Power on, set your camera to favorite mode, and adjust for light. Oh! And take the lens cap off and you are all set to shoot… smash down on that shutter button. If that is more or less how you go about getting your photos as a street photographer, then you are well on your way to shooting some really nice results.
And, if you read street photography blogs, watch online tutorials, and follow Cole’s Classroom, then you know many street tips to take your camera skills to the next level. Yet, one of the most overlooked aspects of street 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 street photography makeshift studio, think of your feet first.
A solid foundation is the base for a sturdy building. And while getting your street photographs crisp and clean by having no camera shake is essential, this shooting street photography tutorial will focus more on where your feet are in relation to the environment and subjects rather than a sturdy standing position.
So from here on out, we will assume that camera shake is not a problem while you shoot. 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 in street photography, but getting that special street shot is a very close second. This is where using your feet while you shoot will get you both security and the images you seek as a street photographer.
If you are really 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 before shooting.
Thus you know that traffic SHOULD be predictable and yet you are close but safely shooting off the street. AND if your back is against the post you know nothing can hit you from behind.
Along with these street tips, if you’re shooting with your back up against a wall or are in a corner, you can take shots without worrying about someone snagging your wallet, your camera or other gear you are carrying.
So now that we get safety out of the way, let’s look at some street photography 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 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 street 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 subjects on your images and the background. Standing taller or crouching down will change where your leading lines lead to. Zooming with your camera is NOT the same as moving your feet.
Zooming in and out with your camera changes the relative distance between subjects in a street photo and increases or decreases the depth of field (DOF). Moving your feet and thus the camera changes your images’ entire perspective. You can also try using a lens, such as a wide-angle lens with a focal length of 16-35mm to really change the overall look of the photo.
Shooting upwards gives someone a sense of power… BUT be careful shooting images up at buildings as leaning buildings can make straight lines seem very warped.
Above: This street photo is from a fire walking festival at a Buddhist temple in NE Japan. By getting low with your camera 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 Subjects
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 and street portraits (I love them too), but candid images 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 backside 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 street photography, it can be the difference between getting just something and getting something extraordinary.
So use your feet and find a street 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 our trip #3, its basis is identical — interaction.
In photography, 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 of 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 are no real subjects, find the street background you like (colors, framing, negative space) and wait for that decisive moment in which your subjects pass through. Give yourself a chance by slowing down and by not moving your feet.
This photography concept could also be extended in street photography to focus on the recording of places and images 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
Our next street photography tip is to turn around. We don’t have eyes in the back of our heads so we must use our feet to take great images. As street photographers, there are so many things you can control, but we still capture what images are presented although sometimes we attempt to manipulate it to our creative passions.
So, when it comes to street photography, don’t limit yourself to half of what is out there. Don’t be afraid to turn around even if all the other photographers and cameras are pointed in one direction. Some of the greatest street photography gifts are waiting quietly just behind us.
Above: Walking through old Havana there are thousands of photographs 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 focus on 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 take new images just around the corner. I know the suggestion says to be patient, so do give yourself a chance by letting a photography scene play out, but don’t be stubborn.
Photographers can shoot fantastic street events from so many perspectives. Go out and get street photographs that are a little different than the images on a postcard or what is normally in your portfolio. The easiest way is to get off the main tourist route and search for that decisive moment.
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 your techniques as a photographer, not just the ones on your camera. All that fancy stuff and buttons are really important to lear to a street photographer, it is after all that 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. As photographers, changing your perspective by crouching or finding a different vantage point will give you great street shots and help you to diversify your street photography portfolio.