street photography for the timid

I've never really had a problem approaching and starting a conversation with people randomly on the streets. Even more so, people apparently don't have any qualms starting a conversation with me. I'd be standing there for a few minutes and before you know it, someone would be talking to me - even in the mind-your-own-business metropolis of London.

I do realise, however, that a lot of people are apprehensive of talking to strangers for whatever reason. I'm not talking about that shady looking character in the dark alleyway at night, no, I mean on a regular street, say, in the middle of the day. This could be a bit of a conflict if you're interested in doing street photography.

Everyone has their own definition of what 'street photography' is to an extent, but most agree that it needs to have a 'human' element to make it truly street. Otherwise, it may well be urban photography, architecture photography or cityscape photography. Personally, I agree with the need for the human element in the story even though I do take a lot of photos on the street that don't involve people.

When it comes to photographing people, some photographers believe in the unobtrusive, candid method of capturing a scene without disturbing it.  This involves either secretly shooting the subject without their knowledge, or getting in and out very quickly that the subject doesn't get the chance to react.  Some photographers may actually pause and then capture the subject's reaction to being photographed.  Another school of thought believes in asking the subject's permission to be photographed. This usually involves interacting verbally with the subject and getting a close up and personal image.

For the timid types that aren't comfortable with either technique, there's still hope. Here are some useful ways to shoot.

1. Shoot them in the back

Yes indeed. Like a soldier without honour, look for your disarmed subject and shoot them in the back. Seriously though, I do this quite a lot. At times I even prefer getting the subject from behind as it makes them seem more part of the scene than just being in front of it. Also since they're usually unaware, they're usually in a very natural pose.

2. Catch them in the act

Sometimes I'd look for people that are totally concentrating on an activity. In this age of smartphones, this should not be too difficult to find. You can also catch street artists, people posting bills, street performers, e.t.c., in the act. Again, they'd either be unaware, or in the case of performers, expect to be photographed anyway.

3. Shoot dummies

Sometimes I find mannequins, dummies and other such depictions of humans to be even more interesting than humans themselves. You can get as close as you want, shoot as many photos as you want without worry of them lashing out at you (well, not until Halloween anyway).

4. Shoot animals

Trust me, most people you meet on the street walking dogs would stop to talk to you if you compliment their animals. Most of the time I don't even talk to the owner at all.  I simply acknowledge them with a smile, and they're more than willing to let me take photos of their dogs, pet rabbits, or whatever. They'd even usually help in positioning the pet for the photo. There are also many street cats in London for example that seem to be happy to pose for you.  This may be the same in your city/town/village. For me, cat's are the most photographable animals of all.

5. Hide behind your cafe glass window

This is one of my favourite things to do - people-watch - with or without a camera. I do this usually with a cup of coffee in a cafe with a large glass window looking unto the streets. What a perfect place to take photos of passers by, or those lucky smokers that can enjoy those nice outdoor cafe seats. Sometimes when I see something interesting, or sometimes just for fun, I'd snap a photo or two. Usually the windows are clean enough.  If not, a wide aperture would usually vanquish any window spots. If you're estimating exposure (using Sunny 16) for instance, beware that the window may drop the quality of light a little, and you may have to compensate by a stop or two. So on a bright sunny day I'd normally opt for f11 rather than f16 when shooting through a cafe window at a subject in the sun.  Another cool benefit is for cameras with loud shutter sounds, which are shielded from your subject.

Like mine, your 'street' shots will probably not win any awards, but you will have fun shooting them. In the end, that's really what matters the most. You have you camera, you love to shoot street photography, why let timidness get in your way? 


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