing. Also something to note, sometimes what you choose to keep out of frame is just as important as what you choose to include in regards to subject matter.
If your out shooting and the lighting is flat, look for unique subject matter instead of dynamic lighting, add some leading lines and framing and now your talking! Speaking of leading lines and framing.
3. Leading Lines and Framing:
I think we can all agree that this is appropriately positioned on this list.
Leading Lines: guide attention, add depth, and create perspective. In street photography, you can find leading lines in various elements, such as roads, sidewalks, railings, architectural features, and sometimes sleeves of garlic. (Pictured below) Usually leading lines on their own will not constitute a good photograph. (some will argue)
Framing: uses elements within the scene to frame and emphasize the subject, like doorways, windows, and archways.
4. Number 4
In an ideal world, every photo would contain all three elements, but that's not always the case. Achieving this often requires working a scene, being creative, and a touch of luck. There are weeks that I go out take hundreds of photos and get nothing, and that’s okay.
I almost forgot the most critical element, the reason we do what we do:
Number 4: which is probably more important than numbers 1, 2, or 3 (certainly more important than number 3, though people will argue about anything nowadays). Tell a story and evoke emotion. I don't think the second can be achieved without the first. You can’t evoke emotion without telling the viewer a story. No one cares about the technicalities if they look at a photo and immediately feel something.
A few other noteworthy "pro" tips:
- Shoot in Manual or Aperture Priority: Learning how to shoot in manual mode or aperture priority mode gives you greater control over your photos. Especially when working with dynamic lighting!
- Understand Your Gear: It's essential to know your camera and lenses inside and out. Whether your gear is from 1973 or 2023, you need to get familiar with what your shooting!
- Use Various Focal Lengths: Using a variety of focal lengths, including telephoto lenses like an 85mm prime or a 70-200mm telephoto, allows you to diversify your photography. Different lenses can help you isolate subjects, create different perspectives, and achieve unique compositions.
- Replicate Styles with Your Flare: It's a great idea to find photographers whose work you like and replicate their style. This can be a valuable learning exercise. However, remember to infuse your creativity and personality into your work to make it your own.
- Engage with Your Subjects: Building a connection with your subjects can lead to more genuine and captivating portraits. Don't be afraid to approach people you're photographing, strike up conversations, and establish a rapport. It can lead to more relaxed and natural shots.
"In conclusion, if you want to advance your street photography techniques or are just feeling stuck, figure out the story you want to tell. Utilize good lighting and composition. Go fishing. Work the scene to consider what could make the photograph better – perhaps using leading lines to guide viewers to the subject , take one step over to eliminate unnecessary elements, or stepping back to frame your subject effectively. If you try these techniques, your street photography will improve or my money back, guaranteed.
As always if you have any question, feel free to drop them in the comments below. I plan on deep diving into each of these topics in the future as well!