HandMade Photographic Images

On The Street - Mindset

George L Smyth

EquipmentIf one has photographed landscapes or birds for many years then they have developed a particular mindset that works for those situations. Having used large format cameras for quite some time I can attest that the mindset employed when using the large camera is quite different from that of using a digital camera - actually, it's pretty much the opposite. The street photographer's mindset, like others, needs its own understanding and adoption.

In street photography failure is more common than any other form of photography. Because of the speed involved, the inability to frame the scene as one might wish is more common than can be imagined. Don't worry about missing something - it will happen on a regular basis. Something interesting becomes pedestrian in an instant, so to combat this it is typical to press the shutter many more times than necessary, as the success rate is low. Even though I do not commonly take many pictures, shooting on the street is the only time I carry an extra battery.

The fortunate thing is that this is something that can improved with practice, and one can practice at any time without a camera. When walking in the vicinity of other people, look at anything that might be compelling and think to yourself, "Click." That represents you pressing the shutter release. Continue to watch the scene and determine whether or not additional clicks would be warranted. A common mistake is taking a single image then leaving immediately - occasionally something interesting becomes more interesting as the scene changes.

My first digital camera had a major lag between when I pressed the shutter and when the camera actually took the picture. There was also more than a second delay before I could shoot again, as I waited for the image to be stored on the memory card. Needless to say, this cramped my style when taking pictures on the sidelines of Navy Football games, but I learned to anticipate what would happen and actually did quite well. Anticipation is one of the skills that can be very helpful when shooting on the street. Look at the scene and determine if you can tell what is going to happen, then be ready to take the picture, either with your camera, or by thinking "Click" if you are practising.

"Chimping" is when one takes a look at the screen right after taking a picture, and if one is photographing a distant mountain that will still be there in a few seconds then this is reasonable. However, doing this while on the street just makes no sense, as so many opportunities can be lost. Regardless, what is the use of doing this? One definitely does not want to edit their images on a two inch screen. I cannot count the number of times I realize that I had photographed nothing of interest, but when looking at the image on a larger screen I noticed something that I had not even thought about while on the street. With the size and cost of memory cards these days, all decisions of this sort can be made when one gets home.

Placement of where you stand on the street makes a difference. Although we normally walk on the right side of the sidewalk, all things equal, I walk on the street side of the sidewalk when shooting. In this position pointing my camera at people is more likely to result in a less cluttered background.

When shooting early or late in the day the position of the sun can also be an issue. When shooting in Las Vegas I took the bus to the opposite end of the strip so that as I walked back the sun was in my subject's faces - there is nothing more annoying than coming across an appropriate scene and shooting into the sun so that the faces are hidden in shadow.

Each type of photography requires its own mindset and this is true with street photography. There will be ways of photographing that work for you with this genre that are unlike others, so keep an open mind and employ whatever works best for you.