Street Techniques

Candid Street Portraits - Street Photography Workflow

 
 

Candid Street Portraits - Street Photography Workflow

Approaching people on the street for a portrait, or photographing people candidly seems to be a struggle for a lot of photographers, especially those that are newer to street photography. It doesn’t matter that you can competently photograph people you know very well, or that you can photograph and direct models, when it comes street portraits you freeze. Does this sound like you, a little?

Why Candid Portraits are better than asking for a posed portrait

You see a person and you ask for a photograph, they say yes and then proceed to do some crappy pose and give you the high school photo smile that is totally unnatural and was the last thing you wanted from the photo. You wouldn't have asked if you knew this would happen but you proceed to take an image that you DO NOT WANT anymore. They ask if they can see it and you reluctantly show the image to them. Then they complain and say that they look terrible and that you should take another one to get a better angle of them. You end up being stuck with this person for 3 very long minutes (feels like 20mins) and now you have these images that they want digital copies of and all you want to do is forget and delete them. This is the reason why we think that when it comes to people you don't know, you should aim to shoot candidly. Candidly doesn't have to be fleeting, it can be well composed and look almost like it was set up if you do it right.

Here is our workflow for candid street portraits

Check for flaws in the scene

(5-15 seconds)

You spot a subject that you want to photograph. First thing you will want to do is check the scene for any flaws or dangers that would have a negative impact on the final image or land you in trouble. We often see a subject that looks worthy of a photo but after quickly assessing the subjects surrounding and how the lighting is, we find that it’s just not worth it and we move on from the scene or we re-compose from a different angle and check for flaws once more. This is a fast process in itself and we don’t dawdle. This is all done with the camera down, slung or in the pocket, we asses with our eyes and mind only. Remember bad light is bad light and no matter how good your camera is bad light sucks, it’s not worth it.

Configure your camera settings

(5-15 seconds)

Assuming the scene has no flaws or the flaws are acceptable enough for you to proceed. You now need to figure out how you will frame the shot and what setting are best suited for it. We like to maintain a level of control for these images so we set our camera to shutter priority and set the shutter speed for a sharp image. 1/250s - 1/500s is great but it depends greatly on your environment and your personal preference. We have our ISO set around 800 and let the camera pick the matching aperture. As a preference our exposure metering is set to center weighted and the exposure comp is +⅓ stop

Position yourself correctly

(5-15 seconds)

We position ourselves in the spot where we intend to take the photograph from or close to it. At this point it is important that we don't directly face the subject instead facing our body to the left or right of them, this way we don’t draw as much attention to ourselves. You might want to tie your shoelace, stop to make a “answer” a call or look at something in the distance, anything to ensure the subject thinks you’re there for that reason only. The subject may glance but since you’re not facing them directly and you seem to be doing something else, like talking to nobody on the phone, they don’t fuss.

Take the shot

(5-15 seconds)

You’re in position and all that is left is for you to take the shot. You have one last choice to make. Do you want the subject to look at the camera or not. If the latter then quickly take the shot and move on, no harm done and the subject is non the wiser. If you want eye contact in your image then simply wait with your camera ready and in focus at the eye (or if using a flip screen), soon enough they will notice you and look directly at the camera lens this is when you release the shutter. Swiftly give them a thumbs up, smile, and walk away. Trust us they won’t do anything beyond looking confused and it will have all happened far to quickly for them to really process their thoughts. You could hang around and pretend you’re taking a picture of something else, which will give them time to assess you and what you just did and will likely result in them asking why. You could straight up tell them afterwards, but will get varied responses doing that. Its best to be on your way.


CANDID STREET PORTRAIT IMAGE EXAMPLES

 
 
With this one I would have been happy with a shot of him reading the newspaper, but he looked up when i had the camera facing him. The street was pretty empty so he noticed me pretty easy. Still as soon as he looked I was ready and release the shutter once more, and once more I left the scene swiftly after giving thanks by the way of a nod of the head and a smile. If the crutches are anything to go by he was pretty grounded but i did look back a few feet ahead to see him back ready not really giving extra thought to what happened.

With this one I would have been happy with a shot of him reading the newspaper, but he looked up when i had the camera facing him. The street was pretty empty so he noticed me pretty easy. Still as soon as he looked I was ready and release the shutter once more, and once more I left the scene swiftly after giving thanks by the way of a nod of the head and a smile. If the crutches are anything to go by he was pretty grounded but i did look back a few feet ahead to see him back ready not really giving extra thought to what happened.


 
 
This image was easy as the person was focused on fixing his guitar strings whilst wearing a wide brimmed hat. I had plenty of time to compose the shot and get it right. I took two images altogether. This one and another from a few steps further back. I was there for about 6 seconds total and he was not aware of me in the slightest.

This image was easy as the person was focused on fixing his guitar strings whilst wearing a wide brimmed hat. I had plenty of time to compose the shot and get it right. I took two images altogether. This one and another from a few steps further back. I was there for about 6 seconds total and he was not aware of me in the slightest.


 
 
With this Candid Street Portrait I had very little room to move, my back was pressed up against a parked car on the curbside. The street was very busy so I had to wait for clear shot. He was looking down at his hands as I was waiting for the street to clear, just as it did he noticed me and looked up and right into the camera at which point I released the shutter. A split second later he looked puzzled but I already was on my way after a quick peace sign and a smile. He wasn’t going to leave his goods alone. I was standing still for about 5 seconds.

With this Candid Street Portrait I had very little room to move, my back was pressed up against a parked car on the curbside. The street was very busy so I had to wait for clear shot. He was looking down at his hands as I was waiting for the street to clear, just as it did he noticed me and looked up and right into the camera at which point I released the shutter. A split second later he looked puzzled but I already was on my way after a quick peace sign and a smile. He wasn’t going to leave his goods alone. I was standing still for about 5 seconds.

 
 

This guy was in a day dream. I saw him from a busy street corner about 10ft from where I took the shot. He was in his own little world sat on a very busy street with people walking all around. I pretending to shoot at something down the street and each time a nice opening occurred I would turn my camera to take the image. I took 3 images but they just didn’t really cut it, on the 4th attempt I took this shot which I’m very happy with. Maybe about 10-12 seconds total in this position.

This guy was in a day dream. I saw him from a busy street corner about 10ft from where I took the shot. He was in his own little world sat on a very busy street with people walking all around. I pretending to shoot at something down the street and each time a nice opening occurred I would turn my camera to take the image. I took 3 images but they just didn’t really cut it, on the 4th attempt I took this shot which I’m very happy with. Maybe about 10-12 seconds total in this position.

 

 
For this candid street photograph I knew a side profile would work best, the light was ideal and the depth was nice. This made it easy for me. I sat down to tie my laces in position about 15 ft away. He looked at me whilst I did that, but soon went back to staring ahead at which point I quickly took this photograph, and off I went again.

For this candid street photograph I knew a side profile would work best, the light was ideal and the depth was nice. This made it easy for me. I sat down to tie my laces in position about 15 ft away. He looked at me whilst I did that, but soon went back to staring ahead at which point I quickly took this photograph, and off I went again.


 
 
 

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Pre Visualization - Street Photography Techniques

 

Do you ever find yourself walking the streets kinda aimlessly and hoping images are going to find you rather than you finding them? I think we have all been there, I’ve certainly had some lacklustre days shooting street. On those days I tended to walk further, and shoot more, yet I was often left disappointed with my end results. I’d often shoot street for 6+ hours at a time, and even with that time frame I would get carried away, hurrying the process due to thinking I was missing a shot down the street. I’d see something that appeals to me, find a composition that works and I’d take the shot, and then move on until my eye catches something else. What I’d end up with is rushed images that could be much better, with a little pre visualization. 

Pre Visualization is a term first used by Ansel Adams, who admittedly wasn’t a street photographer. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, he is perhaps the most famous landscape photographer ever. But what does Pre-Visualization mean, and how can something first coined by a landscape photographer help when shooting on a chaotic street. Pre-Visualization - is the ability to see a finished image before making the exposure. Personally, I think that the term Pre-Visualization is very well suited to street photographers. Some think that you need to be ready in a split second as a street photographer, kinda like a reactionary snap shooter style photographer. A moment comes right at you, and you’ve got to be ready to nail the exposure. This is true to an extent, plenty of people shoot that style, the quick fire raw street style, but honestly the best ones that do, still pre-visualize the image as much as possible. Henri Cartier-Bresson (most famous NYC street photographer) didn’t walk aimlessly reacting to people walking in his direction, it might look like that happened. He would have to be one lucky photographer to just stumble across exposures without any thought process, framing them perfectly. What separates his images from others is the planning, the pre-visualization and his thought process. It’s planned spontaneity in a way. The framing is well thought out, the passage of the subject is expected and the camera settings are in place. All that is left is a release of the shutter when the subject arrives in place. Henri Cartier-Bresson knew exactly what he wanted to get from each of those shutter releases, that is pre-visualization, it might have taken him only 5 seconds, it might have taken longer, but the point is that pre visualization was used, no guesswork. Other Street Photographers might be more loose with the visualization, but even just having the ability to sidestep as a subject approaches because you can see the image would be better taken 2 ft to your right, is pre visualization. It’s not seeing, aiming shooting and hoping the scene pulls itself together, it’s having a say in the formation of the image.

Shoot less, think more. If we spend less time shooting like as a reactionary photographer, we enable ourselves time to think and visualize better. If we are romping down the street like we have got somewhere to be, taking shots left, right, and center then we are limiting ourselves and striving for nothing more than quantity over quality, whilst hoping for some luck along the way. Nobody should expect hundreds of keepers from an afternoon of street/travel photography, so you may as well slow it down and strive for a few keepers. Personally, after a good day of shooting I’m usually left with a hand full of images that I’m happy about. The rest are reminders to shoot less, and examples of how to improve. Admittedly the number of keepers has gone down through the years, but the standard of my images has improved dramatically and my eye is more critical of potential keepers, plus I shoot less. This is mostly down to Pre Visualization, I know what I’m looking for on the street, I’m just gathering the parts so to say. Pre-Visualizing is understanding the image in your mind before releasing the shutter. The scene in front of you might look one way, but with your imagination, you're able to create something that is not seen, the coming together of your imagination and with a technical know-how to create it, is to visualizing the image. 

Some simple examples of Pre Visualizing :

-You see a red building in front of you, it has large door at the front, you wait patiently for somebody to walk through the door, releasing the shutter at the exact time the person walks out of the door. You waited patiently because you imagined the image with a person stepping out of the door and knew it would add more depth and interest to the composition. You could have taken the original image of the scene in front of you, but instead you created a new scene your eyes didn't see, your imagination did. Pre Visualisation 

-It’s rush hour in the city and people are walking through the streets fast, you see somebody reading a book whilst leaning up against a wall. Everybody else around is moving. Your camera is set at 1/500s which would freeze the people in the shot, you imagine a person standing against a wall reading and motion blurred people around him and so you lowered your speed to something like 1/60s to enable motion blur yet keeping the main subject sharp. You visualized an image that the naked eye cannot see, and your technical ability allowed you to capture it as you imagined it. This is pre-visualization

Those are the most basic examples of visualizing the image, we all do it to some extent. But most really don't think enough about the shot, before raising the camera to start playing with settings and angles. So next time you're out on the street, try to pre-visualize and understand the image you're about to take, ask yourself if you're able to improve upon the scene in front of you. Are you able to photograph it differently to how it's seen to the naked eye, what would that look like and how would you do that? put these kinds of question in your head when you approach a scene and try to complete the image before raising up your camera. Slow it down, shoot less, think more and bring home better images next time you shoot.