Over the last few years of photographing on the streets of Paris and New York, I've been gradually refining my approach to street photography. So I thought I'd describe it here. I'm not trying to say 'do this and you'll get great shots', just what works for me, with my current gear (Fujifilm X-T10 and X-E1) and the shots I like to get.
Most photography for me is about Light, Story and Composition. For any genre or particular image, one of those elements might be more critical than the others, but usually they all play a part. And that's true for street photography, although story is often the key element that I'm looking for. Not always though, as for example a strong evening shadow or the shape of an umbrella or silhouette might form the key element.
Leading up to that though, and for Street Photography specifically, the key steps for me are to plan, explore, observe and absorb.
I probably don't plan as much as some photographers in terms of the specific images that I'm looking for, and certainly much less for street photography than for a portrait or headshot photoshoot. I enjoy looking at the work of other street photographers but I don't often look to see what other images have been made for a particular area. I like to check out areas that others have recommended though, and do some background reading on the history, culture and landmarks so I have a rough idea of what to expect.
Even if I'm familiar with the area of the city, it's not usually to difficult to find something new to see. A sidestreet to explore, an open building to check out, or even just to see how an area looks at a different time of day or in different weather conditions. Even though the people are always different, I still like to find something new or unfamiliar for the background too.
Usually I'm watching people, not just around me but further away. If I spot an interesting character coming towards me then I want as much time as possible to think about how or where I might want to photograph them, and whether to make a candid shot or ask for a portrait.
I'm also particularly interested in combinations - connections or contradictions, people and surroundings, animals or objects - whether it's a combination that makes a story or humour, or a more visual combination such as complimentary colors, shapes or patterns.
I like to take a little time just to fully take in the surroundings - the sites, sounds, smells, atmosphere. To try to be fully present and aware.
An analogy I like to consider is to photograph like breathing in deeply. It's a considered and intentional action, stilling the mind and attempting to fully appreciate what's around you.
A few other thoughts and techniques
Record the unusual and the typical (which may not be typical in a few years time) - clothing, cars, adverts, signs, stickers, details
Have a journalistic mindset, recording the surroundings, events or circumstances
Don't just consider what's in front of you. Look around and find the less obvious that others may not notice
Be honest and specific about your project or intentions whenever anyone asks
Have business cards (or at least an email address or website) ready to give to anyone you meet, especially for street portraits
Have a few dollars at hand
Be friendly but don't worry about what people think
Don't scare, intrude or confront
Use light and shade but don't rely on a time of day
Relax and enjoy yourself
I hope that's useful if you're getting started in street photography or you're interested in trying it out. Next time I'll talk more about the camera settings I use and a common alternative approach.