If you have a camera and access to a street, you can play with street photography. Like landscape photography, it’s one of the most accessible forms of the craft. If you’re anything like me, however, it scares the hell out of you. But it doesn't have to.
I’ve gone out into the street with a nifty 50 and a DSLR to try to emulate Martin Parr's pop-art, spontaneous-but-almost-staged looking shots; Fan Ho's wonderfully geometric black and white images, or Vivian Myer's incredibly soulful scenes of silver and shadow. What can I say? I'm ambitious! (Or, delusional, depending on how you look at it.) However, when I put the camera to my face I felt a sudden wave of anxiety and fear. I’m not good at this, I thought to myself, and not for the first time, either. But this felt different. I felt that everyone was looking at me. I was worried about offending anyone or even making someone feel a little bit uncomfortable. Not for me. So I headed back to the countryside; to the sheep. They were a little less judgemental and more forgiving.
I forgot about street for a while again, until my recent trip to the US. In late May, I headed off to New York State with my folks. This time I felt a little more sure of myself, both as a person and as a photographer. But low and behold, I was still terrified. It wasn't being in the street with a camera, per-say, it was actually trying to take photos like a seasoned street shooter. I couldn't do it because I can’t stand that moment of possible confrontation; that instant of seemingly deep connection between the photographer and their subject that makes street photography so engaging to the viewer. I love the results but I just couldn't bring myself to stick my camera in someone’s face a-la Bruce Gilden (maybe that's not such a bad thing!). But not to worry, I had a workaround. Just take photos of the scenes and of the buildings, Mike. It may seem obvious to everyone else, but this was a revelation to me, and I ended up having a great time with my camera. I felt reinvigorated because It’s such a different way of looking at scenes than what I'm used to. I’m a country boy; I take photos of the mountains and the sea, I hate high contrast scenes (mostly); but in the city, I found that the high contrast scenes produced some of my favorite images of the trip.
Other than taking photos, my time in NYC was well spent. I met up with a friend of mine who lives there and he showed me all there was to see. I did run into a little trouble, though. One night, on my way back to the hotel from my friend's place in Brooklyn, I was mugged. Oh, they saw me coming, alright. Wide-eyed and hopeful of a relaxing subway ride back to Manhattan, they spotted me. Fresh meat. Easy. I didn’t get hurt (apart from my pride), but the knuckleheads stole my camera. Thankfully, each evening I had been transferring all of my images to an external hard drive so I didn’t lose too many photos from my trip (there’s a lesson there, people). I had a ton of work waiting for me when I arrived home, however, so I needed to get a new camera. Luckily, B&H was only two blocks from where I was staying. I bought a Canon EOS Rebel T6i ( which is on SALE right now, up until midnight.) and another Canon 50mm f1.8 II (nifty fifty). I’d recommend to any Canon shooter who is looking to upgrade from the kit lens, to consider Canon’s 50mm f 1.8. It’s light, versatile, and great value for money at around $125.00.
I would encourage people who find it difficult to shoot street, to just look up. Experiment with the way the light plays off of the buildings. Hell, you can shoot cityscapes or create a time-lapse, just try something different. People will ignore you most of the time. Maybe, with a little more hours clocked on the street, you can try a few people shots, or even ask someone if you can take their portrait. Most people are nice, they’ll either say yes or no, it’s highly unlikely that anyone is going to get hurt. Just remember not to stop in front of a car with a running engine, while your head is buried in a phone and you're sporting a stupid grin on your face at 1:30 AM.
Switching gears and taking on new challenges can feel extremely liberating, so don’t be afraid to try street photography.