It was a long time I wanted to write about this subject. Is travel photography only beautiful sceneries or is it also about local life and possibly food? I believe it is all of this and more. I really think that city, street and travel photography are all part of the same root, which I love to call Local Life Photography.
When travelling, I spend a considerable amount of time photographing landscapes, mostly at sunrise and sunset. However in the last few years I have started including in my travel documentation also some street and local life photography.
This is actually becoming a real passion and I could see, through these years, also a transformation of my way to make photos.
I have learnt few lessons along the way with street photography and I wanted to share them with you
Keep it small
I started my photography gear trip from the Canon world, with an amateur DSLR. I shifted to Nikon when I decided to move to the professional world (I believe Nikon and Canon have both great gear, it was just a personal decision).
Now that I am spending more and more time on travel photography I can see coming another shift, to the mirrorless world.
I bought my first Canon 40D with an 18-200mm lens as I thought I could cover a wide range of photography style. I bought my first Nikon, D600, with a 24-120mm for the same reason.
In both cases I was extremely happy with my landscape photography however when I started doing street and city photography in the markets, in the back alleys and in the lanes, I did most definitely get noticed.
For this exact reason I bought a Nikon prime 50mm. One of the smallest Nikon lens, beside being really fast and providing a great image quality.
I could already see people less intimidated by me making photos, I was suddenly less of a pro and more of a city visitor, which is great. But still, the Nikon D600 is not that small.
I have tested lately the Panasonic Lumix G 20mm F/1.7 lens with a Panasonic GX8 and suddenly, and finally, I could see people looking at me in a different way. I was not any more a pro but just a guy shooting.
People did not really care of me that much, meanwhile in the past I got questioned few times what I was doing, where would I publish the photos, what was my work etc. This is absolutely fine, however I could feel it more of an investigation talk than an informal chat.
Beside the small size of this Panasonic package, there is also the fact that I just need to take with me around 550g instead of twice that much with my DSLR.
Legal & Ethic
In Australia and USA, as in many other countries, you may take photos of people in public places without asking. I like however to be every time sensitive with my subjects. For example, I do not make photos of homeless or destitute people, unless I ask first and I receive approval.
When visiting a country I always suggest to check the local rules and laws
Having people in your photos may be an issue in case you want to sell them in stock photography websites as you need to have a release form, if the face is clearly recognizable.
Of course there may be some location that do not allow photography, these may be private or even public areas. Or they do not allow tripod/monopod, which is ok for street photography.
I never make photos of children unless I see something interesting. I anyway introduce myself to the parents and I explain who am I and I promise to send the photos . They may still say no of course and that’s ok
Local Life Photography is about showing and documenting a place
People portraits – 15 tips
I usually run photography classes and one question I am asked quite frequently is how can I make portraits of people I do not know when I travel.
Before going to the suggestions I like to say that people, in my opinion, may add character to the photos.
A photo should be able to talk, either through a great composition, magic colours or people in the image.
A person portrait or a group of people in the working environment or even a close up on a body part can say a lot about the story around the person or even the place where he/she was born or grown up
These are few of the things I have learnt in my years
- Rewire the brain, taking photos of people may look awkward but it is not
- You are not doing a bad thing, you are taking a photo of a person because there is something nice in him or her
- smile and say thank you
- explain why you are taking the photo, maybe for a photography class assignment, a local website. You need to have a story ready, without hesitation
- remember to make compliments to people, they like that, especially when they are dressing differently or fashionable
- ask about their life, especially with elderly people, you will be amazed to hear unique stories behind a person, especially in Australia, a land of never ending immigration
- always show the photos to the subject, he or she may be interested to them
- give your business card and ask to contact you if they want a copy of a photo
- follow your feeling, no dangerous situations
- never hide that’s where you get in trouble
- be close enough, if you’re not it means that you are afraid. Probably you need to pass on and go for another photo
- when you make a portrait, try to stay on his/her side, around 30% degrees from the front. Usually the person will only turn the face but not the shoulders. Overall it will look nicer
- include hands if you can, they usually say a lot
- or shoot just hands at work, that’s another way to say a story
There is still a last suggestion I can give.
15. be persistent
Sometime it just does not work. It’s not the right day. It’s not the right person. It’s not the right lens.
The most important thing is to never give up. There are always gorgeous days ahead of stormy days
Eight top locations and situations
There are situations and locations where it’s easier to make street photography.
Here is a list you may find useful during your shooting
- crowded places give confidence. There are locations like markets or local festivals where it is much easier to take a photo, just because people are busy with something else or are in a festive mood. Train or bus/tram stops can be also interesting locations
- fishing techniques: instead of chasing people, set up a scene (you can stand outside a station with your camera ready for example). It will give you more confidence if someone enters into your scene then the other way around. You make sure that your camera setting is correct before you get the right moment, basically seat and wait
- try to be invisible, look harmless, no telephoto or zoom lens
- 20 degrees rule. Be 20 degrees on the right or left of the person in front of you. In this way he or she does not feel that uncomfortable as standing in front of your camera and looking into it. With a 40-50mm lens you will be anyway able to include your subject into the photo
- shoot people doing something, you give a story to your photo and most probably they don’t even see you as they are too busy with the own things
- give a context, try to make a photo including the place, if significant to the story
- keep smiling and no eye contact
- create an agenda before you go to a place
Composition in the street
There are so many famous street photographers to take inspiration from. Cartier-Bresson has done history with his pictures, just to mention one.
Watching photos from these amazing legends help to have a better composition. Studying from the consolidated gurus always give a a big help before you can refine your own style.
There are two main components in street photography
- good content, what is actually happening (the subject)
- good form, how do you frame it (composition)
Content is more important than form. You can have the best form, however if there is not a story behind, the photo will not say that much. On the contrary, a great story may miss a good form
These are few tips that may help you to frame a better photo
With horizontal lines things look at rest, they don’t move, they are stable. Think of a simple photo of the horizon, it calms you down.
Vertical lines are instead more powerful. Think of skyscrapers or trees, they are less stable, and more dynamic than horizontal lines. you eye tends to follow the skyscraper from bottom to top.
Diagonal lines are however the most dynamic and energetic lines that can give more edgy photos.
The first composition rule you learn in photography is probably the Rule of Thirds. It’s a great start however the issue with this rule is that it is based on horizontal and vertical lines.
Rule of thirds
The Golden Triangle in this respect works better because it is based on diagonal lines. Cartier-Bresson used it quite a lot and we can only agree with him LOL
This is the famous photo “Portrait of a loved one” of Cartier-Bresson’s wife, Martine Franck
Golden Triangle Rule for great composition
Lead-in lines help the eyes to focus on the subject. We had already an extensive talk about lead-in line and how to use them in landscape photography. The concept applies similarly for any type of photography.
In this case, back alleys or small lanes work great as lead-in lines as well as buildings do.
Watch out that lead-in lines can work to your advantage or disadvantage, taking the attention out from your subject. Practice, practice, practice
Lead in lines help the eyes to focus on the subject of your photo
Figure to ground
Make a nice contrast between your subject and the background so the subject pops out and separates from the background.
The ideal figure to ground is a black dressed person with a white background in this way there is better separation between the subject and the background.
For example, the separation between the subject and the background makes photos of silhouette working great
Figure to Ground separation rule – Black dressed rider on an almost white background
Triangles add harmony and balance to the photo.
If you can pose the people it works best when you have one on the front and two on the back.
If you can’t, try to find 2 of the elements of the triangle (stable ones) and wait until the third element comes into your composition, of course easy to say, more complicated to do it.
Triangle rule to add harmony and balance
Try to look for a frame into a frame, this could be a window, a door frame or simply a tree brunch
Frame into a frame
Camera lenses I suggest to use
I can only repeat the first concept. Keep it small.
Ideally, the mobile phone is the best camera to use. Small and unpretentious. The problem with the mobile phone is the lack of narrow depth of field. You may add it later with few filters but it will be something noticeable and it will not look great.
I tried a few lenses and I always had my best results with a prime (a lens with a unique focal length, no zooming).
These lenses are usually very fast, with a fantastic narrow depth of field, which means you will be able to have a sharp subject on a blurred background. Moreover, they are usually cheaper than zoom lenses and, of course, much smaller and lighter.
On a full frame camera, an hypothetical 43mm lens provides the same angle of view that humans have. For this reason I like to use primes in the 40-50mm range when doing street photography, because they provide my same angle of view. Moreover these prime lenses oblige me to get closer to the subject, and possibly start a conversation. Great when travelling alone
These are two lenses I can only suggest
This is quite a cheap lens for what it does. I did expect plastic but, to my surprise, the quality of the lens build is quite remarkable, all metal and it comes with a reversible hood which does a good job in protecting and shading the lens.
The image quality is fantastic to say the least with extremely sharp and detailed images. The bokeh in the out of focus background is amazing!
The AF motor (Silent Wave Motor or SWM) is really silent. You can barely hear it when it is focusing.
This is a very light DSLR lens at 186g. You will not feel it on your camera, especially if you are used to zoom lenses.
I usually carry it with me in my bag when I travel. You never know what you are going to explore. If there is, for example, an unexpected street market, I seat on the side and I screw in this lens without hesitation.
You can check the best price in USA or in Australia
This is another lens I have loved so much during my 2 weeks of testing. It can be used either on Panasonic or Olympus cameras and it is an equivalent 40mm on full frame, therefore very close to the angle of view that humans have (43mm).
Focusing with this lens is as fast as you need when travelling, although not as fast as with the Nikkor 50mm, at least that was my experience.
I used it together with a Panasonic GX-8 and I has sensational results. Similar quality as I had with the Nikkor 50mm paired with the Nikon D600 full sensor.
As with the previous lens, you can work with a very narrow depth of field, making it the perfect choice into local markets and street photography
The best part is that it weights just 86g and it is very small. I usually kept in my pocket, not even in the bag.
Based on my experience, this is a must have lens if you have a Panasonic or Olympus camera. Amazing results in a super small package.
You can check the best price in USA or in Australia
A final thinking
Travel Photography is not just beautiful sunset and sunrises, fantastic beaches and amazing mountain peaks.
There is more than that.
That is where street photography meets travel photography.
The easiest way to practice is just walking in the street in the own town or city, getting more confident approaching people, have a talk.
The life is not made of only positive experiences. And photography is the same. In the street you may meet some unfriendly people…..just move on. I compare it to a 1 hour drive for a sunset that does not materialize.
One of the best street photography reference out in the web is the Eric Kim Blog. He has created also a full video course, available for free. A must see
Enjoy your travel photography !!
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