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Observing and predicting behaviour for street photography

As different and as unique as every individual is, we are all members of the same species and as such often operate in similar ways to one another. As a street photographer, you will soon begin to notice these similarities simply by observing and studying people in the street.

street photography Watch and wait
After a while of doing this, you’ll notice patterns emerging and have a pretty good idea as to how subjects will walk, interact, behave, and so on. When you’ve become well versed at knowing what to expect and when to expect it, you’ll quickly become astute at anticipating scenes, and thus be ready to capitalis􏰌e on them by snatching an unguarded moment. It just takes a little time, patience, and practice.

People Watching

The best way to begin is by people-watching. Find somewhere to observe people passing by, without coming into contact or disturbing them, 􏰍in short, a location that allows you sit or stand away from the passing throng of the crowd. Anywhere that allows you to fade into the background but still have ample opportunity to watch passersby is ideal. Try to avoid gaining people’s attention by acting naturally, not wearing bright or outlandish clothing, and standing away from anything or anyone else is drawing attention.
street photography Stake out your location
As you watch people pass by, take note of how they interact with each other—read their expressions, body language, gesticulation, how they position themselves, and so on. Everything we do sends a message, even when we’re not conscious of the fact we’re doing it. It’s your job as the photographer to find these interesting signals and capture them in interesting and powerful ways. Start by studying how people address situations such as bumping into one another in the street, waiting to cross at a pedestrian crossing, talking with friends at a cafe, or eating quietly in the park on a lunch break.

Anticipating the Moment

Once you feel well versed in observing people, take another look around and ask yourself—what happens next? The idea of this is to start training your mind to better predict human behavior. The reason why this is important is that quite often you’ll get only one chance to take the picture without being seen. It is therefore vital to learn and expect what happens next, and also when it will happen, so you can claim the shot without interfering with the subject’s actions or emotions. Once the subject sees you with your camera, the candid nature of the moment will have evaporated. So the next time you see a couple gazing lovingly into one another’s eyes, or spot two people going for the same taxi, ask yourself what happens next, and ready yourself for it.
street photography Anticipate the moment

Camera at the Ready

Once you’ve become skilled at predicting how these scenes unfold or how people react, you then need to decide at what moment would you bring the camera up to eye or hip level, ready to shoot. Usually, the most ideal moment to frame the scene is just before the reaction occurs or interaction escalates, which is where your predictive talents will now come into play. Have the camera settings ready, remembering to use hyperfocal principles with an appropriate aperture if you don’t have time to autofocus on your subject before taking the photograph. Then, when everything falls into place and that craved-for moment occurs, hit the shutter and claim your prize.

People-watching hotspots

• Outdoor eateries
• Park benches
• Bus stops
• Public transport
• Dog parks
• Pubs and restaurants (sat by the window)
• Apartment and hotel balconies
• Plazas and piazzas
• Shopping malls
• Art galleries and museums
• Beaches
• Internet cafes (sat by the window)
• Outdoor concerts or festivals
Michael Freeman’s Photo School: Street is Michael Freeman’s and Natalie Denton’s guide to street photography. From which kit you might need, to spotting compelling images, via shooting discreetly, and honing your technique, this book will take you from average snap to great great street photo.

Michael Freeman's Photo School: StreetMichael Freeman’s Photo School: Street
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RRP for print edition: £17.99