I love the poignancy of street photography; the way it can portray the world in an ironic, tragic, educational or funny way – often all at the same time! I would love to have the confidence to point my lens directly at someone and shoot, even from a distance – more often than not though I just don’t have the ‘hutzpah’.
Whilst I may be cowardly in this respect, I am determined, so here are some ways I have found to make the whole process a little less daunting for me and less intimidating for my subjects. This isn’t a technical guide (there are already some great ones on this very site); rather, I am suggesting some sensitive and less confrontational ways of getting candid street shots.
1. Go to a place where everyone has a camera
If you go to a popular tourist attraction or public event then you will probably stick out if you DON’T have a camera – this is the perfect environment for candid people shots as no one is really taking any notice of exactly what (or who) you are taking photos of.
2. Line up your Shot and wait for Someone to Walk into the Frame
Sometimes you can see the perfect shot in your minds eye, in which case simply set up your camera with the focus in the right place and wait for somebody to walk into the frame. It doesn’t even matter too much if they notice you as they will instantly think they have ruined your photo and may even apologise to YOU.
3. Backs of Heads
This is a great way of getting people shots without anyone noticing and can often tell just as poignant a story as if it had been shot face-on.
4. From Above
If you can get above the people you want to photograph there’s a very good chance they’ll never spot you – not many people look upwards unless they really have to. The angle may not always be ideal as you are not likely to see any faces but it’s a good way for us cowardly types to practice.
5. Look for People Engrossed in an Activity
If your biggest fear is being spotted and challenged when engaging in street photography then seek out people who are way too engrossed in a particular activity to care about nervous photographers.
6. From a Car Window
Sat in a car you are often at the perfect height to get shots of peoples faces – plus having the locks on the doors and an accelerator gives you a bit more confidence! Be safe, you will need someone else to do the driving here (although I have been known to grab my camera whilst manoeuvring in slow-moving traffic).
7. Use a Small/Unobtrusive Camera
My Canon 5D MkII camera when coupled with a big, meaty zoom lens weighs the same as a medium-sized cat and protrudes alarmingly – anyone having this pointed at them is going to feel, at best, a little unsettled. You will find you are less obvious or intimidating if you use a small point-and-shoot type camera, or even a camera-phone – you can have this ready to go in your pocket and whip it out at the last minute.
8. Shoot from the Hip
Eye-contact can be a powerful thing and pointing your camera at somebody’s face will only heighten the effect. If your gaze is directed downwards, the removal of eye-contact means taking candid photographs becomes much easier – cameras with a tiltable viewfinder are perfect for this. If your viewfinder screen doesn’t tilt then you could try one of these [ http://flipbac.com/angle-viewfinder-about.htm ] nifty stick-on mirrors; things will appear back-to-front but it means you can move the camera away from your face which is the important thing.
Alternatively, hold your camera at hip level, pop the auto-focus on and point and shoot – you can get great results this way but you will need a certain amount of luck, too.
9. Use a Stooge
If you have a little time to compose your shot, you can get an ‘accomplice’ to position themselves near your intended subject and get them to strike a pose – start out by pointing your camera at them, then deviate slightly to capture your intended subject.
10. Ask. Oh, and Smile
Sometimes you have to forgo the candid nature of the shot and simply ask if you can take someones photo – try to quickly and truthfully explain why you want the photo too. Coward that I am though, the very thought of this strikes terror in me! I have though been able to ask buskers and street entertainers for a photo, they are usually always prepared to be a willing model for a small contribution to the hat.
However you take your photos, remember to smile – I have found that is generally all it takes to turn a potentially awkward situation into something much more pleasant.
Angie Muldowney is crazy about photography. Based on the south coast of England, when she’s not out with her camera she can be found writing, drinking coffee or generally procrastinating on the Internet. You can see more of her work at angiemuldowney.co.uk