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Street Photography Techniques in Barcelona

  |   Photography Tips

Street photography can be one of the most satisfying and addictive ways of shooting the neighbourhoods of Barcelona. While there is far too much to capture in a city, or even a neighbourhood at any given moment, this type of photography allows us to freeze one of those moments and study all of the small dramas that were taking place.

While it’s true that street photography is no easy task, there is no other type of photography that allows you to experience life so up-close and personal. It can be intimidating at first, though exhilarating once you get your masterpieces downloaded onto the computer.

I feel that this is what makes street photography so unique and fascinating when compared to other genres of photography. Street photographs are able to convey the humor, irony, and reality of everyday life. The beauty of the world awaits you – go out and grab it!

Below are some pointers that may help you find your way to photographic utopia. These are my own recommendations for shooting up the streets of Barcelona.

Find your location

Instead of wandering all over a city, find fewer locations but with good backgrounds and pockets of light. Knowing how the light falls in a certain spot at any given time of day is key to creating dramatic shots with saturated colours and deep blacks. Try shooting from different angles – getting down low while using a flip-out LCD screen can create interesting lead-in lines up to your focal point, without having to lie in a gutter! Working a scene with different camera settings and compositions will give you a higher success rate than shooting randomly all over the place.

Be inconspicuous

Try to wear dark, plain clothes when shooting street photography. Ideally a small camera with a small lens hung around your shoulder, inside an open shirt is inconspicuous, but can be extremely effective in “getting the shot”. Wearing bright clothes with huge cameras and large lenses hanging off your neck is bound to get you noticed. Try to get your camera set up before lifting it to your eye, and take the shot quickly. Personally, I make an effort to carry as little as possible and just let the camera be an extension of myself. Going out with 1 small mirror-less camera fitted with a 35mm prime lens hidden under a shirt can be a revelation!

Use wider lenses

Rather than using large, conspicuous tele-zooms, try using wide angle lenses whilst getting close to the action. Most serious street shooters use focal lengths between 24mm-50mm. Using wider angle lenses close-up gives you a more interesting perspective while including some of the background – great for story-telling type shots. Over time, It will also help you to overcome your shyness and the restrictive focal lengths will help you learn where you need to be standing before even taking the shot.

Zone focussing

Zone focussing, also known as “shooting from the hip” is an invaluable technique for street photography. In fact, some serious street photographers use this technique exclusively. While you will surely end up deleting at least 90% of shots taken this way, those remaining frames can sometimes yield extraordinary images. Shooting from lower angles [holding the camera in hand, shooting up slightly], together with your subjects having no idea they are being photographed, can create images that look like they were taken with a waist level finder on a twin reflex film camera. Looking down on a flip-up screen is one way to do it, the other is by doing the following: Set camera to “silent” mode if you have it, set a small aperture, use Auto ISO, pre-focus a short distance in manual focus, shoot your subjects at approx. the same working distance as your focus distance.

Follow interesting subjects

When you find potential in a subject, follow them. You don’t have to harass or chase individuals, though walking ahead of them until they are in front of an interesting background or good light can make for an image where all the elements come together. People with interesting clothes, weird looking hair or just walking their dog can make for interesting shots. Barcelona is known for it’s warm people. Instead of trying to take shots of individuals without them looking, try striking up a conversation to get a tightly cropped headshot. If your subject is not sure if they want their photo taken, offer to email them the image afterwards. You may even end up making a new friend!

Capture movement in crowds

Using a slower shutter speed on your camera’s shutter priority function will allow you to add motion blur in crowds, while emphasising and isolating stationary subjects. A small aperture and low ISO may give you enough sense of movement in daylight. Failing that, try shooting with a neutral density filter to cut down the amount of light. In general, a tripod is not going to make you very inconspicuous. Try bracing your camera while leaning on a lamp post with your elbows close to your body. Some modern lenses and camera bodies have vibration-reduction built in, which should be enabled for these types of shots.

Try using the Program mode

Using the Program mode of your camera will automatically select the aperture and shutter speed, giving you the freedom to concentrate on composition, lighting and capturing shots with fast moving subjects. To make small adjustments in depth of field or shutter speeds, try the Program shift mode.

Using Apps in smartphones to trigger the shutter

Photographers who own some of the latest cameras with built-in WiFi are in for a treat. Imagine having your camera hanging around your neck or over your shoulder, while viewing the image through your smartphone? Some camera models such as those by Fuji come with a software that you can install onto your smartphone or tablet. Other manufactures, such as Triggertrap, offer a dongle with software. You can view the composition, camera settings and focus on-screen while looking at your phone or tablet – your camera will be pointed at your subject, though they will have no idea of you taking their shot. These WiFi enabled cameras can also be triggered by mobile devices for shooting time-lapse, close encounters with wildlife, and just about any other reason you can think of.