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    Street art: People and their works

    Street art: People and their works

    Street art is the name given to artwork on building façades. Some pieces are the whole height of the building and they are popular subjects for photographs, but the pictures are even better if there are people in them too. Here you can learn how to combine street photography with street art.

    Street photography

    For travel photographers, being out and about in unknown urban settings mainly means taking postcard-style pictures of streets, narrow alleyways, squares, promenades and sights. It takes a certain amount of strength to overcome your natural reticence about taking pictures of strangers in specific street scenes. If you are out and about with a small, unassuming compact camera, you are less likely to encounter resistance than if you have all the professional kit. In principle, taking pictures of people without their consent should be considered 'not allowed' as everyone has the right to their own image. However, in many aspects of public life on the streets, it is not practical to ask everyone if they mind you taking pictures. That said, of course, I strongly recommend that you do exactly this. If you approach people directly and chat to them, they are often more open than you think. Taking pictures of people is less of an issue in the amateur domain where there is no commercial use. But if you are posting on social media, you need to be very careful and expect to be asked to take a picture down. It's no big deal. When it comes to making a decision, I say: take the picture! You can always delete the picture if someone asks.

    And surprised faces can make for the most expressive images. I recommend a zoom lens with a focal length of around 24-80 mm for this. Hold the camera ready in your hand and use automatic mode (P) or timer (S or T). Make sure the shutter speed is 1/125 seconds or lower so the pictures do not get blurred.

    It is very difficult to plan street photography, as situations emerge all the time as you wander through a city or a district. But concentrate on the people rather than the sights. If possible, do not take pictures from behind, since rear views are not nearly as interesting as faces. If you cannot muster up the courage to just take pictures, then ask people whether they mind. If you are polite and friendly as a tourist, lots of people will allow you to take their picture without any stress. And the worst that will happen is that someone will say no.

    Capturing a surprised face can be a challenge. Trigger the shutter when the subject first looks at the camera.
    Capturing a surprised face can be a challenge. Trigger the shutter when the subject first looks at the camera.

    This tends to create particularly charming pictures of people. Faces make more captivating pictures than architecture or objects. You just need to find the courage to pick up the camera and press the shutter release... Then hold the camera in front of your face and take pictures slightly to the left and the right. Your subject will think you're taking pictures of the scenery.

    Father and son are totally absorbed by the mobile phone. The drink is to one side and seems forgotten. At a beach bar in the Algarve, Portugal.
    Father and son are totally absorbed by the mobile phone. The drink is to one side and seems forgotten. At a beach bar in the Algarve, Portugal.
    As the waiter noted down an order, I approached him until I was about two metres away without him noticing. I simply waited for him to notice me and look up. Then I took the shot. Syracuse, Sicily.
    As the waiter noted down an order, I approached him until I was about two metres away without him noticing. I simply waited for him to notice me and look up. Then I took the shot. Syracuse, Sicily.
    A chance juxtaposition between a local and a tourist, but they are both in a world of their own. The old man in the foreground is looking away, while the line in the façade and the paved path draw the eye from him to the curious tourist.
    A chance juxtaposition between a local and a tourist, but they are both in a world of their own. The old man in the foreground is looking away, while the line in the façade and the paved path draw the eye from him to the curious tourist.

    Street photography is often in black and white as colour can distract from the subject. You can decide at the processing stage whether the picture should be in colour or black and white. Sometimes colour makes the picture, but other times, it is a distraction. Black and white emphasises the lines, the structure and the contrast. Small figures of people against architecture can emphasise size.

    The rounded shape of the wide flat concrete ceiling at EPFL, Lausanne, draws the eye to the standing figure, while the light behind makes the figure stand out in black against the background.
    The rounded shape of the wide flat concrete ceiling at EPFL, Lausanne, draws the eye to the standing figure, while the light behind makes the figure stand out in black against the background.
    Left: In the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, there are narrow gaps between the exhibition spaces. With a little patience, you can capture people as they wander through. Right: Where there are arcades in architecture, the position of the sun is critical in terms of the shadows and the structure of the façades. Credit Suisse building, Oerlikon, Zurich.
    Left: In the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, there are narrow gaps between the exhibition spaces. With a little patience, you can capture people as they wander through. Right: Where there are arcades in architecture, the position of the sun is critical in terms of the shadows and the structure of the façades. Credit Suisse building, Oerlikon, Zurich.

    Street art photography

    The urban environment is full of fantastic art which makes for all sorts of interesting photos. Street art combines architecture and art in what is often a bizarre symbiosis.

    Coimbra, Portugal: Here, the façade art seems to take over the architecture. In the blue hour, the warm colours of the street lighting contrast with the blue sky.
    Coimbra, Portugal: Here, the façade art seems to take over the architecture. In the blue hour, the warm colours of the street lighting contrast with the blue sky.

    SBy using foreground subjects to enrich your street art photography, you can compose a multi-layered image that can tell a story. But you do need luck and, sometimes, a great deal of patience. But it is worth waiting for the right subject in the foreground.

    Street art in Milan: The threatening artwork on the wall attracts the attention of the passer-by, which tells a story in itself. The long wait until a woman walks past the graffiti is made worthwhile by the end result.
    Street art in Milan: The threatening artwork on the wall attracts the attention of the passer-by, which tells a story in itself. The long wait until a woman walks past the graffiti is made worthwhile by the end result.
    The woman with the mobile phone makes the object of desire into an interesting subject. The composition draws the eye from her head to the image on the screen to the artwork on the wall. The work is reflected three times in the composition: in the wall art, the mobile phone image and the photo itself.
    The woman with the mobile phone makes the object of desire into an interesting subject. The composition draws the eye from her head to the image on the screen to the artwork on the wall. The work is reflected three times in the composition: in the wall art, the mobile phone image and the photo itself.
    Milan, Porta Ticinese: A Japanese dancer reflects the street art in her pose and is filmed by her partner. Street art could be made to depict the relationship between art and reality.
    Milan, Porta Ticinese: A Japanese dancer reflects the street art in her pose and is filmed by her partner. Street art could be made to depict the relationship between art and reality.
    Two schoolgirls rest in an alley in Milan. Are they dreaming of a career in the movies? The blurry cyclist at the end of the alley seems to disappear into thin air (or the dream).
    Two schoolgirls rest in an alley in Milan. Are they dreaming of a career in the movies? The blurry cyclist at the end of the alley seems to disappear into thin air (or the dream).
    Ralf Turtschi

    Ralf Turtschi

    Ralf Turtschi has made a name for himself as a specialist book author and journalist. He works as a photojournalist, is a hobby photographer and lecturer and gives technical and creative advice on all aspects of photography. He is particularly fond of nature, landscape, portrait, travel, macro, architecture, and night photography.

    Further information: www.agenturtschi.ch

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