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How to tackle street photography? First, lay off the excuses

Trevor Mogg

It’s one thing to say you enjoy street photography, and actually getting out into the world and doing it. Shooting street photography is as much an art form as the medium itself. It may look easy, but like other forms of photography, it requires thought and effort, as well as the ability to quickly respond to a fleeting moment, and getting out of your comfort zone. When your motivation drops, it’s easier to stay in than leave the house with your camera. If you find your street photography portfolio has more excuses than actual photographs, here are some tips to help you stay interested.

“I don’t have the time”

Trevor Mogg/Digital Trends

There are lots of successful street shooters who hold down full-time jobs, and have families, too. They don’t really have the time either, but somehow they find it. How? By organizing their day, prioritizing tasks, and carrying their camera with them everywhere they go. If they commute using public transportation, chances are their camera will be in their pocket — or better, in their hand — as they make their way to and from work. Out with the family? The camera goes with them, of course. If you don’t have so many commitments, then set aside part of the weekend for hitting the streets, or simply take your camera with you when you go to meet friends. After all, if you’re on the street, you can shoot the street. 

“Walking is a problem for me”

Trevor Mogg/Digital Trends

Although an unwillingness or inability to walk long distances may seem like something of a serious barrier when it comes to street photography, the truth is you don’t have to cover vast distances when you’re out with your camera. You can get great shots from a single spot where there’s a lot of foot traffic, or at places like festivals where there’s plenty going on in a relatively small space. Alternatively, plan a route you can handle and go slow, taking plenty of breaks along the way.

“I never know what to shoot”

Trevor Mogg/Digital Trends

If you find yourself on the streets for hours and never hit the shutter, perhaps you need to focus — and we’re not talking about turning that ring at the front of the camera. Before you head out, pick a subject to hone in on — it could be a single color, or shadows, or dogs and their owners. Not only will this help you to “see” better when you’re on the street, but after a while it’ll also turn into what could be a decent collection of shots that you can add to over time.

“Nothing ever happens where I live”

Trevor Mogg/Digital Trends

You can’t expect amazing things to happen every time you’re outside. Don’t forget, you’re a street shooter, not a news photographer. The fact is, you’ll always have days when you come back without any good pictures. Of course, if you live in the middle of nowhere with few people around, you’ll need to use your imagination to seek out other kinds of shots to take. But if you’re in an urban area, stuff’s happening all the time — you just need the eye to see it and the speed to snap it. But don’t forget, even the best street photographers can end the day with diddly-squat, and it’ll happen to you, too. In that case, look on the bright side — you got yourself some free exercise, and wasn’t it just fun to be out there watching the world go by?

“It’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too wet…”

Trevor Mogg/Digital Trends

If you only want to step outside with your camera in comfortable weather, that’s fine. But more extreme conditions can present some great photo opportunities that rarely come around, so try braving the elements from time to time. Make sure you have the appropriate clothing, as well as proper protection for your camera. Of course, we’re not suggesting you head out in a hurricane, but street photography doesn’t always have to take place under sunny skies, that’s for sure.

“I don’t have a decent camera”

Trevor Mogg/Digital Trends

If you have a smartphone, you have a decent camera. Even if you don’t have a smartphone, any camera will do. This guy even used a pinhole camera on the street, and the results are striking. Others have achieved great results with a smartphone, and yes, some walk the streets with gear worth thousands of bucks. The fact is, a decent camera is handy, but a good eye is essential.

“I’m worried I’m going to get punched”

Trevor Mogg/Digital Trends

This is the big one for most aspiring street photographers. It’s true, there’s always a risk you’re going to upset people if they catch you pointing a camera at their face, but more often than not, the worst you’re going to get is a grumble or a few expletives thrown your way. On the flip side, it could also lead to an exchange of smiles and a friendly conversation — it never hurts to ask for permission. Truth is, it’s a lottery on the streets, and you never quite know what you’re going to get — that’s why you enjoy it so much, right? If you’re not yet ready to get close, there are other ways of capturing people without being obvious about it. But if photographing people just makes you too anxious, shoot something else instead — striking architecture, reflections, urban landscapes, or broader city scenes that put enough distance between you and your subjects.

If you do plan on commercializing any of your photos, make sure you understand the privacy rules and photographers’ rights in your respective country.

Ready to finally drop the excuses and get out there? Here are 23 more tips to follow.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
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