How to Shoot Street Photography in Quiet Areas

How to Shoot Street Photography in Quiet Areas

I’m sure we’ve all read enough about how the world has been changing in recent months. But unless you’re in Antarctica, you’re probably wanting to get away from the crowded areas for a while.

This can be tough for street photographers: most of us love the crowds and the chaos. But thankfully, there is an entirely fascinating side to street photography that can be done in the quietest of areas.

For most, this is not what first comes to mind for street photography, but it can be just as interesting and often more so than busy city street photography. It’s different from the norm, and it challenges you to find new, fascinating things. People can still be a part of it. And I promise you, with enough practice, you will come back with the same amount of keepers.

Here are a few tips that I find it’s important to know for this type of photography.

It’s Tough

Street photography in quiet areas is tough, particularly at first. In busier areas, people with cameras can still blend in and get close. There’s a ton of energy, and new people pop out at you in a consistent stream.

In quieter areas, you stand out like a sore thumb with a camera. There’s just not enough going on to allow you to blend in easily. And you have to figure out how to work around that.

Over time, you will figure out ways to still be candid in these situations if you act the right way. It takes a bit of acting, just making it look like you’re photographing the area, pushing yourself to get closer, and acting like you don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. The more obvious (while being respectful) you are, the more you can get away with, even in quieter areas.

Smaller cameras with prime lenses help a lot for not standing out in quieter areas. They allow you to shoot more quickly, and they don’t look as professional. 

This being said, bigger cameras have a different advantage in less populated places, and I love shooting in medium format here. You will obviously be more noticeable, but sometimes, that’s a good thing. If you can carry yourself in the right way, the camera looks legitimate, and you look like you have a reason for being there. The fact that you are being so obvious and comfortable about what you are doing will signal to other people that it's okay to not be worried about you.

Create Portraits

While traditional street photography typically stands for candid moments in public, portraits can have a big part in street photography projects, particularly in quieter areas. If you can’t get comfortable (and even if you can) taking candid shots of strangers in these areas, you can still do a fantastic project mixing photographs of the surroundings with portraits. This is a great way to tell the story of the area.

When you create portraits, it is still important to try to make the portrait feel real and even a little candid. When I ask someone for a portrait, if they already look comfortable, then I sometimes tell them to stay exactly as they are. Other times, I’ll tell them to put themselves in a pose that feels comfortable to them.

The goal is to make them aware that they should look comfortable and like themselves. No need to smile for the camera. You want them to look real.

Study the Work of Other Photographers

Many photographers have done wonderful projects in quieter areas, and I think it's important to learn about the history of what has been done before and to see the wide variety of styles and content that these photographers have captured in quiet places.

This will open your eyes to the variety of things that can be done, and you will find yourself noticing many more moments while walking around because of this education. And go beyond just looking at the best hits of photographers on their websites by purchasing their books, which will give you much more of an education on what they were trying to show and say. 

This is where you can see the progression of a story or an idea, and it is where you see not only the most amazing photographs, but the subtle ones and the glue images that hold a project together.

For examples, check out the work of Todd Hido, Alec Soth, William Eggleston, and Stephen Shore.

Learn a Place and Visit It Over and Over Again

We covered how it can be difficult to shoot in these areas, particularly at first, but the key to overcoming that is going back to the same area over and over again. 

Pick a place that you know well (or want to learn to know well), and make going there a part of your weekly routine. Even shooting in short spurts consistently will take you a very far way. The act of returning over and over will give you a nuanced understanding of the place and how it ticks, and it will give you many more opportunities to come across a variety of great moments.

Over time, you will start to notice more and more things that you completely missed early on. Sometimes, you won’t believe that you had missed a scene for so long.

Capture the Environment

Besides portraits and candid shots of people, what else is there to capture in street photography (and street photography in quiet areas)? The answer is a whole lot.

Street photography is about capturing something that lives just underneath the surface, and you can do this just as easily with photographs of the surroundings as you can with people. Capture houses, found objects, the streets, and the infrastructure of an area; it can be anything. The goal is to try to show a story of what the area feels like. What’s interesting about it?

Try not to take the area for granted. There are things that you might think of as being normal and everyday that are actually fascinating when you highlight them. Stop yourself, and try to figure out what you are missing.

Connect Yourself With the Place

Street photography is often about connecting yourself with your subjects. It's about taking something inner and searching for moments in the real world that mirror these feelings.

Think about what it is that drew you to explore and photograph an area. Think about why you connect with it, and then, search for moments that show this. 

This is where the intimacy, nuance, and feeling will start to shine through in your work. And then, when viewers look at your work, they’ll not only get an understanding of the area, they’ll start to feel like they know something about the photographer behind the work as well.

James Maher's picture

James is a street, documentary, and cityscape photographer located in New York City who loves city history, Chinese food, and the New York Knicks. He also runs a photo workshop, event, and portrait business.

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