“Life in the Trenches”
by Melbourne Street Style Photographer
It’s not easy being out there in the “trenches”. That’s what we call the streets of our favourite cities that offer up all manner of eye-catching styles to our shutterbugs. Melbourne street style photographer Hannah Guyer shares how she got started along with a few tips for anyone thinking about having a crack at it.
My first experience shooting street fashion was at London Fashion Week Men’s 2018. I wasn’t there to shoot. Actually, I was at the end of a 3-month study trip. As my flight home was scheduled to leave on the same day London Fashion Week ended, I decided to make the most of my limited time and last days in the city on an empty bank account. I thought it would be interesting to check out what was happening at Fashion Week via one of its venues, The Old Truman Brewery in London’s northeast.
Streams of well-dressed fashion-savvy attendees bustled through the cobbled lane ways surrounding the Brewery site. They were congregating at the building’s entrance which, despite sending out an aura of “VIP’s ONLY”, was accessible to the public. Pulling out my camera, I decided to melt into the mass of legitimate photographers and begin snapping everyone in sight.
Act Like You Know what You’re Doing
(Even if You Don’t)
It was there that I learnt the most valuable skill for being a successful street photographer – act like you belong and you will. In other words, fake it till you make it. Shoulder to shoulder with photographers and journalists from all the big glossies, I held my head and entry level camera up to the models, designers and celebrities. Act like you belong and you will – this doesn’t just refer to being confident, it also implies maintaining professionalism. At LFWM and all the events I’ve shot since, I am always watching the professionals around me, mimicking their actions.
Mustering the courage to approach London’s fashion elite, I directed and shot a collection of images that were featured by Melbourne Blogger Maggie Zhou and later landed me a position as Melbourne Street Style Photographer for Cocktail Revolution.
Professional Street Style Photographer
I’ve been shooting street style for Cocktail Revolution since mid-2019, after founder Stasia Pallaras saw my London Fashion Week street photos and gave me the chance to capture some of our own local fashion innovators. In the year and a bit since, I’ve been lucky to meet and shoot dozens of Melbourne locals and visitors who contribute to the city’s reputation as Australia’s art and culture capital.
Planning versus Flexibility
For me, I like to think street style photography is about 70% planning, 30% luck. Having shot the people of Melbourne’s streets for over a year, I’ve mapped out the best times and locations to snap people who are A) well dressed and B) have the time and energy to be stopped for a photograph. The latter is important as my preferred photography style is posed against a backdrop that builds a story, which generally involves spending a few minutes getting to know the person I’ve stopped and trialling one or two backdrops.
Weather is a huge factor. While it isn’t impossible to capture great photos in the rain, the process is a whole lot easier when the sun is shining. People are out and about, and lighting is on your side. Afternoon lighting is favourable to the harsh midday sun, and people tend to be less rushed later in the day.
However, some of the best shots I’ve taken have been impromptu – snapped on a lunch break when I happened to have my camera on hand. Likewise, I have spent fruitless hours out on days when experience tells me I should have an abundance of interesting subjects out and come home empty handed.
On the street I use a Sony Alpha 6000 mirrorless camera with a prime lens which is great due to its compact size that allows me to fit it neatly into my tote and whip out on the fly.
My advice in terms of gear would be to use what you have. Don’t go broke trying to get the fanciest lenses and latest bodies. At the end of the day, it comes down to having a good eye. I’ve shot a number of runways and editorials with strong results using using what is considered an entry-level camera. More expensive gear might make life easier, but a good photographer will use what they have to get the best results.
By far the biggest challenge is working up the courage to approach strangers on the street.
Starting out, I would be crushed if someone declined my request to shoot them. Over time, I’ve learned to become more resilient to “no’s” and approach people in a way that makes people open to giving me their time.
When approaching someone, I start by complimenting them on the detail that caught my eye. I then give a brief intro about who I am, what I do and who I shoot for. Having a portfolio of shots displayed on Instagram is a tool to both verify legitimacy and as a visual aid to the style of portrait I want to take. Shooting everyday people, the MOST common response I get is “I’m so unphotogenic!” I love the challenge of changing someone’s mind about this. It is extremely rewarding to show someone their image and have them wowing at themselves.
I’m mindful about the background of my shots. However, the quest for the perfect backdrop, free of the dreaded photo bombers often means placing myself in the way of foot-traffic, or worse, vehicles. I won’t say how often I’ve been honked for standing on the road to get the perfect angle.
Covid-19 has seen Melbourne locked down twice this year, the second time since early July. Naturally, each time it did, street style shooting came to a grinding halt, but with the announcement of restrictions easing, I’m dusting off my camera bag and getting ready to start up again. So if you spot me shooting in the streets of Melbourne, come say “Hi”.
Photos: Hannah Guyer
Check out our post on How to Get Spotted by a Street Style Photographer!