Stop Moving… and Make Better Pictures

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Sometimes when you’re capturing street images you’re constantly moving. Sometimes, you need to stand still.

127 Rundle Mall

Standing still enables you to watch what’s going on around you; to actually see what’s happening. Once you begin to ‘see’ things, you can make decisions about capturing images that tell the story of your location.

Finding a stage for your subjects can be as much fun as making the images themselves. Walk around your neighbourhood and look for interesting walls, fences or posters. It doesn’t matter what the backdrop is, as long as it’s interesting. Not too many people like looking at photographs with boring backgrounds, so find an interesting backdrop and stop for a while.

It doesn’t have to be day time either, if you’re out at night you can still find interesting backdrops and wait for the right person, or people, to walk through your stage!

Adelaide Oval, New Years Eve 2014

Two questions I get asked are:

  • “What makes a background interesting?” and
  • “How do I find an interesting background?”

Let’s look at the first question.

What makes a background interesting?

There are many factors that can make a background interesting for a photographer. Of course, there are just as many opinions on exactly what is interesting and what isn’t, but in general terms you could break it down to factors like:

  • Leading Lines and Shapes
  • Colours
  • Humorous advertising
  • Juxtaposition

Let’s have a look at these.

Leading Lines and Shapes

Look for shapes that lead your eyes to a single point; lines or circles that form a border for your subject; shadows and light that form shapes in your image. There are many things that can lead your eyes through the image to your subject.

Once you’ve found your leading lines or shapes, find a position you can stop and wait for a suitable subject to walk in front of your ‘stage’.

Light and shadows

Maybe you’ve found a fence with an advertising hoarding on it and there are lines in the image that all converge towards a single point. You could wait until a person walks in front of the sign and is positioned at the point where all the lines converge. Everything points to your subject, which leads the viewer’s eyes straight towards the main focus of the image.

Colours

Look for colours that form a solid backdrop that’s large enough to frame your subject. Maybe a large coloured door; or a wall painted an interesting colour. It really doesn’t matter what it is, so long as it’s a strong colour.

Photo Quai, Paris

Now, wait for a subject to walk past that you think will look interesting against the backdrop. Maybe someone wearing a bright red coat walking in front of a bright blue wall; or conversely someone wearing colours that disappear against the background so all you see is their head / hands / feet? The choices are only limited by your imagination. Just look for something that looks interesting to you. Chances are, if you find it interesting, so will someone else!



 

Humorous Advertising

This one is fairly self explanatory. Look for an advertising sign you think is funny. Remember though that humour is very subjective. Something that you find funny, someone else might find offensive and vice versa. So the caution here is to be careful when showing images that fall into this category.

My general rule of thumb is don’t make fun of people. Don’t degrade them and don’t show people in vulnerable situations. Showing an overweight person next to a health food poster could be humorous, but I wouldn’t make the image if the person was clearly identifiable.

There’s a fine line between humour and ridicule and I always try not to step over that line.

If you wouldn’t feel good being the subject in the photo, don’t make the image.

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition can be very similar to humour when it comes to street photography. Maybe a fit, healthy person standing next to a “junk food” ad; or someone in historic period costume standing in front of an ultra-modern glass building; or the reverse of that with a person dressed in modern clothes in the frame with an historic object like an old horse & cart.

Juxtaposition in Street Photography

As you can see, there are many things that could fall into this category. Just look for opposites.

Conclusion

There are many reasons to stand or sit still when making ‘street’ images. You don’t need to rush around, trying to make as many images as possible. Street photography is not about coming back with the most images you can in a single outing. It’s about capturing small snippets of everyday life.

Stop. Take a breath. Relax. Watch the world go by. You’ll be surprised at the images you can make.

Challenge

Find somewhere to sit for while and make some images. Try to make five images from the same location, with an interesting backdrop. Once you have your five images, choose your best one and post it in the comments for people to see.