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The objective of street photography is to capture people and places in public urban areas in an unplanned and spontaneous manner. Many street photographers seek to explore and question the modern way of life and how people relate to their surroundings. The genre has existed almost since the beginnings of photography itself, and dates back to about 1875 when cameras first became sufficiently mobile to be used outside a studio.

Iraq War protest, LondonMost street photography is focused upon people and their everyday urban activities. The photographer aims to capture individuals interacting with their surroundings and dealing with the challenges and pleasures of their normal lives. He or she must be open-minded, prepared to get involved with strangers, and able to react rapidly to situations. Nothing can be planned. The pictures are, by definition, not posed or set up in any way.

It probably goes without saying that street photography implies many hours spent walking the city streets. This in itself is hard work. It also involves learning a sort of survival code. Cities contain all sorts of people, some of whom my disapprove of a photographer's presence. It is important to learn to deal with situations and confrontations that arise as a consequence of photographic activities, and also with the "normal" safety hazards of city streets. There are some risks associated with the activity, particularly in quiet alleyways and when working at night.

Where a photographer should go to capture the images required is an open question. Much depends upon the nature of the pictures and the purpose for which they are being taken. Start with an area you know reasonably well and follow your instincts until some success is achieved. Keep moving around because the next corner may reveal a new situation, and some people become agitated when a photographer seems to be hanging around. Remain alert for signs of interesting activity and use eyes, ears and nose to detect anything unfolding in the area.

Wherever possible, talk to people and listen to what they have to say. The residents of any area have all sorts of interesting information at their disposal if you can only get them to share it. Be prepared to spend long hours on the streets and learn when and where are the most productive times and locations. Eventually you will make new friends and become more trusted.

Interesting street subjects can be found in any area of a city. They are on the pavements and roads, on bridges and footpaths, in alleyways, parks and squares, on stations and trains, and in shops and markets. Any form of behaviour that is characteristic of an area makes a picture, as does any unusual gesture or reaction to situations.

The weather and light always influence outdoor photography but need not stop work. Flat light on overcast days reduces contrast problems and saturates colours. Rain is a nuisance and may be uncomfortable unless you are properly prepared, but it also brings new subjects on to the streets. Heavy rain leaves the streets soaked and introduces the possibility of capturing reflections. Hot sunny days are tiring, and harsh light can be difficult to handle, but the sun changes the atmosphere throughout the city as people respond not only by wearing fewer clothes but also by behaving in a more carefree manner.

Always preset your camera and lens so that rapid firing is possible. Some events are gone in seconds, so the photographer must be ready. A lens can be pre-focused manually in street situations where distances are fairly predictable. Keep the aperture reasonably small to maximize depth of field and set the exposure manually. The camera will then fire immediately without the delay caused by focusing. Shoot in RAW mode so that plenty of latitude is available for later adjustment, and keep checking the light in quiet moments.


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