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How to be a Street Photographer

Updated on February 20, 2015
JR 'hittin the streets' in Scotland
JR 'hittin the streets' in Scotland

These days it's sure a lot easier to be a photographer than when I started in the late sixties. And that goes for being a street photographer as well.

With digital replacing film, (still brings tears to my eyes) and a camera and/or video on every cell phone (smart or not) anybody can't help but being a photographer. And put this 'anybody' on the street and be at the right place on time, they will have a chance to shoot something worthwhile, memorable and meaningful. And with an automatic camera they can't loose. Point and shoot and, "hey I'm a street photographer."

It seems like a sacrilege to me, it's just too damn simple. Photographers these days just haven't paid the price as far as I'm concerned. Haven't had to worry about what the picture looks like and had to wait till they've developed it or had somebody else do it to find out. Haven't had those moments when you find out the whole roll is ruined because they had the wrong settings, no film in the camera or left the lens cap on. Haven't had those moments when they find out the developer or fixer was weak and they have to shoot over, if they are lucky. Hell, you probably took a picture of somebody on the street already or you're doing it right now as we 'speak' as it were. Or you've taken some photo's of 'cracks' or 'strange people' at Wal-Mart or somewhere, then posted it on Facebook.

You're right on your way to be a street photographer, and to think you didn't even have an hour of lessons. Didn't even have to study the zone system. Didn't even have to study anything. Didn't even have to get up early and drudge through thigh deep snow to get to classes at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, like I did. It doesn't seem fair.

But between you and me .... pssssss, over here by the deli on 42nd street, I think you guys are damn lucky. It's all 'spoon fed for ya, man. All ya gotta do is show the interest and look, then check-out Google for the answers. (should be called 'Lord Google')

Robert Frank
Robert Frank
Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus

You could do it all yourself, unless you really need to pay a profe$$or to tell you that you're a photographer now and am able to go out and do it yourself. There's a saying, "those who do, do, those who don't, teach." The internet can be your teacher and you wouldn't even have to sign up for any on-line courses. Keep the expenses down so you can purchase some good equipment, unless you want to use only your cell phone. That's a cool idea. Go with it. There are only your own doubts to hold you back.

I would venture to say that all photo journalists are street photographers. We are simply capturing a candid image that comes into view. The timing and pre-visualization is everything, but more the timing than anything else. When you get on to it and being comfortable with your camera and your surroundings is when the pre-visualization will kick in. It will become second nature. You'll know what to expect, then you will be able to judge and position yourself, and camera correctly. Like a sports photographer, you'll be able to look at a situation or play and tell what will 'most likely' happen next because it's happened before like that. And there's always the unexpected, and these times are what make street photography so enjoyable.

But if you can't handle surprises and aren't the type to 'go with the flow' or 'bloom where you're planted,' then studio photography may be more of your speed. Or if you want to make a living, these other branches of photography may be more conducive for your needs, and your checking account. Street Photography is something you have to love to do. Something you do in your spare time, like Vivian Maier was a full-time Nanny. On her days off she grabbed her camera and hit the streets. God love her.

The first two street photographers I heard about in school was Robert Frank and Diane Arbus. Later on I came across Weegee. All three were an inspiration to me. But all three are a bit 'gritty' for my digestion. 'Hard-core' or 'moody' or 'depressing' are other terms I get from their work. And Arbus killed herself, talk about being 'into' her work, her passion.

I have to warn you..... fellow photographer, before you run out to the street and stick a camera in somebody's face. There are people, not so many, that don't like to have their picture taken. Some for their religious reasons. Please be courteous and kind. If you get the feeling or catch some animosity or jealousy in the air either move on without the shot, or ask if they mind, or sneak one. Most people have told me that they don't mind. A few will ask for money before. And there was one that chased me down the street, but I think he just wanted my camera. Since then I covered the 'Nikon' or 'Canon' logo on my camera. And please don't hang-around someplace after you shoot a picture. Shoot and move on. Don't give anybody of bad intent time to figure you out or tell others about you or your location. That could be one of the main reasons I am most times shooting the backs of people for my picture book 'Backs Forward.'

Baltimore Md.  ~by JR Hager
Baltimore Md. ~by JR Hager
Los Angeles ~by JR Hager
Los Angeles ~by JR Hager

Robert Frank (born November 9, 1924) is an important figure in American photography and film. His most notable work, the 1958 book titled The Americans, was influential, and earned Frank comparisons to a modern-day de Tocqueville for his fresh and nuanced outsider's view of American society. Frank later expanded into film and video and experimented with manipulating photographs and photomontage.

Frank was born in Switzerland. Frank states in the 2005 documentary "Leaving Home, Coming Home" by Director Gerald Fox, that his mother, Rosa (other sources state her name as Regina), had a Swiss passport, while his father, Hermann originating from Frankfurt, Germany had become stateless after losing his German citizenship as a Jew. They had to apply for the Swiss citizenship of Frank and his older brother, Manfred. Though Frank and his family remained safe in Switzerland during World War II, the threat of Nazism nonetheless affected his understanding of oppression. He turned to photography, in part as a means to escape the confines of his business-oriented family and home, and trained under a few photographers and graphic designers before he created his first hand-made book of photographs, 40 Fotos, in 1946.

Diane Arbus (/diːˈæn ˈɑrbəs/; March 14, 1923 – July 26, 1971) was an American photographer and writer noted for black-and-white square photographs of "deviant and marginal people (dwarfs, giants, transgender people, nudists, circus performers) or of people whose normality seems ugly or surreal".

Arbus believed that a camera could be "a little bit cold, a little bit harsh" but its scrutiny revealed the truth; the difference between what people wanted others to see and what they really did see – the flaws.A friend said that Arbus said that she was "afraid ... that she would be known simply as 'the photographer of freaks'", and that phrase has been used repeatedly to describe her.

Weegee was the pseudonym of Arthur Fellig (June 12, 1899 – December 26, 1968), a photographer and photojournalist, known for his stark black and white street photography.

Weegee worked in Manhattan, New York City's Lower East Side as a press photographer during the 1930s and '40s, and he developed his signature style by following the city's emergency services and documenting their activity.

Much of his work depicted unflinchingly realistic scenes of urban life, crime, injury and death. Weegee published photographic books and also worked in cinema, initially making his own short films and later collaborating with film directors such as Jack Donohue and Stanley Kubrick.

When hittin the streets: (if you like)

  • Think of a theme, a niche, a topic, or thesis of your shoot.
  • Check-out the news in your area and see what's happening (art shows, protests, gatherings, meetings, speaking engagements etc.)
  • Pre-visualize how you want the surroundings and their relationship to the subject or subjects that catch your eye.
  • Keep in mind the forms and balance in your viewfinder (or monitor) of the structures, light, shadows, reflections, weather, and how you want them to relate and to be conveyed in your image.
  • Always handle your shoot seriously as if you are putting together a photo essay for a teacher or a professor for an exam that you will get graded on or get credits for. Or think you are putting together a 'picture book' to market and sell on-line.
  • Always shoot alone so your attention and vision is on your work and not side-tracked on someone else's input or ideas or advisory actions.
  • .....and always make sure you have enough film .... (: or rather, power :) .... it's a bummer to miss a shot!

India ~by JR Hager
India ~by JR Hager | Source
York Fair ~by JR Hager
York Fair ~by JR Hager
London ~by JR Hager
London ~by JR Hager | Source

Now available @ Apple's iBookstore

.... never an ebook like this one !
.... never an ebook like this one ! | Source


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