Street shooting tips for mobile photographers
A street photographer is like a hunter. Success depends getting close and capturing your target in a natural state. To do this, you have to shoot without being seen. If your target sees you taking photos, they may either disappear completely or – even worse – put on a cheesy grin. Mobile phone cameras are perfect for taking photos without being seen – they’re small and unobtrusive and there’s nothing suspicious about having one in your hand because you could be using it for any number of non-photographic things.
So, you have the perfect tool in your hand for street photography. But you still need some good strategies for a successful hunt. Here are a few tips:
1) Remember to compose. Street photography may be mainly about capturing faces and the “smell” of the street but if you can compose a strong background, your image will be all the more effective. Unusual angles work well by distorting normal perspectives so perhaps find a walkway that allows you to shoot downwards, or sit on a step on the street where you can shoot passers-by from below. Use the lines of buildings, lampposts and other street furniture to provide frames and leading lines in your images.
2) Find the light. Good light can transform an image and give you clarity and sharpness in your image. So a good source of light is a good starting point on the street. Especially at dusk or early morning in the city when the sun is near the horizon, the faces of commuters can be beautifully illuminated. And in the financial districts of cities, light can bounce off glass and steel skyscrapers and create multiple shadows and amazing studio-like effects. Remember to expose properly by tapping the viewfinder screen on a bright area of the image and then locking it before shooting. You can often fix under-exposure in post production, but it’s very difficult to remedy over-exposure.
3) Wait for your target to come to you. If you’ve found some good light or a composition that works well, just sit down and wait for something to enter your frame. There may also be a spot where you think there’s the potential for something interesting to happen if you just wait long enough. Be patient and have your camera ready to shoot.
4) Avoid raising suspicions. Mobile cameras have the advantage over traditional cameras of not requiring the classic giveaway gesture of lifting the camera to your eye in order to take a photo. You can be looking at your mobile screen for any number of reasons other than using it as a viewfinder to line up a photo. Perhaps the biggest giveaway when you take a picture with your mobile is your own behaviour, before, during and after taking the photo. If you repeatedly look at your subject and then back at your screen before taking, if you act sheepishly while taking your photo, or if you lower your mobile after taking your photo, you will arouse suspicion. Wearing headphones and working in pairs can also be useful to allay suspicions.
5) Shoot blind. If you have a one-time chance of getting a shot and it’s worth blowing your cover for, line it up shamelessly and shoot. You may get some flack in return but it may be worth it. But if you want to shoot continuously while remaining anonymous, try one of the many techniques developed by some of the leading mobile street photographers. Koci Hernandez famously popularised the stretch-and-yawn move: you stretch your arms out, your camera in one hand, firing the shutter via the volume button of a pair of headphones with the other hand. The Fullana grip, named after its creator the New York street photographer, Sion Fullana, is a way of holding the phone horizontally at waist level. Holding the camera like a tennis racket, you tap with the thumb on the viewfinder to expose the picture and fire the shutter with the volume button with the index finger.
Street photographers like Daniel Arnold, Sion Fullana and Andre Hermann have shown how mobile devices have the power to get closer to people on the street and capture ever more intimate and revealing moments. With mobile devices in their hands, a new generation of photographers have taken street photography to places (quite literally) it’s never had access to before. It’s also perhaps in street photography where the democratising force of mobile has been most felt, putting a camera in the hands of a lot more ordinary people whose natural environment is the street.