Street Photography is a subject that comes up a lot on the internet and opinions vary. There really is no authority on the subject or even a clear definition of what street is or is not. The overwhelming response is that we know it when we see it which is very subjective. I don’t claim to be a great or even average street photographer, but it’s something I enjoy when I get the opportunity.
The wiki definition of street photography sites the most classic examples of street were done between 1890 and 1975. During this time black and white film was the most prevalent medium presumably for it’s faster speed and overall economy. The rise is directly attributed to the portable 35mm camera but there is no rule saying that your camera must be 35mm or a Leica, even if that is what the majority of the famous classic street photographers used. Vivian Maier while not well known in her own time, was a great street photographer who used a 6×6 Rollei TLR for the majority of her work.
You can practice street photography in color and lots of people do it well, but in my opinion the best street photography has always been in black and white. Maybe it’s because it strips away all distractions and focuses your attention on the subject, or maybe it’s because I’ve been programmed to recognize it that way. A classic film for street is Kodak Tri-X. The emulsion has changed since the “classic” era but no one can argue that Tri-X processed in D-76 is not a classic combination. It’s a great place to start anyway. As for the camera, again, the classic combination would be a Leica M-3 or M-2 witha lens between 28 and 50mm. There are no rules saying you can’t shoot a Nikon SLR or an Olmpus XA but the reliability and size of the Leica combination have always been a hit with the hardcore street photographers. Keep your shutter speed fast and your f stop at f8 or higher as a general rule. This is why fast film comes in handy. There are times when you’ll need or want to deviate from the fast shutter speed and max DOF but as a starting point fast shutter will reduce camera shake and increased F stops increase the chances of being in focus as well as keeping the environment in focus. You can deviate from that of course, since there are no rules, but I think the majority of what we recognize as street photography falls under those guidelines.
The Ninja Assassin with the invisible Leica is mostly a myth. It’s important to be discreet and in most cases people in the street aren’t going to pay attention to you unless you’re drawing attention to yourself. There will be times when people notice you and look directly at you. Having a camera pointed in your direction is not a natural thing. The majority of people in this world are not walking around looking for a confrontation, they have places to go, people to see so more than likely if they notice they will either smile and go one about their day or they may give you a dirty or confused look. Don’t be a photography dork and yell that you have the legal right to take their photo, even if you do. Just smile and go on about your day. The secret to shooting in the streets is to be courteous and leave your hang ups at home.
Chances are you’re not going to go out on your first street shoot and get a Pulitzer unless you’re really lucky. I’m talking winning the lottery lucky. Start out by taking photos for yourself that have meaning. If the right moment presents itself you may just be the next Pulitzer, but the biggest challenge is to consistently get 1 or 2 keepers in a roll. A great photo is a combination of timing, lighting, subject and luck. Those moments don’t present themselves on a timed interval, you have to be there with a camera, recognize what’s going on and get the shot. It’s one of the most challenging photography disciplines you’ll ever shoot and you may never get a great photo in an entire lifetime. This isn’t to discourage you or to sound jaded, it’s just a reality of the genre. The positive is that you don’t need to get a foot in the door or get your big break to have an opportunity to shoot you only need to get your foot out of the door. In this respect the playing field is very level. You don’t need expensive equipment or a trust fund to travel the world. The only thing you need to do is get out and shoot, look for those moments, those places that have magical lighting and interesting elements etc. and start doing it.
Copyright Laws: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl107.html
I have provided a link to copyright laws in the US. I am not a lawyer or an expert in copyright laws so if you need legal advice I suggest consulting a lawyer who specializes in the matter.
Also in response to the comments this article has received I have done some editing to correct a few things.
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