When out on the streets, a Street Photographer can shoot anything from random scenes to portraits. Every type of shot has its level of interestingness. In this post we will talk about the later, portraits.
Specifically we will get to know the two basic types of portraiture that can be shot on the street and once we have done that we will take a look at the differences between them. At the end of the post, I thought that it would be great if I shared some tips on how to snap awesome portrait shots. I think the average street photographer will find them helpful.
The two types of Street Portraits
Portraiture is a genre of photography on its own and I am sure that it can be split into more than two basic categories, but the purpose of this post isn’t to examine portraiture in photography in general, but more specifically to examine portraiture in the streets. So after saying that I can continue with this post.
As I see it, there are two different types of Street Portraiture that a Street Photographer can choose from when out and about. One type is Posed Street Portraiture and the other is Candid Street Portraiture. Both types of Street Portraiture are interesting in my opinion and can produce some really awesome results. The type you choose each time is up to you and you only and depends on many things as we will see soon.
Posed Street Portraits
As the words themselves imply, Posed Street Portraits are shot with the consent of the subject. In other words, when you, the Street Photographer approaches your subject(s) and asks for permission to take his/her/their shot and get approval, you are getting approval for a Posed Street Portrait shot. “Posed” doesn’t necessarily mean that the subjects have to stand still and look at the camera for you, although that is definitely a Posed Street Portrait! Your subjects could continue to do their thing, for example a busker could continue singing, or a pantomime artist can continue doing his pantomime thing. Even though they are “minding their own business” you still have consent and the shots will be posed because the subjects will know that their are the focus of your attention. So, unconsciously they will try to look natural for you, which makes them not look natural, as is always the case when shooting someone that knows they are being photographed.
Candid Street Portraits
Candid Street Portraits are captured without the consent of the subject(s) and without them even knowing, at least before the shot is taken. The Candid Street Portrait must be a genuine photograph of the person’s expression that isn’t aware that is being observed. How many times have you seen someone in the street lost in thought, oblivious to everything going on around them? Have you looked carefully at their facial expression? That facial expression reveals the soul of that person at that moment, because their guard is lowered and they are letting their inner feelings surface to the top where everyone can see them. The second they realise that someone is even looking at them, that expression is lost. The Candid Street Portrait must be shot in order to capture that moment, so it needs to be executed fast, precisely and without hesitation. The split second you hesitate, you have lost the shot. The mask of your subject is on and the expression is lost for ever. It is said that there is a split second just before the subject realises what is happening in which his/her guard is lowered the most and that is the best time that a Street Photographer must press the shutter button. To precisely capture this moment you must practice this many times.
Differences and Similarities in the types of Street Portraiture
Tips for shooting better Street Portraits
I always find that quick tips are useful. They are easy to remember and they can really make a difference if used properly. I always like reading quick tips when they are offered to me and I believe in sharing any tips I know. So here are all the tips I have picked up during the time I have done Street Photography Portraiture, I hope they prove useful to you too.
Tips for shooting better Posed Street Portraits
- Approach your subject with a smile on your face. This is very important.
- When you talk to your subject(s), try to be humble, calm but happy at the same time. Don’t be boastful, harsh or loud.
- Tell your subject(s) the reason why you want to take their picture. It doesn’t have to be a real reason, it can be anything. E.g. a college project, a dare, you like Street Portraiture, anything.
- You must make your subject(s) feel comfortable. I can’t stress the importance of this point.
- When you get consent and they look into your camera and you take a few shots, be quick, don’t take up their time. It is them that are doing you a favour, not the other way around.
- Take their photo with a wide aperture so you get nice bokeh, or depth of field. If you have a 50mm+ lens, use that to get better results.
- Frame them in the centre of the shot and get as close as possible so you can get many details of their face. This works great when your lens produces great bokeh.
- Frame them in the left or right third of your picture, so you can include more of the background in your photo, if that is your purpose. I find that when I am interested in not using bokeh, because there is a good background, then I compose my portraits like this. Otherwise, if there is bokeh, the subject(s) are in the centre of the frame.
- Try to find the best lighting vs position combo. For example, don’t shoot your subject(s) if there is strong backlight, because they will turn out very dark in comparison to the background. You can use backlight to your advantage by placing your subject in a way that their face is partially lit up by a sideways backlight.
- Get close.
- Get closer.
- If they are not actually posing for you, but doing their thing, like Street Performers, try to get them either in the left or right side of your shot so you can include their tools of trade in the image as well.
- Once you have finished, show them your shots (or one of them). People appreciate that.
- Ask them if they would like a copy of your photos. If yes, you can ask for an email and send them a copy. This is great if you are working with film too, because it is the only way that they can see their photo.
Tips for shooting better Candid Street Portraits
- Pick out your subject(s) carefully. Don’t just point your lens to anyone around you.
- Use a wide angle lens so you are sure to get your subject in view.
- Use a narrow aperture so you are sure to focus on your subject(s) accurately.
- Use a high shutter speed to “freeze” their expressions.
- Step in front of your subject, in a calm manner, like you are walking past them, stop and shoot.
- Be brave.
You will notice that I haven’t mentioned burst mode at any point in my tips. The reason for this is that I do not believe in burst mode shooting. I think that it is up to the Street Photographer to capture the moment, not the camera. I know that many Street Photographers follow this tactic. They shoot at 10fps and hope to get the expression they are looking for. I strongly disagree with this. This is just like taking your camera and shooting 1000 photos on one photo walk in hope of keeping 2-3 photos. I think that we should all think, prepare, compose and shoot the shot that we as Street Photographers see. Burst mode is like taking steroids and running for the 100m sprint. It is cheating.
No matter what you like to shoot, Posed or Candid Street Portraits, both are interesting and can produce some amazing results. I like doing both, depending mostly on my feelings at the time I go out. I have dedicated photo walks to Posed Street Portraiture as I have dedicated walks to Candid Street Portraiture, it all depends on the mood that I am in. If you haven’t done this, grab your camera, head out and shoot some faces. Many say that Posed Street Photography is easier than Candid Street Photography, so you might want to try that first.
If you haven’t done this before and would like to ask any kind of question, it would be great to do so! If you have any type of feedback, it is most welcome, please comment away! If you are an experienced Street Photographer that has done this many times, please, share your thoughts with us and our readers! We would love to hear your opinion and learn from you.