My “5 Fs” (finding, figuring, framing, focusing and firing) was conceived to help photographers remember the things to consider when photographing a subject in real life situations. If you practice this system it will become your working technique as a street photographer.

The fifth and final F is FIRING.

Everybody wants to hear the click.

That expensive and precise sounding click. The sad part is that most of the time the camera is not ready to make the photograph when the mind commands it to. The photographer is still thinking or adjusting the camera and misses the shot. The hands cannot keep up with the brain. Is this a case of fumbling and bungling?

Be hard on yourself, if you are being self-taught. You should know that even being late for ½ second and the shot is lost. The photo might come out okay, but it is not the shot your brain decided on and you missed because of slowness on your part. Slow aesthetically and slow mechanically. Sad but true as I have seen it over the years in many photographers including myself. When the brain is working well and fast and the hands can keep up, that is when the effective photographs emerge from inside the photographer. When everything is thought about and adjusted, the camera seems to go off by itself.

Taking many shots to get one good one can be very dangerous. Many photographers shoot, shoot, instead of concentrating on the subject with all its variables and being ready to coincide with the most effective instant when it all makes sense to the attentive and dedicated photographer. The digital camera allows the photographer to make hundreds of shots without having to buy expensive film. This is one reason that I advise photographers to go back to film. Thirty six shots of expensive film might make the photographer think more and shoot less.

O.K. now you can push the button.

I am using this photograph as an example of the figuring, framing and focusing that I thought were effectively adjusted so that I was ready to take the shot at the moment when the two people in the background were starting to shake hands, which I felt was a symbolic gesture.


This entry was posted in Street Photography Tips, Street Photography Workshops.


  1. The Fotobro May 22, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    John, you are obviously one of the greats of street photography in California. Your methodology is sound and demonstrates your fine instinct when it comes to undertaking this art. I try to tell young photographers who come up to me on the set to keep it simple. What do you make of using a fixed lens camera for street photography, closed down? Focusing on the run can be a problem for new street photographers and that’s one way to ensure most of the subjects are in focus. Much respect from the Fotobro.

    • John Free May 22, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

      Thank you for the compliment. I use a fix focused lens. My camera is the Nikon F-3 with 50mm F-2 lens. I usually set the focus at 6 feet, but I always readjust the focus as I am framing the shot. There is no time lost “zooming”, with the fixed focus lens. We need to be as fast as possible, to photograph at the speed of life.

  2. Duane McClun May 13, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Dear Mr Free
    I wanted to write to you to say just recently I came across some your videos on street photography and really have enjoyed your suggestions and instructions. I have been considering in experimenting in street photography because after 25 years of doing photography I want to try something different. The only area of photography where I take quite alot of pictures without posing the subject is the pictures I take for the local Fire Department at fire scenes. I am curious what type of camera you personally use for your street photography?

    Again a great job in your tips and suggestions.



    • John Free May 13, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

      Hi Duane,
      Welcome abord the John Free photography workshop magical way into another dimension of visual perception and love of life that you are constantly dancing with to make photographs that make the viewer cry or laugh, but give the viewer a piece of life as you reacted to it. I use a Nikon F-3 camera and a Nikkor 50mm F-2 lens, long considered the best camera by the pros. I just bought on for $100.00 with lens. It has 100% viewfinder coverage and makes it possible to frame very accurately. Come work with me and I promise that you will never be the same. John