Skill Level Intermediate
- Hi, I'm Sean Duggan. And, you know, when I got my first camera phone several years ago, one of the things that kind of came as a surprise to me is that it really rekindled my love for street photography. Now, camera phones have their limitations, of course, and sometimes you definitely run into those, but my phone's become my preferred street photography camera. In this episode of Mobile Photography Weekly, I want to share some tips and techniques that I've learned over the years for making the most of using your camera phone for street photography. So the first tip is just to be ready.
Make sure that your battery's charged, and if possible, take along a portable battery charger with you. Street photography uses a lot of power since the camera phone is on a lot and you're probably also shooting a lot. And another way to be ready is that when you get to a location where you want to work and things are looking really good, have the camera in your hand with the camera app turned on, ready to go. This enables you to be ready to react quickly when a shot suddenly appears before you and you're not fumbling in your pocket or your purse to dig out the phone.
Consider using add-on lenses. This'll let you get a much wider view than normal or get more reach with a moderate telephoto lens. For street photography, especially in really crowded conditions, I like to use a Moment 18 millimeter wide angle lens. I can get close to the people but still get the full shot. Find the location that you like and wait for something interesting to happen there, whether that's a perfect silhouette, someone playing in the rain at a well-known location, or somebody sticking their head into the exhaust of a jet.
For this shot of a sidewalk in Los Angeles, I waited for somebody to pass by. It was early in the morning. Took about 10 minutes for the right person to pass by, but it was worth the wait. Same thing here. I really was intrigued by the shadow of this angel statue, and all I needed was a skateboarder to come rolling along to complete the shot. Similar to finding a location and waiting for something to happen there, find an intriguing person and wait for them to do something interesting. You might end up with a lot of shots where not much happens, but all the shots in the world are worth it when you get that perfect gesture and moment.
And speaking of gestures, those can be really interesting to look for. Sometimes it's a gesture of the hand that is tender and delicate. Or it may be fun and silly, as in this shot of two women making shadow selfies. Sometimes gestures can be made with the legs and the feet, like these women unwittingly in sync at a coffee shop. I like to look for people in contemplation, 'cuz that always makes an interesting subject for an image, whether it's a man on a stormy coast looking down into the waves, a first grader having a quiet moment after a school holiday pageant, a dancer practicing for an upcoming competition, or another dancer, a bit disappointed with her performance.
Conversations and interactions between people are always interesting subjects, such as these two outside of a bakery in San Francisco Chinatown, a sidewalk psychic giving a reading on a warm summer evening, costumed characters meeting among the stars on Hollywood Boulevard. Reflections are also a great way to portray a street scene. They can add depth to a scene and make subtle commentary in the juxtaposition of the inside and the outside, and they also allow you to focus in on the details while still showing the wider street scene in the background.
And it's not just people on the street. There are often animals there, too. So try getting down low so you can meet them on their own level. It always makes for an interesting picture if you can get up close and personal, especially if they're sporting some stylish shoes. Just make sure that you give them enough space and show them some respect, because even though they're animals, they're people too. I also like to look for image and color relationships when I do street photography. So for this shot, I was intrigued by the lineup of the three stars, two on the costumed character and one on the sidewalk down at the bottom.
In this shot, I was focusing in on the wet paint sign and intrigued by the red lettering and the red paintbrush, and as I was composing the shot, a man in bright red shoes just happened to walk by. So this was a total serendipitous lucky shot. A woman in a bright yellow outfit crossing a bright yellow street marker in San Francisco, and a fortuitous convergence of colorful stripes on a Los Angeles street corner. Look for ways to show a sense of place in your street photography, whether that's a world-famous tourist destination or a quiet, out of the way spot that speaks to the lonely mood of some street locations.
You can convey a sense of place with shots that show the frantic and bustling energy of a crowded sidewalk or a street crossing, or quiet and contemplative moments can be just as effective in capturing the feel of a location or a moment. And remember that not all street photography is on the street. It might be when you're waiting to board a plane or strolling through an art museum looking at paintings, browsing the stacks in a used bookstore, or hanging out in a quiet coffee shop in a small town.
Street photography is all about looking and seeing, and it's a bit of a treasure hunt as you search for the expected while at the same time being ready for the unexpected. Camera phones do have their limitations, but their small size and the fact that so many people have one in their hand helps to make you less conspicuous as you try to capture those elusive and fleeting moments that can sometimes magically happen as you're out with your camera, and that makes them very useful for street photography.