Up Close and Personal: Street Photography Tips

I discovered my love for photography much later than most photographers I know. It took some time to figure out my favorite subjects. Once I realized that I enjoyed taking candid shots of people, I knew that I had found my niche. Every chance I get, I can be found on the streets of NYC and beyond – whether in Chinatown, Coney Island or Brighton Beach, or shooting events such as the Mermaid Parade, Feast of San Gennaro, protest marches, and other cultural events.

Here are some questions I am frequently asked:

Do you ask people if you can take their photo?
No, I don’t, with very few exceptions. The minute somebody knows you are taking their photo, the dynamic changes. I prefer natural, candid shots with genuine expressions. Sometimes those expressions are coupled with gestures:

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Do people notice you taking their photo?
The majority of time, they don’t. It’s amazing how thoroughly people are wrapped up in their own worlds. I tend to shoot very, very close with prime lenses. Most of the time people either don’t notice, or think I am taking a picture of something else (perhaps the person behind them?). I’ve also changed some of my mannerisms to help me blend into any scene more easily. I get a thrill when I manage to get away with it. I’m about three feet away from these ladies:

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Are there any photos you won’t take?
Yes. I learned to trust my instincts. I’m a woman who often shoots alone in NYC. Aside from the street smarts I’ve learned over the years, I’ve become even more aware of people who seem imbalanced and may become aggressive.

I try very hard not to take photos that are exploitative and cheap. For me, that means no homeless people, people struggling with physical or mental illness, or who are incapacitated in any way. Each person has their own set of values. Each has to figure out what they think is morally acceptable to them. I tend to seek humorous situations or interesting faces.

Lastly, I almost never take pictures of people on their cell phones, unless there is a real story there. These shots are just everywhere and I find them boring. Unless they are doing something funny or interesting:

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What type of gear do you use?
As mentioned, I like to get really close. I most often shoot with a Fuji X100T (23mm), a Fuji X-T1 (with either 18mm, 27mm, or 35mm lens), and occasionally a Ricoh GR (18.3mm). I also have a Canon 6D with a 50mm or a 24-105mm lens. I generally don’t take the Canon on the street because zoom lenses feel like cheating. I will occasionally use a zoom for a parade or rally—but for me, the closer, the better. Here I am just a few feet away from a man on the subway:

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I’m scared to take pictures of strangers. How do I get over that?
The more you shoot, the more comfortable it becomes. If you want an easy way to start, I’d suggest parades, rallies, or other events where people are likely to be photographed. Buskers are also good, although I prefer if they don’t realize I am taking a picture. Throw in a buck or two if you can. The shot below is from the Union Square greenmarket, full of people going about their own business:

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My final advice is to get out there and try it—again and again and again. Don’t be discouraged if you only get one or two good shots out of hundreds.

 

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13 Responses to Up Close and Personal: Street Photography Tips

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    teegar January 5, 2016 at 10:59 am #

    I’ve seen this first hand a couple times. I even remember asking you almost all of these questions 🙂 Love the article. Keep shooting, love your stuff!

  2. Phil V January 5, 2016 at 11:07 am #

    Great article and great shots. I have tried street a couple of times while I was in Ireland on business. I will work up the courage at some point to get some street shots in my city. It somehow seemed easier to shoot when I was pretty sure I wouldn’t see any of the subject again.

  3. Gordon S January 5, 2016 at 11:09 am #

    How do you get a photo release on the street. And if you don’t get one, how do you proceed to publish any of these?

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    Andy Shields January 5, 2016 at 11:14 am #

    Great article Gisele! Your street photography has influenced me significantly. I am happy to see what you wrote about photographing the homeless and disabled, too. I look forward to seeing all the fantastic images that you’re certain to produce in 2016.

  5. Goya January 5, 2016 at 12:46 pm #

    I love your work and reading about how you do it is a wonderful way to learn. I took a weekend workshop last spring on street photography and our instructor echoed many of your suggestions. Especially helpful is to sort out your morals ahead of time regarding what you will not photograph. Often you have a split second to decide whether or not to take the photo.

  6. James January 5, 2016 at 4:40 pm #

    Told that I was to old to have A career in photography, however, wish to gain the trust of those where I used and did grow up as BOY WITH A CAMERA which will allow me to further my ambition to recapture the true spirt of those who have gone before me very nice appealing write up interesting view of just ordinary people great stuff.

    Also inspiring thanks from James.

  7. Barry Yanowitz January 5, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

    It is wonderful seeing your photography get recognized like this. Great article and Congratulations!

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    PhotoDestroyer January 7, 2016 at 7:58 am #

    Phenomenal post, Gisele! I wouldn’t be surprised if you have some sort of background in professional writing/journalism. Great tips, excellent photo samples – this made me want to take a train to the city and try my hand at this kind of photography! Looking forward to more posts like this from you.

  9. Leo January 8, 2016 at 4:37 am #

    Great article and excellent tips!
    It’s refreshing to read your opinion on photographing homeless people.

  10. Erlend Berne January 8, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    This was a very informative article! 🙂

  11. Bob Volin January 8, 2016 at 7:41 pm #

    Love what you do, and appreciate all the points you made. I spent an afternoon in a crowded outdoor shopping area not long ago, with reasonable results for a self-declared newbie. But I was surprised by how many of the people I shot were looking directly at my lens! Something about my technique needs a serious adjustment!

  12. Gisele January 9, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

    Thanks, everyone. Glad you enjoyed the article!

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