If you clicked this link expecting a simple technical tip to improve your street photography then you’ve come to the wrong place. This is not an article about getting closer, zone focusing, hip-shooting, camera settings, or using a wide-angle prime lens.
Practicing all of these things is important to be able capture what you see out there in our fast moving world, but thinking too much about this stuff can also distract us from what we should be thinking about, which is what we are seeking to capture out there.
Because that’s ultimately what photography, and more specifically street photography, is; it is about trying to capture what you see and think about life.
Okay, I know you want this tip. So what is this ‘single most important’ tip to street photography?
It’s that you are photographing yourself out there.
Let me explain. Street photographs may seem like random moments frozen in time, but they’re not. When you take all the photos from the body of work of any photographer and put them together, many themes will emerge between those singular images.
And these themes go hand in hand with how the photographer sees and feels about the world.
Now, in case you’re asking yourself by looking at these photos, “Is James Maher an 11 year old redheaded female?” I am certainly not any of those things, but I often gravitate toward people who are comfortable in their skin and their unique looks, especially in our world that is so often focused on picture perfect looks and retouched models. If you look at the shot above, with the subject of the photo wearing bold clothing and accessories that match her unique looks, this gives you an example of what I mean. Even the shape of the flowers in her shirt matches the swirl of her red hair so perfectly and in such a self-celebratory way. If you notice, this is the central theme in the photos that I am showing along with this article.
This tip is not only important for shooting; it is just as important for editing as well. I realized that this was a theme in my work over time by looking through my negatives and organizing them. It took me awhile to recognize this.
When you’re looking over your work on the computer or on a contact sheet, think about what you are capturing and think about what you are trying to say. If you are actively aware of it then you will be much better at finding and capturing it. Think about what you are like and how that relates to your photos. Are you a romantic? Are you angry? Are you frustrated? Are you quirky or funny? Are you an outsider? Or are you a social butterfly?
Me? Half the time I’m overly confident and half the time I’m utterly insecure. It’s probably why confidence is an issue that I often search for.
Think about who you are and how you feel and then go out there and try to find it. Seek out those feelings for your photos. You will be much better at noticing them than anyone else.
Street photography isn’t about finding those lucky or random moments out there, where everything falls into place. Special moments happen everywhere, yet we each only notice a small percentage of them. And what we all notice is slightly different because we each have different interests and insights about life.
This is why defining street photography is so tough to do, because the definition is different for all of us.
So what insights do you have? What does street photography mean to you?
Go out there and photograph yourself.
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