I shoot street photography, and when I do so I shoot in black and white. It’s not because it’s hipster or it’s cool, but it legitimately helps improve my craft.
When I go out and shoot street photography, I have a certain number of settings that has worked for me over the years. Some are helpful rules Street Photographer giants have taught us over the years, some are little quirks that work just for me, and it might for you.
Here are 5 things I do before stepping into the streets.
Shoot in Black and White
I set my picture profile to black and white because it’s a refreshing perspective. Sometimes shots give a completely different tone when the colours are stripped away. You’re more focused on the light and shadows and framing of the shot.
If you’re shooting RAW, the colours are of course still there, so in post you can always bring the colours back. Black and white forces you to see your work one way, then in post you’re able to see it another way. I find a lot of my shots I’ll revert back to colour, and some just work better monochrome.
This shot for example, not a particularly interesting shot, but in black and white you’re more focused on the shapes and the curves and the layer of shades.
f/8 (or f/4) and Be There
The old adage for street photographers and photos journalists to be there and ‘be there’. An f/8 aperture allows your shot to be in focus, throwing away all of that swirly bokeh you love so much. This helps you as a photographer to not worry about the technical aspects of things and be there in the moment.
For Micro four thirds users such as myself, the crop factor plays an advantage to this philosophy. When M43 mount gives you a x2 crop in Full Frame terms, so does the depth of field. M43 at f/4 can give you a similar depth of field compared to a Full Frame on f/8. This gives M43 a nice advantage to open the lens a bit wider for low light purposes.
Read more about f/8 and be there
A godsend for modern cameras. I never realise the benefit of a touchscreen until I moved from a Canon 5D MkIII to an Olympus EM5 MkII.
When having to pick focal points, prior to touch screens you’ll have to use buttons, d-pads, wheels to scroll or tap around to pick your focal point. When I’m shooting, half the time I frame up, tap where I want to shoot and the camera focuses there and shoots in milliseconds. This again serves the ‘be there’ philosophy. It takes one more technical hindrance away from you as a photographer and serves you as a photographer to focus on the moment.
Burst or Single
I’ve been toying with this for a while. For ages I took single shots. If I missed that moment I blamed it on the timing of my shutter. It required me to anticipate my subject and mentally plan my framing before I framed. It gave me more practice as a photographer capturing the moment.
I recently changed to burst mode to see what I’m missing out on. In terms of Street Photographer it’s a 50/50 for me. The keepers are the ones I tend to put my mental planning and framing in. They work 80% of the time when I take that one single shot. I didn’t need a second one. Burst has given me more options for the shots I fluke. I see a moment in the corner of my eye and I quickly spray and pray. Burst works well there. Although I’m happy I got the shot thanks to burst, I didn’t get it on my own skills.
I guess it’s like hunting with a rifle and hunting with a machine gun.
So these are some of the settings that work for me. Auto or manual settings are there to serve you. Using it the way you choose to get the shot you want is all it matters. You’re not more of a professional because you always shoot in manual, and neither are you an amateur if you only know how to shoot auto. At the end of the day it’s the work that counts.