My two year old son thinks it is a novelty to ride in a car yet he knows which subway line will bring us home. He is well acquainted with the art of chasing pigeons, the boat traffic along the Hudson River and the guy who delivers our Thai food. I’m not sure I could have predicted that we would be raising our kid in New York City but here we are, and if you could find me an extra closet I’d even go so far as to say we love it.
Living here and documenting our son’s adventures has also ignited a love affair between me and street photography. It is a fascinating and diverse genre that I cannot give justice to in a short blog post. Nor do I purport to be an expert in the field. However, I can’t get enough of it and would encourage anyone with an interest to get out there and give it a try because it is an extremely freeing form of photography.
And while I do not believe that there is one “right” way to go about it, urban spaces are dynamic, bold and teeming with interest. Here are a few of my suggestions for getting images that are all of those things as well.
1. Plan Ahead
Think about what you intend to shoot, where you plan to go, and what gear you want to bring. Tripods are great for night shooting. Wide angles are fantastic for cityscapes. You might want a prime for portraits.
I recommend toting around no more than two lenses though I try to stick to just one. If I am not sure what the day will bring and really want the versatility (and have the stroller to carry my load), my favorite combination is my 16-35mm and my macro. Importantly, use common sense, especially if you are in an unfamiliar location. Be aware of your surroundings and consider the safety of yourself, anyone traveling with you, and your gear.
2. Keep it in Perspective
When out with my camera, I usually wear darker colors and it’s not because I am a trendy New Yorker. If you want to get an interesting photograph of your kids with the city around them, or the harsh shadows on a building or any number of other eye-catching subjects, you may need to get up close and personal with the streets themselves. Obtaining the correct perspective can really make or break a shot, and often, if size is what you wish to convey, you need to get low.
Then again, you may also need to climb tables or railings, or do any other number of things to get the right angle to achieve your vision. Cautious photographs often end up looking like snapshots so check your embarrassment at the door and move with confidence – eventually you stop caring if other people think you’ve lost your mind. Besides, you’re probably building up your immune system.
3. Choose Your Approach Wisely
If you are particularly outgoing, ask people who interest you if you can take their pictures (I usually draw the line right about there but many street portrait photographers ask their subjects for permission – or use a really long lens).
If you photograph street musicians or other performers, be nice and leave a buck or two. They are also working for their art. (Side note: be aware that if you intend to use any of your images for certain commercial purposes, you may need model release forms from your subjects or property release forms in the case of businesses being visible in your shots.)
Of course, although you may choose to be bold in certain situations you will want to tread lightly in others. Shooting from the hip is a great way to get interesting shots without attracting attention to the fact that you are taking photos of total strangers. And even then, consider your subjects carefully in order to avoid altercations.
4. Be Prepared
I usually meter off the sidewalk at zero (in the same light as I’m shooting into) and get my settings where I want them to be so if I see a shot, then I can frame and shoot. When shooting from the hip, I hold my camera reasonably straight at around waist-level and fire away when I see something interesting.
I often go with a narrower aperture and higher ISO to get more of the scene in focus. I keep an eye out for interesting motion and try to be aware of my composition as I aim to fill the frame and I move quickly to change settings if I decide I want motion blur or panning.
Using a wide angle lens will give you more room to crop after the fact and converting to black and white in your post processing will give your photos a timeless feel that will help you out when you get home and discover that someone’s orange Crocs made it into the frame.
5. Anything Goes
When you’re out there, be creative, have a great time and keep your expectations low. Like any type of photography, bringing home keepers takes practice. You are guaranteed a lot of junk but much of the fun is in the trying. Play with shutter speeds, depth of field, perspective and subject matter. Try using only manual focus.
Be thoughtful about composition and what goes into the frame. The city is filled with leading lines – be led! Take pictures of your family interacting with the environment, not just posing in front of landmarks.
Finally, only take pictures of things that actually interest you. Then return home with a full memory card and go treasure hunting. I am certain you will find some gems.
Stacey Vukelj, New York
Stacey Leece Vukelj spends her time being a mom and a lawyer and wielding a heavy camera around the streets of New York. She loves cities (hers and others), cheese, and the company of friends and loved ones, particularly when they bring wine to go along with the cheese. She is thankful for the boundless support of her husband, who kindly refrains from commenting on her growing lens collection, and is highly amused that her brother has unwittingly become a heartthrob for a certain subset of Clickin Moms. Should you come to town and find yourself in need of a friendly face, give her a shout.
Have you given street photography a shot? Would you like an excuse to? Come join us for the second annual ClickinWalk being held later this month! Find a location and register for a photo walk near you here.
And a special thank you to all the incredible sponsors for this year’s Walk!