Capture Winning Street Scenes with a Camera Phone
Aimee Baldridge explains how to make the most of the journalistic images you capture with a cellphone camera.
No longer a novelty, the camera phone has become ubiquitous. More cellphones are sold these days with cameras than without, and the cellphone camera has “quietly become the most widely used kind of camera in the history of photography,” according to the publishers of an informative new book: The Camera Phone Book (National Geographic, $11), by Aimee Baldridge.
As a former senior editor at cNet.com and a regular contributor to American Photo and Popular Photography and Imaging, Aimee Baldridge truly knows her way around the world of imaging equipment. She has put together a handy, pocket-size volume that offers tips on everything from shooting like a pro to printing and sending images to making purchasing decisions. (See Baldridge’s up-to-date survey of the latest and greatest cellphone camera models, found in the July/August issue of American Photo.)
In clear, well-organized chapters, The Camera Phone Book details the advantages and challenges of using a device that puts (limited) photo technology at your fingertips. “In some ways, taking pictures with a camera phone is no different from using a dedicated digital camera or a camcorder,” Baldridge explains. “General rules and shooting techniques apply to any image-capture device. However, camera phones have their own particular strengths and weaknesses too.” Baldridge’s book tells you how to make the most of the former and compensate for the latter. In the excerpt here, printed with permission from the National Geographic Society, Baldridge explains how best to operate in one of the most common cellphone-camera locations: out on the street. — Jack Crager
Street Scenes and News Events
Whether you’re interested in street photography for artistic reasons or want to make your images more suitable for news distribution, keeping these points in mind will help you capture the stories played out in public spaces.
Turn off camera sounds and the auto-focus assist lamp: If the sound of a shutter might startle your subject, switch it and the auto-focus assist lamp off and set the focus on infinity. The depth of field is large enough on most camera phones that your subject should be in focus unless you get very close.
Don’t be shy: People usually notice when someone is photographing them, and they might get angry if you’re being sneaky about it. Be upfront about who you are and why you’re taking pictures. If you’re in a foreign country, learn the polite way to address people and try to get information about local photography etiquette before you start snapping. Be prepared to take no for an answer occasionally. There will be other pictures.
Capture context: Remember the essential news questions — who, what, when, where, why and how — and try to answer as many as possible with your image. Try to make it clear what the subject is doing and with whom. When shooting a building or an object, try to include nearby elements that indicate its location or environment. Make sure the calendar and clock on your camera phone are set correctly so the images you capture will be tagged with accurate information.
Don’t zoom and reframe a lot in video: Frame your subject and keep the framing until it doesn’t work anymore, then try to reframe by zooming or moving the camera just once. If your subject is moving, try to follow the motion with your camera phone, keeping the subject in the same spot on the LCD. Keeping the frame still and letting your subject walk into or out of it can also work.
Ask for names and comments: Any news organizations you submit your images to will want the names of people you photograph, and they’ll probably appreciate having some information about the people’s relationship to the event you’re capturing (player in the tournament, witness to the crime, etc.), as well as their ages and occupations. It wouldn’t hurt to have a relevant quote to send along too. Use video capture or the phone’s voice recorder to gather this information; and ask people to spell their names.
Get good sound: People generally tolerate poor image quality more readily than bad sound. If you’re shooting video, make sure your subjects can be heard clearly and try to eliminate loud background noises. Shield your microphone from the wind. Try not to make distracting noises or remarks yourself.
Capture B-roll: Professional videographers often capture what they call B-roll footage along with the main video. It’s generally used at the beginning of a clip or in transitions between different segments of the video to set the scene. So if you’re doing an interview on a busy street, take a wide shot of that street for a few moments for B-roll.
Look for a perch: If you’re shooting an event where there’s a crowd or a chaotic situation, try to find a high place to shoot from. It can also be interesting to treat a street scene as a landscape instead of focusing on interactions between people. Shooting from above — or from another unconventional perspective — can shift the viewer’s attention to the place itself and away from the individuals who pass through it. This approach can be especially effective with video or with a series of photos that show the changes that occur in a particular location over time.
Use a continuous shooting mode: Some advanced camera phones offer a continuous shooting mode that will capture a sequence of photographs when you hold the shutter release down. If you’re photographing an animated interaction, a sequence can help tell the whole story. A continuous shooting mode can also be useful when conditions make it difficult to hold the camera steady or maintain an uninterrupted view of your subject.
Automatic Street Photography
If you’re looking for a new approach to street photography, want to know what’s happening behind your back when you’re strolling around, or are just plain lazy, check out WayMarkr. It’s software that will take pictures for you while you’re window shopping. When you activate it on your camera phone, WayMarkr captures a continuous stream of photos and sends them to your account on the WayMarkr Web site. You’ll get the best results if you strap your camera phone to your body or a relatively stable object with you, so it doesn’t jiggle around. On the Website, you can make your images public or link them to a map showing where they were taken. To use Waymarkr, you’ll need a compatible camera phone and a data-service plan.