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Too shy to shoot? Street photographer Valerie Jardin shares her top tips

Thinking of trying your hand at street photography, but feeling a little apprehensive about venturing out with your camera for the first time? Having walked countless miles through cities around the world with her trusty Fujifilm X100T in hand, Valerie Jardin has gathered a wealth of experience in the genre. Besides building up her own impressive portfolio, the French-born photographer also runs her own street photography workshops in global cities and posts a weekly podcast on the subject.

She recently spoke with Digital Trends about her work, and shared some of her top tips on how you can get the most out of your time on the streets.

Digital Trends: Can anyone try his or her hand at street photography?

Valerie Jardin: Absolutely! Though street photography is definitely not for the faint-hearted. It’s not only one of the most challenging photographic genres to master, but the fear of photographing strangers prevents many from even giving it a try.

“The key is to be constantly aware of the extraordinary in the ordinary.”

Is there what you might call a “golden rule” for street photographers?

Respect! You will get objections and rejections. Some people may even get confrontational. You should never be confrontational back. Move on, there’ll be another story at the next street corner. I also make a point to never photograph people in vulnerable situations, or in moments of crisis. I roam the streets for hours and hours with my camera with one goal, to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Many will equate street photography with getting into people’s face and invading their personal space. Yet, there are many ways to approach this popular genre and one of them will surely fit your personality and creative vision.

Can you offer an example?

A common way to approach street photography is to simply stroll along and react to situations. What catches your eye may be as simple as the physical appearance of a person or the way the light falls on someone. It may be an expression, a reflection, a shadow, etc. The key is to be constantly aware of the extraordinary in the ordinary and be prepared to react quickly.

What advice would you give to someone shooting on the streets for the very first time?

Start with a busy place. A street market or a fair, for example. It’ll be easier to remain invisible in a crowd. Go with a friend. It doesn’t even have to be another photographer. You will be bolder if you’re not alone and the streets will seem less intimidating. Start by photographing street performers. Buskers are strangers but they won’t object to being photographed. Just remember that they make a living on the streets – drop some cash in the hat first, then take your time!

All images ©Valerie Jardin.

How about finding a “stage” and waiting for the right subject to enter your frame?

Yes, the perfect stage can be a shop window, a billboard, some graffiti on a wall, a shaft of light on the sidewalk, etc. The possibilities are endless and the key to the success of the image is to recognize the strong subject and capture the right gesture.

If you’re feeling brave, could you also become part of the scene and enter your subject’s space?

This requires you to be very close to the person you are photographing. The result can be very powerful. For this type of shot, a wide-angle will be the lens of choice. Best is to use a camera with a silent shutter and not bring it to your eye. The point is not about being “sneaky,” it’s about not disrupting the scene. If the subject notices you, he or she will stop doing what caught your eye in the first place, and the shot will be lost.

“Listen to your heart and photograph what makes you happy to find your creative voice.”

Your photography also incorporates the human element into the urban landscape, which can be very effective.

This more minimalist way of approaching street photography can yield some visually powerful images. The urban landscape or architecture will be your main visual draw. Finding the right location and the best angle for the strongest composition possible is the easy part. Next comes the skill of determining who will make the best subject and the right gesture. This requires a great deal of patience.

How about approaching your subject and asking to make a portrait shot?

Interacting with people on the street is a really fun way to shoot street photography. Sometimes you will have a conversation with the person, other times a simple eye contact is all you need. If you are very shy, practice without a camera for a while. Make small talk with strangers at the bus stop or at the coffee shop. Once you are ready to make your first street portrait, remember to relax. You need to send some positive vibes or you will look intimidating. Ask people with tattoos, piercing, or funky hair – they’re fun and they usually love to be noticed and photographed. People walking their dogs are also easy subjects to get started. Street portraits are very gratifying. Don’t forget to offer to send a copy of the photograph. You and your subject will part ways with a smile on your face.

Final tip?

Remember that you’re shooting street photography for fun and for yourself. Listen to your heart and photograph what makes you happy to find your creative voice.

Valerie has recently published an ebook packed with ideas on how to get the most out of your street photography adventures.

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
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