Ahh the power of observation, what a great tool to improve our street photography. A skill never to be discounted. So let’s start first with the term People Watching and what does it mean.
People watching is people observing other people interacting with things or another people. Usually unnoticed. Basically, you watch and observe how a person talks, move, express his/her body language, or the way they dress up and try to guess that person’s story.
This may sound weird, but I love watching people. I enjoy going out, find me a bench to sit somewhere just to watch people do their business. It’s like watching movies without popcorns and of course without being creepy. For sure we don’t want people feeling uneasy.
I’m just genuinely curious about what they are currently doing, what they will do next and how they will react to the things around them. It’s a mental exercise for me. It makes my mind grind and work as if I’m solving a puzzle when watching people. Like a game where I have to guess their next move.
This habit of mine played a major role in the development of my style as a street photographer. The more I look at my photos the more I see my own style. It’s evident now that the street photographs I make are mostly about people caught in between of something. And because of my fondness for people watching, I was able to capture meaningful photographs.
Understand Human behavior
Watching people makes you understand how they deal with things and how they react to situations thrown at them. It’s fun in a way because not only you learn from them based on how they deal with things but you also learn to spot the small window of opportunity to take the photo. We are by nature, curious creatures, and by watching people, we feed these curiosities and in return, it helps us understand more about ourselves.
You learn to guess
The more you watch the more you learn the patterns that people do. You understand that every action there is a reaction coming and when you see hundreds or thousands of people doing things over and over again, you learn to guess what their next move is.
There are telltale signs that will make it easy for street photographers to spot the decisive moment and all of this involves a person’s gesture. It’s that moment that signals you what they will possibly do next. If you can Identify these things, then you have a better chance of taking a good shot.
Identify the Anchor
When there are a bunch of people in your frame, basically, you look for something to be the anchor of your overall photograph. A character that will be the main subject that will pull the viewers' eyes toward itself eventually allowing it once again to roam around the photograph.
Being observant of a certain scene allows you to identify your anchor. It helps you separate your main subject against the rest of the characters in your frame.
Tip: Mostly the most interesting character will be your anchor as they almost always steal the scene with how they look, move or interact.
You basically tell their stories
When you watch a people go about things and eventually photograph the things that they do, you basically record their life on your cameras. You tell a story, a fact of their lives. There is something authentic in there. And somehow, it feels rewarding to be there to witness everything.
Sometimes for us to improve our craft as a street photographer, we don’t have to always walk around and start taking photographs of random photos. Sometimes relaxing and just watching things unfold right before our eyes is the best way for us to spot a photo-worthy scene. It’s a great exercise and I would recommend this to everyone, But please, a gentle reminder, try not to make other people uncomfortable and creeped out by you watching. That’s the last thing you want to happen.
Observation can be a tool that we street photographers must all learn to take advantage of. Being able to utilize this creates a large impact on our style or how we interpret the scene. Treat it as a double edge sword. You either use it to improve your craft or use it to improve yourself as a person by learning from other people's way of dealing with things.
I hope you are able to get something from this article and eventually use it to create meaningful photographs! That's it, I shall see you on the street!