We all have an inner street photographer, whether it be a hidden urge or a full-blown passion. In this Nikon-sponsored video, documentary photographer Nina Berman discusses her approach, on the roads and avenues of New York City, to this style which demands so much instinct, quickness, and versatility:
For a long time, Nikon has been gearing their cameras towards this type of photography by focusing their development on high ISO performance, wide dynamic range, and ever more compact bodies. True to the essence of street photography itself, Berman focuses her project on “speed”. In doing so, she seeks out swift motion and energy, but also embeds her theme on her method of shooting – very immediate and intuitive, often not even using the viewfinder, shooting blindly or from the hip.
These are tried and true techniques for shooting streets; firing without framing leaves your images wide open to absorb amazing slices of life that often elude the more inquisitive eye. Viewing your images without any idea what you’ve taken allows you to look at your own work with the virgin eye of the viewer, without preconception.
Conventional wisdom says that the act of observing changes that which is being observed. Great street photography is truly unique when it succeeds in capturing a moment before it can be altered – the moment is lost if your subject notices the camera and adjusts their manner accordingly. The tiny, scarcely noticeable size of the Nikon 1 V2 and other similarly-sized cameras gives the freedom of a low profile and the ability to be very incognito.
Legendary street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson used a rangefinder, which was a similar sort of idea, for its day – highly compact but excellent quality and very customizable. His contemporaries reported that nobody knew when he took a photograph; he would raise the camera to his face and back down again, as if deciding not to take the picture after all. Mastery of speed and dexterity, combined with a keen eye, ushered him into the royalty of photographic giants.
Next time you go out to shoot streets, remember these few basic tips:
- Be fast, be on your toes.
- Get up high and down low.
- Take a small camera. Blend into the scenery.
- Keep your eyes open; look behind you often.
- Shoot now, think later.
“If you want to start doing street photography, the first thing is you have to realize that there’s no perfect picture, so when you go out there and start walking around and wandering, and you’re thinking, “What is it that I’m looking for? What picture am I here for?”, don’t worry! Go out there, notice how the sun moves across the buildings, notice expressions on people’s faces, just try and get in to the sort of dimension of the street, and then have a camera that’s really comfortable, really light for you. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.”
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