Dade Freeman
Photographer & Trainer


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The art of street photography

When not in the studio, I can frequently be found pounding the streets looking for interesting subjects to photograph. Street photography is a great way to learn to see the world around you. All too often we are on auto-pilot and we miss fleeting, but potentially amazing, moments right before our eyes.

If you want to try your hand at street photography, go out, find a busy spot, sit down, wait, have your camera at the ready and watch as scenes unfold before you. If nothing is happening where you are, move on, find another spot, rinse and repeat.

Change your perspective

If you constantly shoot at eye level you don't really offer the viewer anything new - you're just shooting what they can already see. However, by simply changing your perspective you can get a totally different image. Imagine, for a moment, taking your street shots from above, just as the sun is setting, casting long dark shadows on the ground. This is likely to make your shot much more interesting than simply the subject. Consider, too, photographing at ground level, where you get a rat's-eye view of the world which, again, can make for an interesting view point.  

Have a focus

I like finding little moments of humour and contrast. Things like 'LAST FEW DAYS' on a shop window as an elderly gent walks past. Nothing malicious, just mildly amusing, at least to me.

Different people will tell you all kinds of things about settings, cameras, lenses etc, but like all other forms of photography it is up to you how you want your street photography to look. If you are looking for a general starting point to street photography, any camera will do. Chase Jarvis once said "The best camera is the one you have with you" and he's right. As for lenses, I would say vary them until you find the look that suits your style, choose one lens and stick with it. The 35mm lens is considered the standard but I have shot many images using the 200mm as it gives me distance. Or why not try a 'fisheye' for an up-close and unique look? As for your settings, they very much depend on the situation and your objective, so reeling off a bunch of numbers to you is pointless. But as long as you understand your camera settings and how to achieve your vision, this will not present any problems. I would like to share some useful shutter speed information; 1/1000 - 1/500 will freeze a running athlete, 1/250 - 1/60 stops everyday movement, 1/30 - 1/8 blurs motion. Knowing this will hopefully help you make the right choices for your style of street photography.  

B&W or colour

Do you have to make your street photography images gritty black and white shots? Of course not. But if that's your thing, great. This is where artistic license comes into play and it's down to your end vision. I shoot RAW and tend to use Monochrome mode, this way I see the colour in front of me but capture it in B&W, I can then decide which look I prefer. Even if the intent is to use the colour version because sometimes colour can be a distraction. 

When editing my shots, I create a variety of colour and black and white images. This is sometimes dictated by my mood or the objective of the photograph. For example, if the focus in the image is colour, then colour it stays. However, if the colour is distracting or is barely visible then I usually convert the shot to black and white. Don't do something just because everyone else does, try to think what would be best for your images.

Who, What, Where

I have heard said, even recently, "There's nothing interesting where I live". If you find yourself thinking this, then either find a way to make it interesting or look elsewhere. Try exploring a neighbourhood you have never been to before, or try returning to a familiar place on a different day or at a different time. The reason it seems uninteresting to you is that this is your life, you see it every day but other people don't, so to them it may be very interesting. It's true that making a shot of everyday life interesting takes a certain amount of skill and finesse and if you are looking for inspiration, then check out the work of Vivian Maier.

With travel being so easy these days, there is little stopping you exploring further afield. A very important piece of advice if you are going to travel is to be aware of the rules on street photography in your chosen destination. For example, France and Hungary have very different laws to the UK, so do check first. Ignorance is not an excuse.

Try to create original images rather than replicating typical shots you have seen a million times. Sure, you can shoot those for yourself but then push the boundaries. Keep an eye out for unique subjects, be they people, objects, buildings or whatever. Be curious! 

Now don't get me wrong, I am not professing to know all there is to know about street photography. I, like you, am learning as I go. I am just aware that many people are starting to move into this genre and, to help you avoid making mistakes and offer some direction, I have written this from my personal experiences. Now, in the words of Henri Cartier-Bresson, go find your 'decisive moment'.

Dade Freeman is a Brighton photographer producing portraits and headshots for actors, musicians, corporate business and other professional industries.