For the past year I’ve been forced to step outside my comfort zone a bit when it comes to photography. So how did I face my fears and quickly adapt to street photography during the Covid-19 pandemic?
I’m used to capturing corporate and community events, taking photos of people who fully expect their photos to be taken. But when Covid-19 hit, our area was completely shut down. I went out and photographed empty streets, the cleanup of the riots and the protests that followed.
As downtown reopened and became more active, my client — Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. – a decision to help restaurants set up outdoor dining areas and refreshment areas.
These “social zones,” as they’re called, usually have tables and chairs when it’s nice outside, but also huts and igloos during the colder months.
As a resident photographer, it was my job to regularly capture these social zones, both from afar and up close. When I went out with my camera, I noticed that I was not comfortable. This didn’t surprise me, but I know I had to work around it.
How I’ve adapted
I decided to treat this assignment like an event. I was a fly on the wall capturing candid moments as people dined outside with friends and family.
That meant investing in a zoom lens. I decided to pick it up Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 lens. This gave me the versatility to quickly get a zoomed shot, but also to zoom out on specific subjects and capture the scene overall.
Some might consider this “cheating” as I didn’t have to get close to my subjects. But for me it was what worked. And as I slowly got more comfortable, I found myself getting closer to my subjects than before.
Challenges I faced
The biggest challenge in this kind of street photography is getting noticed. Because I was representing my client, I had a photo pass that I carried when I walked downtown with my camera. This let people who saw me know I was on official business, not some random person who decided to take a picture from afar.
Some people would see me and cover their faces, or turn away. Some would have a friendly chat with me about the “cool” factor of the social zones before we went our separate ways. Others smiled or waved and took the opportunity to show how they were having a good time. Others have seen me so many times that they know who I am, and will do their best to say hello.
Another challenge, however, was photographing children. It was one thing I knew I had to be careful about – I didn’t want to come across as a creeper targeting kids. That’s why it was important to me to stay friendly and open.
It’s hard to smile with a mask on, but I did my best and often waved to the kids to be more approachable. Some of the kids even went so far as to show off a bit for the camera, making the whole family laugh.
What I’m still working on
Despite the fact that I’m getting more and more comfortable with street photography, I still get a little nervous every time I go out. The best thing I’ve learned is that if I’m approached, it’s best to be casual and explain who you’re with. The photo pass helped me a lot with this.
All in all, I’m glad I was forced to do this. Having a zoom lens made me a bit more comfortable at first. And now the flexibility to go wide or zoom in is super helpful for getting multiple different looks in one location. The experience as a whole has not only made me more comfortable, but has also taught me how to deal with tricky lighting and composition situations, something I can also appreciate with my other work.
Whatever challenge you have, now is the time to embrace it and face it. What have you overcome during the pandemic? Sound off in the comments!
Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD for Sony E
The 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD from Tamron offers the unique blend of an all-in-one zoom range and a fast design. aperture at the wide end of the zoom along with its streamlined and portable design. A series of specialized elements are used to maintain high sharpness and clarity throughout the zoom range.