The Technique


I shoot from the hip.

When I first started trying street photography I got frustrated by how many pictures I missed because the subjects (people) noticed me raise my camera up to my eye and thereby changed their expression (often to a scowl). Everybody who has tried street photography knows about this. Depending on your character it can also be quite embarrassing which usually just gives you a shifty, guilty look.

Using a telephoto lens that lets you stay further away is one solution but produces images that to my eye are usually flat and seem more voyeuristic than intimate. It can work well but generally being close up and part of the street’s action with a standard or wide-angle lens will give your photographs a lively, more personal feel.

Many great street photographers solve the problem with persistence, technique and attitude. They don’t give up just because somebody notices them, they smile, they keep the camera high to minimize their movement when shooting, they’re confident in their actions without being pushy, and somehow manage to show that there is nothing confrontational about what they are doing.

I never quite mastered that.

Instead I practised holding the camera at my side and ‘shooting from the hip’. It took a while to get the technique to work well and I still often miss shots by cutting people’s heads off (that’s usually fatal) but now I love it because:

-       the photographs are shot from a child’s eye-level;
-       peoples’ expressions are (almost) always natural;
-       I get some wonderfully dynamic compositions that I would never have taken if I was in total control of the process.

I find this last reason particularly interesting. I think it partly points to my limitations as a photographer but it has also forced me into feeling comfortable having a random element introduced that somehow seems fitting to the subject. In the past I think I would have struggled against this and tried to wrestle back total control.

Some tips:
-       even with a reasonably fast shutter speed, if the camera is moving the picture will probably be blurred, so stop to take a photograph;
-       if you are walking then walk slowly so that people will not notice a sudden change in your movement when you stop to take a picture (this can be as obvious to your subjects as lifting the camera to your face);
-       try to anticipate interactions between people, and expressions;
-       kids are great subjects but be sensitive and responsible in how you photograph them;
-       don’t forget that you are allowed to look through the camera for a photo if you want to!
-       no need to hide what you are doing;
-    if anyone notices what you are doing, smile;
-       if using a heavy SLR get a long strap so that it hangs from your shoulder comfortably at arm length;
-   alternatively, hold the camera with both hands for extra stability (shooting from the belly);
-       I like using a slight wide-angle lens;
-       I use autofocus with shutter-priority usually on 1/125 sec or faster;
-   at night or in poor light I let the camera decide ISO as well rather than use flash;
-   practise how you angle the camera to have reasonable control over composition and minimize lost chances;
-   a rangefinder camera or one with a screen that can be angled is an alternative to my technique but I prefer to keep my eyes ahead rather than down;
-       get close;
-       get out there!

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