The following are some basics to consider every time you go out for a day of street photography. This advice is based on bitter experience. With practice you’ll be able to streamline this check-list to suit you.
Study the weather
Always start by checking the weather for the day. Everything from temperature ranges to sun up and sun down matters. You need to make sure you dress appropriately for the day ahead. Wear too much and you’ll be sweating and uncomfortable quickly, dress to lightly and you’ll end up calling it a day too soon as you get cold and wet. Fail to anticipate sunset and you’ll simply run out of time or miss the best light of the day!
In terms of clothing, I would advise you dress casually. Ditch your usual photography gear. Wear clothes and carry equipment that will blend you in to the crowd. Looking as little like a photographer as possible can help you to observe and approach subjects unseen. The aim is to avoid disturbing them until the crucial moment. Don’t forget to pick the right shoes as well. You want to be able to walk comfortably all day. Ankle support can also be useful if you are likely to be walking on uneven surfaces or cobbled streets. Nothing ruins a day more than the wrong footwear. Never break in a new set of shoes on a day of street photography – trust me!
Pick a location based on the sun
It always pays to work out where the sun will be at the time of day you are planning to shoot. This will dictate where the best shots will be. Try and find an area that acts as a sun trap, where you can photograph people from a range of angles. It also helps to pick a location that has a number of benches or areas where people sit and relax. This will give you stationary subjects.
Selecting the right equipment
The final step is selecting your equipment for the day. I personally recommend the ‘less is more’ approach. My standard kit is as follows:
- Film SLR body (Nikon FM2)
This is my go to camera body. It has become an extention of me, and I feel so comfortable with it no other camera feels ‘right’ any more.
- Manual lens (Tamron 19-35mm)
For me the 19-35mm suits the street photography I do. The 19mm for very wide angle city shots and the 35mm for closer portraits – a little flexibility without without trying to do everything at once. I like a manual lens as I like to have full control of the final shot.
- Spare film/memory cards
Do you really want to end a day shooting prematurely because you have run out of media to shoot onto? Always take more than you estimate needing (just in case).
- A set of filters
These are essential for film photography. I recommend the Cokin P series as a good starting point for the enthusiastic amateur (I’ll talk more abut the selection and use of filters in a later article).
- A lens cloth
Ideally something neutral grey so it can double up as a grey card for metering awkward subjects. Plus if you are changing filters all day you’ll find it a godsend.
- Low light/long-exposure kit
I often carry a simple cable release and Gorillapod SLR with me for those low light or longer exposure shots without the bulk of a full tripod. It’s a compact set up that’s ideal for city use.
- A pen, a pad and contact cards (if you have)
Note taking is vital to learning and as you engage with people you’ll need to be able to exchange details. Also cards can quickly reassure many potential subjects as they give you legitimcy.
- Compact and discrete camera bag
As for my camera bag, I use a simple messenger style bag. It makes me less obviously a photographer, a simple wrap protects my camera when not in use.
Easily overlooked, but again you don’t want to have to stop because you get thirsty.
Insulating tape (is just always handy), a CD marker pen (for writing on film cannisters), a compact screwdriver (with multiple heads), spare batteries
This list is far from definitive, but it’s a good place to start from. The less you carry the more enjoyment you’ll get from the day. You’ll find it easier to stay active and capture those fleeting shots.