Every city has them. Street performers are a big part of a city and can often provide great photo opportunities. In some cities, these performers do this as full-time job and actually want people to photograph them. Others may just be trying to spread their name or doing what they love. Whatever the reasons are, you should keep your eyes open for any opportunities to photograph them as you capture some great photos.
Establish the rules
Before you even start to lift your camera to photograph a street performer, you should establish the rules. Firstly, if you are allowed to photograph the person. Obviously if the performer has put signs down asking not to be photographed, respect that and don’t try to sneak a photo. If there are no signs and you see others photographing, then it will probably be OK for you to photographing them as well.
In some places, it is also important to know if the person being photographed expects a fee. For example, in Havana Old Town, the women who wear the colourful outfits are happy to be photographed for a small fee. It is best to establish if this is the case and how much the performer expects. Knowing this before you shoot will save you being charged an extortionate fee after you have taken photos.
Have a think before shooting
One of the tough parts of photographing street performers is avoiding the crowd that will inevitably gather. Sometimes there is no way to avoid the crowd and you have to integrate them into the shoot. At other times you may be able to change your angle to avoid other people in your shot. Or there might be times when you can simply wait for the right moment to capture the performer in an area that is crowd free.
So, before you start shooting, spend a few minutes thinking about the shoot and how best to photograph that performer.
Know your settings
Your camera settings for photographing street performers will vary hugely depending on the scenario and what type of shot you are capturing. For example, a head and shoulder portrait of some will naturally mean you can settle of a slower shutter speed and shallower depth of field. But on the other hand, if for example you are photographing a dancer you will need to have a much faster shutter speed.
If you are unsure about what settings you should select, my advice would be to always overcompensate with your shutter speed and go for something faster than you initially think. I would also recommend selecting burst mode and continuous focus if there is movement involved.
Don’t forget to zoom in
Often when photographing a performer, we are all guilty of only capturing shots of the entire scene showing the performer in their entirety. While you should certainly capture these types of shots, it is also a really good idea to capture some close-up shots showing specific details of the person or even their clothing.
For example, this could be a close-up of a musician’s hands as they play their instrument. Or it could be a piece of jewellery the performer is wearing. These types of shots not only look great, but they also offer much more variety to your portfolio.
Don’t be afraid to talk to them
One of the great things about photographing street performers is that you won’t be disturbing them in the middle of doing something (obviously providing you don’t interrupt them in the middle of when they are performing). This will sometimes allow you to ask them to pose or even move them slightly to a new spot so that you can capture the perfect shot.
But beyond all this, it will also help you build a connection with that person rather than seeming like you are just another tourist with a camera.
A generous gesture
If the performer you are photographing has been happy for you to photograph them without asking any money, be courteous and say thank you and maybe offer to email them a copy of the photo. Or even better give them a small tip. It is a small gesture that says thank you but will also mean a lot to the performer.
Street performers are great subjects to photograph. Not only will you usually find them more than willing to be photographed but sometimes they may even pose or even stand where you want them to, allowing you to direct your shoots to capture the perfect shot. So next time you are out and about, keep your eyes open for street performers that you may be able to photograph. And then use the tips above to help you capture great photos.
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