I recently visited New Orleans for the first time in my life. When I asked friends who visited the city what to expect, they all said the same thing: great food, lovely streets, plenty of drinking, and homeless people on every corner. The parts that interested me the most, as a photographer and food enthusiast, were the food and streets parts. I’m going to write about the food part in a different blog post. In this blog post I’d like to share some of the street photography rules that I learned during my visit. I’m not a professional photographer, but I do strive to become one as I move forward in this journey. I wrote this post to share with the readers of this blog some of the knowledge I learned. It’s also a good reference for my own personal use to go back to in the future.
Rule Number One: Keep your camera in the bag
The French Quarter offers a unique set of colors and architecture that can easily overwhelm your senses and stimulate your mind. My immediate reaction when I first walked on the famous “Rue Des Royal” was to lift my camera and start taking as many photos as I can. My senses were overwhelmed with the beautiful architecture, the colors of the buildings, the beautiful galleries, the artists on the street, the happy people, and the general European feeling that the street projected. I felt that I was in a different country. No matter how large was my urge to take photos, I kept myself from doing so.
When your mind is stimulated by the beauty you see, you tend to ignore small details that can make the difference between a good and brilliant photo. The rule of thumb for every photographer is to always take your camera with you, true. However, it doesn’t mean that you should take photos of everything you see immediately. Instead of taking my camera out, I started to take notes in my heads of what I want to take photos of. I looked around me and tried to make sense of what I saw. I explored the French Quarter for two days before I started seeing what I was missing the entire time, which leads me to the next rule.
Rule Number Two: Explore the Streets and Look Up for Themes
The best time for me to explore the city (and this apply to any city you visit) was right before sunrise. There are three reasons why I followed this rule. The first reason, and the most obvious one, is the “golden hour,” the time of the day where the light is soft, balanced, and produces the most amazing photos. The second reason, which I find very important, had to do with the number of people that are on the street. The more crowded it got, the more likely I was going to miss some of the important details that make a good photo. The third and last reason was the level of noise on the street. I’m not sure about you, but personally when I’m exploring sites to photo-shoot I like the place to be quiet. It helps me compose the photo better in my head.
Now that you know the reasons, let’s talk about exploring the streets. Exploring doesn’t mean taking photos, rather, exploring means taking notes of what you’d like to photo-shoot. Sit down and ask yourself these questions: Are you after B&W photos? Do you prefer dramatic images? Are you trying to show poverty, or maybe wealth? Are you after colorful images? Do you want empty streets? Crowded streets? These questions, or themes, are an important part in the process of photo-shooting a moment, and will help you have a clear mind on the day of the photo-shooting.
I gave myself two days to explore the city. I woke up every morning 40 minutes before sunrise, grabbed my camera and notebook, and left the hotel room to explore the streets. I took a lot notes, and had a clear idea of what I want to photo-shoot. By the time I was ready to take photos (third and fourth days), I knew exactly where to go, what angles to take, and what settings to use on my camera.
Rule Number Three: Timing is everything
Do you remember reason number one, the “Golden Hour”? This Golden Hour moment lasts for only about 30 minutes or so, which means staying organized is key to being efficient while out on the street. What do I mean by staying organized: do you have the right lens attached to the camera? Did you check the settings on your camera? (I can’t tell you how many times I forgot to reset the ISO back to 100.) The last part leads me to the last rule.
Rule Number Four: Pick only one lens
I don’t like to carry too many lenses with me when I walk out there. It’s too much weight to carry around, which can easily demoralize you from walking around and exploring the city. When I develop my themes (see “Rule Number Two: Explore the streets and look up for themes”) I keep in mind two important questions: 1) do I want to photo-shoot people? 2) do I want to photo-shoot streets?
For photo-shooting streets I choose the 28mm prime lens and just use that to take photos. For photo-shooting people on the street I choose the 50mm prime lens. Ideally for photo-shooting people I’d use the 70-200 lens, but I don’t own one. I use what I have.
There is another reason why I choose only one lens when I go out on the street: it helps me stay creative. I know I only have one lens, one option, which pushes me to use a variety of creative ways to photo-shoot a moment.
I hope this information helped you get an idea of how to plan your next street photography session. I’d leave you with some of the photos I took in New Orleans below (Click to view this set on my flickr account):