13 tips to shoot street photography in travel

So you are ready for your next vacation where you plan to shoot some street photography. Here are 13 tips to think about before you get there.

I) Leave your big guns at home

In street photography, you will never miss a shot because you have the wrong lens on. You’ll miss it because you either were not quick enough, or because you did not have the guts to raise your camera and click. Taking along a lot of gear will not improve your pictures, it will just make your life more complicated, be it in terms of safety, weight, or thought process. (click on pictures for high res)

After mass in Puebla – 46mm equivalent FOV.

II) Do some reading before your trip

So you finally made it to Cuba and head to the Malecon for some shooting. Yet after a few hours of wandering around, you find asking yourself  “What now ?”. Do some pre-work on the places you’ll visit, last thing you want is to spend precious holiday time in a local internet coffee trying to figure out your next shooting spot.

The flea market in Puebla – we learnt about it on the internet.

III) Be respectful

You are not in your own country. Whatever the law say regarding your right to shoot people in the street, remember that you are a guest. If someone does not want you to take his/her picture, there might be some reasons behind it that you are not aware of (religious, cultural,…). Apologize, delete the shot if requested and move on. Keep your “I am in my right” argumentation for your neighbors when you head back home.

Teotihuacan – After an exhaustng climb up the pyramide, this patriotic Mexican was only smile

IV) Keep the “Never ask” routine.

It is not because you are traveling that you must suddenly start to ask permission. Keep your shooting routine, candidness is still the best recipe for great street shots. As mentioned above, if someone reacts negatively, apologize and delete if requested.

Flea market in Puebla – I smiled afterwards, she smiled. That is the way it happens 95% of the time.

V) Get off the beaten paths

Travel guides will lead you to the obvious must-see places. These locations are rarely representative of a city’s way of living. Street photography happens anywhere, and not only in front of the street vendors’ stands. Go to less concurred neighborhoods, yet be wise and inform yourself about potential safety problems before you do so.

Back street Puebla – sometimes it takes just a few steps in a court to find special scenes.

VI) Meet local people

There is nothing better than a local to help you discover a location. They will take you to unknown places and enrich your street photography by a better comprehension of the history and socio-cultural background of a city.

Red dummy in Istanbul – from a cab ride in Istanbul with our friend Emre Ogan.

VII) Stay true to your style

There is no Istanbul or Havana style of shooting, but only your own style. It is not because you are in NYC that you suddenly need to switch to wide angles. Paris is not only about HCB’s 50mm field of view. Stay true to your way of shooting, let your instincts flow and it will keep cohesiveness of your work. It is not worth to bring back 2 weeks of lousy shots just because you tried to adapt your style to a given location. Experiment in your backyard, not during your hard earned holiday time.

Istanbul street musicians – I experimented with Emre’s 21mm lens for while. Fun but difficult to master.

XIII) Clichés count too

Yes, a couple kissing in Paris is a cliché. So is a fisherman on Galata bridge in Istanbul. These shots have all been taken before and it will be very hard for you to give it a new spin. So what ?  It might have been done before, but you never did it. Shoot for yourself and your own fun first. And sometimes, it might actually turn out into something never seen before.

Zocalo, Mexico DF – A mexican hat, my favorite cliché in Mexico.

IX) Don’t risk your fortune

If the loss or theft of your equipment means financial pain, don’t bring it. Or have it insured. Not only you will be worried about it all the time, but it will also have you skip some once a life time opportunities. Do you really want to stay by your camera bag on a the beach or prefer a great swim in crystal waters ?

Puebla truck boy – Shot with the Leica M8, my M9 stayed at home.

X) Don’t abuse of the “poverty” shots

Yes, homeless, shantytowns and poor kids often make spectacular shots. Yet, they are too easy and not respectful. Easy, because most probably your subjects will be defenseless in front of the rich tourist. Not respectful because you’ll use someone’s bad fortune to make your photography look good. Obviously, poverty is a big factor in many countries and it does not mean that you should not shoot it. But give a balanced view on a location and remember that a great street photograph is a good mix of aesthetics and message. If you take a picture only because it looks good, than something is probably wrong about it.

Puebla – a blind man sits at the entrance of a church.

XI) Don’t shoot government officials

Don’t gamble on these shots. The law might not prohibit it but last thing you want is to end up your day (or week) in the local prison because you shot a bad humored cop. If you absolutely want the picture ask for permission before, the loss of a shots’s candidness is always better than the temporary loss of freedom.

Puebla Police Officer – a little gamble here

XII) Get up early, take a siesta and be ready for the late afternoon light.

In other words, adapt to the local light conditions. It is no use to be out in the sun in Istanbul at 13h as contrast will be too high and the heat will take on your inspiration.

Working class – Morning light in Mexico City

XIII) Let your eyes lookout of the viewfinder

You’ll go to some amazing places. Make sure you take the time to look from outside your viewfinder and enjoy the view. In the end, your memory will not only be made of pictures.

Any tips you’d like to suggest, do not hesitate to add it in the comments section.

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