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Photography Basics for Beginner Street Photographers.

I know how you feel…

Street photography is booming. So no better time to learn the photography basics than right God-darn now.

Cameras are getting better and smaller. The advances in technology are making getting ‘that shot’ easier. Street photography’s main advantage over other forms of photography its ease of access. All you need is a basic ‘point and click’ camera and an urban area. Access to which many people now have. Today 54% of people in the world live in urban areas and rising. The ease at which we can share our work on social sites such as Instagram or Unsplash means we have an almost infinite audience if we want it.

Every street photographer has to start somewhere. We all remember our first camera and first time walking the streets looking for shots. And here is the thing — none of us found it easy.

So now I present to you the photography basics that I wish I had known when starting out on my street photography journey.

1. Don’t be afraid to shoot auto at first.

Some see shooting on auto as a lesser form of photography. But not so. This feature means that you have more time to concentrate on the other aspects of street photography, such as framing, location and what you actually want to shoot.

2. Walk an area that you are familiar with.

There is no need to make more problems for yourself than necessary. When starting out, choose an area that you know well and one you know is safe. Again, allowing you to concentrate on getting the shots.

3. Set off with a focus.

I often remember in my early days of street shooting I would wander around Manchester, taking photographs of anything that popped up in front of me. I gave little thought to what actually might look good or has a common theme to it. I later developed the idea to shoot in themes rather than everything and anything. It can help when the ideas and inspiration is just not coming A few examples of good photo walk themes are;

  • Colours
  • Shapes
  • Patterns
  • Street vendors
  • Environment
  • Reflections
  • Mirrors
  • Roads
  • Shoot all shots in landscape
  • Shoot all shots in portrait
  • Shoot a particular street corner for 1 hour
  • Shoot angled up/down only
  • Shoot bad shots on purpose

The above have all been a photo walk focus of mine at some point.

4. Don’t hide / Be confident.

One beginner mistake is to think that to get the most candid shots, the photographer has to hide from the subject. This couldn’t be further from the truth. People are way more suspicious and wary of someone trying to conceal their actions. As a photographer, you shouldn’t feel like you are doing anything wrong. You should aim to move in as close to your subject as possible. The first time you take a shot of a stranger face to face is such a rush. You will want to keep coming back for more.

5. Use a prime lens.

Street photography is most suited to prime lenses. In my opinion, 50mm primes (or equivalent) are best. They replicate closely what the human eye sees. And without the need to change focal length, and no moving parts, the glass can be much higher quality. Lenses with variable focal lengths are useful in a lot of situations. Yet they also make you lazy as a photographer. You rely on technology to get the shot. Instead, you should rely on your wits, skill and foresight. Learn to move your feet and manoeuvre into position.

6. Experiment with the Photography Basics.

Don’t be afraid to take bad shots. Even the most experienced street photographers take bad shots….lots of them. Sometimes that is what it takes to get one or two shots that you can say are great. To me, street photography is not a precise art. It’s a feeling. If something makes you feel something, take the photograph. Experiment with the rules, break them, make your own, whatever it takes. As you progress, never stop experimenting. Always try to push yourself into new ways of seeing the street.

7. Overcome ‘THE FEAR’ as soon as possible.

Staring a person in the eye and taking a photo of them takes some courage at first. Its scary stuff. The fear of engaging strangers can inhibit your ability to take a shot if you let it take control.

A good way to face your fear head-on, is to go out and ask as many people as possible, ‘can I take your picture”? Don’t stop asking until you have at least five yesses and five nos. You will soon realise that there is nothing to be afraid of. Confidence is a photographer’s best friend.

8. Smile.

It may seem obvious. But a big smile goes a long way. If you are taking someone’s picture, fire them a big cheesy grin afterwards. I promise you they will be way more inclined to smile back and not get upset about you taking a picture of them. A big smile has helped me out of many sticky situations.

So now you know the photography basics and are ready to walk confidently into the world and grab some great shots. Walk tall, fine artists.

Questions or comments on my article ‘Photography Basics….’? Feel free to leave them below.

Check out my other guides here.

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