If you’ve admired the street photos taken by famous photographers and wanted to try your hand at picturing some of the faces you see at events and civic occasions, there are a few key things to consider.
Successful street photographers become part of the scene, not distant observers. The best places to start are naturally crowded places like carnivals, parades, shopping precincts and sporting functions. In short, places where individuals’ normal personal space is reduced.
Opinions vary about the best equipment to use. Some say a compact camera with a wide-angle lens is less conspicuous than an SLR; others prefer an SLR with a medium-range zoom for its significantly greater versatility. A single camera body with one lens and a small shoulder bag (for an additional lens, spare battery and portable storage) is all the equipment you need.
Consider the dictates of the situation you’ll be working in and select your equipment accordingly. A wide-angle lens will be fine if the crowd will be dense and the subjects close, but for more distant subjects (and especially sports action) having a long lens will give you the best pictorial options. It will also give you more scope for selective focusing.
Above all, make sure you have plenty of shooting capacity. If you’re using film, at least half a dozen rolls, if digital, at least 1 GB of memory.
Your approach will determine the degree of success you have. You must be totally familiar with the equipment you’re using and comfortable with working close to the strangers who are your subjects. Act confidently. Don’t hide your camera – but don’t draw attention to yourself. Dress inconspicuously, preferably like the people you’re photographing.
When you’re mentally attuned to the situation you become sensitive to events as they unfold and catching the critical moment is easier. People’s expressions change and people move continuously. Compositions are forever in a state of flux. Keep shooting until you feel you’ve got the shot you want and then move on. Smile, and enjoy yourself and those around you will respond in kind.
If you’re nervous about shooting alone, take a partner along, especially if you’re male. A man shooting pictures may arouse suspicions but a man and a woman taking pictures together is seen as innocuous. If somebody asks you to take their picture, do so. It doesn’t matter whether the result is good or bad; as long as you make your subject happy, your friendly aura will be maintained. If you’re shooting digital, display the result and share the fun!
DOs and DON’Ts
The best photographs elicit an emotional response from those who view them. That is particularly the case for street photography. Aim for shots with emotional impact; pictures that tell a story in a single frame.
Use common sense when selecting subjects to shoot. Ask yourself whether you would like to be photographed in that situation. Most people won’t object to being photographed in public places as long as you behave appropriately.
1. Never stalk people.
2. Don’t photograph people who make it clear they don’t want to be photographed.
3. Avoid potentially embarrassing, compromising or private situations.
4. Avoid flash. High ISO settings are preferable when shooting in dim or variable lighting with a digital camera.
5. Be judicious when photographing children. A child perched on a parent’s shoulders watching a parade is an appropriate subject but a child alone in a public place should probably be avoided, especially if he/she will be recognisable in the shot.
In some circumstances, you may be required to comply with local laws to photograph another person in a public place. Details on the Privacy Act in Australia can be found at www.privacy.gov.au. The law applies few restrictions to photographers who take casual shots of people in the street or at public venues playing sport or attending public functions, particularly when the photograph will not be used for commercial purposes. However, especially if the work is to be used commercially, the subject’s permission should be sought wherever possible. Legal advice may also be advisable in some circumstances.
Restrictions may apply to taking and publishing photographs in Indigenous, environmental and heritage-listed sites. In most cases, they only apply to commercial photography (including wedding photographs and photos covering special events) but in a few situations, the restrictions apply generally. Permission is normally required to photograph public artworks, such as murals, or sculptures that have been erected for temporary display in a public place. Some property owners also restrict photography on their premises, although they are unable to stop photographers from taking pictures from outside the property. Always look for signs before taking pictures as places that fit into the latter category will generally be signposted.
Additional information on legal issues relating to photography (particularly for professional photographers) can be found at:
* the Australian Copyright Council (www.copyright.org.au)
* the Arts Law Centre of Australia (www.artslaw.com.au)
* the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (www.aipp.com.au)
* the Advertising, Commercial and Magazine Photographers (www.acmp.com.au).
Over the past few years Andrew Nemeth has compiled a detailed analysis of legal issues surrounding candid people photography in NSW Australia (rights, privacy, consent, case-law, legislation etc.) – see http://photorights.4020.net.