Busy Places – Buildling Your Skills

Busy Places

Busy places are full of busy people all moving in different directions with different purposes. Their minds are wholly engaged with their own affairs and missions. Whether in a group or by themselves, their main priority is whatever it is that they are doing. Their default is to not even notice you, unless you give them a reason to.

Hopefully some of your expeditions have already demonstrated that people visiting a landmark expect to have cameras pointing in all directions, sometimes at the thingy, and sometimes at them. In busy places, the sea of people gives a degree of anonymity and uncertainty of exactly what you are pointing your camera at. If you lift your camera in the immediate direction of thirty people, you are unlikely to be noticed in any meaningful way. Nobody feels singled out, or sure of what your actual subject is. When people believe that they are only a small part of the image, they don’t seem to worry.

Another useful technique is to camp out in a good spot and let them come to you. Pick your spot, wait for a break in the foot traffic, and move into it. Simply stand there and wait for a wave of people to flow around you. This is one of the occasions to lift your camera up early. Lifting the camera tips off people that they might be your potential subject. If you already have your camera up before the people arrive, they will assume you already had a subject in mind, and that it probably isn’t a person. The only response you will normally get is people pausing to avoid “spoiling” your shot!

This technique can also be used in lower traffic areas once you get a good feel for it.

Parking yourself off to one side, often in a shadow or doorway can also be a good way to keep out of the way around crowds. Nothing too suss, there is a fine line between being inconspicuous versus being suspicious! Positioning yourself at an angle to the general field of vision can work.

You should be developing some basic abilities now in scouting and identifying locations you like.

Wide angle lenses are very helpful in these situations. A 28mm lens on a standard 35mm FX body has a 75 degree field of view. Nikon has a great simulator here that shows both the field of view and the different framelines for various lenses. Pop a wide angle lens on your camera and stand in front of a mirror. Keep rotating your body until you can’t see yourself in the viewfinder. Put the camera down and notice which way it, and your body were pointing. It might be a surprise to notice how far to the left and right you can direct the camera lens and still get your intended subject in frame.

A wide angle lens enables you get people into frame without them realising it. Most people have point and shoot cameras, or maybe a DSLR with a kit lens – neither of which will generally have a very wide field of view. They will only expect to be in shot when the camera is pretty much pointing straight at them.

Wide Angle Lenses

The most often recommended lens for street photography is 35mm focal length in 35mm / FX format. 28mm is another, wider preferred length. The smaller the number, the wider angle of view for the lens. Wide angle lenses are perfect for including subjects into your composition without having to point directly.

Tips for composing with a wide angle lens.

1. Get Closer

First, try to Get Closer. The natural inclination of most people is to keep a fair distance between the camera and the subject, ending up with “inbetween” nothing shots.

When you move in closer with a wide angle, much more of the background story comes into frame, and the subject becomes a much more important and prominent part of the composition. A rookie mistake is to believe you have to get more into frame to fully exploit the benefits of a wide angle lens – which means moving further away. It is actually the opposite. A wide angle lens is at its best when you move close in to your subject. The wide nature of the lens will naturally bring in more of the background to balance the composition.

Your subject can be a clear focus of your composition, without losing the broader context. With a longer focal length lens, an 85mm lens for example, if you compose the frame with your subject at the same relative size, the background “window” will be much smaller – less of the context will find its way into the shot.

Closer is better with a wide angle lens.

2. Move further away

Moving Further Away gets more of a broad scene into shot. Tell a story with more parts. Just be careful not to become too generic with your composition, or use it as an excuse to not get closer.

Shooting with Purpose

Street Photography is perfect for exploring your interest in photography – you have an excuse every weekend to get out and take some photos. Just wandering around with a camera is purposeless. Each time you go out, set a goal or objective to give purpose to your wanderings.

  • Practice a new technique that you have spent some time researching
  • Try some new gear
  • Explore a new location
  • Have a creative theme

Yeah, ok, I do wander a bit – but the most fruitful shoots have an underlying purpose. Other opportunities often appear when you are in that mindset of purpose. It just kinda puts you in the right frame of mind.


Photography is the art of visually capturing the way light falls on an object, rather than the object itself. The right light can transform the ordinary, everyday scene into the extraordinary. Light is the most important element of composition.

What is the light like today? Overcast, sunny, early morning, late afternoon? The light in the morning and late afternoon tends to bathe scenes in a gold tinged way. Go out to your letterbox today at daybreak, midday, and the end of the day and take a photo. Notice how each photo has a different colour cast to it? Understand how different light conditions change the same scene.

Assignment One

Yes, there are two assignments, should you choose to accept them!

The first assignment is to wait for a sunny day, wait for late afternoon, and then go out and shoot the light. Don’t worry too much about composition. Just look for interesting light falling on different scenes and objects. Try to find shafts of light that contrast with shadows.

Take as many as you can – might be a digital kind of day… Review them when you get home, and see the impact that great light has on the most mundane of subjects. Think about light when framing compositions.

Assignment Two 

Visit a busy place – where there are plenty of people coming and going. Go and stand in a spot in the middle of the people coming and going – behind a bench or something similar can help create an island for you. Watch the people walking by. Start to identify the right angle to start capturing images – what backgrounds do you have to work with in this location? Put your camera up to your eye and start shooting!

People will just keep coming by – they have their own missions and things to do. They won’t be really sure what you are taking photos of, and will not be bothered by you. They are coming to you, you are not chasing them.

Find another busy spot, and place yourself off to one side – in a doorway, or something similar. Out of the line of sight for people walking past. A 45 degree angle is usually more than enough. Take some shots.

Just make sure that the spot is very busy. Train station, shopping centre entrance, main pedestrian thoroughfares are the kind of places that work.

Pause and reflect in between locations. Write some notes in your journal on how the shoot is going. What is working, not working?

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