Street photography tips from Nick Turpin
Nick worked as a photographer on The Independent in the UK for seven years, leaving in 1997 to pursue his personal photographic ideas. He founded the international street photographers’ group, in-public, with the aim of bringing street photography to a new and wider audience. Nick makes his living by shooting on the streets for clients who include VW, Sony and IBM and he’s taught street photography at Tate Modern, Yale School of Art and on the Discovery Channel.
See his work at Nick Turpin’s website.
7. Learn from street photography books and photography websites
The best street photographs are moments, they contain a happening and usually one that, a moment ago, you didn’t see coming – that’s the difference between street photography and reportage, you’re not photographing a ‘subject’, you’re simply out to see what comes your way in the busy change and flux of a public place. Generally, street photographs are self-contained. It’s the humour, a narrative or some drama that makes them work without the presence of other images – they’re one-offs. Look at a lot of good street photography in books and on the web. See why the pictures work. See how the photographer made the joke or framed the moment. See what devices photographers have used on the street.
8. Street photography locations
Don’t try to look at and photograph a whole city, it’s overwhelming. Instead concentrate on a small section of a street or a corner – that’s where street pictures happen.
9. Choose interesting street photography subjects
Finding a subject can take lots of time. Often I’ll find someone who looks interesting and hang around or follow them, in the hope that something will happen or come the other way that suddenly makes a wonderful scene. One day I followed two bald men in suits; they looked interesting but they weren’t a picture on their own. First they went past a hat shop with lots of hats floating on poles that made an amusing Magritte-type picture. Then on a corner two workmen came in the opposite direction wearing hard hats and a lovely juxtaposition was made. I often create a picture like this – find one element and then try to add to it. Occasionally you’ll turn a corner and find a picture just waiting to be taken and then you have a mad scramble to get into the best position to shoot it.
10. Always carry your camera
I think most street photographs are made during the course of an ordinary day. Of course I go to the city specifically to shoot, but the number one rule is to carry your camera at all times, always be ready to make a picture… this improves your luck vastly.
11. Learn to work fast
I get the most satisfaction from shots taken so quickly that I barely had time to think about why I was taking them; pictures that are a raw reaction to a small trigger. I took one shot of a man running fast, outside Liverpool Street Station, predicting roughly where he’d be by the time I’d raised my camera. It was over in a second but the photograph reveals a fleeing mugger being chased by the young businessman, whose phone he’d stolen. It’s this ‘revelatory’ aspect of street photography that I find appealing.
12. The best time for street photography
The moment is always paramount, good light can add or detract from it but it rarely ‘makes’ the picture in itself. I’m more concerned with quantity of light than quality of light because I need upwards of 1/250th of a second and a decent bit of depth of field in order to freeze my subjects. Having said that, the morning and evening are particularly nice times to shoot, especially in the summer months.
13. Where to shoot from in street photography
Stand close to people and shoot with a small, slightly wide-angle lens – you look more conspicuous when you’re standing across the street.
14. Shoot plenty of frames
When something is good, don’t take a single frame and leave. Watch the scene develop and change, picking out the best moments to make your picture.
15. Street photography in crowded places
Put yourself in a place where there are plenty of people about and you should be able to make a good street picture at pretty much any moment. You’ll develop a sense of whether a particular place is going to deliver or not – it’s a bit like getting a few bites when you’re fishing. If there’s a buzz, then hang around. The trick is to maintain your focus and concentration and not let a photographic trip turn into a shopping or drinking excursion.