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Street Photography for the Novice

A Guest Post By Kimberly Gauthier

street-photography-novice.pngStreet photography is a fantastic idea in theory, but when I first took a crack at taking pictures on the streets of Downtown Seattle, I got nothing. I walked around for an hour, spotting great photo ops, holding my camera tight against my chest, waiting for someone to either yell at me for taking their picture or steal my camera. It took a couple of years to get up the nerve to start taking pictures and now I always take my camera into the city. Here are 10 tips that helped me get over my street photography shyness.

1. Thieves! They’re All Thieves! – No, they’re not

I was convinced that every person who showed any interest in my camera was planning to jack my gear. It never occurred to me that people were wondering what I was doing. A DSLR camera is pretty impressive if you don’t already have one. The interchangeable lenses practically make us professionals. And now-a-days, everyone is walking around with a DSLR camera; so I’m never alone on the streets of Seattle.

2. Leave the camera bag behind

I used to take my bag and lenses – I needed them. It was a pain to lug all that about the city and changing lenses was hazardous in a crowd. Carrying around my gear screamed “I have over $2,000 worth of camera equipment, wanna steal it?” Now I choose a lens, usually my 50mm, and head out on the town. I just look like a tourist now.

3. Don’t photograph people without their permission

Okay, if a person is 100 feet away, they’re background noise. I’m talking about getting up into someone’s face with my 50mm lens. Some people don’t like that; it’s apparently intrusive. And people morph into celebrities who “want to be alone” when they see the paparazzi (that’s me) walking around.

So, I keep people in the background, I focus on a hand or legs, or I offer to pay with a dollar or a print (yep, that works). I get weird when a family member points a camera at me; I have to respect that people are going to get weird when a stranger does the same.

4. Stay out of the stores

This is a definite no no. Thankfully, I didn’t learn this one first hand – I called beforehand. I can only guess that the stores think I’m from the competition, taking pictures of their inventory and layout, so I can open up shop across the street. A barista told me that competitors would take pictures of her pastry set up to use in their marketing materials. Ballsy! Whatever the case, you can’t take pictures in the big name stores. Some of the smaller, non-chain, boutiques are okay with photographers; it doesn’t hurt to ask.

5. Go to the tourists spots

Want to challenge yourself? Go to a tourist hot spot and take the pictures the tourists miss. I love hoofing it down to Pike Place Market. I’m surrounded by cameras, so no one pays any attention to me. The vendors, street musicians, and tourists are used to photographers so no weirdness there. And because I’m not a tourist, I can focus on finding and composing great shots. Take pictures of popular subjects in your own, unique way. Bring patience with you, because when it’s crowded, people always get in your shot.

6. On the flip side, go to a non-touristy spot

Challenge yourself by going to the non-obvious locations or a less traveled path to capture something interesting. Instead of taking pictures at The Market, go one block east or north. When I’m at the zoo, I’ll go to the exhibits that have fewer visitors and try to get close to the ones that are closed.

7. If the subject’s not interesting, get closer

Macro and close up photography isn’t the answer to everything, but it can help turn the mundane into something interesting. Show the texture in the tree instead of the tree. Show the bee on a flower instead of the bush.
For this reason alone, I usually bring my 50mm f/2.8 macro lens along with me; it’s has proven to be the perfect walk about lens.

8. One shot; get it right

I do two things to make sure I’m happy when I upload to Lightroom. (1) I compose some of my images to capture three things, focusing on one and (2) I take 3-4 pictures of the subject; landscape, portrait, centered, to the right. This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth it when compared to the disappointment of realizing that I didn’t get the shot and there’s no re-doing that moment.

9. Jump Off Settings

Another reason why I shied away from street photography was because I thought I’d miss my shot while bungling around with my camera settings. Now, when I hit the street, I take a test shot and then adjust my settings accordingly – this saves me loads of time as I’m walking down the street, because I don’t have to change all the settings that often, just a few tweaks here and there..

Once I got over the anxiety of shooting in public, I was heading off to the city with my camera regularly. The only people who seem to notice are other photographers. We take a moment to size each other up, take a peek at what we’re shooting with, and (in my case) if it’s another Sony Alpha photographer, there’s an energetic chat about gear and “glass.” This brings me to the last thing.

10. Bring business cards

I hand out business cards to other photographers (networking) and photography lovers (blog readers) every time I’m out and about. This is one of the few times when I get to network with photography lovers face to face, so I jump on this opportunity to make contacts.

Kimberly Authier writes a photography blog for amateur photographers at Through the Lens of Kimberly Gauthier.

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