Street Photography has never been more popular, with aspirations to observational brilliance or the fallback of lighting, form and composition.
The former can be found in the images of Matt Stuart and Martin Parr. Both bring simplicity and immediacy to their work through acute observation and patience, a trait not everyone has the temperant for. An alternative take on street photography tips can be seen in the images of Alex Webb and Gustavo Minas who harness chaos and use shadows to create depth and mystery. The light and shade approach has spawned a huge following(tribe) on Instagram. In view that light is a key element for the latter, let’s look at how to get started by choosing markets.
The first step
One element of your photography is to capture the flavour of the place and its people. Markets are a unique draw for this, bringing together all kinds of characters as well as goods sold which are unique to the location. They are most likely busy places and your senses can be overwhelmed at first. My advice is to take a few minutes to wander around without thinking about getting any photos. Look to see how people are engaging with each other and whether they appear open and friendly or a bit grumpy. In some ways, busier is better but it makes getting well-designed images more difficult. Ultimately, just photographing the goods on sale will not lead to worthwhile images so it’s about engaging with who is there.
Increasingly everywhere the public is becoming more alert to the presence of cameras which poses ethical questions for photographers who are finding that potential subjects are averse to being photographed. Street photography relies on figures in the scene, but that doesn’t mean faces must be clearly seen. Think about using shadows and light as Fanny has here. If you’re going for expressions here are a couple of options to minimise confrontation or rejection. The first is to establish a rapport with a seller without holding the camera to your face and using a gesture to see if a photo is possible. If agreed then you will need to shoot quickly before they feel self-conscious. A second option is to think about disguising the identity of sellers by using angles that are not full-on face shots. Read on for more on this.
Get close to your first subject
In particularly busy markets where sellers are constantly distracted, one strategy is to get close to a subject from the side and use a wide-angle lens. This allows you to fill more of the frame with the subject whilst allowing surrounding action to come into play, creating depth and layers within your photo. The wide angle also delivers deeper focus, so background interest will be visible which could be busy or distracting. The wide-angle approach does require more verve. Wait until the subject has lost interest in you, never establish eye contact and look to be preoccupied with something beyond them even after you have finished taking some photos. With the wide angle, you can crop back the background once on your computer.
Simplify the frame
In bright market locations, it’s not always easy to see the wood from the trees. Identify one or two subjects and concentrate on getting well-designed images based on that. Look for areas where subjects are out of direct light and allow brighter areas to create background interest. Remember to control your exposure to avoid ‘clipping’ and shift your histogram away from the right by underexposing.
An individual who catches your eye is probably worth developing on the basis that viewers will most likely also find them of interest. It’s not always the case that a charismatic-looking person in real life will translate into a matching image. As you survey a market, be alert to who catches your eye and then work out where they are standing which will allow you to create a memorable image or not.
Look for atmosphere
Much easier said than done, but mist, smoke, and early and late light all contain atmosphere. In this image taken in the area of charcoal burners, the use of a telephoto lens compresses space, bringing distant objects closer whilst excluding objects to the left and right. Through the compressed view the smoke becomes the subject of the photo with the figures themselves providing a prop to a Blade Runner narrative of an apocalyptic future.