3 Simple Tips for Street Photography

Chicago, Illinois

The gritty and storied streets of Chicago are only five hours away, by car and train, from our front door. Yet, it’s on the extreme other end of the spectrum as far as worlds go. Grit, characters, flashing lights, buildings—so many tall, beautiful buildings—honking and life.

Steam and smoke rise out of nowhere and everywhere. Then through it all people emerge wearing fashions that are 10 years away or more from our small town. It’s a lot to take in at first and it’s my favorite part about emerging from Union Station after we’ve exited our train and begin making our way to our downtown hotel.

It takes a second to process everything going on. It’s impossible to be a visitor and walk through downtown Chicago and without thinking about the history, the history that’s as thick and heavy as the steel you’re surrounded by.

A Photographer’s Playground

Chicago is a photographer’s dream come true. A person could spend a lifetime photographing the streets. The city was inspiring and influential for photo greats like Vivian Maier and Gordon Parks, to name only a couple. More importantly though, it’s been a city that has provided subject matter and creativity to countless artists who aren’t household names but are simply out there, on and in the streets, making amazing art.

That’s where you and me come in. A city like Chicago gets into your senses and that fuels creativity. Every block, street corner and foot of sidewalk can offer infinite possibilities for which to create. I enjoy watching a scene unfold before me, only have that scene change seconds later into something else.

Going to Get Coffee, Yet Still Photographing

One morning, I was leaving our hotel to get coffee. My camera was at my side and it was early. The light was beautifully subdued with some haze overhead. It was quiet on the streets and that’s about the only similarity to back home: early morning quiet streets.

Up ahead I saw a sign with the word ‘Park’ on it, in neon lights, in two spots. I made an image and moved on. Sometimes it’s nice to take the time to thoughtfully composes an image; sometimes though, it’s nice to follow your stream of consciousness, make an image, and move on.

Chicago, Illinois
Camera: Leica M6

This is going to maybe be different for you but there’s a sweet spot I’ve been discovering lately while making photos. It’s a spot that involves not thinking too much or too little about a picture, but right in between. It’s just something I’ve been paying attention to.

Back Home

When we returned home and I received my 35mm film from the lab, I was excited, as always, to see how the photos turned out.

Once the photo of the parking-garage sign and street scene turned up, I was so glad I made the image. The light and neon had a classic, yet timeless feel. This wasn’t for a story so I didn’t have any editors to impress, it was only for me, which felt freeing.

Photography Tips

I’m telling you this because there are some tips I have

One: I wouldn’t have been able to make this image without a camera on me. I could’ve walked out onto the streets and simply not wanted to be bothered with carrying a camera. If that was the case, there wouldn’t have been photos. It sounds simple but if you forget a camera even for a moment, you may miss out on an amazing photographic opportunity.

The joke that’s not a joke is that if you don’t have a camera, amazing things will happen. Don’t test this theory because it’s true, and you don’t want to miss out on photographic possibilities.

Two: Try to not overthink photography. It’s too easy to get in our own way of many things in life, photography included. Make the attempt to let go of internal dialogue because that an tend to obstruct or slow your process and decisions. I say this because I’ve done it and it’s an ongoing practice to not do it. Like anything, the more you practice at it, the better you’ll get.

Three: For an experiment, work on one image at a time. I used to get worked up thinking about all the photographic possibilities that lie ahead. This becomes overwhelming and can cloud the brain. If you take the opposite approach and only think about photography as one image at a time, you’ll find that at the end of your excursion, you’ll have a nice body of work.

But, this works better if you’re doing street photography or simply making images for the fun and fulfillment of making images. If you’re working on a photo story of any kind, you’ll find it’s the other way around. For stories it’s important to think about all your photos and how they work with one another.

Conclusion

These are some thoughts I had as I reviewed some of my photos in Chicago. You can apply these suggestions to wherever you are though, so I hope you’re able to utilize some of these ideas and maybe even use them to form some better ones along your photographic journey.

9 thoughts on “3 Simple Tips for Street Photography

    1. Thank you for your comment Angela! It’s so easy to do. I find that when my photography isn’t living up to my expectations, that’s when it’s time to take a step back and simplify things.

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    1. I’m so glad the tips are helpful! There was a long time when I fought the urge to deliver any types of advice or tips, because photography can be so personal and everyone has different approaches to it. My hope is to offer some tips on things that have worked for me. And, if they work for others too, that’s excellent! I really appreciate your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Steve! When I was first going to school for photojournalism, our teacher said to carry our cameras everywhere. At first it felt strange. Over time though, it became much more comfortable and there’s no better way to make sure a photo moment isn’t missed.

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  1. Great article about doing street photography in Chicago! Your photos are awesome too. I now have been there 5 times in the past 4 years, prior to that I had never been. It was really overwhelming to photograph at first. A lot of my photos were either cliche or just of buildings. By time my fifth trip there this winter I feel like I finally got a handle on making some good street photography of Chicago.

    I love what you said here “there’s a sweet spot I’ve been discovering lately while making photos. It’s a spot that involves not thinking too much or too little about a picture, but right in between. It’s just something I’ve been paying attention to.” I’ve also been discovering that same thing. It allows us to just have fun with photography and not worry too much about the out come.

    When I was in Chicago recently, I walked all over the city photographing it after a snow storm right before New Year Year’s Eve: https://matthewtrader.com/the-last-two-days-of-2020-in-chicago

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    1. Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment Matthew. Your assessment of feeling overwhelmed at first, but settling into a photography groove, really resonates. It’s funny how that works, but it’s definitely a thing.

      Your Chicago photos are incredible. The black-and-white tones are perfect and provide a sense of the time and place that you were there—it’s palpable.

      Keep up the fantastic work!

      Liked by 1 person

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