Photography & Filming

Getting comfortable with street photography

Over the past year, I’ve been forced to get a bit outside my comfort zone when it comes to photography. So how did I face my fears and quickly adapt to street photography during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Some background

I’m used to capturing corporate and community events, taking photos of people who fully expect their photos to be taken. But when Covid-19 hit, our area completely shut down. I went out and photographed empty streets, the riot cleanup and the protests that followed.

As downtown started to open up again and become more active, my client — Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. — made a decision to assist restaurants in setting up outdoor eating areas and refreshment zones.

These “social zones” as they’re called, usually feature tables and chairs when it’s nice out, but also huts and igloos during the colder months.

As their resident photographer, it was my job to capture these social zones on a regular basis, both from afar and up-close. As I ventured out with my camera, I found that I was uncomfortable. This didn’t surprise me, but I know I needed to work around it.

How I adapted

I decided to treat this assignment much like I would an event. I was a fly on the wall, capturing candid moments as people dined outdoors with friends and family.

That meant investing in a zoom lens. I decided to pick up the Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 lens. This offered me the versatility to quickly get a zoomed-in shot, but also to zoom out from specific subjects and capture the scene at large.

Some might think of this as “cheating,” as I didn’t have to get close to my subjects. But for me, it was what worked. And as I slowly became more comfortable, I found that I was getting closer to my subjects than before.

Challenges I faced

The biggest challenge with this type of street photography is getting noticed. Because I was representing my client, I had a photo pass I would wear as I walked around the downtown area with my camera. This let people who saw me know I was on official business, and not some random person deciding to take their picture from far away.

Some people would see me and cover their faces, or turn away. Some would have a friendly chat with me about the “cool” factor of the social zones before going our separate ways. Others would smile or wave, embracing the opportunity to show how they were enjoying themselves. Others yet have gotten to see me so often that they know who I am, and will go out of their way to say hi.

Another challenge though was photographing kids. It was one thing I knew I had to be careful of — I didn’t want to come off as a creeper honing in on kids. That’s why it was important for me to remain friendly and open.

It’s hard to smile with a mask on, but I did my best and would often wave at the kids to be a bit more approachable. Some of the kids even went so far as to show off a bit for the camera, making the entire family laugh in the process.

What I’m still working on

Despite the fact that I’m getting more comfortable with street photography, I still get a little nervous every time I go out. The best thing I’ve learned is that if I’m approached, it’s best to be casual about it and explain who you’re with. For me, the photo pass helped big time with this.

All in all though, I’m glad I was pushed to do this. Having a zoom lens made me a bit more comfortable at the beginning. And now, having the flexibility of going wide or zooming in is super helpful to get multiple different looks at a location. The experience as a whole has made me not only more comfortable, but has also educated me more in managing tough lighting and composition situations, which is something I can value with my other work as well.

Whatever challenge you might have, now’s the time to embrace it and face it head on. What have you overcome during the pandemic? Sound off in the comments!

Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD for Sony E

Offering the unique mixture of an all-in-one zoom range and a fast design, the 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD from Tamron is a wide-to-super-tele zoom distinguished by its bright f/2.8 maximum aperture at the wide end of the zoom, along with its sleek and portable design. A series of specialized elements are used to maintain high sharpness and clarity throughout the zoom range.

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