6 Street Photography Tips for Better Photos!
Power on, set your camera to favorite mode, and adjust for light. Oh! And take the lens cap off and you are all set… smash down on that shutter button. If that is more or less how you go about getting your photos, then you are well on your way to getting some really nice results. And, if you read photography blogs, watch online tutorials, and follow Cole’s Classroom, then you know many more tips to take your camera skills to the next level. Yet, one of the most overlooked aspect of photography is your feet. So the next time you are out on the street, traveling through your dream destination or just practicing in your backyard or makeshift studio, think of your feet first.
A solid foundation is the base for a sturdy building. And while getting your photographs crisp and clean by having no camera shake is essential, this tutorial will focus more on where your feet are in relation to the environment and subject rather than a sturdy standing position. So from here on out we will assume that camera shake is not a problem. And this also assumes that you are not physically manipulating the camera with your feet, wink wink!
Stay safe in busy areas!
Safety is paramount, but getting that special shot is a very close second. This is where using your feet will get you both security and the image you seek. If you are real serious about your passion, you know that you have taken a fall and when people ask if you are all right, you respond with, “yes, the camera is fine.” If you think with your feet you can find a position that is both safe and can create a successful shot. For example, on the street find a traffic signal to put your back up against. Thus you know that traffic SHOULD be predictable and yet you are close but safely off the street. AND if your back is against the post you know nothing can hit you from behind. Along with this idea, if you have your back up against a wall or are in a corner, you can with peace of mind take shots without worrying about someone snagging your wallet or other gear you are carrying. So now that we get safety out of the way, let’s look at some ideas about how using your feet will improve your photographic visions.
Above: Shot on the busy streets of Singapore at night, needed the movement of the city to show the dynamic nightlife. For a long exposure I needed time and a place to put my tripod. In the middle of the intersection there was a traffic light. I got as close to it as I could and I didn’t need to watch my back.
Change your perspective.
In sports athletes and coaches say, “its a game of inches,” and if we quote Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday, “You have got to fight for that inch.” So too is photography. A simple step left or right will move the branch from sticking out of the back of your model’s head. A step forward or backward will change the framing of the subject and the background. Standing taller or crouching down will change where your leading lines lead to. Zooming is NOT the same as moving your feet. Zooming in and out changes relative distance between subjects in a photo and increase or decreases the depth of field (DOF). Moving your feet and thus the camera, changes your entire perspective. Shooting up gives someone a sense of power… BUT be careful shooting up at buildings as leaning buildings can make straight lines seem very warped.
Above: This photo is from a fire walking festival at a Buddhist temple in NE Japan. By getting low you can see the monk’s feet in the snow, the fire and the three monks on the opposite side. Getting low changes the perspective of the event.
Interact with the subject.
Whether it is a person, animal or an inanimate object interact with it. The natural state of things can be fantastic and frequently ethereal, but making a connection can bring out personality. If humans were truly satisfied with the state of nature we would still be hunter-gatherers. So get your candid shots (I love them too), but candid can also be in a state of interaction, not only observational inaction. Don’t be afraid of getting up close, or moving your feet to get a profile instead of head on. Or how about walking around the back side to get a silhouette? Interacting is done with your feet, so go out and use them!
Above: This man is smoking a traditional beedi style cigarette from Rajasthan, India. Here a zoom lens helped to isolate the subject but I had to move my feet to get really close to him. Interacting with him and his friends helped me to gain their trust.
Find a spot and be patient.
Patience is a virtue, and in photography it can be the difference between getting just something and getting something extraordinary. So use your feet and find a spot that you can set in and visualize the scene and its future events. Calm feet will produce a calm mind. While this idea seems to be the opposite of #3, its basis is identical– interaction. Being able to observe is action. Creating stillness is an action. In a busy and chaotic environment, find a place that gives you the ability to work while not in the way of the actual events yet still able to capture them. Easier than giving a specific example of where this might be, is to give a couple examples of where NOT to stand. One would be in a doorway, or along the hiking trail, as both are areas designated for people to walk through or walk along.
In a scene where there is no real subject, find the background you like (colors, framing, negative space) and wait for a subject to pass through. Give yourself a chance by slowing down and by not moving your feet. This concept could also be extended to the recording of places that have great potential for future use at another time– like an unusual place for a wedding photo, a hiking trail in the spring or a construction site in a city.
Above: At a smaller church on the back side of a market in ChiChi Guatemala known for its Mayan heritage I saw a fire burning. I knew that something would come along and interact with the fire. Taking a rest I waited and sure enough a woman came by to light her incense and begin her Mayan prayers.
Turn your feet around.
Last is to turn around. We don’t have eyes in the back of our head so we must use our feet. As photographers there are so many things you can control, but we still capture what is presented although sometimes doing we attempt to manipulate it to our creative passions. So, don’t limit yourself to half of what is out there. Don’t be afraid to turn around even if all the other cameras are pointed in one direction. Some of the greatest photography gifts are waiting quietly just behind us.
Above: Walking through old Havana there are thousands of photo opportunities. I have made a habit of frequently looking behind me after I take a photo of what is in front of me. And this time I was lucky to get a mother and child catching a little fresh air standing in the doorways of their apartments with beautiful vibrant colors
Move your feet to explore.
Whether you are in a city, countryside, a cultural festival or client shoot there is always an opportunity to see something new just around the corner. I know suggestion says be patient, so do give yourself a chance by letting a scene play out, but don’t be stubborn. Fantastic events can be seen from so many perspectives so go out and get a photos that is a little different than what is on a postcard or what is normally in your portfolio. The easiest way is to get off the main tourist route and explore.
Above: In Lake Atitlan Guatemala there are markets galore selling colorful items to tourists. But with a little exploration just beyond the market there were a few ladies actually making the material on traditional looms. This young girl was learning from her grandmother. Don’t be afraid to go beyond the main street and discover something new.
Shooting with your feet ensures that you are making full use of photographic techniques, not just the ones on your camera. All that fancy stuff and buttons are really important to learn, it is after all what you pay for, but getting that fancy camera and lens in the right position must be done by moving around. Go out and get your feet wet (and this might mean literally), interact with the subject and stay safe. Changing your perspective by crouching or finding a different vantage point will give you great photos and help you to diversify your portfolio.