“Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life,” the late, great street style photographer Bill Cunningham suggested in the film Bill Cunningham New York. Magic, he believed, could exist in the most mundane of circumstances, if only someone were to wear the right outfit.
The streets have changed since Cunningham started working for The New York Times in 1978, but his insistence on the transformative power of dressing up has been passed down to the next generation of photographers. We asked five accomplished photographers to tell us their stories and provide their best street style photography tips. They are from all different backgrounds- one started as a model, another as a student- and they each have divergent points of view on the right way to approach a subject and the meaning of a perfect shot. They all know what it takes to make it, and they’re willing to share what they’ve learned.
Cunningham is perhaps best known for saying, “The best fashion show is definitely on the street. Always has been. Always will be.” These five artists certainly bring that point home. It’s not the catwalk that brings them back to Fashion Week each and every year; it’s what’s going on just outside the tents, where ordinary people strut their stuff in hopes of being seen.
“When I’m sad or bored, I take out my camera and hit the street.”
“I used to work as a specialist on the stock exchange. Now, I am officially a professional photographer. I photograph for a living: family shoots, portraits, event photography. But street photography is my passion. When I’m sad or bored, I take out my camera and hit the street.
Street photography requires time and patience. I sometimes spend six to eight hours shooting on the street. I take pictures of people, those who are interesting to me, those who have something that stands out, whether it be their emotions or their clothing.
Usually, I do not ask people if I can take pictures of them. If you ask permission, the magic of the moment passes away instantly. A person begins to pose for you. Most of the time, he or she has just a couple of minutes for you. If you want to make a good portrait, that’s not enough. So mostly, I do not ask.
At Fashion Week, however, everyone waits for the photographers. You do not even need to ask permission. Fashion Week is a good time to make new friends and find amazing models and clients.”
Pro tip: “My tip to emerging photographers would be that you should always shoot in RAW.”
“…look at a huge number of images of street fashion.”
“Living in Milan, it was natural for me to begin to photograph street fashion. During the annual Fashion Week held here, you can get a lot of interesting images in a short period of time. Before and after the runway shows, most people are interested in being photographed. Some are there almost exclusively for that reason.
In these situations, breaking the ice is easier than you might think. It isn’t even necessary if you follow the events season after season because you become known by everyone.
Pro tip: The advice I would give to someone starting out is to look at a huge number of images of street fashion. Take note of the dates of Fashion Week in New York, Paris, Milan and London. Be there before and after the most important runway shows, and put together a substantial portfolio of images. These will be indispensable, along with the direct contacts that you might make with potential clients.
“My style of street photography is different. I take a documentary approach…”
“I started as a model when I was seventeen. I had been traveling around the world, and at the age of 21, I started to do photography. Because I was surrounded by models, they became my main subject.
A few years ago, I decided to go live in Paris for a while, and I was there for Fashion Week in September. I was invited to a few amazing shows as a guest. I realized that it is great fun to run through the streets and take photos of the guests, so during the shows I was not invited to, I just roamed the streets with my camera.
During Fashion Week, all the guests want to be photographed. Some of them stop and pose. Some of them just walk past so you can catch them on the go. You can also just stop people and ask for photos.
My style of street photography is different. I take a documentary approach, so I keep a distance, and most of the time, people don’t see me when I press the button. I like when the movement of each character is real and natural.
As a girl who loves fashion, it is interesting to see all these famous people from the fashion world in reality. For example, when photographers get close to Anna Wintour, she starts to adjust her glasses. It’s like that she closing her face off to the cameras. She never stops but just keeps walking. You can feel her strength through her movements. At the end of Fashion Week, Anna Dello Russo says thank you to all the photographers for helping to move fashion forward. She does a group photo with everybody. Once, Nina Ricci stopped me with my camera to say she liked the way I looked. She wanted to have a photo with me.”
Pro Tip: “My suggestion to every photographer is to experiment. That way, you will find your unique style.”
“They need to be photographed; they crave it.”
Twins during Milan Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2015/2016 © Eugenio Marongiu
“When I was a photography student, I also needed to have a job, so I worked at Milan Fashion Week with a historic fashion photographer who paid me a pittance.
For me, taking street fashion photos during Fashion Week is really fun and simple. All the strange and eccentric people are there to be photographed. They need to be photographed; they crave it. I also have no problem asking if they want to be photographed! The secret is to start asking. After you start, it becomes a natural thing.
I love to observe these people during Fashion Week. It is interesting to analyze how these people are related to the fashion world— a world that seems really distant to me. At the same time, it is a way to find new, interesting models for different work in the future. At my last Milan Fashion Week, in fact, I met these two fantastic redheaded, bearded twins named Fabrizio and Valerio. We became friends, and we later organized a couple of shoots in Milan.”
Pro Tip: “This is a really difficult field of photography. There are many, many photographers and bloggers, and you have to fight with your colleagues! My suggestion for the photographers who want to try this kind of photography is to be strong, determined, and confident. Mostly, you need to be different from the others. Today everyone has a camera. During Fashion Week, the cameras are countless. The secret is in finding new cuts, new lights, to explore new emotions. You must not be shy!”
“I like this type of work for the way it exposes me to the trends, colors, garment structures…”
“Street fashion photography came as a derivative of my interest in fashion photography. It all started with an invitation from Mr, Michele Ciavarella, the Fashion Feature Deputy Editor at Style Magazine, Corriere della Sera, to shoot a story on the parallel reality of the world outside of Fashion Week.
These days, everybody feels flattered when asked for photos. Of course, there are people who become shy once they see the camera, but they get more comfortable after I compliment their outfit and overall appearance and explain why they got chosen out of the crowd.
I like this type of work for the way it exposes me to the trends, colors, garment structures, and not least of all, the people— for their personality not their stardom. This cocktail of tastes and diversity educates me and at times even challenges my own understanding of aesthetics.
Pro Tip: “My advice for every photographer who wants to dive into the field of street fashion would be to understand that street style is about trends and characters. Staying focused is just as important as breathing is. Don’t be afraid to ask your subject to rotate, move or change position, but be careful not to overwhelm them. Limit yourself to a maximum of three to five camera clicks. Always do the best work possible, and if you work on commission, try to adapt your visual voice to your client’s vision.”
We’d like to hear from you! Please share your street style photography tips in the comments below.