Street Photography – another approach

Last month I echoed the question first posed by Popular Photography: “How do you photograph strangers in the street”?  In that post, I shared an article from the magazine that featured two photographers whose street shooting style was pretty much run and gun, and smack dab right in the face of their subjects.   In response to their approach, the comments and emails from our readers ranged from shock to acceptance to “I don’t shoot strangers”.

Hampton Beach husband, wifeOn the opposite end of the spectrum, some photogs use a more considerate approach, first engaging the person and striking up a conversation, then asking permission to take their  photo.  Mark Wallace of Adorama takes this approach and shared his views and experience in a ten minute video you might like to watch here.

Street vendorI felt pretty uncomfortable with the “in your face” method and although I have engaged in the Mark Wallace approach, it can be very time consuming, and is no guarantee of success.

Instead, I’ve developed a shoot from the hip, or should I say “shoot from the chest” approach that works pretty well with practice, is not intrusive and generally yields positive results.

With the strap of my DSLR around my neck, I hold my camera in my right hand at about chest height, with my thumb on the shutter release.  As I walk casually through an area, I aim and shoot from that position at anything that looks interesting.  I keep on moving, looking away from the subject, and if I’m noticed, I’m gone and forgotten before anyone gives it a second thought.

All of the photos in this post were taken this way.

Men walking along the boardwalk

Since you’re essentially shooting blind, your camera needs to be set up appropriately for the scene if you’re to get any keepers.  I generally shoot at a wide focal length, somewhere between about 18 and 30mm on a cropped sensor, with metering set to matrix (aka evaluative).  The level of light will determine my ISO, (the less light, the higher the ISO).  I will most often shoot in aperture priority with as small an aperture (higher f/ number = larger depth of field) that I can achieve and still maintain a fast enough shutter speed to accommodate the movement of the subjects, as well as myself.  Some testing and adjusting is usually needed when I get started.

young people along the boardwalkPracticing will improve your ability to quickly capture your subject within your frame, and the wider view allows cropping and straightening after the fact as needed.

man and woman walking on the streetOf course, if and how you shoot on the street is totally up to you.  This works for me and I try to be respectful of the people I’m shooting.  Personally, I won’t photograph homeless or vulnerable people or children under any circumstances.

Let us know your thoughts on street photography and what works for you.  Send us your street images and we’ll include them in a follow up post.

And thanks for visiting 2 Guys Photo.                 Posted by Ed


About Ed Spadoni "Thoughts and opinions, resources and experiences… for emerging photographers everywhere."
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15 Responses to Street Photography – another approach

  1. Nice article, thanks! I’m going to try the shooting from the chest method next time. Since I’m shy about asking strangers if I can take their picture and it will often change the situation that I wanted to capture, I have usually shot and run, pretty cowardly I must admit.

  2. Kara says:

    Ah, sneak photography! I don’t think I would be able to get any shots that way (I’m very short so my chest would equal others’ stomachs), and I also hate to approach ppl and ask permission, but then again, not sure the guerilla approach is for me either.

  3. Prentis says:

    Define “keepers” in street photography. I run hot and cold about the concept in general. The first and second shots have a story to tell and could be considered a keeper. The mussel man shot might hold interest to some. The others are just people doing their thing. Walking around firing away at unsuspecting individuals seems a little pointless. I also agree that photographing homeless and vulnerable people is not only crude but has been overdone. Photographing children is just flat dangerous. There are some remarkable street photographers out there (example: but those that do it well are a rare breed indeed and they will tell you that they occasionally fear for their survival or at least for the survival of their equipment.

  4. Ed Spadoni says:

    I would have to say Prentis, that a keeper is a photo that means something to someone. The colorful flower and the picturesque sunset will appeal to many, but street photography is more subjective. Evoking a response is good thing, even if it doesn’t match another person’s, including the photographer’s. The images from the post that appealed to you are not necessarily the most meaningful to me, and that’s fine. My years of posting a daily image on my website has taught me that you can’t always predict what image will ring a bell with your audience and which will not. Like most crafts, beauty is in the eye of the beholder – so thanks for “beholding”. Shooting candids on the street is definitely nor for everyone. Ed

  5. Judy Horton says:

    I’m quite interested in street photography and find that images that evoke a response from others vary a lot. I do often ask people for permission to photograph them and have only been refused once. If I’m shooting a lot of people in the same crowd, I don’t usually ask and I just shoot in the usual way. No one has ever confronted me about this. I like images that suggest they are a “slice of life” and I love to capture what is going on in the street via a reflection.

  6. Mark James says:

    I was at our local “Farmers” market last night and went though all of this in my head as I thought about who I could/should point my camera at. We have a lot of tourists from Asia where I live and because I only speak English it can be a little harder to ask for permission and like was said before it almost always ruins the shot that you saw in your mind. One of the things I like to do is after taking a picture I will pull it up on the screen and show it to the subject. Most will give smile nod and say something I can’t understand but at least I leave feeling like it was a shared experience and not like I’m trying to steal their soul or something. I did have one guy shake his head no adamantly when he saw the shot and I just deleted it in front of him and he nodded and walked away. I’ve even considered making business cards with my contact info on it so I can offer to email them a copy if they want it.

    I think I got a couple of good ones last night but my main computer is down right now so until my new mother board arrives all I can do is see them on my camera. I’m too lazy to load SW on my wife’s netbook to convert them. Maybe I could stick silkypics on the work laptop to convert them. Hmmm…

  7. 2guysphoto says:

    I really like the first shot, Ed.. I tend to agree with Prentis that the greater degree of storytelling there is in a street shot, the more compelling it is. In the first image, I find myself thinking about this couple. What has their life together been like? What’s with the odd collection of items on the table in front of them? And is that a bottle of rubbing alcohol? Are they even together, as one is in front of one car and the other in front of another? If they are together, what does the painted white line between them suggest? Good street scene photos are about the stories they suggest…


    • Ed Spadoni says:

      “Good street scene photos are about the stories they suggest…”

      I agree with that Rey – storytelling is important in street, and really, all photography. But I wouldn’t confine successful photography to story-telling alone. I also think that an image can be compelling if it evokes a feeling. Today I opened this email from DPS, and these are some pretty good street portraits: I didn’t see stories in them as much as a sense of who these people are, what they’re about, what they might be thinking. Semantics maybe. But I think the important thing is that the image has some kind of impact on the viewer. If it does, I’d say that’s a good photo. Ed

  8. 2guysphoto says:

    Semantics perhaps, but those shots are portraits, maybe even environmental portraits. But street photography?

    • Ed Spadoni says:

      Candids, taken of strangers, on the virtual street of life, yep.

      Ed Spadoni

      Via iPhone

    • Mark James says:

      Being new to this and still learning but I would have to agree. For me a street shot is a shot of people going about their business in a public place. As soon as people look at the camera and smile I feel like it is no longer a street shot. Of course this is just my definition and mileage will vary. I did think the last one of the guy in the Mohawk fits my description.

  9. Ian Soliva says:

    Very nice article! Indeed, it takes more than just technical skills to capture the essence of street photography. There is one fellow Filipino guy here in Singapore who does this very well. His name is Danny Santos. Check out his site 🙂

    • Ed Spadoni says:

      Hi Ian, thanks for the link. I like his work – his street portraits are bright and colorful. That’s a nice change from the usual black and white that we usually see for this genre. I’ll be spending more time on his site. Ed

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