I started my journey with street photography in September 2019. After watching countless YouTube videos and tutorials, I finally decided to use my newly acquired knowledge and fly into the streets of Berlin at least 2 days a week. And then in March 2020, when the Corona pandemic really started to hit hard, I lost my job and started to shoot almost every day. In this article, I would like to share with you my tips for beginners.
So, you want to start photography, kiddo?
1. Grab a camera and actually go out!
I cannot tell you how long it took me to actually go out there and snap pictures, because the addictive content on Social Media makes you believe, that you did something today. Sounds familiar? As much as I love Evan Ranft‘s or Pierre T. Lambert’s videos – to be a photographer, you have to actually take pictures. Shocking, I know.
Social Media can be a great source of inspiration and knowledge, but if you catch yourself reading about photography more than shooting, you should consider limiting your use of it. Searching up one or two new techniques that you want to try this week is totally fine. Never implementing what you learned in practice is not.
2. Get a camera you can afford – you can always upgrade later!
As explained in my interview with BerlinExplorerProject, I shot the majority of 2020 with my Nikon D3500 with a Nikkor 35mm 1.8 G prime lens. For the uninitiated: it’s a relatively cheap beginner DSLR. The reason being that I once bought the expensive gear, that was like an alien language to me and never went to take pictures with it ever again.
You don’t need the newest camera when you’re just starting out. And hell, you don’t need to pay 2000 EUR for a camera body and then another 2000 EUR for the best lens when you don’t even know what you want to shoot in the next 2 months. Grab the camera you have or buy a used one and get a good prime lens if you want to get fancy. Get to know your camera, find your style and upgrade when you are ready.
3. Shoot in manual mode for a week or two
Oh yeah, the infamous exposure triangle. You know, that one that every photographer tells you you have to master while shooting in aperture priority mode themselves. Yep.
For real, learn it. If you are interested in night photography, light trails etc. you will absolutely encounter situations where your camera will have trouble keeping up and will be more in the way than help. Your camera focuses on the optimal exposure, not a specific style or effect you want to achieve. Even basic knowledge in handling manual mode will help you in the long run. So, learn it properly and then switch to AP mode if you wish.
4. Focus on great lightning – not subjects!
This might be a little bit controversial depending on who you ask, but I sincerely believe lightning is what makes or breaks a scene and an atmosphere of a photograph. Especially if you focus on street photography as I do. Don’t get me wrong, there are totally photographs where the subject is so interesting and eye-catching, that it makes the whole scene. But with interesting lightning – be it neon lights, sunset, light beams, night scenery – you can take any subject into a scene and 9/10 it will come out great.
I challenge you to check the last time you click like on your favourite photographer’s IG account. Most of the time, the subject is our focus point – and for that, it is indeed important. But you could replace the subject in a good portion of cases and the photograph would still be amazing because of the intentional use of lightening in the scene. With the lockdown making it hard to interact directly with people being patient and searching for lightning first helps a lot. So, find a great spot, wait for a little and snap your pic!
Soo, you got your aunt’s old camera bag and are hunting for exciting lights and shadows. Maybe even shot some family portraits. What’s your next step?
5. Get to know your city
And I don’t mean the famous landmarks of your city, although those are great in the very beginning. Hop off a train and wander around. It will not only help you figure out the best shooting locations, but it will help you discover a whole new world. You will start to distinguish the little differences in various districts and ask yourself how you could miss so much before. How people dress fancier in one district and colourful graffiti seems to be everywhere in another. Start from your own neighbourhood and focus on what happens around you daily.
What I love to do is plan my route for the day… just to start walking and decide that I found something way more interesting in the middle of my journey. Spoiler alert: I don’t make it to my planned destination 50% of the time. And that’s ok. Street photography is all about exploration. About showing my vision of the city and its people. And that takes us to my next point:
6. If you don’t have your camera on you but saw a great location, take a pic with your phone or mark it on google maps so you don’t forget about it!
I cannot stress this enough. Save yourself the irritation that I lived through many times and just do it. No, you will not remember all those little corners the next time you plan your route. Make a note. It will keep you going and inspired. I also like to write an idea if I came up with something on the spot relating to the location.
Extra tip: if the light at the moment is something you would like to work with specifically, you can also check your clock to estimate the best time to go back and start shooting in your preferred conditions.
And last but not least:
7. Unless it is a paid shoot, have fun and experiment
As Annie Leibovitz once said “One doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and turn on. It’s on all the time.” You could never learn everything about photography. As it is with most art forms. For some, it may be terrifying. For me, that is the beauty of it. There is always something new we can learn that we can adapt to our own style.
And if you want to make it into a career, everything you learned on your own will come in handy. Don’t be scared to experiment with new ideas and techniques. You don’t have to show every photo you ever took for the world to see. So play around!
Disclaimer: Please note that all the tips are purely based on my experience. It is not meant as a technical tutorial but rather to help aspiring street photographers get started with shooting.