10 street photography tips for future digital media professionals

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Being a new media professional is all about learning digital publishing skills, in particular diverse storytelling techniques. Basic knowledge about photography can help SAE students to understand how important it is to become a conscious storyteller. Street photography is a doorway to better understanding of how to tell a good story. It is a truly powerful tool and at the same time it is accessible to all of us.

Text and pictures by Joanna Wróblewska

There is nothing easier than taking a digital camera or a smartphone and going out to take some pictures for an online article or another type of a creative project. Street photography is a perfect response to students’ needs. Moreover, you do not need to invest in renting a studio to take street pictures! The setting is already out there, constantly inviting you to go out and shoot whenever you want. But how to take good and memorable street photographs? The world of modern media communications always appreciates smart storytellers who know a bunch of tips and tricks of digital photography and can apply them to their visual work.

To plan or not to plan
Many photographers would advise you to always have your camera with you or simply to go out and shoot whatever you find interesting. This all sounds good, but what if you have a specific project to accomplish in a short period of time? In this case, it would be a bit too risky to just go out and pray for a perfect real-life setting. So before you start shooting ask yourself a bunch of questions regarding the goals that you would like to achieve. Where to find the best locations for shooting? Is it all safe there for photographers? How much time it will take to create the visual material? Could you go back to the chosen location and reshoot? Last but not least, how to deal with the privacy law while shooting people and their properties, buildings, and other objects within the public space?

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Women wearing kimonos

Street photography and the law
Always make sure that you understand the privacy policy and the copyright law of a country in which you study or work. Rules can differ slightly depending on a place. In general, you are allowed to take pictures on the street without asking for permission from the passbyers. Nevertheless, if you plan to use these photographs commercially, you should ask people for a written permission (a so called commercial release). Also, it is not the best idea to follow children and take their portraits. Suspicious activities may cause concerns and lead to an unpleasant conversation with a law-enforcement officer. Using proper lenses should help you to keep the distance and stay safe from unwanted events.

Recommended lenses
It is extremely important to shoot pictures in a natural environment without influencing or distracting the behaviours of chosen subjects. Street photographers should consider using prime lenses that replicate the human field of view, so 35mm and 50mm (full-frame equivalent). Moreover, superzoom lenses can be helpful here – many professional photographers would recommend using 18-200mm, 18-270mm or 18-300mm superzoom lenses in order to obtain more interesting, experimental effects and emphasize the subject in a more efficient way.

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Three girls walking

Proper camera settings
On the street things change very fast, so there is no time for thinking about camera settings. This is why you should rather use Continuous Autofocus and change the White Balance to the automatic mode. Many photographers advise to set the sensor sensitivity to 400ISO, Aperture to f/5.6 and keep the Shutter Speed above 1/125sec for day projects. It does not mean that you cannot experiment with other setting! Just beware of the street dynamics and give yourself a chance to focus on what is happening around you. Good camera settings will support your ideas and guarantee well-exposed photographs.

Best shooting times
All photographers know that early morning and late afternoon offer the best shooting experience and the most interesting light. Nevertheless, you should not be afraid of taking photos during the day and at night. Choosing the right White Balance option will help you with controlling light, especially when it comes from diverse sources like neons and street lamps. During the day, especially in the flat noon light, you can set the White Balance in a way that it warms up the light (in most cameras this setting is marked with a tiny cloud).

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Late evening in Ginza, Tokyo

In this case, more is less
It is all about how many photographs you will shoot! The more pictures you take, the easier it will be to pick up the best ones. Always try to shoot lots of pictures, which means not 10 or 20 but really dozens or even hundreds!

Zoom in, zoom out
In many cases, a single picture will tell the entire story, but what if you are asked to shoot a series? Using zoom and superzoom lenses will completely new world of street photography opportunities. It is essential for storytelling to show over-all scenes and then focus on details. Try to think as your viewer – reading images is a very natural skill but as a conscious photographer you should guide the public in the right direction.

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Zoom on flowers on the trees

Freezing frames, stealing moments
Street photography is all about waiting for the right moment and freezing exceptional frames. This is why you should train yourself in careful observation of reality. Go out and really look at things around you, experience the vibrant street life. Be mindful, aware and alert. It is a little bit like meditation: all your senses should focus on capturing that extraordinary decisive moment that will never happen again!

True emotional impact
A majority of street photographs make a big emotional impact. Again, ask yourself what and why would you like to show? What are the emotions behind your idea? What do you feel when you think of it? Expressing emotions through images seems to be easy but it is actually a pretty big challenge. Going simple and choosing well-composed frames should help you in achieving goals.

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Crowd visiting a temple

Why good stories are so good?
What makes street pictures good? How to make an impact with photographs? What makes visual stories strong and memorable? The secret lies in good camera settings, a trained photographer’s eye and an enormous visual consciousness. Being aware of what is important in the story and setting goals should help you in becoming successful. Shoot as much as you can, play with your camera and take care of proper exposure – all the rest should will be a piece of cake!

Watch also 23 Ninja Tips For Your Next Photo Walk

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