About Street Photography by Fokko Muller
The organization of the Urban Photo Race asked me to tell a bit more about street photography. I am very happy to do that. When my camera is out of my camera bag I will use it for street photography mostly.
My name is Fokko Muller and besides taking street photos I also like to promote street photography as it is so much fun to do. I teach street photography workshops and give lectures. I am also the owner of www.straatfotografie.nl where you can find all kind of information regarding street photography and where everyone can share their street photos. I am also an official Olympus Visionary (Ambassador).
In the coming months there will be new Urban Photo Races in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Berlin. Although I never participated in a race myself I can imagine the challenges you will encounter. Urban photography is not the same as street photography. As street photography tends to focus more on people in the public areas, urban photography covers a much wider area such as architectural photos and city landscapes. In my opinion these kind of definitions are quite boring. What matters is that you make interesting photos, with or without people in it.
Taking photos of people on the street can be quite scary in the beginning. You never know how people might react. I didn’t have many negative reactions yet but sometimes people make it clear that they don’t want you to take their photo. I always respect that. I always try to make candid photos. This is the best way to create an image of the scene you just saw. If people see you taking the shot the scene will change: people begin to pose and laugh or they turn away from you.
You can’t be invisible on the streets, but your photo can be candid if you manage to be unnoticed until the moment you press the shutter button. Some tips to do that:
- Don’t wear bright colors
- Keep your camera in the hand and not around your neck
- Avoid eye contact with your main subject
- Move calmly
- Use you LCD screen instead of the view finder
Taking candid street photos using the view finder is no problem. Your subject however will notice you taking the photo sooner than when you use the LCD screen of your camera. This will give you the opportunity to take a few more photos without being noticed (working the scene).
Growing confidence with street photography is often a matter of time. The more you do it, the better and more confident you will feel. You will see that most people don’t mind you taking pictures of them. If you manage to be discrete most people won’t notice you at all. Getting closer to people shouldn’t be a goal in itself. You only get closer if that gives you the pictures you are looking for. It’s no problem if you keep more distance and use a zoom lens. Don’t hide behind trees though. Don’t be sneaky; people will trust you more if you are honest and open with what you are doing. Go to busy places and visit events. Take a friend (together you are strong). A ‘safe’ way to get closer is to make photos of people behind glass like in a tram, train or restaurant.
If people see you and react negatively just say sorry and walk away from the situation. Discussions about your rights will not help you.
During the Urban Photo Race you can tell people that you have an assignment to take photos of people in the street. When you do street photography for yourself you can also tell that you have an assignment for your photo club for instance. Somehow people tend to accept such an ‘excuse’ easier than you telling your hobby is taking photos of strangers ☺
Most important of street photography is that you enjoy being on the streets. If you don’t like watching people and document what they are doing then stick to landscapes or wild life.
As an Olympus Ambassador I shoot with Olympus OMD system cameras for many years. For me these cameras have important advantages such as fast auto-focus, light in weight, compact and good quality lenses. I use the brilliant LCD-screen not only to stay unnoticed but the touch functionality makes me change the auto-focus points easily with one finger in a split second.
At the end of the day you can do street photography with any camera: dslr, system camera, compact or smart phone. The gear should be your tool, your eyes and brains are the most important and creative part for the photo. If you don’t see anything on the street your gear is useless.
My advice is to use automatic settings on your camera as it gives you the opportunity to look at people instead of being busy with your camera. I shoot in aperture priority (A or Av) in combination with auto-ISO. A higher aperture number will give you more depth of field. Check you shutter speed. With people moving slowly towards you a shutter speed of 1/250 would work OK.
I was a jury member of the 2016 Amsterdam Urban Photo Race. I have seen more than 2100 photos from that race and the quality was in a range of mediocre to very good.
How to take good photos? It’s impossible to give you an objective advice. I think a photo is ‘good’ or ‘interesting’ if the subject is interesting. Things as composition, light, black and white or color can make the photo stronger.
My best advice is to be consistent in your themes. You will have 6 themes with 3 photos per theme. You can vary black and white and color in your 18 photos but I think it’s smart not to mix color and b&w in one theme.
Another tip is to use some kind of post processing and not to deliver photos directly from the camera. Post processing can always make your photo stronger but don’t overkill it. If you can’t bring a laptop, use basic filters in your camera or use software like Snapseed on your smartphone or tablet.
Besides being a jury member for the Rotterdam Urban Photo Race on May 13th this year I will also sponsor the races in Rotterdam and Amsterdam with 2 prizes: a workshop street photography and my photo book “The Street”.
Please visit my website www.fokkomuller.com to have a look at my work. You can also find information on my group or private workshops and links to my social media channels.
Good luck with your race and don’t forget to enjoy the journey!