So you know how to read the light and capture a sharp shot. You’re confident in your compositions. You’re not afraid to capture people candidly. You’ve found that this is something that you enjoy doing and you want to continue with it and further your skills.
What comes next? Here are some tips that I think are important to learn and pay attention to as you continue to practice and improve.
Think About How Your Photographs Are Going to Age
Take a look at great street photography from the past. Some of the best images might not have seemed so special back then. A simple shot of a store window back in the 1940s looks much more interesting to me than a shot of the Empire State Building. Everyone photographed the Empire State Building back then, but not many people captured shop windows.
Most of us would do anything to be transported back to a busy street corner in the past to capture images. Every single detail would be fascinating to us. Similarly, people thirty years in the future will feel the same way about every detail surrounding us.
Think about how things will change and try to capture them before they do.
Capture Emotion and Gesture
Once you get over your fear of capturing people candidly, it is easy to capture a shot of a relatively interesting person walking down the street or hanging out somewhere, but the result is often a boring image because nothing is happening. The next step is to capture emotion and gesture. Try to capture people when they have an expression on their face, a look in their eyes, or a gesture in their body.
It is very hard to be in the right position when this happens, but when you are able to make it work the results will be so much better. When you see that person walking down the street, try to watch their face and capture them when an emotion sneaks through. If you pay close enough attention, this happens frequently, but it is very tough to capture because these looks disappear in an instant.
When capturing a person’s body, wait for them to give an elegant gesture. You want them to be loose and in the moment to linger until you see it happen. Most of the time it will not happen, but you’re just waiting for the couple of times that it does.
Create Themes in Your Work
After you have shot for enough hours, days, months, and years you will start to notice ideas and themes in your work. These ideas will start to mimic who you are and how you see people and the world. Shoot in the same areas over and over. The more you photograph the more you will start to see your point of view shine through in your work.
Editing well is the key to noticing this. Make sure to have an organized archive that you can go back to. Star your best images and group them into ideas and themes. Sit back with your work and think about it. The more you do this, the more you will notice ideas within your work, and the more you will see when you are out shooting.
Photograph Where You Live and Work
I am very lucky to live in and to teach a lot of workshops around New York. It’s the mecca of cities for street photography because there is so much content. But some people only shoot street photography when they travel. Some people think that they can only do this type of work here or in another busy city.
That is so far from the truth. New York has been photographed to death. It is so hard to create a somewhat unique image here. Capture life where you are from. Even if there are not many people, there are still elements of culture that you can capture. Capture shots of life without people. Experiment and walk around your town, city, suburb, or rural area searching for these candid slices of life.
The advantage is that you know these areas well so you can show their true essence. Your images will have knowledge and meaning behind them that goes way beyond the tourist type of capture. The more intimate you are with the area the better.
The real key to improving your street photography is simply to do it day in and day out. Repetition and consistency is necessary for your ultimate development. You should try to create a way that will force you to photograph every few days, even if it is for only ten minutes or during a lunch break.
I know many of you probably have a larger SLR, and that is fine if that is the only camera that you have, but you might also want to consider investing in a smaller camera, such as the Fuji X100 line or the Ricoh GR. This will make it enjoyable for you to carry a camera with you no matter where you are going. This will allow to photograph more often. If you don’t have the money to purchase one of these camera, as they are not cheap, then a cellphone camera will also work pretty well for the times that you don’t want to carry your SLR around. The key is that you get out there consistently and capture images with whatever tool you have available.
About the Author:
James Maher is the author of Essentials of Street Photography, which covers everything about the genre even down to specific post processing techniques that can bring the best out of street scenes.
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