The challenge when photographing people on the street is making them look interesting. We’ve all seen boring street photographs of a guy crossing the street with his dog, or an old lady coming out of a shop with some bags. What’s interesting about that? Usually nothing. So we need to work a bit harder…
A great way to inject some interest or emotion into your people shots is to incorporate gestures. We all make them to a greater or lesser extent and we use them to express our feelings as we speak. Look at some street images of people and compare the ones where gestures are evident to those with no gestures. See the difference? which do you find more compelling or engaging?
Gestures are an important facet of street photography and can help build a narrative. They can be forceful (the shaking of a fist) or benign (smoking a cigarette). They’re even used when people are alone – chatting on the phone, for example. Even an awkward body position could be seen as a gesture in this context.
You can keep your eyes open for gestures by observing body language and anticipating or call the shots and make them happen. One way to induce gestures in your subjects is to get in their way deliberately “cut someone up” as you walk toward them , or maybe catch their eye and be very quick to respond , or simply ask them a question.
For this assignment spend a whole weekend looking for gestures and photographing them, trying to record as much variety as you can. Make this your primary focus and shoot nothing else. This will help you become more aware of human behavior and “read” street scenes more effectively.
View the images
- Speed is of the essence, so make sure your camera is setup and ready to go.
- Shoot from the hip if you don’t want to be noticed.
- Become an expert in body language and predict gestures.
- Be aware of angry gestures; you don’t want to get caught in the crossfire.
- People who are touching – or about to touch – each other can work well.