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Use the change of seasons as a reason to go out and capture fantastic street photos.
When I go out in the street with a camera—no matter what time of year it is—my goal is to find interesting things and photograph them in an interesting way. I don't go out looking for anything specific, since preconceptions can block you from seeing unique moments and juxtapositions that might be better than some pre-determined kind of scene that you go out looking for.
Want your street photos to shout "spring"? Go to a place where flowers are blooming, and have your camera ready! All photos in this article © Mason Resnick.
That said, I find myself drawn to the streets as the weather warms up—something it finally seems to be doing. Spring is when we street shooters dust off our cameras and start burning pixels.
And why not? After all, spring is when snow and ice melt, making it easier to walk around with a camera. It is warmer, so you have less concern about your fingers going numb or your camera battery becoming too cold to operate your camera.
Getting a bit warmer: People are shedding their heavy winter clothes in the spring.
Spring is also the time when people shed their dark, boring winter outer coats for a more varied selection of wardrobe, which adds color and lightness to whatever and wherever you're photographing. After a long, cold winter, faces are more expressive, gestures more grand, and there is a more relaxed atmosphere. People are relieved that they can finally get out and enjoy warmer days and sunshine!
The days are longer and the sun is higher in the sky, which also means you can choose shorter exposures and smaller apertures, both settings that street shooters generally desire. With the return of Daylight Saving Time, you also have enough light to shoot the pedestrian traffic during the evening rush hour, although you'll probably want to increase your ISO as the sun drops.
This late-May street fair was a great place to stretch my street photography muscles.
Sun, shade, or cloudy?
One of the great things about spring is that if you don't like the weather, wait a few minutes. Or a day. As the calendar moves away from winter, temperatures moderate but not in a straight line. One day may be sunny and warm, the next cloudy or rainy, and the next day it could feel like winter again. Be prepared for all eventualities. If your camera is not water or splash-proof, pack a waterproof camera bag (either a large baggie or a specially-made one such as the Op/Tech SLR rainsleeve. Sure you'll look dorky, but you'll be able to keep shooting.
Shoot into the sun when it is low for dynamic backlighting.
Yes, the shadows were harsh in the above shot, but I brought back details in Photoshop.
You may find deep shadows when working under mid-day sunlight. Here are three strategies for this:
1) Expose for the highlights, shoot RAW, and use the shadow sliders in post-production to retrieve shadow detail.
2) Move to the shady side of the street, where lighting will be more even (remember to expose for the shade, not the bright background).
3) Shoot early or late in the day, so the shadows are more angular rather than sort-of overhead, and will therefore make more interesting light.
Light overcast is the street photographer's friend.
A light cloud cover is the street photographer's best friend, because it results in the sky becoming a big, honkin' soft light. The resulting light is flattering and even, allowing plenty of detail. The slight sacrifice in shutter speed (which can be made up for by boosting the ISO to 1000 or even higher; most modern APS and larger sensor cameras will still deliver stellar quality images).
Observing the observers is a great way to find cool street photos at parades.
We love a parade
Want to find a high concentration of people for some weekend street shooting? Look for a parade! In many cities—especially in New York—springtime is parade season, which usually kicks off with the St. Patric's Day parade in March, and continues with almost a parade a week through June. The streets and sidewalks around the parade are always jammed with both participants and spectators—and, sometimes, depending on the parade, protesters. All of these are fodder for great street photography. Check online for your city's parades. In New York, Puerto Rican Day, Haiti Day, and the Salute to Israel get, literally, millions of attendees and can last several hours.
I am usually so caught up photographing everything surrounding a parade that I often don't photograph the parade itself. Here's a notable exception. (And yes, I used an on-camera flash, trying to do by best Bruce Gilden imitation.)
This man in uniform looks like he was heading to a staging area where he would march from, during a May parade in Manhattan.
While all the noise an attention may be the parade itself, I find that the most interesting stuff goes on around the periphery. People are squeezing by each other on the sidewalk, so be prepared to shoot from a foot or two away at times. Walk to the beginning of the parade and see if you can walk around the staging areas. You'll find bands setting up their gear, cheerleaders practicing, teachers giving their school groups last-minute instructions, participants putting on their outfits. Folks are usually a bit stressed out at this point and will probably ignore you as you work.
Pedestrians lining up to cross 5th Ave. at 57th Street, waiting for a break in a parade.
Similarly, at the end of the parade marchers are winding down, trying to find their busses, or family members who waited for them on the sidelines, or reunite with other marchers they know from other areas of their lives.
A lot of people are squished together when viewing parades in a big city. Use this to your advantage and work close!
The staging area is where marchers line up, and it's usually chaotic. I found this interesting contrast/juxtaposition while waiting for a St. Patrick's day parade in the early 1980s.
More Places Where You'll Find a Crowd
Street Fairs, farmers, markets, musicians busking their talents, public parks and street vendors are always bound to draw a crowd when the weather warms up. Check on Google or local newspapers to find out when and where they are, so you can hang out there with your camera. Make sure the event is at a public space, not a private one, since the owners of the private property are within their rights to stop you from taking pictures. In public places that isn't (or at least shouldn't be) the case.
The rain made this street fair a dud, but I kept shooting and was rewarded with this shot.
Keep it simple: One camera and one lens, preferably a wide-angle prime. A wide angle lens set at f/8 will give you sufficient depth-of-field that will in most cases let you capture parallel action within the same frame—a desirable result for street photography. An APS-sensor compact such as the Fujifilm X100s with its 35mm lens and built-in hybrid optical/electronic finder, or the Nikon Coolpix A or Ricoh GR, with their built-in 28mm lenses and the addition of an optical finder are outstanding choices and are fast enough to keep up with the split-second demands of street photography.
Oh, and bring extra batteries and ample memory. Once you're on a roll, and you've shot hundreds of photos, you'll need back-up.
Parting shots: Here are couple of oldies, from 1978, during the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York. Check out those cool old cameras! Yes, the Easter Parade is another golden springtime opportunity for street photographers.