Outdoor Photography Tips

These outdoor photography tips are essentially about street photography, and focus on ideas for getting the most out of urban street photography, particularly people.

The main thing is to not worry too much if you feel shy with people as there are often many opportunities in cities to take candid shots when people are caught unawares.

Have your camera ready to shoot at all times, lens cap off, and possibly set to continuous shooting so that you are prepared for sudden opportunities.

Outdoor Photography Tips: Backgrounds

Look for interesting backgrounds as much as people. The photograph below works, not because there is a man asleep on the pavement, which is not that unusual in a city, but because of the big poster behind him. It would appear that he, a homeless person, is fast asleep while the woman in the poster, a glamorous model, is lying down in a dream-world - they are poles apart but perhaps she is the woman of his dreams!

The bag of rubbish next to the man contrasts with the expensive travel bags in the window and heightens the polarity of the two people while the positioning of the arms, across the chest in both subjects, helps to unify the composition.

Above: In Your Dreams by Anne Darling

Outdoor Photography Tips: Go Against the Flow

In a very crowded street like Oxford Street in London for example, try walking against the flow so that you can see people before they get to you. This gives you the chance to make quick decisions with your camera.

Getting good street photographs depends on you having your eyes open and being ready at all times - luck does play a part in this kind of photography and you never know what your are going to find just around that corner!

Architecture is another area of interest in cities which is limitless in the opportunities it offers. If it is raining or dull weather try going to the shopping mall for some indoor shots.

Above: On the Bridge by Anne Darling

Outdoor Photography Tips: Asking Permission

Amongst the most important photography tips for people who are seriously interested in street photography, is the issue of whether or not to ask permission before taking a photograph, and whether or not they need to get a model release form signed.

The above street photograph was taken on a busy foot bridge which crosses the Yellow River in Gansu Province, China. It's an odd place to choose to catch up on sleep so we intuitively feel that the sleeping man is not homeless and anyway he doesn't have the 'look and feel' of someone who is a down-and-out.

So there is a question mark hanging over him - why is he there? His face is serenely composed and he seems to be deeply asleep, either unaware or unafraid of all the people who pass by. It is an enviable state to be in! And of course I didn't ask permission before making his photograph - he didn't know I was there and probably didn't care either way.

Outdoor Photography Tips: Model Releases

outdoor photography tips Right: A Guide to Model Releasesmodel releases for photographers

Taking a photograph of someone in a public place does not require permission, although it may be polite to do so, and therefore you don't necessarily need to get a model release signed.

But once the photograph is printed and publicly available it is a different matter. If the photograph is intended for editorial purposes, in other words it is a news event, then you probably don't need a model release form. But if it is designed for commercial purposes then you probably do.

A photograph that is available for sale on your website is not considered to be published in a form that requires a release. However, once that photograph is used to promote a product or service, a release is required. If you take photographs of young people under the age of 18 you will need a minor release form signed by their parent or legal guardian.

Having said that, the legalities can be quite complicated and it is important to have relevant, up-to-date information for the country in which you live and for the country in which you took the photograph. Better to be safe than sorry!

Outdoor Photography Tips: Property Releases

Other instances of the need for release forms are photographs of buildings which may require a property release form to be signed, and many photography contests require a signed model release form if there are identifiable people in the picture.

In essence, the issue is one of privacy. You don't need a release for a news story (as it is considered to be in the public's interest to know about newsworthy events) but you do need a release if the picture is used in advertising as everyone has the right to prevent the use of their photographic likeness for commercial purposes without their permission.

For any really big jobs it is probably advisable to contact your lawyer to make sure your forms cover everything relating to that particular job. There are also some good books about, and I would strongly advise you to read up on the subject if you intend making a lot of photographs of people or properties for commercial use.

Outdoor Photography Tips: Talking to Strangers

One of the ideas I want to get across is contrary to most conventional wisdom. I have seen many photography tips which suggest that the best way to make street shots is to somehow become invisible so that you can then secretly capture that elusive shot.

Above: Pouny and his Mum by Anne Darling

But I would suggest the opposite, which is that if you take a little time to chat with your subject, then they will relax and you can get your photo without feeling that you have stolen something from them. You won't get the feeling of being a fly on the wall, and some people will object that the photographer is interfering with the action by interacting with the subject, but street photography isn't the same as photojournalism - you don't always have to be an objective viewer of the scene.

Outdoor Photography Tips: Overcome Your Shyness!

Perhaps the most important of these outdoor photography tips is to overcome your shyness. If you manage to do so, you will find that your photographs not only show the life of the people around you but also encapsulated within the image will be your relationship to those people. Is there really anything truly objective anyway? While wandering around a small French town with the unpronounceable name of Nieul-Le-Virouil, I met the woman in the above photo who was standing on the street with her dog, Pouny (pronounced poo-nee).

After chatting with her for about 10 minutes, I felt the ice had been broken sufficiently to ask for a photograph. Rather than make her photograph directly, I patted the cute dog and of course she agreed to his picture being made.

Then I crossed the street to get some distance and took a couple of shots of Pouny before calling out to the woman. As soon as she looked up at me I pressed the shutter release button and captured her with her head thrown back in laughter. She clearly thought it amusing that I would think of making her portrait.

I am happy with the result as I have captured a spontaneous moment through being patient and through being willing to interact with my subject a little.

Sometimes this ploy doesn't work of course, not everyone will agree to have their picture taken but in my experience this is the exception, not the rule, and most people do actually quite like having their picture taken.

The time it takes to chat someone up can be fun and it is a small price to pay for getting the shot you want. Plus you have the satisfaction of knowing that you have given a little of your time and yourself in return. Which makes it a fair exchange!

Top of Page

Subscribe to my Photography Newsletter

* indicates required
My Books on Goodreads

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: I'm an affiliate with Amazon.com. If you use Amazon and would like to help me earn a little money to enable me to keep providing excellent content, click the link to browse through some great photography books. You do not have to buy a book, but I'll receive a small commission on anything you do buy on Amazon within 24 hours. Thanks for your support!