As Bill Cunningham, a man dubbed the original street fashion photographer says, “I’m interested in the clothes.”
That’s right, the clothes. Not how attractive, skinny, or famous the people are who are wearing them. This is what sets Cunningham apart from a lot of the trendy street fashion photographers of today, and his dedication to documenting actual fashion is the perfect place to start for any budding street fashion photographer.
If this describes how you feel, then you’re already ahead of the competition in terms of getting those great, iconic street fashion shots that seem to magically capture a moment and – eventually – an era. But how do you begin photographing street fashion? Can anyone just head out anywhere with any camera and start snapping shots?
Well, technically the answer is yes, but there are certain guidelines and pieces of knowledge that will help your work to stand out.
Some budding street photographers think that they don’t actually have to learn how to photograph their subjects because the whole point of street photography is that you’re acting fast and capturing a moment. While that’s true, it’s precisely because of this fact that you need training in how to shoot. It’s only after you’re confident in knowing what you need to do that you’ll be able to get those perfect shots in a limited amount of time.
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Know your equipment.
There are photographers who will tell you that you need a top of the line (read: expensive) DSLR if you really want the best shots. I don’t subscribe to this line of thinking, especially for beginners, because knowledge and talent weigh far more heavily into how good a picture will look. If the worse photographer uses the most expensive camera, that doesn’t mean the pictures will look good, but a good photographer can make even the cheapest of equipment serve their needs.
The important thing you do need to know about your equipment is what it can and cannot do. This way, you can maximize your chances of getting a good shot by playing to its strengths and staying away from the types of shots that you know will be problematic.
New street fashion photographers often wonder if they need to ask people’s permission before taking their picture. The answer is a resounding yes – even if you’re in an area where you technically don’t have to ask for permission.
The reason you want to do this is because subjects who just see a random person snapping shots of them tend to take bad pictures. When you see someone worthy of a shot, you should immediately head over to them, explain what you’re doing, and ask if you can take their picture. (This, actually, is one of those times when a nice DSLR can be worthwhile, because expensive equipment makes you seem more professional.)
Just because you’re documenting real fashion in a real setting doesn’t mean that you can’t be a little bit artistic in the execution. One thing that you can plan out to a certain extent is that background that you want in your shots.
If you’re near a stunning mountain range, a beach, or some other piece of natural beauty, fantastic. But even if this isn’t the case, there are lots of things that can act as interesting backgrounds. After you choose the area where you want to shoot, look around and see what’s available.
Know your fashion areas.
What kind of fashion you should photograph is entirely up to you, but it’s still important to think about because chances are high that you’re more likely to see specific kinds of fashion in different areas. Do you want to go to the swanky area of town with specialty boutiques and see high-end fashion? Or would you rather head to the coffee shops of hipsterville and get shots of people trying really hard to look relaxed and unfashionable?
Wherever you choose, whatever equipment you use, and whoever you decide to shoot, it’s always best to pick an area that’s relatively busy and remember to move on and keep trying if someone tells you no. After all, just like every other artist in the world, you’re going to face rejection as a street fashion photographer, so you need to know how to take it in stride so that you’re ready when the next shot that you really want comes up.
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