One of the great joys of shooting with mirrorless cameras is street photography. The nature of a mirrorless camera will allow you to photograph scenes that would otherwise be intrusive with a DSLR. My street photography ideas typically revolve around my enjoyment of shooting micro four thirds. These tips could be adapted for smartphones, point and shoot, or other mirrorless cameras.
Street Photography Camera Gear
I do not think a DSLR is a very practical choice for street photography. Photographers using a DSLR camera will stick out with a large lens. This makes it difficult to comfortably take candid street photographs.
A mirrorless camera, particularly a rangefinder body, works great for street photography. The body is relatively light and not as noticeable. The design does not stand out like a typical DSLR. Add a pancake prime lens and you are less likely to stand out.
A micro four thirds camera with a pancake lens might be the least intimidating camera set up for street photography. The lenses for the micro 4/3 are tiny compared with crop sensor and full-frame mirrorless cameras. My Lumix 12-35mm lens with an equivalence of 24-70mm is about the same size as a regular canon 50mm. The size, range and quality of these lenses are astonishing.
I shoot with the Panasonic Lumix G9. It has a flip out LCD screen allowing me to compose and take photos without having to lift the camera up to my face. This is great for candid shots. With the small lens of the m43 Lumix 35-100mm I can shoot distance without it looking so freaking creepy. You DSLR long tube white lens users know what I mean.
Finally, the really groovy thing about shooting street photography with a mirrorless camera is no mirror slap. There is no sound. People are conditioned to hear that click, click, click of a camera. If no sound is coming from your camera then a photo, in their mind, didn’t happen.
Street photography ideas #1: Shoot with a mirrorless rangefinder or micro four third camera. Pancake lens is least noticeable.
Patience and Blend In
The city is not a place that I live. But it is a place that provides obvious street photography opportunities. The easy thing is to simply sit on a street corner and just spray the corner with photos.
I would suggest that there is nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s just that approach is too cluttered for me.
Waiting until something interesting or exciting happens then pressing the shutter is how I work. Plus I despise having to go through hundreds if not thousands of photos when I’m done. No, I wait patiently until something/someone catches my eye then I take the photo.
I like to walk around some too. Street photography is best served not sticking out. I don’t even have a neck strap on my camera. Strolling around I look through people and take photos without bringing the camera up to my face many times. That is the beauty of my micro four thirds mirrorless camera with vari-angle screen.
Street photography ideas #2: Take your time. Don’t look conspicuous. Walk around and blend in. You want to take photographs without being noticed if you are doing candid photography.
Patterns and Interesting Features
When I’m doing street photography I typically give myself some leeway into trying weird compositions. I mean, if you’ve seen one guy riding a skateboard down the street you’ve likely seen a thousand. But if you frame that guy into a colorful background or balance him with another element then you have the potential for something interesting.
Unless I am working someplace new I may not walk around and randomly take street photos. Scout the area to work in and find a place that has traffic. look for a pattern, frame, leading lines, etc., to be in the shot. I set up shop and patiently wait until the magic unfolds.
Street photography ideas #4: Find the spot that will allow you to frame your subject. Utilize patterns for compositional interest. Consider leading lines to lead the eye to your subject. Try not to just snap a bunch of photos.
Street Portraits and Politeness
Street photography can be many things to many people. Some like to shoot objects. Other, like me, prefers the human element.
Taking candid portraits on the street can be a little unnerving. This is the case especially if the subject sees you taking the photo. If that happens then you can smile and if engaged just offer an explanation that you thought the photo moment looked pretty great. Show them the photo and offer to send it to him or send them the link to your website.
Sometimes you will have to explain to someone that it is perfectly legal to take photos of whatever you want in public spaces. But if challenged I simply erase the photo. Above all I try to be polite.
I enjoy capturing that person’s split second moment in time. A second in time of that person’s life has been recorded. What were they thinking about?
Street photography ideas #5: Be bold and ask people for their photograph. Some will decline. Say thanks and move on. Maybe share your website with them so they can see their photo on the web. Without question this is the hardest part of street photography for most people. A mirrorless camera will look less like a pro level camera and more like a hobbyist. It’s not as intimidating to people on the street.
I hope these street photography ideas were helpful. This type of photography is a personal favorite. I don’t like to creep people out but I do enjoy the art of taking photos of people and things in the heart of a city. Digital Photography School has a great guide to street photography if you want more information.