Street photography, a genre that have withstood the test of time where the context of the image plays precedence over the technicalities of the shot. This month we have Larry Monserate Piojo, an accomplished street photographer from the Philippines sharing us ten tips to help us nail more impressive street photographs.
Images posted with Larry’s permission, taken from his The Metropolital Chronicle series.
Here are the 10 usual tips I give to those people asking me how I shoot the streets.
The outcome of your photograph is the result of your vision, a vision of a composition or a vision of a story. Before you plan to go out of the street, it’s always better to have something in mind of what kind of photograph you plan to take home with you later on. Do you want to shoot a specific subject in the street such as candle vendors? Or do you want to just shoot something black and white of everyday scenes. This will save you time and disk space.
2. WHEN TO SHOOT
I follow the same rule when shooting landscape. All goes down to the magic hours. I set my alarm at around 5am or 530am and then make sure I’ll obey it! Sometimes I even get up as early as 4am especially if I’m new to the place. This way I’ll have enough time to scout for interesting locations and study how light and shadows interact in a specific scene before sunrise. I find 7am to around 9am or sometimes even around 10 am to be the best time to shoot. Then in the afternoon at around 3pm or 4pm to whenever you can!!! I love doing street photography at night.
Take time to gather and decide which gear you think would be best for you during that day. If you plan to do portraitures, a 50mm or any portrait lens would be fine. If you plan to do more of like a street documentary and you plan to include scenes in your subjects to emphasize your story, then you may bring your ultrawide or even a kit lens. Whatever suits you. The bottom-line, be specific and bring only the gear that you need, especially if you plan to walk from Mall of Asia to North Harbor. You’ll never see me shooting the streets with my big backpack on!
I don’t really care. Wear whatever you like as you long as you know how to blend in with your surroundings and deal with your subject. Don’t act as if you are the richest guy in the crowd. The crowd hate it while some would take advantage of your “richness” if you’re so unlucky. So simplicity is the key. If you plan to bring with you your longest-biggest-whitest-shiniest lens, it’s okay. Just make sure you can handle it very well.
4. PAY ATTENTION TO SHADOWS, HIGHTLIGHTS, and DETAILS
Shadows, highlights and details are just three of those so many reasons of a good photograph. If you already have a story in mind, and you already have envisioned it prior to setting off the streets, now you’ll have to make sure you get the best lighting. That is by learning and trusting your instinct. Practice seeing shadows and blend them with your composition, practice seeing light and do the same.
An instinct to know what’s gonna happen next is a very effective tool if you want to capture some unprecedented moments. Anticipate your surroundings and your subjects every movement…it’s like playing a role of a CIA agent! Fun huh? Although this may require lots of practice and trust with your own instinct…
6. GET CLOSER
Look at a photograph of a subject taken from afar and a photograph taken right in front of him. See the difference. Not much? Well, most of the time, photographs taken from afar speaks only about what that person does when you took the shot. Do you know him? Do you know what his story is? I bet not. Get closer to your subject, introduce yourself, talk to him, ask for his name, and be funny and trustworthy. Befriend him and most importantly RESPECT him. What I’m after for when taking portraitures of strangers is to get to know them better, I tell you, it always surprises me after hearing their stories. For a photographer, there’s no better way to feel rewarded after sharing your subjects story whole heartedly. Telling your subjects’ story is about indulging yourself intensely with their hearts and their souls. I have become part of a stranger’s life in the street, and best of all, he becomes part of me.
7. RESPECT and DIGNIFY
The issues of subjects running away from photographers or subjects declining coz of fear are attributable to other photographer’s being disrespectful. (On DPP episode 7, a subject ran away from us because one claimed that he was once approached by other photographers that did not explain very well their purpose. They just shoot at him maybe from afar, while the poor subject thought he was doing something illegal and is about to be put to jail, which maybe he really was.) Same goes to you, you don’t want to see a stranger sitting next to you on a train taking your photograph just like that, right? Explaining your purpose to the subject and telling them your own story builds up trust. Remember humans have dignity and deserved to be respected at all times.
If after you have explained your purpose but still your subject declines, move on, my friend! The subject doesn’t want to be photographed. So stop! Don’t waste your time spending all day trying to take a photo of someone spending all day declining from your offer.
Although, I have to tell you this… most people, or 90% of us wanted to be photographed. We’ll just have to learn how.
8. BUILD TRUST
Have you seen a documentary photographer how much they are able to photograph a whole community without being questioned? It’s called trust. If you’re new and love to shoot the streets, here’s a tip: BUILD TRUST. After taking their photographs, give them something they can hold on to or something that will let them remember you. A call card is very effective. You don’t need to put your private contact nos.; Your REAL NAME (please), an email or a websiten are very good. At least they know who you are and who took their photo randomly in the streets. Also, if you know you’re going back to that place next week or sometime in the future, tell them you give them a copy of the photographs when you come back. And make sure you do that! A 4R print only costs around P8. This will build trust between many photographers and subjects.
9. SHARE THEIR STORIES
Share not only the photos, the exif, and whatever technicalities or geeky stuff you know. I am much more interested with the story rather than the opening I used for a certain image.
10. WEATHER SEALED
SAFETY FIRST! But don’t let any weather stop you from shooting the streets. Street photography is weather-sealed.
You can find out more about Larry’s photos from the following links:
Thank you Larry for your valuable insights!