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Indoor Street Photography

Street life not on the streets

To most people, street photography should be done in outdoor places such as sidewalks, parks, roads, public squares, markets and so on. The conception that street photography should be done outdoors probably stems from classic street photographers such as Henri Cartier Bresson, Winnogrand and the likes, whose photos are always people walking on the streets, children playing in front of their houses, families having picnic by the lake, couples sitting in alfresco cafes and so on. The work of these master street photographers form the basis of street photography i.e. photography of life in public places, as authentic as possible without interference by the act of the photography. But the places and style they chose for their work need not propagate into the current era.

What I think is that in the past, people spend more time outdoors and today, people spend most of their time indoors. The difference is a result of changes in technology as well as people’s lifestyles. In the past there weren’t huge air-conditioned shopping malls and most shops are found at street level and in short buildings. For example in most of the Chinatowns in South East Asia, they are flanked by two story shop houses with shops or restaurants at the street level. We can imagine that in the past, Chinatown is a bustling place with people strolling on the streets, rickshaws, men smoking at the coffee shops, tailors making shirts, street hawkers and so on. Today we can no longer find such activities on the streets as all of them have been confined into air-conditioned mega sized shopping malls.

It is the result of urban growth. As cities grew, land becomes scarce and we have to find space above ground as well as underground. I’m bewildered by Tokyo’s massive subway network as it seems that whatever above ground is duplicated underground. So much life is concentrated in small spaces.  In most cities, public transport is the most common mode of transport probably because of the convenience or if you are cynical, because of the high cost of car ownership. People spend long time on subways and buses and this commuting had become part of their lives. As though to maintain sanity, people isolate themselves by plugging into their personal audio players, electronic devices, books and sleep.

Benefits of Shooting Indoor

The traditional photographer who trust that good photos are only possible under good quality daylight will hate having to shoot indoors because of the dim lighting and artificial light source. But the street photographer should not be bothered too much about quality of light and persist to shoot anywhere as long as there is plenty of life. To me, these are the perks of shooting indoors:

1. Great environment

Air-con is the number one perk for me because outside is hot and humid. Shopping malls are cool and air is clean. It will never rain inside a shopping mall.

2. It complements my lifestyle

A busy urbanite like me can save time by doing shopping and photography at the same time. I can also shoot while on the move such as on trains and the subway stations. It’s also a great way to kill time while waiting for my girlfriend to try on her clothes in the shop.

3. There’s food and drinks everywhere

If you get tired of walking, usually a Starbucks is round the corner.

4. There are plenty of opportunities for a great ‘street photograph’

Billboards, mannequins, strange shops, busy people, strange deco, crowds. You will never run out of interesting scenes to photograph.

How to shoot Indoors?

Ironically photography is usually not allowed in shopping malls. Therefore the security has every right to ask you to stop taking photos. If the shop owner is really anal about you having taken their photograph, they may have the right to ask you to delete it. Despite so I feel that as long as I do not violate the privacy of others, or use their photographs for commercial work, it is perfect ethical to do it. These are some tips that may help you avoid the security, paranoid shop owners and parents.

1. Shoot people when they are occupied with shopping

Not only will people not notice you, you will get the best pictures when people are frantically snatching goods off the shelves.

2. Go to big sales

You will be virtually invisible in a crazy crowd like in electronic fairs, warehouse sales and so on.

3. Use a point n shoot camera

Point and shoot cameras nowadays are so small people may mistake them for mobile phones. Or should I say mobile phones have gotten bigger until the point they are of the same size as point and shoot cameras.

4. Pretend to be testing your camera and look like a noob

Pretend you just bought your camera from Challenger store next door and is learning how to use face recognition. Start flipping the camera manual when your subject spot you shooting at them.

In conclusion indoor street photography is probably the better way to get good photos as most life are found indoors more often than outdoors. In addition the perks of shooting indoors make it an even more attractive option.

Here are some of the best indoor street photography I’ve seen.

Martin Parr

Martin Parr

some of my attempts at indoor street photography:

feeding time

I’ll shoot

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