Are you stuck in an artistic routine or struggling to become comfortable photographing people in the street? Try this simple project that'll get you out there, shooting and gaining confidence!
What started out as a few simple images on a ferry while passing the time turned out to become a really interesting project for me. The simplicity of it allows a lot of room for your own artistic interpretation, while also giving you room for improvement for every time that you shoot outside. The project is based on documenting people enjoying a moment of peace by themselves in the city, while letting the rest of the world go by.
Why Shoot It?
If you go out in the streets with an idea in mind, however small or big, it gives you something to focus on. If you go out in the streets and want to come home with breathtaking images, you'll struggle to find them. Most likely, you'll end up focusing on things that most people notice in the streets, such as local landmarks, popular tourist spots, famous buildings, and so forth. But, in order to leave a mark of your own in this world, you have to look beyond that and get more creative.
This kind of project will also give you more confidence to photograph people in public, while keeping a distance that is comfortable for you. You don't have to point your camera at a stranger's face with only a few feet between the two of you, nor do you need to engage with them in any way. Your job is to observe, not to intrude, and to create strong compositions that will carry the image more so than the drama factor of someone's expression as you catch them by surprise.
How to Shoot It?
Depending on how comfortable you feel, you will choose a suitable lens accordingly. I personally like quite wide shots and as such, focus more on the overall composition and background of the place, while keeping the focus on the stranger who is sitting on a bench, enjoying five minutes of alone time, or perhaps they're waiting for someone while leaning against a building, or maybe they're having a cup of coffee and watching the world go by.
I always make sure that the person doesn't take up more than one third of the frame, because this isn't a portrait project; it's a street one, where composition is more important than capturing one's facial features up close. The beauty of this kind of project is that it gives you something to look for, instead of mindlessly walking around and waiting for something to "jump out" at you, but it also gives you immense freedom to compose it your way. This is a great way to hone your own personal style while doing something that's quite targeted.
Isolating your subject from the rest of the world can involve photographing them all alone in the whole of the frame, or it may mean shooting with a slightly slower shutter speed and letting the rest of passers-by become a blurred background, with the immediate focus being your chosen subject who is standing or sitting still.
In regards to timescale, you can either set yourself a goal of creating a certain number of images over a period of three, six, or more months, or you can leave it as an open project that follows you wherever you go and travel, but make sure you consider the end goal of what you're trying to achieve.
How to Edit It?
Of course, we all have our subjective opinions on how the image should be edited, but when you download your images and start picking out your favorites, make sure that you spend a moment to consider why color is or isn't an integral part of your composed photo. If the color helps you tell the story better than monochrome would, for example, if the image is shot in a location where strong colors are an important part of your composition, edit it in color. If you're looking to emphasize certain light, lines, shapes, or silhouettes, consider editing your image in black and white to bring out those features. It mostly comes down to your personal preference at the end of the day, but simply have a think when you edit about what you're trying to say with the image and how it may come across differently in color or monochrome.
How to Finish It?
There's nothing worse than creating beautiful images that you're proud of and leaving them to gather virtual dust in a folder on your desktop or external hard drive, never to be seen and appreciated. My favorite way of putting together a project is to create an iBook or an eBook; you can also create a simple PDF as there are plenty of free tools available for you to use and download. You can even create a print book, which will decorate your coffee table instead of having only strangers' photographic books in your library.
The reason for creating a virtual or print book is that you have to put effort into bringing it all together, not just have a bunch of loosely related images uploaded to a gallery. You can add text of your own, as I often do, or find suitable poetry or short stories to go with the project. If you want to see a sample book to get you started and give you ideas on how to design a book that's based on a very simple street photography project, you can view a free one I created on iBooks or you can get in touch with me for a free PDF version of it.
Trust me when I tell you that receiving a finished product of your images and text, whether in a virtual book or a real, printed one, is so much more rewarding than uploading images online either as a gallery or one by one across your social media accounts. The ability to bring it all together is just as important skill to learn as is composing, shooting, and editing your photographs. Make sure you do yourself the justice of finishing a project, and be proud of showing it to others, and let it inspire you to keep creating more.
Is this something you'd consider doing next time you go out photographing in the streets?