Cambodia-based freelance photographer Dominic Stafford focuses his work on Southeast Asia. Here, he offers tips and examples for photographing the streets — anywhere in the world.
A street photographer must adapt, improvise, and blend in to any situation — and be ready to find beauty in even the dullest of scenes.
Photographing on the streets is like no other form of photography. It’s real, it’s pure luck, and most importantly it shows life as it is, in real time. A street photographer must adapt, improvise, and blend in to any situation — and be ready to find beauty in even the dullest of scenes.
When I brave the streets of South East Asia, I never really think about anything else other than: “Would that be a good shot? Would that be a good shot? Or would that be a good shot?” I’m in photo mode, and it can become quite tiring. After thirty minutes I’m sitting down, enjoying a soft drink. But even then, I think: “That would be a great shot, and that would be awesome!”
Here are some things to think about when you’re out on the streets, armed with a camera and ready to document the world:
Stand and wait at busy intersections
For this shot, I hung out at a busy junction next to a pagoda and a bridge. I was almost in the middle of the road; locals on their morning errands were unknowingly driving right into my lens. It resulted in a couple of interesting shots.
Look for diamonds in the rough
While walking about, you’ll occasionally come across a diamond in the rough: a flower growing out of the concrete, a little girl among businessmen, or — in Phnom Penh — a monk in vibrant-colored threads on a nondescript city street. These make for appealing photographs.
Find calming colors
Certain shades of colors come out well in a photograph. After observing the streets for a while with a photographic eye, you can pick out these scenes (and colors) with ease. In this shot, a faded Coca Cola umbrella complemented a lone faded green wall. Scenes like this can be simply executed — but noticing them takes time.
Apply the “Rule of Thirds”
There are three clear parts to this shot of a truckload of young women, on its way to a festival. Train your eyes to look for a shot divided into thirds. Begin by walking about and looking for these kinds of compositions, and eventually it will become second nature.
I usually use my 10-22mm wide angle lens on the street. It’s satisfying being able to fit so much into one photograph! Here, I squeezed the entire front of a market in Battambang, Cambodia. Try opening your lens as wide as possible to fit in an entire sidewalk or square.
I enjoy taking photographs of spectators around me: I feel it gives the whole story of a scene. Here, in Cambodia, people watch as a lit-up ferris wheel spins round and round and round. Stand back to capture everything within your frame.
The environment in which we’re photographing is as important as the subjects themselves. Look up, focus on architecture, or on some traffic lights. These kinds of shots complement others well. Experiment with some angles, as shown in this shot of a building front in Battambang, Cambodia.
Anything can change and anything can happen — especially when we least expect it. Have your camera around your neck, on stand by. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I caught this flock of birds in the nick of time.
At the right time of day — particularly in the morning and evening — the natural light can enhance your subjects wonderfully. Try shooting into the sun to define the outline of your subject. This child in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was at the right place at the right time for me to make the most of this technique:
Inspired now? Grab your camera and head outside — wander the streets and capture the world around you, wherever you are.