Week #29: Street Photography

“The magic of the street is the mingling of the errand and the epiphany.”

~ Rebecca Solnit

Believe it or not, Street Photography is not about streets. In fact, no street even be visible – or even a city. Street photography, rather, is about capturing the human condition in its natural setting.

As such, street photography is a mainstay of the medium. Unlike posed models in studios, or snapshots of friends and family, street photography is usually candid, raw, gritty, and observational.

Photography icon Robert Frank is perhaps the best-known street photographer. His work, published inThe Americans, helped define the entire genre, and is often likened to De Tocqueville for his ability to capture the American spirit. (And if anyone’s interested, Shai can probably dig up the essay he wrote about him college.)

Although by no means required, street photography is often shot in black and white, and using a lens with a focal length between 35mm-50mm.

Some people believe that getting a great, iconic shot requires “being in the right place, at the right time.” Well, luckily, that’s a statement of planning and patience, not luck! Choose a busy area with an interesting setting, and hang out there. By framing your shot ahead of time, you can just wait for passersby to pass through your scene, and snap when the moment is right. In street photography, like photography in general, it’s critically important to see how your subject interacts with the setting and background.

Of course you can also take the approach of asking someone on the street to take their photo.

Street photography is all about finding humans being human. Great street photography will elicit an emotion in the viewer – humor, whimsy, anger, frustration, hope, despair, love. So head outside and start people-watching. You’ll be amazed at what you will find!

Tips and Tuts for this week:

  • Take lots of shots! Digital files are not precious. You may need to take hundreds of photos to find the gem.
  • Be mindful of your settings –  better to adjust your focus beforehand, as well as utilizing a quick shutter speed, this way you can freeze the action and avoid blur.
  • Here are 5 great tips for upping your street photography game.
  • 10 Lessons for Street Photography, inspired by the legendary Garry Winnogrand.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out our earlier albums: Street Scene (2011) and Shoot from the Hip from 2012 and 2013 and, as always, the Googles. Also enjoy this video with Magnum photographer and well-known street photographer Bruce Gilden. His style is a little … in your face, for our taste – but he certainly gets results.
Famous street photographers to investigate include Robert FrankGarry Winogrand, Lee FriedlanderJoel Meyerowitz and recently popular Vivian Maier. Also check out one of Yosef’s favorites, Fan Ho.

Extra Credit: From the Hip

For extra credit, don’t look through the viewfinder of your camera. Hold your camera low, and get your shots “blind.” You’ll have to keep in mind your focal length and focus setting as you go out to get your shot, you may also want to employ a wider lens than you would use for regular street photography. Don’t get discouraged if you only get blurs or headless torsos, take lottttttts of shots to get the process down, and you’ll start to see better ratios of gems to throwaways. Here are some more tips for shooting from the hip.
Remember, it is not necessary to work in this Extra Credit piece. It’s extra credit!

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