Aug 1, 2009

Posted by in Articles | 46 Comments

Street photography: sharing some experiences

If you type ‘street photography tips’ into Google, you’ll find lots of websites that provide lists on how to improve your street photography skills. I thought we could try something a bit different and instead put up some photos and talk about the circumstances in which they were taken and lessons that were learnt from those experiences.

Purists may dispute the classification of some of the photos below as street photography, particularly the close-ups. So if you’re a purist, lighten up =)

Also, the lessons mentioned below are based on personal experiences, so they may well not generalize to all cases and all photographic genres – you can just take them for what they’re worth.

1. Off-guard shots are sometimes more natural

Japanese Kid

Japanese Kid © Skyrill Design Studios

I spotted two kids wearing AC Milan shirts and digging into their cups of ice cream at the entrance to a theme park. I asked their mother if it would be alright to take a few photos of them, and she said it was fine, so I proceeded to do so. I then thanked them all and just before leaving took a couple more shots while the kids were off-guard. Later at home, I noticed that those last couple of shots were the best of the lot since the facial expressions in them were much more natural. So even when going for shots where the subject is posing for you, take a few off-guard ones as well; they might end being your keepers.

2. Create a rapport with your subject

Calm Notes

Calm Notes © Skyrill Design Studios

When taking pictures of people, it’s very important never to forget that your subjects are human beings as well. Creating a good rapport with them will ensure that the experience will be a positive one for both parties. Walking away with a good shot is of no use if the subject ends up being offended or saddened. For this photo, I was walking in an alley in Rome when I saw a lady sitting in a corner playing the accordion. I really wanted to take a photo of her, but wasn’t too comfortable with just taking some quick shots and walking away. So instead, I figured I would stand and listen to her playing. I ended up listening to her for close to 15 minutes, and was genuinely enjoying her tunes. She then looked at me, I smiled and it was at that moment that I took the above shot of her.

Kid in a Box

Kid in a Box © Skyrill Design Studios

This photo has an interesting story as well. There was a kid sitting in a cardboard box eating some peanuts. It was a great scene. I took a couple of shots and the kid noticed me and immediately turned to his mother to tell her about the pesky photographer who was disturbing him. At that moment, I walked up to both of them and showed them what I had taken and the kid simply couldn’t be happier to see his face on the camera’s little LCD screen. So I then asked his mother if I could take a few more shots of her son and she tidied him up and told him to look at the camera. Perhaps I would have gotten a different reaction from the mother had she not seen her son’s jubilation prior to me asking whether or not it was ok to photograph him. It’s great when you can walk away with a nice photograph while also making sure that the other person feels good about the whole experience.

3. When someone doesn’t want to be photographed, don’t give up on them

Frankincense Man

Frankincense Man © Skyrill Design Studios

The man whose hands are visible in this photo was the owner of a frankincense shop and had some really great facial features so I was adamant on photographing him. But he wasn’t up for it. Instead of just walking out, I asked if it would be ok to only frame his hands as they were sifting through his frankincense and he agreed. The photo came out pretty nice and perhaps even looks better than if the store owner’s entire upper body had been included in the frame. The lesson here is to persist (up to a point of course); don’t give up.

4. Whenever possible, go in for a shot when all the other photographers leave

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time © Skyrill Design Studios

This is one of my favorite photos. A group of girls were walking together as part of a larger parade and they had managed to grab the attention of all the photographers who were there on that day. As a result, many of the girls got distracted with the tens of cameras that were clicking around them from every angle and so they ceased to be serene, which was the theme of the whole parade. Instead of settling for the shots that I had taken, I decided to walk with the group for about 10 minutes until they were off the main road, which meant that there were fewer bystanders and photographers around; it was that moment that I took the above shot and got the facial expression that I was hoping to get.

5. Take lots of shots, especially if you shoot with digital

True Soul

True Soul © Skyrill Design Studios

I wanted to photograph a demonstration that was going on, but unfortunately, the streets on which the demonstrators were walking through had been sealed off for security reasons. Bystanders could only watch from a distance. I was determined to get a few good shots of the event. Standing on the pavement, at a distance, with a telephoto lens and wanting to get clear shots of the demonstrators proved a difficult feat: most of the captures were ruined by distractions, which were making the whole exercise very challenging. The only option I had was to simply compose and fire the shutter like there was no tomorrow. The above was one of the strategy’s successful results. The more shots you take, the greater the likelihood that you’ll have keepers.

6. Diptychs can turn otherwise normal shots into interesting ones

Anticipation, Jubilation

Anticipation, Jubilation © Skyrill Design Studios

Each of the above photos looks very normal on its own, but when placed next to each other, the whole thing becomes a lot more interesting. The photo was taken during the announcement in Trafalgar Square about whether or not London would win its bid to host the 2012 Olympics. Having captured the same group of people right before and then right after the announcement resulted in a two-photo series that says a lot. Notice the difference in facial expressions and also (my favorite bit) the man in the lower left corner who has his fingers crossed in the first photo and is ecstatic in the second photo.

7. Shyness will always rob you of potentially great photos

Mango Seller

Mango Seller © Skyrill Design Studios

Sometimes, I have to try extra hard to muster up the courage to ask someone if it’s ok to take their photo. I was walking in a vegetable market on one of my trips and was dying to take a photo of the mango seller shown above, but the general mood of the place didn’t seem to be one where I felt like I could easily ask him whether or not I could take his photo, let alone take one without asking him first. So I carried on walking.

On our way back, I spotted him once again and this time thought to myself that if I don’t give it a go, I would probably not get the chance to take this photo ever again. So I gestured to him with the camera and, what do you know, he was more than happy to look at the lens and smile.

8. Never delete a photo, even if you don’t like it on first sight

Talent Develops in Quiet Places

Talent Develops in Quiet Places © Skyrill Design Studios

I didn’t really think much of this one when I took it a few years ago nor when I was going through the photos after the trip. It wasn’t one of those times when you take a shot and go “wow this one’s great, it’s going to make this whole trip worth it”. It was done very quickly on our way back to the hotel. Then a few months ago I was looking through my old photos and thanks to a friend’s advice who said that I should never delete anything, decided it could be brought back to life.

That’s it for now. Hopefully, these experiences have been useful. Look out for another photography-related article soon. Thanks.

  1. wow, great photography tips and great photography by yourself…

  2. Thanks, really enjoyed reading it!

  3. Good tutorial, I’ll definitely end up using the techniques.

  4. i like it … awesome tips …
    thanks for sharing …

  5. You are so nice. Thanks a lot for sharing these tips, i find them really useful. I love your photography and how diverse they are.

  6. Beautiful people in the world! <3

  7. Marina S. says:

    Very educational post. Thank you!

  8. thanks bud, good stuff

  9. I love this tutorial…thank u for giving us such cool tutorials

  10. excellent mate , u r a star !! thanks for such wonderful tips.

  11. Hey,

    nice tu

    but any tips if its a restricted area? always wonder if theirs anyways around that…


  12. tem tem tem says:

    too bad i have no camera, or at least good camera for making these good shots… jaja XD.. i am more of desin guy :D

    i like ur work great, ur fav’ one for me is 1 .. 4 .. 7..

    keep up ya,

    temi, nigeria

  13. marcello says:

    Ali, this is great! Thank you for this.

  14. always good to learn such tips from different people’s experiences, since we all visit different places, meet and interact with different people, hold different cameras and have different personalities. I think its really useful as photographers, designers, or whatever to share these thoughts, there are things that you can’t find in any book or instructors manual. thanks, and i hope you keep sharing more of your experience and thoughts.

  15. Thank you very much for those beneficial briefs about street photography

  16. very useful :)

  17. geosphere says:

    thanks for sharing. :)

  18. hope to see more of these posts

    - chin

  19. i like ur photos alot~

  20. i enjoy it ^__^

  21. Oliver Vam says:

    great shots, could only find some in the photo section though, will you be sharing them at higher res soon? thx

    • Sure, we’ll be uploading a lot more photos in the coming few days so be sure to check back for them.

      Thanks for commenting and visiting.

  22. good read, thanks.

  23. wow.. this is some great stuff! thnx 4 sharing ..

  24. sebbeklaren says:

    Nice, thank u for sharing.

  25. Al-7ussaini says:

    that was useful. Thanks bro. :)

  26. Thanks for sharing!

  27. I enjoyed reading this and found it very beneficial. Thanks for passing it along!!!

  28. thank you so much! i love candid street photography.

  29. Dont-Ask-Why says:

    thank you .. :)

  30. myblackcat says:

    thank you so much ! the photos are great ^^

  31. MeFirstO says:

    wow! there are some great advices! thanks!

  32. That was really usefull, and it really motivated me. I always tend to do things like stop out of nowhere to take a pic and sometimes embarrass myself :P bas its all worth it.

    Ur photography is amazing mashallah.

    Thanks for sharing once again

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Good luck with your photography and please don’t hesitate to drop me a line if you ever need anything. :)


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