How to Photograph the Elements That Make Neighborhoods Unique
Neighborhoods hold a special part in street photography. With neighborhoods, you still have the beautiful aspects of architecture and street snapshots, but combined with the powerful connection between the elements of your pictures.
Every neighborhood has its own personality and group of interests. They serve as a hub to people with similarities while simultaneously creating a local culture. When photographing neighborhoods, your pictures should tell this story. They should capture the unique features and air that community.
Here are some tips to help you catch the essence of neighborhoods photography.
Choose your place and weapons
Getting to know a neighborhood is essential when you decide to make it the subject of your photography. A single photo of a place will tell something about that place, but not everything. Visit the neighborhood you want to photograph several times and observe its life and main features; identify the essence of that space. When is it busiest? Where are the landmarks? How many people live here? What are the main gathering spots? These are the things you need to ask yourself. Also, make a point to notice the graphic details in the architecture and/or design style. A short series of pictures, connected and converged, will take you close to documentary photography.
Once you know where you’ll be taking photos, you can choose the gear you’ll need. Use a wide lens for neighborhoods with beautiful architecture, large streets, and vast squares and parks. Pack a fish-eye lens to exaggerate this perspective, and a natural 50 mm lens for typical neighborhoods with apartments and busy streets. And, as always, bring a tripod for the sunset (golden hour) photos.
To capture photos of people and buildings in a 80s or 90s style photo, use monochrome mode and bring an orange filter. You should also consider taking a telephoto lens with you, to catch details and long distance snapshots.
As we mentioned earlier, the people make the neighborhood. To this point, they should play a central part in your photos. The caveat to this is, in photography, people are often represented by their works, not their actual presence. Graffiti, street signs, playgrounds, drying clothes, and bicycles are just some of the marks left by –and representative of– people. Of course, each tells a story, but this doesn’t mean that portraits should be omitted. In fact, portraits are a great way of portraying a neighborhood’s culture.
On the contrary, people doing housework will be a good indication of their life. Try to catch family portraits as well. Children are also a good subject for this type of photography.
Some neighborhoods have more than one ethnic group. Look for multicultural populations and observe their way of expressing themselves in a heterogeneous community. Diversity is a photographer’s best friend. The key to a good picture is to keep it balanced, so choose wisely your subjects and backgrounds.
So much about a place can be revealed through its architecture. Think of British Victorian houses, Colonial Indian style, or New York architectural style. You can tell so much about people just by looking at their houses. Some countries or cities imposed a certain architectural style, but even that tells something about the community, its people, and their lifestyle.
To be comprehensive, photograph series of houses or buildings and not just singular appearances. Also, be sure to use patterns where possible to gain insight to the identity and vibe of the community.
Neighborhoods represent communities in the most honest way. It might seem like a dull subject for a photographer, but if you look at the work of great photographers, you’ll see that these dull subjects are full of stories and emotions. Depicting a person’s life through photographs is the main purpose of photography. When done correctly, you will see behind any social barriers and walls.
After all, a photograph is not just a short press on a button, it is a narrative