Photo by Cathal McNaughton

Press photographer Cathal McNaughton and four AP readers take to the streets of London in search of subjects for classic portrait images. Oliver Atwell picked up some valuable tips on how to capture those crucial candid shots

Street photography is all the rage these days. With various exhibitions up and down the UK, and iPhones making covert photography more accessible, street photography is fast becoming one of the most widely practised photographic genres. But as this month’s photographer and guide Cathal McNaughton points out, there are no hard-and-fast rules – whenever you think you’ve got it sussed, something comes along to undo all your hard learning. The fact that our freedom to take pictures in public is under threat due to the police stopping photographers under terrorism laws doesn’t make it any easier, either.

So what is street photography? Exact definitions vary, but most people agree that it involves photographing subjects in candid situations within public places such as parks, streets and markets. More often than not, it involves capturing a single moment at a decisive point in time. Think Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt and Chris Steele-Perkins, who was featured in our street photography special (AP 26 March 2011) and you get the idea.

‘The good thing about shooting street photography is that you never know what you’re going to end up with,’ says Cathal. ‘That’s one of the reasons why it is such a challenge. If you shoot landscape or architecture, you already understand the elements that are going to be present, such as trees and grass, or buildings and glass. With street photography, it isn’t so simple.’

This month’s chosen location is central London. The bustling streets provide the perfect opportunity for our four readers to challenge their preconceptions about what street photography is and learn the importance of patience, confidence and knowing your rights as a photographer.

Each of the participants was issued with a brief explaining what to bring and, perhaps most importantly, what not to bring. It was hoped that each person would be able to bring 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses and enough memory cards to last the day. But then came the warning: ‘Do not bring filters, tripods or flashguns as we are looking to remain as inconspicuous as possible.’ Stealth and mobility are of paramount importance, it seems.

Your AP Master

Cathal McNaughton
In his career as a press photographer, Cathal has travelled the world covering conflicts in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, and events such as Paris Fashion Week. Providing images to The Press Association and Reuters news agency, Cathal has been named UK Press Photographer of the Year and received numerous awards, including the 2011 Amateur Photographer Power of Photography Award. A regular contributor to AP’s Photo insight series, Cathal also runs workshops. He is based in Ireland. Visit for details.

The AP readers…

Michael Beckett
Michael, 72, is retired and uses a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 24-70mm lens. ‘Cathal gave us tips on how to carry your camera in a way that doesn’t draw attention,’ says Michael. ‘He’s also strong on the ethics of photographing people who you may be photographing for the wrong reasons.’

Mike Blythe
Mike, 56, is a retired plumber. He uses a Canon EOS 7D with 18-270mm and 24-70mm lenses. ‘I really enjoyed the Masterclass and learned a lot under the guidance of Cathal,’ says Mike. ‘Now when I review my shots I can immediately identify the issues I need to deal with.’

Mike Conway
Mike is secretary of the London Camera Club in Kennington. He uses a Canon EOS 5D with a 24-70mm lens and a Canon EOS 20D with a 70-200mm lens. ‘The main message I got was to compose and edit in-camera,’ says Mike. ‘Don’t rely on Photoshop to fix your shots.

Dawn O’Connor
Dawn, 54, volunteers at a local monthly magazine. She uses a Canon EOS 450D with 17-85mm and 55-200mm lenses. ‘Cathal was always nearby to help us compose our shots,’ she says. ‘He explained that we may sometimes have to find an interesting backdrop and wait for a suitable subject to come into view.’

Would you like to take part?

Every month we invite three to five AP readers to join one of our four experts on a free assignment over the course of a day. If you would like to take part, visit for details of how to apply. Please remember to state which Masterclass you would like to attend and make sure you include your name, address, email address, daytime telephone number, some words about your work and three or four of your images.