It’s certainly a change of challenge to any photographer to get their head around what’s happened to the trees lining the streets. The people — who make up large parts of our street photography compositions, are all dressed in heavy clothing. Just those two points create a new challenge to your photo framing experience. But some things stay the same. How you frame according to your own style, and grasp the feelings that bare trees, and heavily clad people summon up is a constant part of learning how to look at things in terms of photography.
Protect your highlights and embrace your shadows is a good thought to bear in mind, at all times.
It may be cold, wet, snowy, and as long as you are worrying about your shivering body, you’ll not be focused on photography. The street is your studio, and that’s where you’ll find inspiration, all year round.
When I take a shot, I do a quick check if I have time to see that I’ve got enough shutter speed, ISO, and depth of field to get the shot I want. That’s how I know that my highlights will turn up looking good when I process that photo later. There’s nothing worse than a good composition going down the Swanee just because I forgot to check camera settings.
In winter the light fades fast, so adjustments are more important than in summer when you have the constant of a bright sunny day.
I like to look for groups of people huddled together during winter photography. It’s quite common to see people drinking a coffee together on the street, they bunch up, drink their hot beverage and almost with heads touching they chat and stamp their feet. Excellent for a composition.
It’s just a matter of observing for a few moments and then the right moment appears as somebody moves their body and creates a line, or a triangular effect that somehow sets the group off as a beautiful moment of human interaction.
Visually, groups can offer a lot to the city street photographer.
When you walk the city streets enough times to get a feeling that you belong there, and that you feel relaxed with camera in hand, pointing it, checking it, and taking shots that you know will turn out well, then your brain is in gear. You start to see things that other people miss.
City street photography is many things. It’s firstly the practice of photography. That’s the discipline followed and studied, that opens up an array of thoughts for the photographer to experiment with. Experimentation in street photography is important in order to build creativity. Just try everything that you can think of in how you build a composition.
Secondly, street photography is learning to see. It’s quite right when people say that photography teaches us to see properly. We are always training the eyes to be more vigilant. The better we get, the clearer we see what a good composition is, and what is not. The practice of combining lines and angles, colours, reflections, dark shadows and then movement into a still photo is an ongoing practice to capture the fleeting moments of life.
For example, I was taking shots on a street in Berlin a few days ago, people were walking along in the cold weather, cycling around, dressed in puffed up coats and jackets. Cars passed in front of me every so often. I was trying to get a colourful shot of a person or two who might set of the metallic colour and feeling of a hotel facade in the background. Then as I moved my feet, a fat lamppost got in the way, then I noticed that it was full of stickers and small adverts plastered at every angle by people. Some paper on the posters was peeling away and flapping about in the breeze.
I tried my hardest to use this large corner of paper to create a sort of foreground compositional edge to my main subject — a person striding along on the opposite side of the street. I have a feeling that it didn’t work out well, I still have to really sit down and study the photos — I had other, more successful shots to process in the meantime — but, I also have a feeling that my idea is good. I just have to really get behind the idea and own it. To understand why I thought it was a good idea, then experiment with it, and then I’ll get it right at some point and prove my point that it works.
The main point of what I’m saying is that you have to try. If you don’t, you’ll always be taking city street photos that look like everybody else’s street photography; waiting for a person wearing a red pullover to pass a large billboard with a smiling model wearing a red pullover, or a triangular shadow and a silhouetted person with a long marching stride. These are like the staple diet of street photography all over the world.
So, try your best, and be courageous enough to spend a day looking for the unusual, and allow those thoughts that seem odd, strange, or crazy to come to the fore and take shots that are a bit weird. You’ll start to see your own style coming through, and you’ll build confidence in yourself as a street photographer and creative person.
Creativity is at the heart of street photography. Not the type of camera or the expensive lens. It’s all about you, your camera, whichever camera that may be is going to be your starting point. And it’s up to you whether you use a digital camera or a camera with a roll of film in it. Both are brilliant machines that allow us to do street photography and get out of the house and into the world of action.
The whole passionate pursuit of street photography is based on our need to investigate, to soak our parched curiosity about life around us. We need to collect those keep sake shots of life that allow us to confirm what we saw when out and about. Then we come back home and relax with a smile.