Today I want to address a topic that is always covered of some amount of controversy. As with anything in photography, some people like it and some people don’t. The only difference here is that the subject are people that are not aware of being the subject. I am talking about street photography.
When you use a picture with someone on it for commercial purposes, you need to provide, together with the image, a model release, where the person that is present in the picture gives his/her consent for you to sell that picture. The main reason behind this is to avoid legal problems once the image is shown somewhere.
Now, even if you don’t intend to sell the picture, uploading a photo on the internet where people who did not even know were being photographed are shown is something that many people are not comfortable with.
This is aggravated by the fact that some photographers tend to post pictures of people in situations that, most probably, those people would not be happy to be shown in, like for instance drunk people lying on the street.
I believe that a healthy balance is to only post pictures of people in situations in which you would be comfortable to find a yourself in and, if someone ever finds an image where they are depicted and ask you to remove it from wherever you are showing it (something highly unlikely to be honest), just do so. Also, if you feel the picture is just too good, approach the people and ask them to sign a model release; they might be happy to do so!
But moral issues apart, I want to focus on some things I’ve learnt that can be useful during the process of capturing a photo.
First of all, I want to say that street photography is not my favorite type of photography. Not even close. I mostly enjoy travel and landscape photography and for the former, capturing lifestyles that are different to what we are used is as important as capturing a nice view of a city or a monument and that is the main reason why I have had some experience with street photography.
The main thing to keep in mind if you want to go out and give street photography a shot is your lens. Even though for most types of photography you can get away with different type of lenses, for street photography you will not be able to do much without a zoom lens. The reason is that you want to capture the subject with a natural expression and for that you need to go unnoticed which basically translates into being far away.
How large the zoom will be depends on the situation. I usually use a 90-300 mm (the picture above shows a group of men chatting at the main square of Chefchaouen and it was captured with a focal length of 175 mm) and that seems to work just fine. An important aspect for this type of photography is the image stabilizer of the lens. Since your subject will be moving and given that large focal lengths magnify the shaking of the camera, an image stabilizer is of great help. Otherwise, you will tend to end up with an image lacking sharpness. The same is valid for a wide aperture.
All of the above is of course linked to the price of the lens so a compromise needs to be found. For the image of the men in Chefchaouen, the lens I used does not have stabilizer and furthermore it is quite slow (f/5 for 175 mm) so I had to push the ISO to 800 to get a decent shutter speed. Those are the compromises that need to be done when working with a relatively inexpensive lens but at some point, you will miss a lot of great shots so if you can afford it, go for a good lens.
The use of a tripod might be useful in some circumstances for the same reason just described, but since you are trying to capture a brief moment it might as well get in your way, so just be flexible in that respect. In general I would suggest get used to shooting without one.
Finally, one thing you need for street photography is patience. Find a nice comfortable place to sit where you have a good view of people passing by and take your time. Since you are trying to capture candid, natural expressions, you will find yourself shooting hundreds or thousands of pictures before you are happy with one of them.