How Time Away Helped My Street Photography

How Time Away Helped My Street Photography

When you are a new photographer, the allure of street photography is powerful. It’s a way of tapping into your passion in a much more approachable way than fashion photography or adventure wedding photography.

That said, once you start booking those weddings or signing those sports photography contracts, it’s hard to get back to wandering streets looking for those decisive moments. Who has the time when you're trying to make it in your photography business and feed your family?

A recent trip to Hong Kong gave me the chance to give street photography another go after many years of not really engaging in it. So how has years of photojournalism, sports, and wedding photography changed how I approach street photography? What can you try to change how you approach the genre?

Try a Different Lens

Butchers at work before the day begins in Sham Shui Po.

Butchers at work before the day begins in Sham Shui Po.

Years ago I’d wander the streets with a 40mm or 50mm lens and strive to make the images I wanted within that framework. Many street photographers prefer even wider, such as the 35mm equivalent offered by the likes of discreet cameras such as the Fujifilm X100F, or a 28mm like you’ll find on something like a Leica Q. I bucked that conventional wisdom, leaning very heavily on my Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 lens, which offered me the equivalent of a 150mm field of view. I ended up shooting about a third of my 1,600 photos on this trip with that lens.

I found that wandering the streets of Sham Shui Po with this lens gave me the ability to fire off photos without attracting the attention of the subjects, creating a more organic moment in the photo overall.

Sometimes it would be difficult to use this lens in a crowded market, but if you shoot early in the morning or late in the evening, the crowds clear out enough to provide opportunities. The photo above of the butchers getting ready for the day was shot at 6 a.m., when the streets were mostly empty.

Use a Discreet Body

Almost a decade ago, while I tried to occasionally make a Panasonic Lumix GF1 work for street photography, ultimately I ended up back up at some sort of DSLR because of autofocus performance and a viewfinder. These days, mirrorless cameras have gotten so good, I relied solely on an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II. The articulating screen allowed for discreet photos and the occasional odd angle, and the viewfinder helped for stability in night shooting. The small size of the whole package attracted a lot less attention than my DSLR setups would.

This was key because without being able to speak the language, if I got myself into a pickle, I’d have a hard time getting out of it. When I was noticed, a smile and a wave usually worked, but most times people just ignored me, as my small camera seemed innocuous.

Try Something You Haven’t Tried Before

Victoria Peak, Hong Kong, Jan. 7, 2019

While I took my Insta360 One X to many of the touristy places, such as Victoria Peak seen above, it probably would have also made some interesting photos in the middle of the marketplaces on the street. While I did try some photos this way while the streets were empty at night, in hindsight I realized no one would have thought anything of using a 360 camera on a selfie stick in midday. I would have looked like all of the other yahoos with selfie sticks.

If you are interested in photographing in Hong Kong, you can learn a little more about it before you go by checking out Fstoppers’ tutorial on shooting cityscapes, which features shots from Hong Kong, with some interesting behind-the-scenes bits here.

Do you have any street photography tips that work for you? Share them in the comments below.

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