The art of photography presents us with many challenges once we’ve made it into a career. As a photographer you often find yourself exploring places and meeting people you probably had no idea you’d ever meet in this lifetime but through the career path, you chose you’ve crossed that bridge. One of my biggest fears as a photographer was that I had to learn how to effectively and properly interact with the people I would need to work with. I also had to learn how to introduce myself and share my story with others as to how I became the photographer I am today and what made me choose this career path. This was a huge challenge for me because I was always an introvert and was never a social person but It’s something I eventually had to overcome.
Another challenge I faced was photographing or interacting with strangers when doing street or urban photography. Everyone is different and you’re never too sure how someone might react to you as the photographer or your camera but you try to capture a candid nonetheless. Over the years I gradually learned how to photograph strangers without them even knowing sometimes. The techniques are learned have proven to be an asset not only in street and urban photography but when capturing candids overall. In this article, I will be sharing some of those skills and techniques with you in the hope that they become an asset to creativity as they have to mine.
The first thing you want to make sure you do is that both you and your camera are prepared to get the job done. Lighting can change constantly depending on where you’re shooting or the time of day. If you’re shooting in the late afternoon then you may find your light is fading a lot quicker than you may have anticipated but if you’re capturing images in the morning or midday then you should have an almost consistent source of light on your subject. Take a look at your settings and take a few test shots while you’re at it but not of the stranger. Once you’ve reviewed your test shots and gotten your settings correctly then you can start to take into consideration how you’re going to go about capturing your shot and what composition you’re looking to get.
Another part of being prepared is getting your courage in the right place. It’s sometimes so easy to give in to our fears but we have to give yourself a pep talk here and there and remind ourselves that we are capable of doing anything we put our mind to and should not let simple fears hold us back. Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to go.
After mustering up all the courage you need to go ahead and take the photo, I’ve also found a way to make it less suspicious as well. This technique might take a little practice but rest assured it is rewarding once you’ve practiced it enough and know how to do it well. When walking on the street during urban or street photography, as photographers we usually have our camera in our hand or around our necks.
When we see a potential shot, we then move the camera up to our faces where we then compose the shot and press our shutter release button. The time we use between establishing our shot and getting the camera up to our eyes can draw attention to us or create the opportunity for us to miss the shot itself. Shooting from the hip will save all that time and not make you subject any wiser that you’re capturing a photo of them. The general understanding of how photographers should look by other individuals is that we walk around with a backpack filled with equipment and a camera in our hands with a huge lens. To some extent, this is obviously true and most of us can easily fit into this cliche but when photographing strangers you want to do the complete opposite.
Sometime when trying to photograph strangers it’s best to shoot at a wide angle. This gives you enough space in your frame to crop the shot if you please during post-production. In the article on what to pack for urban photography, I mentioned some of the key lenses to have on your person. One of these lenses were the 24mm f/2.8 or more popularly known as the pancake lens. Depending on the setting you will be in, a 24mm can work just perfect or be a bit too wide for your liking. If you find that the focal length is too wide you then you can consider using a 50mm f/1.8 which will also work perfectly given that you distance yourself accordingly from the subject while leaving room on the edges from cropping.
Photographing strangers should be considered an extreme sport in photography as we take so many risks trying to capture different people with so many different personalities in their own element without them knowing we’re doing it. As always it’s been a pleasure sharing a little bit of these techniques with you and I look forward to seeing you again.