I came across an interesting article today about street shooting techniques that some might find informative, but it made me think about my particular style and success rate. I have always felt that I have a high hit rate for photos that I find pleasing, to the point that I largely need others to give feed back to help me reduce what I share publicly.
Yet, stylistically, how I go about capturing them changes pretty drastically depending on what camera I am using. For instance, I have always enjoyed great success shooting my Leica M completely manually with a thin depth of field but, on my Leica Q, I tend to select the aperture/shutter speed, then utilize autofocus/auto ISO. I further deviate with my Fuji cameras by utilizing zone focusing on them because sometimes the auto focusing fails when street shooting. The new X-Pro 2 is much better at achieving proper focus when on the move in a low light street shooting situation than past Fujifilm cameras, but it still isn’t as effective as a rangefinder with LED illumination at night.
The problem I have with this dynamic is that I find myself hesitating to take pictures I might otherwise shoot with a rangefinder because the speed of the camera varies too much, and I really don’t like zone focusing when I am street shooting. I have become too accustomed to sharp pictures with a thin depth of field, which can’t be obtained when zone focusing.
For me, the core mechanics of mastering how you are going to capture a picture helps increase your hit rate the most because, once you are able to subconsciously/instinctually know your camera, then you can put yourself in the right spot to raise your camera at the right time to quickly create the picture in your mind with minimal disturbance to the subject. Shooting a prime lens or two greatly helps with this skill, but it takes years to master.
Of course composition is important, and I have a strict no cropping policy for getting there. Some people enjoy reading about the many rules of composition, but I’m a big believer in looking at photos to train your eye after you understand the basics. I think developing your eye is more important than being able to recite the text book definition for the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, fibonacci’s ratio, etc… Also, thinking too much about composition can cause you to miss the “decisive” moment. In my experience, being successful on the street is largely tied to your comfort level with your equipment and the people you hope to capture.
I think my philosophy about shooting plays into a famous Robert Capa quote that I heard repeatedly when I first started shooting street, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Well, in today’s world, to get close and escape confrontation you really need to be fast. The more time you spend with your camera raised the more likely you are to be noticed, and the more likely you are to disturb the subject you are trying to capture. If they are reacting to you before you’re walking away, you probably did something wrong.