Street Photography Tutorial: Expressions 5

Street photography is all about the decisive moment, but the decisive moment isn’t all about movement. Most street photographs tend to center around moments in movement because movement surrounds us all the time and it is rarely hidden. It is easy to catch if you have your timing down. On the other hand, natural expressions are more difficult to catch because they are less predictive and often too subtle to make a strong enough element in a photograph. Here are a few tips to help you catch that fleeting moment of joy,

Know Where to Focus Your Attention
Street photographs are images that are found, not created. As street photographers, over time we instinctively tend to focus on the best areas of a scene that might provide the best opportunities to photograph a decisive moment in motion. For example, I tend to focus a lot on street corners and crosswalks because it makes it easier for me to predict what direction the motion is heading. Shooting a decisive moment in expression requires the same sort of selective focus.

In Public People are Modest
People are generally conservative in expressing themselves publicly, so in order to get expressions that are “larger-then-life” enough that they can be a strong compositional element. One needs to think about in what situations people are more comfortable in expressing themselves. Like when they are amongst close friends.

Know the People You Know
Yes, I’m aware that it’s not exactly kosher to call candids of the people you know “street photography” in some circles. But if you love taking candid photos of the people around you and the people you love are always around you they are going to cross streams. For example, let’s say your son is afraid of haircuts and today is haircut day…

Or your child has a very demanding personality and because you know him you know when he’s about to go off…

So abuse what you know about the people you know to get the best candid moments of expression from them. They’ll appreciate the result and I won’t complain if you call it a ‘street photo’.

It’s Not All in the Face
Emotional expression isn’t limited to the face. Hand gestures and stances can communicate feelings just like frowns and smiles can, although they often aren’t as obvious.

Obviously, mixing facial expression with body expression can render some great results.

Choice Environments
Some places tend to lend themselves to people being more free with their emotions. For example, take the comfort of being amongst friends and add alcohol and what do you get? A bar!

Or lots of people and long waits? The boredom of a hospital waiting room!

Other choice locations for better chances of open expression might also include amusement parks, concerts, and sporting events.

That’s it. I hope that at the least this article has helped expand your normal subject matter a little. As always, comments are always appreciated.

About Brian

Brian Q. Webb is a photography enthusiast from Los Angeles, California who spends most of his time in Taipei, Taiwan. He is especially interested in street photography as well as large format portraiture and pinhole photography. He also likes to shoot lifestyle portraiture and occasionally acts as an agent for foreign newspapers wanting event coverage in Taipei. He was also on the staff of deviantArt and is co-founder of PhotoMalaysia, the largest photography community in that country.

  • robin sons

    Really good capture…..!!!!!!! Every photograph having different expression Which is expertly captured……!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks so much! :-)

  • jonas söderström

    Nice tutorial. I’ve tried my hand a bit on street photo but I’m a bit shy and unsure on how I stand with the ethical bits of shooting strangers without consent. But still.. it’s something that pulls me in. and nothing can beat a good street photo :)

    It’s an interesting point you take up in this tutorial – with expressions. I’ve been thinking about situations and what is happening in the shot. I often like when I can read people reactions in a given situation and I realise that the expression is the core here.

    Framing is also interesting, specially how to work with your surroundings to get the effect that you want/think would suit the subject. I think you have a nice, slight blur on most of your street shots here that emphazise what you’re trying to record – that’s why I hate shooting street with my digital p&s, everything is the same sharpness! Bright eyed film cameras with their “full frame” helps a lot.

    I’d like to share this photo I shot last summer from a moment where I skipped the hesitation and just shot and got what I wanted. I usually try to frame more but then I mostly lose the shot. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this one :)

    Oh, and thanks for the interesting read! I originally came here to read about the pen. Now that’s a digi cam that I can imagine getting~ first version is starting to get affordable for me on the used market 😀

  • Ethan

    the last photo is lovely!! 

  • Jon

    Thank you. I’m going to Istanbul and am hoping to do some street photography. I found your article very interesting and gave me some good pointers such as street corners and crosswalks.