A Day Shooting on the Streets
Updated: Sep 24
By Amy Chatterjee
Rain or shine, my favorite thing to do with free time is to grab my camera and take a hike, whether that’s through silky sands or busy city life—just depends on the day. Here’s what’s a free day usually looks like for me:
I am always excited to spend all day outdoors while capturing photos, so with a quick strawberry smoothie and slice of bread in hand, I leave the house nice and early. Currently, with COVID-19 cases on the rise, I try to avoid crowded places like major city hubs and well-known beaches. I drove past downtown Santa Cruz (which is a great place to find amazing graffiti and street art like most downtown areas), to a local, uncrowded beach. While capturing portraits of people may be harder with minimal subjects around, street photography is about adaptability and working with what the world decides to give you on any particular day. Little amounts of people and lots of negative space was definitely the challenge of the day, but I was more than willing to find ways to conquer it.
While looking for places to shoot, I usually make sure to check out the lighting first. It’s always better to have too much light and a tad bit overexposed photos than too dark and extremely underexposed—it’s much harder to edit light into a photo than it is to take it out. Then, I check the surrounding area and try to envision what it would look like as the setting or background, and if there are any little knick knacks around that would make for a great prop or side piece.
I claimed my spot on the beach with an energetic family a little ways away. I decided that their two lively boys would spice up the slumbering aura the empty beach seemed to hold and would be interesting subjects to focus on.
While shooting, my general rules of thumb are:
1. First and foremost, always take extra photos. With street photography, my goal is to usually capture the surprises and moments of interesting irregularities, and those always happen within split seconds. Chances are, the photos will come out blurry, the settings were not correctly set for speed and lighting or I missed the moment by a hair. It’s a game of trial, error and reset. The more pictures you have, the higher the chance of capturing that striking moment.
2. The Rule of Thirds is my go-to while setting up. The Rule of Thirds is when you divide up your image with two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, creating nine evenly split boxes. I do this in my head but most DSLR cameras also give you the option of having the gridlines show on the viewfinder. You want to have your subject positioned close to the lines or intersection points to effectively create a dynamic composition that is eye-catching.
3. Shoot like you can’t crop later. Don’t be afraid to zoom in and fill up the screen with subject matter. Personally, I am someone that prefers to either have a lot of negative space or very minimal negative space, and very rarely do I shoot with the mindset of capturing something in between. Pretending like cropping does not exist forces you to think about what composition you are looking for and gets your creative juices flowing. In general, it helps you become a better photographer.
After shooting for the day, I decided to pack up and head home to edit. There were definitely a couple of pit stops along the way, including getting distracted by tiny crabs and watching the sunset from a nearby lighthouse, but that’s all just going with the flow and enjoying the beauty of the world.
For editing, I love to create high contrast compositions and enhance colors to elicit certain emotions through my pieces. I highly prefer editing on a laptop or desktop compared to a tablet or iPhone, as the precision for details is much more accurate and accessible on bigger screens. Lightroom is my key editing software, but I do also dabble into Photoshop to do quick touch-ups and double exposures.
I spend anywhere between 10-30 minutes editing, depending on how much editing is required, if blemishes need to be fixed and if I’m going back and forth between Lightroom and Photoshop. I start with cropping and fixing rotation, either straightening out photos or tilting them to an extreme. I don’t use presets very often, but I do toggle a lot with color isolations and just about everything under the “Basic” and “Detail” tabs to increase black and white or color contrast, as well as light and shadow contrasts. I like to use the brush tool to subtly outline my subject with either white or black to highlight them out of the background a little. A general tip is to create multiple copies of the RAW image and edit in polar opposite directions and then compare what you have created at the end. This way you get to explore different styles and possibilities available through editing, and you eventually find an editing style that is unique to you.
Every day that I do street photography is a journey. I face different challenges and gain experience and insights while getting to witness the uniqueness of the world around me when it is functioning at its most basic level. At the beginning, street photography is quite daunting; after all, you are taking pictures of strangers, but you will eventually find your pace and your style. Just like many things in the world, learning about the world of photography takes time. It’s a marathon not a speed race, so enjoy the view along the way.