Steven Brokaw Photography

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So, You Want To Go On A Street Photography Workshop

"Love Is Dead" - Paris street photography

"Love Is Dead" - Paris street photography

So, you are ready to take the plunge and do a street photography workshop. Or, you simply plan to take a day or two in a city to shoot street.  Maybe local, maybe international.  Either way it will be both rewarding and a great opportunity to capture life around you.  If it's a workshop it will be a learning experience with like minded people.  Want to go international then add in a bit of mystery, language barrier, different customs, etc.  All the better.

In the past 2 years I've taken street photography workshops in San Francisco,  Minneapolis, and just recently Paris.  All have been a blast with unique vibes.  However, there are some common themes / tips I would like to pass along to make your street photography trip or workshop more enjoyable.  Think of it as one guys experience.  Here we go:

  • Unless you plan parking yourself in one spot, you MUST be in walking shape.  Nothing ruins street photography more than sore legs, sore feet, aching back, huffing & puffing, etc.  On the recent street workshop in Paris we walked between 6-10 miles a day, and then I probably logged another 4 miles solo after hours.  I'm in reasonable shape, but I was feeling it at the end of each day,
  • Consistent with the comment above, bring comfy shoes with plenty of support.  Think hiking boots or runners, not flip-flops.  They need to be broken in, 'nuff said,
  • Sounds simplistic, but dress in layers especially if you are starting in the morning and will be going through the afternoon (or afternoon to night).  A city can feel steamy until you walk into a shaded alley.  I had a very light jacket with me on all my workshops in my camera bag and it was needed,
  • Travel / walk in pairs.  Watch the other's back while shooting.  Block foot-traffic for them if they have stopped.  You can act as a blind or decoy as well so they remain stealthy.  This is really important if you are going into an unfamiliar area.  Anyway, it's fun to have someone to chat with, and it's often easier to shoot street in groups.
  • Carry coins / a few singles in your pocket.  You can use this for street performers, buy that cup of espresso, etc.  It is MUCH easier than having to reach into your purse, backpack, wallet or camera bag to get out your cash.  I always carry a few bucks in quarters or a few Euro in my pocket at the ready.
  • Put a few snacks or powerbars in your camera bag.  It may not be convenient to stop for food or you may be in an area where there is nothing readily available.  Common sense, I know.
  • Have an idea of what you want to shoot when you go out, and then keep your eye open for that theme.  Some people just like to play it by ear or run & gun while doing street photography.  Me, I like to have a general theme of what I want to capture and then move from there.  As an example one session I might keep my eyes out for interesting graffiti, or a fashionably dressed lady walking in-front of a fashion ad, etc.  
  • Eat local.  This is especially true if you are overseas.  Enjoy what the locals eat.  Try something new.  Don't simply go to the local McDonalds.  
  • If you are with an organized workshop or a group then let the leader know if you plan to break from the group or wander off on your own.  Talk to them about a meetup place or two if you want to go a different area, or hang back.  This way the host won't worry about you or try to track your ass down.  Simply say, "if I wander off, I'll meet you at location "x" in 2 hours".
  • If you are going by yourself, let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back.  Check in regularly.  Same rules as if you were out on a hike.
  • If overseas DON'T be an "ugly American".  Believe it or not, not every country adores the good old USA or it's people.  Trust me on this, I lived or traveled overseas for 12 years for my day job.  Be respectful, be quiet, be calm.  And, oh by the way - dress like a local if possible.
  • Bring small notebook to job down your impressions, follow-up items, etc.  I tend to write alot of stuff down so I like to have my notebook handy,
  • International tip - most electronic equipment today will accept 220V so it's easy to charge overseas.  However, the standard US plug doesn't work in most of the world.  Don't bring 1, BUT 2 plug adapters.  After a long day you will have lots of batteries to charge.
  • Don't overload your camera bag.  Take only what you will need for the day.  Don't take every lens or all of your equipment.  At the same time bring as small of a bag as possible.  Also, try not to bring a bag that SCREAMS, "hey, I've got thousands of $$$ of camera equipment with me", or "hey, look at me, I'm a photographer".
  • International tip - OK, this is important.  We live in a connected world.  For as much as you want to be disconnected...please son, spare me.  You will want to stay in touch with your workshop colleagues, check maps, upload that super cool photo of your food to Instagram or FB.  Get yourself an international data plan.  I didn't when I was in Paris and thought I could simply ride the WiFi waves.  Didn't work efficiently and it was a bother.  Trust me on this - you're welcome.
  • Extra batteries.  Let me repeat, extra batteries.  Nothing stinks more than running out of juice and you are not able to charge.
  • Extra SD or CS cards.  As above, let me repeat, bring more than you will need.  The last thing you want to do is have to overwrite or start deleting images.  I "thought" I had plenty when I went to Paris, but I still had to buy a 32 GB card at a local camera store.  Son, those cards are expensive in Euro.
  • International tip - you can get local currency though ATM's with a pin based debit card.  Just remember to let your bank & cc company know in advance you are traveling overseas, especially if you don't do it regularly.  They may freeze your card if they think there is a foreign transaction - thinking it's been stolen.
  • Be adventurous (but safe).  Take that side trip, don't sleep in, ask a stranger if you can take their picture, don't immediately go to the tourist sites (if you do, get those photos out of the way quickly), stay out late - remember you are there to learn and take photos.
  • If you are on a workshop, listen closely to your workshop leader or host.  Just because you are a good photographer doesn't mean you don't need to be schooled.  Open your mind to new styles and techniques.
  • Most of all, have a blast.  Remember, you could be sitting in a cube working on spreadsheets.... need I say more?

So there you have it.  A few tips on street photography and street photography workshops.  I'd like to hear other's tips.  Share them.

Two in Love - Paris street photography

Two in Love - Paris street photography

By the way, if you want suggestions on a good street photography experience.  Check out Valerie Jardin Photography.  She is a pro at this.  That's who hosted both the Minneapolis & Paris workshops I participated.

Shoot With Jacks

Sony Alpha A6000 For Street Photography