Seeing and Street Photography

Seeing and Street Photography

The Pose of a Generation.

The Pose of a Generation.

The next time you are out shooting street photography, try this.  Put your camera down at your side and just look around for awhile.  Watch things happen and let moments develop in front of your eyes.

It sounds simple but it goes against our natural instincts to throw the camera in front of our face every time we see something remotely interesting.  That is especially true with digital.

The camera is the tool, but it can get in the way sometimes.

The camera can be easy to hide behind and it can become a crutch.  It’s so easy to rev the engine and just start clicking away, trying to capture everything.  Meanwhile, in the haste the most important moments go unnoticed.

Most of the work that goes into capturing a good photo is done before you put the camera to your eye and after you take it away, in editing.  You need to see the photograph or the potential for a photograph with your eyes before you can get to the point of trying to capture it.

The key is to hold back, slow yourself down and scan the area until you finally see something,  Then you can pounce.  Often, just seeing something isn’t enough and you’ll have to wait for the situation to develop further.

Always think, can this be better?

Gust, SoHo.

Gust, SoHo.

It’s better to be proactive instead of reactive.  You need to see the potential for a moment before it occurs.  Of course there will be great images that will suddenly spring out at you and you will have to photograph them as fast as you can, but that’s only a fraction of the time.

An important tip is to try to notice people from further away, especially in a crowd.  Scan the area and go from person to person.  If you’re only first noticing people as they are 8 or 10 feet away from you, then there’s nothing you can do but react.  Yes, some brilliant photos are created this way, of course, but if you instead focus on the people coming towards you from say 25 feet away, then you’ll have much more of a chance to get in position and capture the moment if it occurs.

The camera is just a tool to capture what your eye sees.  And the more your eye is able to see without the camera, the better your photographs will be.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

James Maher is a professional photographer based in New York, whose primary passion is documenting the personalities and stories of the city. If you are planning a trip to NYC, he is offering his new guide free to DPS readers, titled The New York Photographer's Travel Guide. James also runs New York Photography Tours and Street Photography Workshops and is the author of the e-book, The Essentials of Street Photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Allison September 13, 2013 07:34 am

    Great article and photo tips. I enjoy street photography.

  • Jim Donahue August 31, 2013 01:49 pm

    Love this guys work, I follow him on Facebook and he has a really neat Website

  • Paul's Pictures August 29, 2013 07:32 pm

    There are many places on the internet where you can find the laws in your country. it is different all over the place. Generally you are allowed to use them if you call them "art" and do not use them for commercial purposes like in an advert. But you can sell them as art in MOST places. But you need to check where you live. My advice is look at the internet or even ask your police. But police don't always know and make up stuff.

  • Jackie August 28, 2013 05:39 am

    I have a question. When you take photos of strangers do you need to get their permission before you post the pictures or use the pictures? I have been curious about this for a long time. I have a lot of really cool pics of strangers on streets, at the beach, etc. , but am afraid to share them, because I do not know the laws on this.

  • Zach August 25, 2013 02:48 am

    I like that first picture title. "The pose of a generation."

  • Paul's Pictures August 23, 2013 12:03 am

    great advice indeed. I recently wrote and article that suggests if you are in a new place (even if it's across town) then DON'T use your camera for a while. Get the lay of the land. Sus out what's going on, good backdrops, the type of action going down. All kinds of things are missed if we just jump right in with the camera. The advice to scan from further away is good too. you see things developing or compositions you miss if you're right up close. Remember Capa's quote? Had nothing to do with being physically close at all. It was about being close to the work, which can mean being a bit further away physically. Great images too! I love Pose of a Generation. I wish I had thought of that title!!hah

  • raghavendra August 22, 2013 03:36 am

    Street photography in my hometown

  • Ram August 21, 2013 01:27 am

    I was in Amsterdam last week and tried some panning shots.

  • Nitesh B. August 20, 2013 09:22 pm

    Rightly said James! Camera indeed is just a tool to capture what your eye sees! I follow the above mentioned practice very often while doing streets and I can assure - it works! The thing that I've noticed is, if you suddenly take the camera out and start shooting on streets, then it doesn't works well. People get distracted, some find it offensive. What I usually do is, I go along with the camera on my hand and mix in the crowd. Look around for some unique moments and click it! It goes unnoticeable to most and I get good shots.


  • Mridula August 20, 2013 07:03 pm

    I still do it from a far distance, I am so scared of street photography.

  • Tod August 20, 2013 07:11 am

    i recently went to Sydney for a few days for the sake of taking pictures.
    The first couple of days i constantly had the camera up to my face taking pics, but when i got back at night and looked through them i realised that i had been too into it and as a result had missed a fair bit. On the last day i just took my camera and one lens out and enjoyed being the tourist. I got a lot better results