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by garik

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I've been an amateur photographer for a while and just moved to a large South American city. I'd really like to be able to walk around and take photos of life here, but I honestly have the worst time seeing anything worth photographing. I know I'm missing something, but I'm not sure what. I've been looking at a lot of street photographs on the internet for inspiration, but I just don't have any inspiration when I actually step outside.

Does anybody have tips for what I should do to help me SEE?

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7 Answers 7

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Start by going outside without your camera and just looking at things. But with a different look: try to pay attention to small details instead of all the rush. You can't do that while you're walking: you'll have to stop for a while, seat in some park, cafe, shopping. And stop looking at the general movement and begin to look/follow those details: a mother with her child, a couple kissing, some old man carrying something, two old woman laughing.

You'll see that there are many details there, but all the rush just makes you loose focus, since it's natural to try to follow everything at once.

After doing that for some (little) time, bring your camera. And just make it be ready, with automatic settings, and try to capture some moments. They won't look that perfect, because your camera will be doing the choices for you, and so the aperture etc. might not be the best. But you'll have learnt to take pictures of the those hidden moments.

And then the next step is to manual tune your photos.

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Maybe it's too early to choose this as the correct answer, but I think it will best help. I think I am getting totally caught up in what's happening and failing to notice the details. Mattdm may be right, too. Maybe street photography just isn't right for me. Until I'm sure of that though, I need to follow your and AJ Henderson's advice. Thanks. –  Diego Feb 14 at 20:35

This may seem like a too-broad, unanswerable question, but it's really not. There are two possible answers. I can't tell you which will be right for you, but once I tell you them, I think you'll know which it is. The possibilities are:

  1. Even if you don't know what you are doing, go out every day and take at least a dozen photographs. Review your results, and keep the best one. Repeat until you have put in the time, and you will soon grow confident in what you are doing.
  2. This isn't the style for you. It appeals to you in theory, but it just doesn't match your real interests or gifts. That's okay — it certainly isn't for everyone. Try go find something that does feel right, and put in the time there.
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Absolutely to-the-point answer. Keep going out with your camera and try to shoot whatever you like on the streets (not just people) - if you find interest in close-up subjects/objects then your interest will lean towards Macro - if you come back with more animal/bird pictures (even using the normal lens) then your interest will lean towards wild-life - if you like to shoot people in their moments (without being seen) then you're likely a candid-photographer - if you come back with more nature pictures, then try landscapes next... Just shoot what "feels" and looks good to YOU. –  yadunandan Feb 14 at 18:11

I come from a technical background and when I started photography (for real, not just bring one when I go to conferences around the world), I saw it as a technical feat, to tame the DLSR. Then at some point I realized that I had nothing to take photos of. and what would it be? That's the hard part of photography. what makes a good photo, what is a good subject? That's how I ended up here.

I cant believe that there's nothing interesting in a south american town. unless you are from one yourself (like I always say there's nothing to see in the town Im from , but visitors find lots of things), but it sounds like it is new to you. You need to open your eyes and be aware what is an interesting detail. sometimes it comes too late. you saw something and realize before bed that it was peculiar. write it down, so you remember to notice things like that faster next time. Like I was in Italy and saw a bike parked chained against a tree on a curb plateau in the middle of a many lane intersection on the main road, in a storm, and it was too late I realized that would be a cool image, depicting the typical italian parking mentality, but with a bike (which is scarce there!).

A good way to practice focusing on details is to avoid wide angles. I went to southern italy with two primes 28mm ad 50mm (manual focus!). I preferred the images from the 50mm!

You could also join our chat, which is more useful for discussion-like questions like this. if everyone who replied upvote you, you can join in no time. Ill start.

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I find that when shooting street and sometimes other genres like documentary, it helps to have my camera set to black & white. I shoot RAW, but have the picture style set to mono, so I'm not losing anything; it just gives me the instant feedback of seeing the shot in mono on the back of the camera.

That's not to say that you will leave the photo mono when processing it, but I find it easier to distil a scene in mono and it tends to get me more excited about what I'm seeing on the back of the camera which is encouraging.

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I'd suggest starting either when it is dark, the weather is poor (provided you have proper protection for your gear) or where things are run down. All three can result in things seeming more interesting. It's also key to develop the ability to see photos without having to use the camera. Possibly even go looking at one of the times I described without a camera.

As you learn to recognize interesting things in the easier moments to find beauty, it will start being easier to spot inspiration even in the normal.

It also can't hurt to ask yourself what matters to you. What do you want to say with your photography? How do you want to say it? If you go into it with an idea of what you want to say, it will be easier to see things that speak to you about the subject.

Lastly, don't get bogged down by a system. Street photography is about seeing the story around you and capturing it to share with others. Look around you and let your creativity express what you want to say through your surroundings.

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This is a very good question actually. I have had the same "problem" many times, even though I live in Stockholm, Sweden, which is quite photo friendly. For me it's mostly a pshychological problem.

One answer here suggests you look at what you like in others' street photography. Do that and use parts of that framework.

For me, these small tips work:

  • go to a new part of the city (seeing with fresh eyes always helps)
  • get close to people, (bring a friend to have as a practice person, this will enable you to get closer to others without causing too much stress on them and you)
  • find interesting light (back light, side light, darkness)
  • find "interesting" structures and wait for something to happen (which usually involves someone walking by)
  • have the camera already focused on a distance you predict will be the action distance

I now have mostly older pics here, but I used my girl friend as a subject for street photography: My pics on Flickriver

Good luck

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To improve your street photography skills- travel. Travel a lot. You have to use your imagination & creativity & show them in your photos.

Don't associate "photogenic" tag to certain places. Every place is worth photographing. When you visit a place for first time, everything that you see is worth capturing. So do it. Try to convey a message or story through your pics. That's what I do.

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