I’ve finally been moved to give this genre a try and a 2 Guys post last week was just the trigger I needed. Being somewhat timorous about getting in someone’s face with a camera, I sought some help. The Seattle Photography Group has a lot of Meet Ups and a frequent subject is Street Photography. So I went to see what it was all about the other night and had a great time.
Thirty-two people showed up to meet the leader, most carrying long glass and camera backpacks, and I thought, “Uh oh, how’s this going to work?” The Capitol Hill district of Seattle is pretty funky and this group, looking kind of “paparazzi-ish” was going to find it difficult to blend in. I had brought only my Nikon D70 with a small zoom and it was mostly concealed by a light jacket that I was wearing. I had tried to wear clothes that wouldn’t scream “suburban intruder” but it was difficult as the denizens of “the Hill” range from young professionals going to dinner and clubs, “Goths” going to different clubs, and the down and out looking for a place to set up for the night. The group split into two and one set off for the Park and the other to Broadway. I drug my feet until they were well ahead and then struck off on my own.
I had decided that I was interested in “street photography”, not “street portraiture”, so I rarely asked for permission first since people would then “pose for the camera”. But neither did I shove my camera in anyone’s face. By taking time to set my camera up ahead of time I was able to get most of the shots that I wanted by simply halting in my steps for a moment.
It was fun and I got a few usable shots. I’m going out again tonight with the same organization to shoot in a high end shopping mall. It should be quite a contrast.
What Works For Me
I considered mounting my 50mm f1.4 because we were going to be shooting after 7 PM. But after experimenting I found that I was going to be back so far that I ran the risk of lots of traffic between me and the subject
So instead I used my 18-70mm f3.5 kit lens that came with my Nikon D70 as it was only a little larger than the 50mm. If I were going to do this very often, I would probably purchase an AF Nikkor 24mm f2.8D as I think most of my shots were in this range.
I deactivated my flash as I didn’t want that going off unexpectedly and drawing attention to myself. So I set my ISO to 800 although in reviewing my photos I probably could have used 400. I processed most of the photos as B/W and a little grain seems to enhance the “grittiness” of street scenes.
Because of lower light and quick shots, I selected Shutter mode and set 1/60th sec since this is about as slow as I can shoot hand-held under the best of conditions. Sometimes if I really wanted a shot and was uncertain about the light I would slip into Program mode.
I had set my Focus point to Single Centered as on busy streets you never what the camera would choose to focus on in Closest Subject mode. This worked very well for most shots but if I had time I would pre-focus on something about the same distance away before swinging onto the intended subject.
With a little practice, I found I could “guesstimate” the focal length I wanted and adjust the lens while it was still at my waist. I also found that about 50% of the time I could just “shoot from hip” and get reasonable results.
Out of 65 shots I only felt that I was intrusive enough twice to ask permission first. Both times the subjects graciously agreed. Sometimes I would set up as if shooting something beyond and to the side of the intended target and then swing to the subject, shoot and keep walking (something I like to call “shoot ‘n scoot” ;-). I only received a half dozen concerned or threatening looks and in those cases I just moved on. One fellow, who I never intended to shoot anyway (and who apparently was stoned on something), became a bit confrontational but then seemed to become somewhat comatose before he could finish.
As I said at the start, this is what works for me. Whatever methods you use, you should give it a try. It’s a lot of fun.