How to Create Street Photography Assignments

written by: CLARKE SCOTT 
old man stares at street photographer

Street photography is a captivating realm of documentary photography that thrives on the energy and spontaneity found in public places.

For photographers looking to improve their skills in this genre, assignments are a practical way to hone technical prowess and creative thinking. Getting a good street photograph requires more than just technical knowledge; it demands an understanding of human behavior, an eye for composition, and the readiness to seize fleeting moments. Street photography assignments push photographers out of their comfort zone, challenging them to engage with their environment in unique and dynamic ways.

These assignments vary in scope and difficulty, but they all serve a common purpose: to refine the photographer’s ability to capture the essence of everyday life. Some popular tasks include photographing strangers after getting their consent, which improves the photographer’s ability to interact with subjects while maintaining respect for their space. Other assignments might focus purely on the aesthetics of the street, such as capturing contrasts in architecture or the interplay of light and shadows, which enhances the photographer’s visual acuity and compositional skills.

Key Takeaways

  • Street photography assignments encourage active engagement with the subject matter to produce compelling images.
  • Assignments promote the development of both technical camera skills and creative observation.
  • Effective street photography often involves post-processing to highlight the visual narrative of the captured scenes.

Equipment and Technical Skills

In street photography, the right equipment, paired with a honed set of technical skills, can profoundly affect the quality and impact of the images I capture. I focus on gear that enhances my agility and techniques that help me anticipate and freeze the decisive moment.

Cameras and Gear

When selecting my camera for street photography, I often prefer rangefinder-style digital cameras for their compact size and quiet operation. A typical setup for me includes:

  • Camera: Leica M10 or Fujifilm X100 Series
  • Lens: A flexible prime lens, typically 35mm or 50mm
  • Strap: A durable Henri neck strap for quick access and security
  • Extra Batteries and Memory Cards: To ensure I don’t miss a shot due to power or storage issues

Gear Considerations:

  • Stealth: Using gear that’s small and unobtrusive helps me remain inconspicuous.
  • Quality: I opt for higher ISO capabilities and wider apertures to deal effectively with varied lighting conditions.

Technical Techniques

My repertoire of technical techniques includes:

  1. Decisive Moment: I practice anticipating significant instances that capture the essence of the street scene.
  2. Panning: To capture motion, I follow moving subjects at a slow shutter speed, which adds dynamic energy to my shots.
  3. Timing: I work on my reflexes to click the shutter at the precise moment, mastering both patience and readiness.

Technique Application:

  • Motion & Timing: I practice by photographing moving subjects, like cars or people walking, to capture them crisply while maintaining a blurred background.

Environmental Awareness

To enhance my photographs, I stay conscious of the environment and use natural elements to create compelling compositions:

  • Lighting: I make the most of the golden hour for warm, soft light, and the blue hour for a cooler, tranquil mood.
  • Leading Lines: I incorporate roads, paths, or architectural elements into my compositions to guide the viewer’s eye.
  • Reflections, Shadows, and Silhouettes: These elements help me add depth and mystery to my images.

Observation Techniques:

  • Silhouettes Against Sunset: By placing subjects against the light during golden hour, I capture intriguing silhouettes.
  • Shadow Play: I observe how shadows elongate during different times of the day, using them to add drama.

In my street photography, even with the simplest gear, what’s crucial is how I employ environmental factors and modify my technical approach to capture life as it unfolds spontaneously on the streets.

Composition and Aesthetics

In street photography, composition and aesthetics are vital to creating compelling images. I’ll guide you through framing, lighting, and design elements to elevate your photographs.

Framing and Perspective

Framing is crucial for adding depth and context to street photographs. I use the Rule of Thirds to position subjects dynamically within the frame, often aligning them along the grid lines or at the intersections for a balanced composition. When capturing scenes, I consider layers and juxtapositions, creating a narrative by aligning disparate elements that contrast or complement each other.

  • Creative Framing: Look for natural frames, like windows or archways, to enclose your subject, adding focus and intrigue.
  • Perspective: Change my angle or position to alter the viewer’s perception, shooting from high above or down low, to get a fresh take on ordinary scenes.

Lighting and Exposure

Good lighting is key to setting the mood and bringing out colors and details. I play with back lighting to rim subjects, creating separation from the background and a three-dimensional look. It’s important to balance exposure correctly, to ensure the highlights and shadows contribute to the visual story without overwhelming it.

  • Color: Use natural or artificial light to enhance or mute colors appropriately, knowing when soft, diffused light flatters and when harsh light creates dramatic contrasts.
  • Exposure: I adjust shutter speed and aperture to freeze motion as per the scene’s demand—typically using faster shutter speeds like 1/250 or 1/500 sec for quick movement.

Elements of Design

Understanding and using various design elements can greatly enhance the aesthetics of my photographs. Negative space, for instance, can emphasize my subject or convey a sense of isolation. I incorporate color not just for vibrancy but to guide emotion and attention within the frame.

  • Juxtapositions: Find and frame opposing elements—old vs. new, stillness vs. movement—to tell a richer story.
  • Negative Space: Use the area that surrounds the main subject to frame and highlight it, giving the viewer’s eye a place to rest and enhancing the overall composition.

Social and Cultural Elements

My perspective on street photography is rooted in capturing the essence of society and its myriad cultures. I delve into fragments of life unfolding in public spaces, where every street portrait or candid gesture conveys a story steeped in the human condition.

Portraiture in the Street

I approach portraiture in the street with a keen awareness of humanity’s diverse expressions. I’m mindful of the ethical implications, ensuring to obtain consent when possible, recognizing that each individual’s privacy is paramount. I often look for a gesture that reveals personality or emotion, as it’s the small intricacies within our actions that often narrate the deeper story.

  • Humanity: Each face tells a complex story, and capturing that essence is at the core of my street portraits.
  • Ethics: Respect for subjects is non-negotiable; I navigate social anxieties and privacy with care.
  • Gesture: A tilt of the head, a fleeting smile – these are the moments that infuse my portraits with life.

Cultural Ethos

When I reflect on the cultural ethos of a place, humor and irony often emerge as compelling elements. They cut across languages and social strata, cementing a universal appeal in my work. I also aim to respect and celebrate the diverse cultures within the society I photograph, aware that my lens is both an observer and a chronicler of the cultural tapestry.

  • Humor: An unexpected juxtaposition, a comical moment in everyday life, challenges me to capture and convey humor without words.
  • Art with People: I seek to create art that is inclusive, reflective of the vibrant cultures that paint our world’s canvas.

Post-Processing and Presentation

After capturing the raw moments on the streets, post-processing and presentation are the crucial steps that I focus on to refine my images and share my vision with the world.

Editing Techniques

When I edit my street photography images, my goal is to enhance the storytelling without distorting the essence of the candid moment.

Here’s my approach:

  1. Contrast Adjustment: I often boost contrast to make important elements pop, but I’m careful to preserve natural shadows and highlights.
  2. Color Correction: I aim for color accuracy to reflect the scene as I witnessed it, sometimes converting to black and white to focus more on texture and form.
  3. Cropping: I use this sparingly to improve composition or to remove distracting elements, maintaining the integrity of the original scene.
  4. Dodge and Burn: I replicate traditional darkroom techniques digitally to draw attention to or away from specific areas of the photograph.

Sharing and Critique

Once my images are post-processed, I consider how and where to share them:

  • Print: I often create physical prints of my work, as the tactile quality and the permanence of print add a layer of depth to my street photographs.
  • Books: Publishing a photo book, whether it’s a large hardcover or a small zine, allows me to curate a series of images that tell a cohesive story.
  • eBook/Journal: For a broader reach, I may opt for a digital format like an eBook or an online journal that can easily be shared with my audience.
  • Social Media: Platforms like Instagram are great for instant feedback and engagement, which can be valuable for growth as a photographer.

Further Reading