Street Photography secrets and How to take Great Photos

There is a secret to be found on the street. Many people never discover it, they don’t see it because they don’t look for it. It’s the secret that gives meaning to our everyday lives. For that to happen you have to get involved, take action. Go out onto the street with your camera and take a lot of photos.

Street Photography has been around for a long time. Most people believe it started back in the 1950s, or the 1970s, but in fact, it just depends on how you view street photography and what you think it really is.

Paul Strand, the New York street photographer took a photograph of a blind woman with a sign hanging from her neck, “BLIND – Licensed Peddler “, in 1916, the photograph, black and white and taken candidly to get the most natural shot Paul Strand could accomplish on a busy street, caught the attention of Walker Evans, a photographer who was out looking for something to jolt his thoughts into something new and interesting.

Three Men waiting for a Train at Yorckstrasse S Bahnhof, Berlin
Three Men waiting for a Train

In the 1950s, a Canadian photographer Fred Herzog wandered through the streets of Vancouver and took photos of what he considered everyday life. Fred Herzog’s work was one of passion. He wanted to reflect “how you see, and how you think”, making connections between actions and thoughts about the sights that confronted him. He died in 2019 and left a body of work that reflects times past, businesses on the streets, people interacting with their environment, and an overall view of how things used to be, and how they have progressed. Some thing worth reflecting on.

Street photography teaches us to see. Most of are very busy, or feel pushed to get from one place to next, no time to stop, no time to look at something that caught our eye. That’s modern life. It’s been that way for a long time, and now, many of us feel threatened by the idea of this “new society” of Coronavirus and staying at home; no better reason to get a camera and go out and make a few notes about your own city, or town, or village – you never know, you might be the only person photographing the objects that you look at.

I say, “make a few notes”, that’s right. You take a camera out with you and start to see what turns you on, then take a shot, and another, get deeper into the whole moment and begin to take a few photos – notes. If you’re thinking about what you are doing – not why – but feeling it, filling your mind with its colours, it lines, its shadows and so on, you’ll end up with either good shots worth keeping, or you’ll end up with shots that teach you more about what you are trying to get at in the photo. You learn by doing, by making mistakes.

When you are out walking keep your chin up and look at the buildings. The facades, the doorways, the exits and entrances that have no doors. Fill your mind with shadows and light that reveal many combinations, and therefore all the possibilities that are open to you. Each possibility is something to work with. You use your feet to shift position, then it’s different from few moments ago, the light changes and you take a shot, a person walks right in front of your camera as you are taking the shot, it can be a blessing in disguise. Later you realize that person helped make the shot – their body, or blurred and moving face created an effect that just makes it a great shot – you will take great shots if you take enough photos. And think about things as you do.

Potsdamer Platz on a Rainy Day in Autumn
Potsdamer Platz on a Rainy Day in Autumn

It’s no good going out with your camera and asking yourself why you are doing this – street photography, that makes no sense. Why? Is asking for a reason. What you are doing is enough, and your own motivations to actually buy a camera, get your butt out the door and take photos is enough for a lifetime of work.

Wild at Heart Club in Berlin, Kreuzberg
Wild at Heart Club in Berlin, Kreuzberg

Too many people come to a stop in life because they always need a deep reason to explain passionate action. Passion is a motivator to action, not a sit-on-your-ass and think about it situation.

You need a camera for street photography. So long as it takes a decent photograph, on film, or digital will do it.

You can think about which type of equipment you really need when you’ve taken a few street photos and have begun to see what your own game is. This type of information helps you get a feeling for the equipment that you really need. Then you can buy it without worries and fears that you might make a mistake.

I recommend that you stay clear of the lunatics who can’t stop upgrading their own equipment, own about 15 lenses and seven cameras, and recommend that you do this too. Often found on YouTube channels talking nonsense about how you need to buy this or that very expensive camera if you want the best results.

The best results, the skills, the abilities, all of them are in your mind; you have them already, you just need to sort them out by learning to see properly. That takes time – not forever, just patience and practice, then you’ll see that you improve and you’ll notice how you always go for a certain lens length, a 35 mm, a 105 mm, or a nice wide angle on 18mms of street view as you march through town with a camera and two lenses in your bag.

The camera type, the size of a lens, and the style you want is all a personal thing. It’s your choice from front to back.

Street photography is very simple, and technically it requires constant adjustments. The light, the cloud cover, the time of year all dictate what you should think about when you set up your camera.

In summer and springtime people tend to dress very differently than in winter. Brightly coloured clothing can change the mood on a street, winter clothes are dark and heavy, many people drag things out of their wardrobes that they’ve been wearing for the last twenty odd years, so you see a lot of interestingly shabby characters populating the streets when you’re out and about.

That’s all a good starting point for you to think about what street photography really is, a how you can think of your own needs when you start taking street photos.

Under the Bridge in Yorckstrasse Berlin
Under the Bridge in Yorckstrasse Berlin

Street Photography definitions on Wikipedia

Street Photography on this blog