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Time Out With Tanya

5 Ways to Improve Your Street Photography (and Why You Should Do a Photo Walk ASAP)

By Tanya Goodall Smith on September 29th 2014

Welcome to Time Out with Tanya, where I’ve put my fast paced graphic design career on hold in favor of adventures in motherhood. I’m capturing every moment on camera and you can come along, if you’d like. Sign up for my weekly email here so you’ll never miss a Time Out.

5 ways to improve street photography via slrlounge.com
Number 18 on my list of 100 WAYS TO BE A MORE CREATIVE PHOTOGRAPHER is to take a photo walk. I recently took a photo walk with a group of women at Click Away 2014 in Salt Lake City and Park City and, although I wish we had more time (we only had about an hour, which just wasn’t long enough for me), it was an eye opening experience.

The last time I did some serious street photography was during my time as a student in L.A., which is a fantastic city to photograph, by the way. On my walk in Salt Lake, while I was busy snapping away, I overheard many of the women saying they didn’t know what to take pictures of, since they don’t do landscape or architecture, just portraits. I’ve been thinking about those comments ever since.

Even if you’re not a street photographer, doing a photo walk can benefit you in so many ways. I encourage you all to get out there and do one. I would like to do them more often, as they are a great way to hone your skills.

Here are 5 ways to improve your street photography and why you should do a photo walk asap…

1. Choose a Theme

5 ways to improve street photography via slrlounge.com
One way to get over the hurdle of not knowing what to photograph, is to choose a theme. It could be a physical object (like Steve Pellegrino’s Reflections of the Arch series) or a word or concept. Maybe you want to do a study on graffiti or homelessness in your city. Or you could choose a word like “joy” or “hope.” You could even just pick a color to watch out for while you’re photographing. You might not even know what your theme will be until you get out on the street.

2. Improve Your Composition

5 tips for improving street photography via slrlounge.com
Going on a photo walk is the perfect time to brush up on your composition skills without the added pressure of a paying client or even a human subject. Take the time to look for ways to add interest to your images. Here are things to try:

  • Look for reflections

5 tips for improving street photography via slrlounge.com

  • Look for light and shadow

5 tips for improving street photography via slrlounge.com

  • Look for shapes, lines and patterns
  • Shoot from above
  • Shoot from below
  • Frame your subject
  • Find symmetry

5 tips for improving street photography via slrlounge.com

  • Find asymmetry

5 tips for improving street photography via slrlounge.com

  • Play with color
  • Experiment with depth of field

What else could we add to this list? Tell me in the comments.

3. Stop Worrying About What People Think Of You

5 tips for taking better street photography via slrlounge.com
One thing you’ll notice when you go on your very first photo walk (or photograph your first wedding) is that you’ll feel incredibly self conscious. At least I did! Doing a photo walk will help you get over that feeling. Who cares what people think of you? You have the right to take photos on public property. Use judgement and discretion when photographing people and you’ll be fine.

Check to make sure you know the laws regarding street photography in your area. In L.A., for example, many “public” businesses don’t allow photography of any kind on their property because of the film industry. You need a permit and have to pay a fee. Security guards were everywhere reminding us of this fact, so if that’s not the case, you’re probably ok (especially if you aren’t using the photos for commercial purposes).

4. Pretend You Are a Spy

5 tips for taking better street photography via slrlounge.com
If you’ve never heard of Vivian Meyer, you need to look her up immediately, especially if you’re at all interested in street photography. I read once that she would tell the lab workers where she dropped off her film that she was a spy. You can, too, if you want to capture some authentic street scenes that include people. Just don’t go overboard on this, or you’ll come across as a creeper, LOL.

5. Try a New Technique

5 Tips for Taking Better Street Photography via slrlounge.com
There’s no better time than a photo walk to try something new. Maybe you’ve been wanting to experiment with long exposure, shutter drag, or a new lens. Maybe you just got a new camera and need to master nailing focus before taking it on an actual shoot. Head out on your photo walk with those things in mind and give them a try. During my photo walk in Park City, I met a woman who had a Lensbaby and she let me try it out. It was so cool!

Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at workstoryphotography.com.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Thomas Horton

    Not caring about what people think of you is a rather self-centered attitude. How about the photographer caring about how other people feel? I feel that there is too much “I am the photographer and I am the only one whose feelings are important”. What about some empathy for the other people? They may not appreciate someone taking their photograph. Why would I do something that may make someone else unhappy or uncomfortable?

    That’s why I could never do street photography involving people. I have empathy for how other people feel and sympathy for their feelings.

    Every photographer has their own ethics and morals. I just wish there were a little more empathy in photography.

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  2. Basit Zargar

    Great article again by you

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  3. Ian Moss

    Street photography is not without it’s risks, however.

    https://bap2blog.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/whos-photographing-my-child/

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  4. Donna DiNovo

    Is there a particular lens you would recommend for street photography?

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    • Tanya Smith

      Hey Donna, depends on what kind of effect you want to get. For my Salt Lake photo walk I actually just had my 50mm f/1.4 because I didn’t want to travel with my heavy and large 24-70. I’m lazy, LOL. At times I wished I could zoom in on something in the distance or take a macro shot of something up close but I made do with what I had.

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    • Steven Pellegrino

      I agree with Tanya, that a 50mm is a good lens for street photography. If you don’t have one, pick up an inexpensive 1.8 – the “nifty fifty”, which can be purchased for under $200 (Nikon or Canon). Some street photographers like a wide lens, at 24mm or 28mm, but when you have something that wide, you will typically have to get a lot closer to your subject than you will with a 50mm. Depends on your comfort level and self-confidence.

      To get really good at street photography, choose a lens and stick with that one lens and learn about zone focusing.

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  5. Steve Enoch

    This is the kind of article that I come to SLRL for. Great tips and ideas. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Tanya Smith

      Wow, Steve, thanks for the compliment and thanks for reading. Knowing we’re making a difference keeps me going as a writer :)

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  6. Greg Silver

    Great suggestions to think ‘OUTSIDE’ the box. Great samples!!!

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  7. Daniel Thullen

    Tanya, love point #3. It’s a major stumbling block for may of us!

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    • Brandon Dewey

      I agree that is also something I struggle with 99.9% of the time. I also like Point 4.

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    • Steven Pellegrino

      The best way to overcome it is to do it over and over. I think when you worry about what people think about you it’s more about self-confidence than anything else. At least that’s what is was for me. I do street photography 3 – 5 days a week, so my confidence level is pretty high and I never get nervous or worry about what people think. The other day I was downtown shooting puddles in the middle of the street trying to get an interesting reflection. I probably looked like an idiot, but I got a good shot.

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    • Steven Pellegrino

      The only thing I would add to your list is “work the scene”. Don’t just take one or two shots. Take your time and see it from different angles. Along with that I would add “be patient”. For example if you find the right composition, the right light creating a reflection on a wall, the right combination of everything, then be patient and wait for the right person to walk into the scene. The perfect example is your photo of the reflection of the fountain in the window. But what makes the photo is the silhouette of the couple.

      Street photography is my favorite photography. It can be rewarding and frustrating at the same time, but it’s the perfect genre to practice your skills!

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