10 Street Photography Tips for Beautiful Shots

By: Eric Kim

How can you capture stunning street photos? What’s the best way to get started with street photography?

As an experienced street shooter, I’ve been exactly where you are – and over time, I’ve developed plenty of street photography tips and techniques to go from beginner shots to standout professional images.

That’s what this article is all about; I share everything you need to know to jumpstart your street photos, including:

  • My favorite street photography gear
  • How to get over the fear of being noticed
  • An easy way to make your subjects feel comfortable
  • Compositional tips to really get those eye-catching shots
  • Much more!

Let’s dive right in, starting with my first tip:

1. Ditch the zoom and use a wide-angle prime

Street photography is not like your high-school science class. You don’t examine your subjects under a microscope. Rather, street photography is about experiencing life up close and personal.

When starting out as a street photographer, you may be tempted to use a long zoom (e.g., a 70-200mm lens) so you can shoot from afar and feel less awkward. But it will do much more harm than good.

First of all, you will look hugely conspicuous in public holding a monster zoom lens. A long lens stands out from miles away and people will notice.

Second, if you use a zoom lens, you have to point it directly at somebody. This makes the person you’re trying to photograph aware of what’s happening as if they have a gun pointed to their head.

So instead of a long zoom, use a lens that’s much smaller, more inconspicuous, and less threatening: a wide-angle prime, such as a 24mm f/2.8 lens, a 20mm f/2.8 lens, or a 35mm f/2.8 lens.

People will be far less bothered by such a compact lens, and they often won’t even notice you holding it. Plus, by using a wide-angle lens, you can capture your subjects without pointing your camera directly at them; for instance, you can compose so they’re off to one side, and it’ll look (to your subjects) like you’re shooting a completely different part of the scene.

2. Get as close as you can

In street photography, closeness makes a big difference. So when I tell you to get close, I mean it. Get so close that you can see the perspiration dripping from a person’s forehead or the texture of their skin.

When you combine closeness with a wide-angle prime lens (as discussed in the previous tip), you’ll get a highly immersive, engaging perspective. The viewer will feel like they’re a part of the scene, not just someone looking in from afar.

Plus, if you get very close to your subject, they won’t think anything of it; they’ll believe you’re taking a photo of something behind them, especially if you aim your camera slightly to the side.

3. Always carry your camera with you

If you’ve been doing street photography for a while, you’ve probably heard this one a million times – but I bet you’ve come up with a million excuses and reasons not to carry a camera.

“My camera is too heavy,” you probably think. “It’s frustrating to keep the camera constantly charged and ready to go.”

And yes, carrying a camera can be frustrating. But you know what’s more frustrating? Missing the perfect photo opportunity and regretting it for the rest of your life.

Yes, that’s a bit dramatic, but it’s genuinely true; you never know when the most amazing moment will present itself. Do you really want to be standing there without a camera when it happens?

On the other hand, if you get in the habit of always carrying your camera with you, you’ll never miss those “Kodak moments” that always seem to happen with no warning. I myself have taken some of my best images at the most unexpected times – images that would have been impossible to capture if I were not dedicated to keeping a camera by my side.

4. Disregard what other people think of you

Here’s a street photography tip for beginners:

One of the things that you’re probably worried about is being viewed by other people as a “creeper,” a “weirdo,” or simply getting unpleasant comments. But you must learn to disregard these thoughts.

When you’re shooting on the streets, you will most likely be alone. That means that any judging bystanders will be people that you do not know and will most likely never see again in your life. Why let them get in your way?

You may feel constricted by social rules, especially when you’re just starting out. But remember, social rules are not laws, and in many locations, there is no law that prevents photography in public places.

If you’re really struggling to get past your fear of being judged, here’s a simple exercise to try:

Spend time doing something unusual in public. Lie on the ground for a minute and see how other people react. Then get up and simply walk away like nothing happened. Walk into an elevator and stand facing the back wall. Go to a busy intersection and stand like a statue. People won’t care, trust me – I had to do that last one as an experiment for one of my sociology classes.

The social world is full of rules that constrict us. Break them, learn to be at peace with it, and shooting in the streets will become quite natural.

5. Smile often

When shooting in the streets, a smile can go a long way. If you take a photo of someone and they give you a weird look, simply tip your hat to them and show them two rows of your pearly white chompers. They’ll generally go on with their day (and they might even smile back).

I use this approach all the time, and I get around a 95% response rate, even in Los Angeles. Some of the most unapproachable people smile back at me. People trust a street photographer who smiles; they will simply see you as a hobbyist, not someone with malicious intent.

Plus, by smiling often, it’ll help you relax – and a relaxed photographer is a better photographer!

6. Ask for permission

Many street photography purists say that the only real street photography is candid. And it’s certainly true that you sometimes don’t want to ask for permission when shooting on the street; otherwise, you’ll fail to capture those unique, spontaneous moments that really define the genre.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with asking before shooting, and street portrait photography is a genuinely interesting area of exploration.

So feel free to go up to strangers who you want to photograph and ask to take a portrait. Most people love getting their photos taken, and as long as you act courteous and casual about it, many will accept.

Also, try approaching mundane subjects of everyday life, like the waitress at a diner, the bellhop of a hotel, or even a parking lot attendant.

7. Be respectful

There’s a tricky, gray line that every street photographer must navigate:

Whether it’s acceptable to photograph the homeless. Some street shooters avoid this type of photography completely, while others specifically aim to document difficult living conditions.

Personally, I try not to take photos of people who appear too down on their luck. I do think there are tasteful images of the homeless that generate awareness and support – but there are also many images that look like pure exploitation. Think of the cliché shot of a homeless person crouched over on the street, begging for money. Such a photo might look “real” or “edgy,” but that doesn’t mean you should take it.

Before you press the shutter button, determine the message you are trying to convey. Are you shooting to build awareness of the atrocious situations that many homeless people experience? Or are you merely taking a photo of a homeless person for the sake of taking their photo or to boost your portfolio? If it’s the latter, you should probably put your camera back down, though ultimately only you can decide what to do.

8. Look for juxtaposition

For me, juxtaposition is what makes street photography so unique and fascinating compared to other genres. Thanks to the careful use of juxtaposition, street photographs can convey the humor, irony, and beauty of everyday life.

The idea is to take two contrasting elements – often a subject and their environment, or two subjects – then put them together in the same frame.

A few quick juxtaposition tips:

  • Look for signs with interesting messages that seem contradictory to the people standing nearby
  • Be on the lookout for human heads that seem to be displaced by other objects, such as street lamps
  • Look for two individuals that differ in height, complexion, or even weight
  • Look for several individuals displaying a range of emotions, be it happiness, sadness, curiosity, anger, etc.

By the way, juxtaposition doesn’t always need to make sense. Some juxtapositions highlight a clear message, but others simply emphasize the absurdity of life, and that’s okay, too!

9. Tell a story

Many beginner street photographers simply try to capture people out and about, and that’s fine – but as you progress, try to add a bit of narrative to each of your photos. https://1c9bd53b9e8aac3c284b20aee67d9b23.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Before you take an image, imagine that you are a film director and that you’re trying to make an interesting movie. Who are the main actors? What is your backdrop? How are the main actors interacting? What kind of emotions are you trying to convey?

Ultimately, images that tell a story are the ones that really stick in the mind of the viewer. And the absolute best images tend to be so illustrative, so evocative, that the viewer returns to them again and again.

So when you get the opportunity, weave a narrative into your photos!

10. Just do it

This is my last tip, and it’s an absolutely essential point to understand:

If you want to be a street photographer, you’ve got to get out and actually shoot. Reading about street photography techniques is helpful, but photography isn’t done behind a computer screen! At some point, no matter how hard it might feel, you need to head out that door and start capturing the world.

So grab a DSLR, point-and-shoot camera, smartphone, or even a disposable film camera – then hit the streets. The beauty of the world awaits, so don’t miss your chance.

Street photography tips: final words

Hopefully, you found these street photography tips and techniques useful. Remember, street photography is all about getting out and capturing the world, so push away your discomfort, do a big smile, and take some great photos!

Now over to you:

Which of these street shooting tips do you like most? Which do you plan to use? And do you have any tips of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Surreal scenes and broken dreams: 2021’s best street photography – in pictures

From a giant eyeball on the subway to a winged dog at a wedding, here’s the year’s best photography at street level

There is No Bad Light for Street Photography

By: Valerie Jardin

One of the advantages of being a street photographer is that you certainly don’t need to get up before dawn to catch the good light. Harsh sunlight, nighttime and rainy days are only a few of the most desired situations on the streets. Getting up too early, before people are out and about, may actually be counter-productive in your search for the decisive moment.

The key is to use light, any light, to your advantage

Any time of day or night, be aware of the quality and quantity of light, and look for interesting light sources and subjects.

Nighttime photography

The night adds a new dimension to your street photography. There are so many interesting light sources to work with such as street lights, traffic lights, car lights, neon signs, etc. Even bright Smartphone screens illuminating people’s faces can make for a fun shot. Learn to focus manually for night photography. Even if the auto focus works in most conditions, practice switching to manual focus rapidly, it may save the shot!

It’s true that a simple slider action in post-processing can bring out details from the shadows, but that doesn’t mean that you should always use it. This is a common mistake that I see too often when the night scene starts to look like it was shot in the daytime. Let the shadows fall where they do and embrace the atmosphere and mystery of the night.

Don’t worry about noise, especially if you shoot black and white. First, you can now push the ISO of most cameras to very high numbers with very little noise. Second, the little bit of grain in your pictures will enhance the mood and atmosphere. Likewise, embrace the motion blur and the slightly out of focus shots. Who says that a good image has to be tack sharp? What’s the point of technical perfection if your subject is boring, or the story non-existent?

Silhouettes

The key to successful silhouette photography is to find a well-defined subject. Remember that not everyone makes an interesting street photography subject and the same principle applies to silhouettes. The shape of the body should be well defined, capturing the right gesture is even more important to achieving a strong image. Many elements can add interest as well, such as umbrellas, bicycles, hats, etc. Watch for obstructions in front of and behind your subject, and if they are moving, make sure you don’t catch them in between steps. Setting your camera in burst mode will increase your chances of getting the right gesture. Remember that your subject is not the background, which can act as a distraction, so do not be afraid to blow out the highlights behind your silhouettes unless it is an integral part of the story.

In order to shoot successful silhouettes, you need to take control of your camera first. Instead to going through all the steps here, check out: How to Photograph Silhouettes in 8 Easy Steps.

Shooting into the bright sun

Shooting into the sun when it’s low in the sky can create some dramatic shots. Add a sunburst effect when possible. The starburst effect is best achieved by setting your camera at a small aperture and hiding the sun partially behind a structure or person. Experiment with exposure compensation to get a nice dark silhouette and once you’re happy with the result, wait for the right subject to enter your frame, or the right action to happen.

Strong shadows

Street photographers love shadows. Similarly to silhouettes, not every shadow works. It should be really dark and well defined. The surface on which it shows will also play a part in the result. It’s important to strategize and position yourself to get the best possible shot, the shadow may hit a wall next to the subject for instance. Long shadows are also really interesting when shot from a higher vantage point. Sometimes it’s all about the shadow, and the subject casting it does not even need to be fully included. This method, if well executed, will add an element of mystery.

Reflections

Sunlight can create some really cool reflections in windows, puddles, or other surfaces and add interest to your street photography. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

High contrast situations

Harsh sunlight and deep shadows can create ideal situations for the discerning street photographer.  The sun comes out after the rain? Even better! The wet pavement will add yet another dimension and interest.

Dappled light

One of my favorite daylight situations in street photography is when I find a nice source of dappled light. Remember that even if the situation is ideal, not every person walking down the street will make an interesting subject. It’s often a game of patience…

Rainy days

As long as you protect your gear (and yourself), rainy days can provide some of the best street photography opportunities. People on the streets will behave very differently when it’s raining, creating some interesting situations. Umbrellas also make for good props. There are also ways to embrace the rain by focussing selectively through windows, car windshields, etc.

Open shade for street portraits

If you enjoy doing street portraits, then the same simple rules that you apply for any other portrait will help you achieve the best result. Once you’ve asked your subject for a portrait, you might as well go the extra step and ask them to move slightly, or even cross the street for the most flattering light. Look for open shade to avoid harsh shadows on their face.

Golden and blue hour

Of course, there are also beautiful photographs of people to be made in the early morning and late evening hours, but always remember that there is no bad light!

Conclusion

Never use the quality of light as an excuse not to hit the streets. Making any light work in your favor is part of the fun and also the best way to improve your skills and get some cool shots. Have fun!

50mm Street Photography: What Makes It Great (+ Tips)

A Post By: Simon Ringsmuth

There’s a longstanding debate about whether 50mm street photography is the right way to go, or if wider lenses are a better choice. Most people who practice street photography prefer lenses with a broader field of view like 35m or 28mm, but that doesn’t mean 50mm is useless. Far from it, in fact.

There are many good reasons to choose this focal length when shooting photos out on the street. Shooting with a 50mm lens also unlocks lots of photographic possibilities – along with adding some creative constraints – and the results you get just might be among your all-time favorite pictures.

Reasons to use a 50mm lens for street photography

The first lens I ever purchased for my DSLR was a 50mm f/1.8, and I still use that same lens today. It’s kind of a jack of all trades option, and it lets me get great shots in a variety of situations, especially when shooting with a full-frame camera.

I have since picked up a variety of other lenses but find myself returning to the classic “nifty fifty” time and again, especially for street photography. It has a charm and sense of character to it that other lenses can’t match, and it’s a great option for beginner street photographers who want to step up from their kit zoom lenses.

In other words: There are plenty of reasons to use a 50mm lens for street photography. Not convinced yet? Here are some of my favorite reasons to stick with a 50mm lens when shooting on the street, starting with:

1. 50mm helps isolate your subject

Streets are filled with activity: pedestrians, vehicles, tourists, animals, and much more. Shooting with a wide-angle lens makes it easy to capture an entire scene – but difficult to isolate a single subject.

On the other hand, when you use a 50mm lens, the field of view is constrained, so your subject is often isolated amidst the chaos, hustle, and bustle of daily life.

While you can get a similar effect with a wider lens simply by moving closer to your subject, you may feel like you are imposing on your subject’s personal space. Shooting with a 50mm lens is a great way to make your subject stand out while also maintaining a comfortable distance.

2. 50mm lenses have amazing depth of field

Every lens adjusts the depth of field, but it’s much easier to manipulate DoF on a 50mm lens compared to a wider lens. To get pleasing foreground or background blur on a 28mm or 35mm lens, you need to close the distance between you and your subject or shoot with a very wide aperture, which tends to get expensive.

Moving near to your subjects is fine if you are comfortable getting close to strangers, but lots of street photographers like to leave a bit of distance. Thankfully, the large f/1.8 or f/1.4 aperture on most 50mm lenses lets you get sharp subjects and beautiful background blur even while standing back a bit. This depth of field can be the difference between a decent photo and a great one, and it’s a great tool to have in your back pocket for when you really need it.

Of course, longer focal lengths like 85mm or 105mm give you even more control over depth of field, but these options can isolate your subject a little too much. Whereas 50mm hits the sweet spot; it lets you get enough in the frame while also offering fine control over depth of field.

3. 50mm helps you capture fast action

Some might cry foul on this one, since any lens can capture fast action as long as you can get a quick shutter speed – but once again we find that a 50mm lens hits the sweet spot. As long as you have plenty of light and good autofocus, you can freeze a moment in time with any lens, but if you want to do this in a street setting, 50mm is the way to go.

With a wide f/1.4 or f/1.8 aperture, you can easily get a shutter speed of 1/500s or 1/1000s in most lighting conditions, which is plenty for stopping movement and eliminating motion blur. And the midrange focal length is perfect for honing in on one subject while not interfering with the movement that you are trying to capture.

If you want a bit more reach, you can shoot with a 50mm lens on a crop-sensor camera, which will put you even closer to the action when photographing, say, musicians or street performers. The 50mm focal length is ideal for freezing motion on a single subject and focusing your viewers’ attention, which is tricky when shooting with wider focal lengths.

4. 50mm gets you close to your subject

Here’s one of my favorite aspects of shooting with a 50mm lens:

It’s not really a wide-angle lens, but also not really a telephoto lens. It exists in the gray middle ground between those two extremes, and as such, lets you tap into the power of both. This means you can get up close and personal with subjects on the street without being too close, especially if you shoot with a crop-sensor camera. You can also stand back and give yourself some breathing room while getting near enough to make a personal image.

I’ve shot street photos with a variety of focal lengths and consistently found that 50mm strikes the best balance. Wider lenses capture entire scenes, while telephoto lenses are great for portraits. But 50mm lens lets you capture scenes that also feel personal by bringing you just close enough to your subject, and the results can be amazing.

5. 50mm gives you a unique perspective

While some people think the 50mm focal length is boring, I have found the opposite to be true, especially for shooting street photos.

When capturing the image above, I was on top of a three-story parking garage and shooting straight down to get a shot of the pathway light. While I was framing the shot, a pedestrian happened to walk through the image, and I got a picture that wouldn’t work at all with a wider or longer lens.

I frequently come across situations like this with 50mm lenses, where a wider focal length would ruin the shot. It’s this unique perspective that makes 50mm so good for street photography. You get a perspective that takes ordinary scenes and turns them into interesting, creative photo opportunities that can ignite your curiosity and inspire your imagination.

50mm street photography tips

1. Don’t always shoot wide open

Wide-aperture lenses are outstanding photography tools, but when not used carefully, they can cause problems.

It’s tempting to shoot wide open at f/1.8, f/1.4, or even f/1.2 if your 50mm lens has that capability. But while the results can be sublime, there are a lot of reasons to stop down to f/2.8, f/4, or even smaller, especially when doing street photography.

For one, a smaller aperture gives you more wiggle room with depth of field, plus it results in better overall image sharpness. Street photographers often use zone focusing, which is extremely difficult when shooting at very wide apertures, especially on a 50mm lens.

Also, shooting wide open can occasionally give you too much background blur, to the point that it’s distracting or downright ugly. My rule of thumb is to use my 50mm lens one or two stops down from its widest aperture for most street shooting, then open it up all the way for those situations where you really need it.

2. Capture action through panning

If you really want to take your street photography to the next level, try some panning shots. This is a great way to capture motion using long shutter speeds, especially with a 50mm lens.

Start with a small aperture – try f/8 – and a relatively slow shutter speed, such as 1/30s. Then put your camera in continuous high-speed shooting mode, set your autofocus to AF-C instead of AF-S, and fire away as a cyclist, pedestrian, or automobile zooms past.

It might take a few tries to get the shot you want, but with a little practice, you will soon create works of street art that you will be proud to print and hang on the wall or share on social media.

3. Look for light and shadow

This tip isn’t specific to a 50mm lens, but in my experience, it’s easier with one. You see, the constrained field of view at 50mm makes situations of light and shadow easier to find, since it forces your eye to look at a smaller portion of the world compared to a wider lens.

When shooting on the street, look for unique photo opportunities that use light and shadow in creative ways. Try shooting silhouettes or using backlighting to create interesting photo opportunities. Pay attention to the time of day and adjust your shooting accordingly. I really like going out in the early morning or late evening when the sun casts long shadows over everything; you can create amazing photos that you just can’t get at other times.

4. Capture moments, not people

This is another tip that’s good for any street photography situation, but one that is often enhanced when shooting with a 50mm lens. Try to capture moments in time that display singular elements of humanity: purpose, decisiveness, intention, drive, and so on. Don’t just get shots of people standing around, wandering aimlessly, or sitting and staring at their phones. Look for emotions like love, caring, compassion, happiness, or fear.

Take pictures that tell a story, such as the one above, which I shot on a college campus on Valentine’s Day. A 50mm lens is ideal for these human moments – you can stand back a bit, get your subjects sharp and focused, and create a sense of three-dimensional space through careful use of aperture and depth of field. This elevates your street photos from flat, boring images of random passersby to slices of life that showcase the best of what humans have to offer in this world.

50mm street photography: conclusion

Street photography is all about personal choice and finding a style that works for you. While the 50mm street photography isn’t the first option for many people, it has some distinct advantages and unique qualities that can help you create impressive images and develop your own artistic vision.

If you have never tried shooting street photos with a 50mm lens, give it a try. I think you’ll like what you see!

Now over to you:

What do you think of 50mm street photography? Have you tried it? Do you have any images you’re proud of? Share your thoughts and photos in the comments below!

Street Photography

The art of capturing a scene in a public place, particularly on the street, is called street photography. Many of these types of photographs are also considered to be candid in nature, usually unstaged and shot spontaneously.

Depending on the country, there are certain consent laws to take into account when taking photos of people in public. Being aware of what these laws are in a given location is an important part of capturing street photography for broader use.

Another genre that’s closely linked is urban photography, in which photographers capture street scenes in city settings. Portraiture and architecture often play a part in these images as well.

Subject matter doesn’t always need to include people, however. Capturing environments that don’t include visible human activity can also be considered street photography. In those cases, human presence is usually implied through the composition of the image. While also having many similarities to documentary photography, street photography tends to be less deliberate in its purposeful or defined messaging.

5 Exercises to Improve Your Street Photography

Do you want to capture amazing street photography, but you just feel like you’re not good enough? Don’t worry, because this article is going to give you five fantastic street photography exercises that are guaranteed to improve your street photography. It’ll provide you with the tools you need to take amazing street photos.

Let’s get started.

1. Find a scene and stand in place for an hour

It might not seem like it…

…but a lot of street photography is about being patient.

In fact, plenty of the best street photos were taken after a significant amount of standing in place and waiting.

You see, great street photography often involves a powerful background with a focal point. And that focal point is often a person.

But to get the right person in the right place is one of the toughest parts of this genre of photography.

So this exercise is designed to make sure you recognize the rewards of being patient

Here’s what you do:

Start by finding a scene that you like. A building, an alley, an interesting background of some sort. Make sure there’s a decent amount of foot traffic.

Then previsualize. Where would you like your main subject to walk into the frame? Imagine the precise place you’d like them to be when you take the photo.

Then wait.

Now, plenty of people will walk through your scene who don’t fit with your previsualized photo. Maybe they don’t stand in the perfect place. Maybe they don’t have the silhouette you’re looking for.

And that’s okay. After all, this is an exercise in patience!

However, I recommend you take photos of these people anyway. You might end up with something unexpectedly powerful.

Even if you do get the shot you like, keep standing in place. Stay there until an hour has passed.

Because it’s important you understand, not just the rewards of patience, but how to be patient. So even once you’ve achieved your goal, stand in place, and keep taking photos. See what you can get.

Make sense?

2. Shoot an entire outing from an unusual angle

When you’re just starting out in street photography, it’s very easy to take every shot at eye-level.

Putting your camera up to your face is natural. And it can sometimes help you get over the stress of taking photos in public; you can feel like you’re hiding.

But shooting at eye-level is a recipe for consistently boring photos.

Instead, you want to take photos from many different angles. Different angles are the key to creating a dynamic, powerful portfolio.

So the street photography exercise is simple:

Go out with your camera. And only take photos from an uncommon angle.

Which angles count as “uncommon”?

The low angle is a great start. The lower you take your photo, the more awe your photos will generate because it’ll feel like the viewer is looking up at the scene. For the photo above, I shot up toward the clock tower in an attempt to make the image more dramatic.

Plus, a low angle can often clear the background, making it less distracting. It causes people in the background to fall away, leaving only buildings and sky behind your main subject.

To shoot at a low angle, you have a few options. You can sit down or crouch low. Or you can hold your camera down at your hip.

Of course, you don’t have to shoot from a low angle! If you like, you can try finding a vantage point (such as a parking garage), and shoot from high above.

The choice is yours. Just make sure you get used to trying new angles.

It’ll seriously improve your street photos!

3. Ask five strangers if you can take their picture

One of the biggest barriers to great street photography is your own nervousness.

After all, it’s hard to capture photos of people from a distance, let alone up close. You probably worry about people getting angry or even threatening you.

First of all, you should know that, in most countries, it’s legal to photograph people in public places. So you’re not breaking laws.

But the anxiety doesn’t always go away once you know your rights.

This is where this street photography exercise comes in handy.

All you have to do is go out shooting. And ask at least five people if you can take their photo.

It’s okay if they refuse. It’s okay if they agree but the picture is bad.

The only thing that matters is that you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. You’re forcing yourself to see that plenty of people don’t mind having their photo taken in public. And when people do mind, it’s not the end of the world.

This is an exercise that I recommend you try once a week (or until you no longer struggle to photograph people in public).

Because even if you prefer to photograph people without approaching them, knowing that everything will turn out okay will significantly improve your levels of comfort (and, consequently, your street photos!).

4. Only photograph strangely-lit people for a day

If you want to capture amazing street photos, you’ve got to start paying attention to the light.

This is easy to forget about because street photography involves so many variables: people moving fast, cars causing distracting backgrounds, etc.

But you can’t fail to consider the light. Otherwise, your photos will be very inconsistent.

Which brings me to the exercise:

Only photograph people who are strangely lit for the day.

By “strangely lit,” I’m referring to non-standard lighting. The people shouldn’t be lit with standard front-lighting, cloudy lighting, or standard overhead lighting.

Instead, there should be strong backlighting, side lighting, or shadows running through the scene.

By forcing yourself to pay attention to this, you’ll get a better eye for lighting. And it’s the first step toward taking more creative, unique street photos.

Personally, I’m a fan of backlit street photography. So I recommend going out when the sun is low in the sky to see if you can find some backlit subjects.

But you can also shoot people who are walking through shadow. This works especially well if the area around the person is bathed in sunlight, in order to create a high-contrast shot.

Just find some unique lighting, and you’ll do just fine.

5. Spend a week only taking photos of small details

Most street photographers only ever take photos of people.

But here’s the thing:

The streets have plenty of compelling details, too. And a street photographer who can find these details is a street photographer worth watching.

Tiny details lend character to your street photos, even if the main subject is a person. And tiny details can be the sole subject of a photo, as well. You just have to know how to capture them.

This is why your final street photography exercise is dedicated to photographing those beautiful small details.

All you have to do is deliberately photograph little details for a week. Forget about photographing people. Forget about photographing architecture.

Instead, focus on capturing the most compelling details possible.

This might involve creating some abstract photos. Photograph contrasting colors up close. Or photograph spray-painted graffiti.

You can also capture some wider photos: the signs of restaurants, or the front door of buildings. All of these are excellent potential subjects.

Just remember: When you photograph small details, don’t just try to faithfully render the details themselves. Instead, create a compelling composition out of the details. Try to include multiple interesting features.

You’ll take a few boring photos, sure. But you’ll develop an appreciation for the smaller aspects of the city.

And you’ll take some stunning photos in the process.

5 exercises to immediately improve your street photography: Conclusion

Capturing beautiful street photos can be difficult. And for beginning photographers, it can seem impossible.

But if you do these street photography exercises, you’ll notice your outlook starting to change. Street photography won’t seem so difficult.

And you’ll start capturing some amazing street photos.

So get out and start practicing these street photography exercises!

by: Jaymes Dempsey

What is Street Photography? – An Introductory, How-To Guide for Beginners and Intermediates -James Maher

What is Street Photography?

Street photography at its essence means candid photography of people and humanity. A street photograph has to be a real, unposed moment.

However, the term itself is inherently unclear and clunky. For instance, a person does not have to be in a photo for it to be considered a street photograph.

Trying to define street photography is almost like trying to define what sweet or salty is. You can’t fully describe it, but you know it when you see it.

Street photographers are observers, flâneurs by nature. It is a way of connecting with the world and bringing back the moments that stand out. It can be likened to a visual form of poetry – while beauty and form are important aspects of street photography, great street photographs often have something going on beneath the surface.

There are hints, feelings, ideas, stories, or questions. These photos are meant to prompt the viewer. Whether street photography depicts reality or not can be disputed, but I would argue that it depicts the reality of the photographer.

An effective way to understand street photography is to look at the work of great street photographers, to see how it varies for each of them, and to try to understand what they were aiming to portray. The end of this article has a list of street photographers and books to start with.

The next step is to do it for yourself. You will be awkward and slow at first as you get used to doing it, some of your shots will be technically bad, uninteresting, or cliche (and there’s nothing wrong with cliche), but over time your voice will begin to develop and your photographs will become more cohesive and unique to you – and that is where they will start to stand out.

A quick ethics and law primer

Always look up your local laws regarding street photography, as I am not a lawyer. However, street photography is legal in the United States as long as you use the pictures for artistic purposes. You can sell prints of them, use them in online articles, and show them in books as you would a piece of art, but you cannot use them for commercial or advertising purposes.

Many countries have similar laws to the U.S., but in some, it is illegal to do street photography without permission from the person you are photographing – which makes it difficult if you are trying to capture a candid photograph. Some photographers get tricky, by making sure their streets shots only have people who are unrecognizable, while others disregard these laws and go on like normal. Make sure you do your own research before you decide on what to do.

The ethic of street photography is another story. Is it ethical to photograph strangers in public without their permission? That depends on how you feel. I think these images are important for cultural, artistic, and historical purposes, and I believe I am a good person doing good things, but occasionally I will still feel creepy taking photos of people in public. It can be creepy, but it is what it is, and to me, it’s worth it.

Some photographers will not photograph children or homeless people, while other photographers do incredible and very compassionate work with children and homeless people. The point is to figure out what you are comfortable with and go with that. Don’t let anyone else tell you what is ethically right or wrong.

How to do street photography

Now that we’ve gotten the definition and ethics out of the way, it’s time to learn how to do street photography. Street photography may seem simple, but it is difficult to do well.

The first step is to push through the fear, to improve your hand-eye coordination, and to get the general tips down both technically and in how you carry yourself. The next step is to figure out what makes an interesting photograph and to develop your voice.

But the most important aspect through all of this is to have fun and to try to practice frequently, even if it is in short spurts or with a camera phone – this is what will take you to the next level.

What if you get caught? How to push through your fear of street photography

Fear is for many the toughest aspect of street photography. How do you possibly get close enough to strangers to get a good picture without getting in trouble?

The first thing to consider is where you are located. Obviously, some places like New York will be much easier to do this than others, but that shouldn’t stop you.

Before you start, think about what you will say if someone catches you. When I get caught, I smile, tell the person that yes, I did take their photo, I’m doing a project on the streets and people of New York, and I thought they looked fabulous. Flattery is key. Offer to email them the photograph, and if they still seem uncomfortable, then offer to delete it.

If you handle yourself in this manner, you will find it so much easier and sometimes enjoyable when you get caught.

The next step is to go somewhere busy. You shouldn’t only photograph in busy places, but when you are learning this can be very important. Go to a busy street corner, a fair, or an event where lots of interesting things are happening, and you will find that you and your camera will fit right in. When there are lots of people with cameras around and everyone is happy and busy, you will find that people will barely notice you.

This is an environment that will allow you to get comfortable with your camera so that you can learn how to take good shots.

Similarly, sometimes you will want to pick a spot and let your subjects come to you. Find a location where a lot is going on and spend your energy watching your surroundings instead of walking around.

Keep your camera up and ready to shoot, and watch people as they come closer to you. This way they will be entering your personal space instead of you entering their space, and they will not notice you as much. You will also be quicker to react since you will already be in the right spot and watching your surroundings intently.

A quick note: It is common for people to start off by shooting mostly from the hip – that is, photographing without putting the camera to their eye to make it much less noticeable. This is a practice that a lot of photographers do, including me some of the time. Sometimes it’s necessary, but it can be a crutch as well.

Learn to shoot by putting the camera to your eye at first. Shoot from the hip if and when necessary, but get that camera up to your eye as often as you can.

And if you still find yourself struggling with aspects of candid street photography, try some street portraits first to get comfortable. This can be a great transition once you realize how receptive people are to having their portrait taken.

Acting

Some of the best street photographers are also the best actors when photographing. They have a way of looking like they are tourists or that they have no idea how to use their camera. The confused, in their own world, or dense looks that I have seen on some photographers’ faces have been hilarious.

One photographer I know will even go right up and take a photo of someone, and then when they look up, he will say, “Oh, I was just testing my camera. Sorry about that!”

Usually, it will be more subtle than that, but it will help to do some light acting so that the moments can be as candid as possible and so you will not have to deal with everyone stopping to ask if you took their photo. You would get nowhere if that was the case.

Also, try to keep from making eye contact with people as that has an evolutionary way of getting their attention. Always look off to the side, above, or through them.

The camera snap is a fantastic technique to use. Your natural instinct will be to remove the camera from your eye the second you take a photograph. Nearly everyone does this, and this is how people know you have taken their photo.

Instead, capture the photo and keep the camera to your eye as the person moves out of your scene. This will have them thinking that you are just photographing the background and that they got in your way. Similarly, you can aim your camera above or to the side of a person like you are photographing the background and then at the last second point the camera at them, take the photo, and move on.

Use your eyes

his may seem like such a simple tip, but it’s not. So many photographers that I have taught seem glued to their camera the entire time, and that can stop you from noticing your surroundings. When done well, it almost feels like the camera isn’t even there.

To find a great moment, you actually have to see it with your eyes before you go to take a shot, so embrace this. Focus your energy on looking around and try to be as aware of your surroundings as possible.

Get closer

This is not meant to be a blanket statement, but a common problem is that photographers do not get close enough. Fill the frame with your scene and get close enough to your subjects to be able to notice the little details. But also keep in mind that you can get too close.

Some photographers take this tip too much to heart, and every photograph is a close-up face or detail without any context or background at all. Use some balance, but remember that being part of the action instead of lurking far away will improve the quality of your photos.

Be spontaneous

Moments in street photography happen so fast. So many photographs will appear and disappear before you even put the camera to your eye.

This makes it vital to go with your gut. If you feel the potential for a photograph, take it. Often, this will result in a terrible photograph, but when you get a successful one, it will be that much more interesting. Get loose and embrace your instincts.

Emotion and gesture

Give me a photograph of a normal-looking person with a powerful expression any day over the most interestingly dressed person with a boring expression.

As photographers, we are looking for ideas and emotions in our images, and a primary way to do that is to capture those emotions in people’s faces, the looks in their eyes, or the gestures in their bodies. When you are able to connect with a person and get a glimpse into what they might be feeling, that will lay a powerful foundation for your photograph.

Learn to read people through their expressions and gestures.

Shoot in a variety of locations (including where you live).

Photograph in both busy and quiet areas as you learn, and capture the areas around where you live or work. The more familiar you are with a location and the more time you spend there, the more intimate the photographs will be. Get familiar with certain areas and keep going back. You do not need to go to a different place each time to get a great photograph.

You can get a great photograph anywhere, and you should practice in places that you might think of as typically uninteresting or boring. The term boring is actually quite interesting. Why do you think the area is boring or will not be a good location for photography?

Go to a parking lot, a suburb, or a quiet street and see what you can do there. Some of the most incredible street photographs have been taken in these environments.

Street photography cameras and equipment

Interested in a camera for street photography? Check out this article – The Best Digital Cameras for Street Photography.

It is commonly said that you can do street photography with any camera, and while this is true, some cameras will give you a significant advantage. SLRs are fast but they can be very large, and it becomes difficult to be quick and spontaneous with one. If you must use an SLR (and I used one for over 10 years for street photography, so don’t feel bad), grab a light prime lens such as a 35mm or 50mm (the two most popular lenses used by street photographers).

Prime lenses will lighten your camera and make it much less noticeable. In addition, getting used to a single focal length will have a profound effect on your photography.

You have to let go of the fact that you will lose out on some shots because you don’t have a zoom lens. That will happen, but you will make up for this by becoming so used to the prime lens and focal length and so fast with it, that you will be able to capture more spontaneous images. This will help focus you and it will help you become more consistent.

I highly suggest mirrorless cameras or even micro 4/3rds cameras. My recommended cameras are either the Fuji X100 series or the X-T line. Fuji has the quality and design factor that no other camera other than Leica has right now, and they are about a fifth of the price. Olympus, Ricoh, and Sony all make good smaller form cameras as well, but keep in mind that some of the Sony lenses are so huge that it will make the mirrorless camera feel like an SLR.

Many people even do street photography with a camera phone. Camera phones have come a long way and you can do great work with one. If you can’t take your camera with you, don’t hesitate to take a photography break with your phone.

Camera settings

Now for the fun part. Knowing your camera settings for street photography is necessary, and I suggest shooting in either Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual mode. Unless you are very good, Manual can be tough in many lighting situations, particularly for sunny days when you will be shooting in the sunlight one second and in the shade in another.

I prefer to use a shutter speed of 1/250th or faster. This number will guarantee that the motion in your subjects will be frozen. You can stop down to 1/160th, 1/125th, or even 1/60th at night or with people who are not moving, but there is a higher chance of motion blur if they are.

This is a personal preference, but I also like to shoot with as small an aperture as possible. Yes, bokeh can be beautiful, but with a small aperture (large depth of field), it allows me a better chance of getting my subjects sharp.

If you miss the focus with a large depth of field, there is still a good chance the shot will be saved. In addition, a large depth of field helps when you have multiple subjects at different depths or an important background that you also want to be relatively sharp. Context is very important in street photography, so I like to have my backgrounds relatively sharp.

When photographing with a fast shutter speed and small aperture, not much light will hit the sensor, so unless you are in bright sunlight, something has to give, and that is the ISO. Newer cameras create gorgeous photographs at higher ISOs, so you shouldn’t be afraid to raise it up. There will be more grain, but your shots will be sharper and of a higher quality that will more than offset this.

And that grain can be beautiful! I like to shoot at ISO 400 in sunlight, 800-1600 in shade, and 3200-6400 at dusk and night.

I do not recommend using auto-ISO unless you are in Manual mode. You only want the camera to choose one of the three settings.

In evening, indoors, or in very dark situations, I will often shoot in Shutter Priority mode to guarantee that I have a fast enough shutter speed to freeze motion. During daylight, I will usually shoot in Aperture Priority. I usually only shoot in Manual at night or if the light is very even. However, you can use any of these modes to the same effect if you know them well.

Advanced Tips

While the previous photography examples had more differences between them, take notice that the examples going forward will be much more consistent in content and look. They are based upon a project I have been working on for the last seven years titled Luxe City. Consistency is an important aspect to ponder when you become more advanced, and so I wanted the photographs to show that.

Here are some more advanced concepts and street photography tips to consider going forward. Some of these you can take advantage of immediately, while others will take more time to get comfortable with.

Imperfections

Street photographs are real and unplanned moments, and they should feel real and unplanned. This gives us a lot of leeway technically, and the lack of perfection can even improve a photograph.

Garry Winogrand, for instance, was known for skewing his horizons in ways that landscape photographers wouldn’t do, and this was important to the feel of his work.

Often these imperfections will not only be tolerated but will be encouraged. This is why grain works very well in street photography. So next time you see an element that you screwed up in the image, consider the fact that it might make the photograph even better.

Light and composition

Besides the potential benefit of imperfections, how we deal with light and composition in street photography is very similar to most other forms of photography, so I will keep this section brief. When you walk out of the house and before you even look at your camera, the light is always the first factor to take into account, so make sure to keep light at the top of your mind.

Where are the light sources in relationship to the direction that you are photographing in, and how are they affecting your shot. Is there direct light, a hazy backlight, artificial light, reflected light, or are there pockets of light shining through? Are there beautiful shadows? How is the light hitting your main subject and background?

You can do some very interesting things with light once you learn to notice it.

Since street photographs appear so quickly, composition is often done spontaneously and instinctually, so this is where the practice comes in. As we just mentioned with the imperfections, you can get away with a lot more than you can in traditional landscape photography.

Skewed horizons or strange compositions can make the photograph feel real and can go a long way, but it depends on the photograph. Think of composition as you would for a breathtaking landscape, but instead of a boulder there is a fire hydrant, instead of a stream there is some spilled coffee, or instead of a mountain there is a ladder. Use these everyday elements in the same manner.

Great compositional photographers have a way of leading people’s eyes around an image, and they use these everyday elements to do it. Every aspect of your photograph is important, including what you put in the corners. A viewer’s eyes will naturally be drawn off of your photograph, and your corners will keep their eyes from leaving the picture. This will make it feel more balanced.

In addition, try not to get hyper-focused on just your main subject. If you see a great element for a photograph, always look around to see if it is possible to combine it with other interesting elements to create a more complex scene.

Take photos for yourself

Try not to worry about how other people will perceive your work. Street photographs can be weird, and not everyone will understand them or like them. Some people just want to see sunsets or pretty travel photographs.

This type of work is for yourself. Take photographs that you find interesting and go from there. Often your best work will not be as noticed at first by others. Take the opinions of others into account, but don’t let that lead you. This is a chance for you to create personal, unique, and interesting work.

How will your photos age?

Be careful about taking things for granted. I hear photographers complain that they can’t take a photo these days without someone staring at their phone, but at some point that will change and those photographs will feel historic and much more interesting.

Think about what might change and what could be interesting to others that might seem routine to you. If you are photographing in an area that seems boring or standard to you, think about why you feel that way and whether there might actually be an interesting photograph there that you just disregarded.

Simple things now will have more weight in the future, while interesting things now might be mundane in the future. It’s very tough to know which is which.

Street photographs without people

Street photography is about life, but it doesn’t have to have people in the frame. However, there is a difference between a traditional urban landscape photograph and a street photograph, and just like describing what salt tastes like, it’s tough to describe the differences.

Urban landscape images are created to be beautiful. They are what they are, on the surface. That is the most important goal for them, whereas while form is important for street photography, street photographs are created to be interesting.

There’s something to them that goes beyond just beautifying and glorifying the surroundings.

Zone Focusing

Zone focusing is the king of all technical skills for street photographers. It is the practice of setting your camera to manual focus and using focusing distances to your advance. Some cameras will have a focus distance meter on their lens or in their viewfinder, and this helps immensely.

I typically set my focus distance to around 8 to 10 feet, although in very busy situations such as rush hour on a busy corner, I will set it to 5-6 feet – but the closer in, the more exact you have to be with the focus.

You then need to photograph your subjects when they are in the range that your camera is focused for, so you will have to learn your distances (i.e. how far 10 feet away is). Because of depth of field, zone focusing is much easier with a wide-angle lens, so I typically only do it with a 35mm lens and sometimes with a 50mm lens in bright sunlight.

ou can zone focus with any depth of field, and I will sometimes zone focus even with an aperture of F2.8, but it is much easier to do with a large depth of field. Ideally, you will start off with a 35mm lens using F8 to F16.

With a wide-angle lens and F11 for instance, if you are focused at 10 feet, most of your scene will be sharp. Subjects at 7 feet will be pretty sharp and the background will be pretty sharp, so this gives you a lot of flexibility in how you can shoot. And the most important factor here is that you don’t have to spend the time locking in the focus, so this will make you that much more quick and spontaneous.

See this article for a more in-depth guide to zone focusing. Zone focusing is not hard to do well, but it takes a little practice at first, so be prepared to screw up most of your photographs the first time around.

Projects and sequencing

As you improve and build up more and more of an archive, you will start to notice more consistency in your work. You will start to think of themes, ideas, and projects. This is why editing time is so important for street photography. By spending time with your photographs, you will understand yourself and your work better, and it will help inform what you shoot when you go out.

Search through your work and split them up into different ideas. Continue to move around the sequence of the photos to play around with these ideas and add to them over time. Plan for these ideas to take a lot of time to grow, and many of them will happen organically. A project you think of one year in might completely transform by year three.

The photos you see in this section are part of a project called Luxe City, which is about the changing nature of New York, the gentrification, the loss of interaction and loneliness, and the suburban cleansing of the city. It took time to truly understand what I was trying to create with this project.

Editing is where you figure out what you are doing, so make sure to spend a lot of time with it.

Conclusion

s is a lot to absorb at first, so keep this article and come back to it over time. All of this information is important to know about, but you don’t want to let it bog you down when you shoot.

The true key is time spent shooting. The more you shoot, the more the street photography gods will reward you, and the better you will be at capturing those spectacular moments that you come across.

Learn to love the walk and adventure, enjoy the connection with others out there, and try not to worry about whether you are capturing great photos or not. You can worry about that when you are editing, but when you are out there, the key is to shut off your mind, be relaxed and spontaneous, and most of all to enjoy yourself.

If you want to learn more about street photography, you can purchase my ebook, The Essentials of Street Photography, and if you plan on coming to New York, you can download my free guide, The New York Photographer’s Travel Guide. I also give popular private street photography tours and occasional in-depth weekend and weeklong street photography workshops.

Street Photographer Research

Here are some street photographers to start off with in your research. There are so many more photographers than this to focus on, but this is a great list to start with.

Garry Winogrand
Robert Frank
Martin Parr
Bruce Davidson
Henri Cartier-Bresson
Josef Koudelka
Helen Levitt
William Eggleston
Trent Parke
Alex Webb
Vivian Maier
Lee Friedlander
Joel Meyerowitz
Daido Moriyama

Street Photography Books

The Americans by Robert Frank
The Decisive Moment by Henri Cartier-Bresson
William Eggleston’s Guide
Garry Winogrand Met Exhibition Catalogue
Subway by Bruce Davidson
Friedlander (MoMA)
The Last Resort by Martin Parr
The Suffering of Light by Alex Webb
Uncommon Places by Stephen Shore 
Exiles by Josef Koudelka
55 by Joel Meyerowitz
America by Zoe Strauss
Magnum Contact Sheets
Minutes to Midnight by Trent Parke
Slide Show by Helen Levitt
Vivian Maier
A Day Off by Tony Ray Jones
Sleeping by the Mississippi by Alec Soth
Early Color by Saul Leiter
Life is Good & Good for You in New York by William Klein
Grim Street by Mark Cohen
The Urban Prisoner by Matt Weber
American Photographs by Walker Evans
Personal Best by Elliott Erwitt
The World Through My Eyes by Daido Moriyama

Educational Books

Bystander: A History of Street Photography
Street Photography Now
The Essentials of Street Photography & Street Photography Conversations
Street Photography and the Poetic Image
The Street Photographer’s Manual
The World Atlas of Street Photography
Street Photography: The Art of Capturing the Candid Moment

Street Photography Resources

Magnum is THE international photography cooperative, originally co-founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1947. The roster of photographers cover a variety of genres but includes a variety of street and documentary photographers. The website has a variety of resources and a wealth of photographs and photographic stories to explore.

iN-PUBLIC is the original street photography collective set up in 2000 to help promote street photography worldwide. The website holds a variety of educational content and interviews, and the roster of photographers is impressive and worth exploring.

LensCulture is a website and online magazine dedicated to sharing contemporary photography of which street photography is a significant focus. The website shares interviews, essays, educational articles, photographer portfolios, and sponsors photography awards several times per year.

AmericanSuburbX is an online photography and art website with a huge number of artist profiles, essays, interviews, galleries, and reviews.

Miami Street Photography Festival is a well-known festival that always has a fantastic roster of speakers. The festival consists of exhibits, workshops, and portfolio reviews. Also new is the Street London symposium.

Hit The Streets – if you’re a podcast listener, this is the street photography podcast to check out.

Art Photo Feature is an online street photography magazine and community run by Rohit and Vineet Vohra.

Street Photography Documentaries

Everybody Street
Finding Vivian Maier
Leaving Home, Coming Home: A Portrait of Robert Frank
The Many Lives of William Klein
The World According to Martin Parr
Pen, Brush, and Camera – Henri Cartier-Bresson
In The Real World – William Eggleston
More Than the Rainbow – Matt Weber
Near Equal – Daido Moriyama
1981 – Joel Meyerowitz
BBC Master Photographer – Andre Kertesz

Complete Guide to Street Photography for Beginners

Good street photography tells a story. This photo's composition is filled with striped patterns that make it look more interesting.
X-T2 + XF50mm f/2 R WR @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/220, f/9.0

Street photography is one of the most challenging but at the same time one of the most rewarding genres of photography. Documenting people in their everyday environment is not easy – it requires patience, hard work and sometimes even some bravery to be able to approach and photograph complete strangers. In this article, we will take a close look at what street photography is, how it differs from other genres of photography and provide some helpful tips to get you started.

Over my photographic journey, I have shot wildlife, travel, landscapes, and even some sports. However, for me, street photography is the most challenging and satisfying genre. Why? Because street photography requires patience, persistence, and luck, like in wildlife photography.

You need to have quick responses and react intuitively as you would shooting sports. Just like travel photography, you must master storytelling. And also, you must be able to thoughtfully and creatively compose a compelling shot that draws in your viewer, just like in landscape photography. If you think you might be interested in this type of photography, read on.

What is Street Photography?

Wikipedia defines street photography as “photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents.”

Typically, street photography is about candidly capturing life in public areas. And contrary to its name, street photography does not have to be done on the streets. You can do street photography anywhere.

X-T2 + XF18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS @ 42.5mm, ISO 200, 1/340, f/4.5

For example, when I lived in small-town Mississippi, I spent a lot of time at the beach. On rainy days, I often gravitate to museums, coffee shops or even the mall. One of my favorite places to shoot is on public transportation. You can always find great subjects on buses and trains.

And, don’t discard rural areas. Even if you don’t live in a big city, that shouldn’t hold you back from starting your street photography adventures.

X-T2 + XF35mm f/2 R WR @ 35mm, ISO 2500, 1/125, f/5.0

What Makes a Good Street Photograph?

Right now, social media is flooded with mediocre and subpar street photography. Just pointing your lens in the direction of a person on the street does not qualify as street photography. As in all photography, how you compose your image will make or break your photograph.

X-T3 + XF56mm f/1.2 R @ 56mm, ISO 160, 1/500, f/2.8

A good street photo needs a clearly defined subject. All the rules (and I use that word loosely) of composition, such as rule of thirds, leading lines, use of negative space, symmetry, frames, etc. still hold. Try and tell a story with your images. Create photographs where the viewer pauses and asks questions.

These are the signs of good street photography.

X100T @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/280, f/11.0

Do Street Photos Need People?

Whether or not street shots need people in them is up for debate. Sticklers say that all street photographs must contain people. However, I take a more laid back approach. While I believe that street photographs do not need people, they do need the suggestion that someone was there.

For example, shadows can be used to capture thought-provoking shots, even if you can’t see the humans casting them. I also like to photograph things left behind by people. These images leave the viewer wondering what the story is behind the discarded objects.

X100F @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/210, f/5.6
X100F @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/420, f/8.0
X-T2 + XF35mm f/2 R WR @ 35mm, ISO 5000, 1/125, f/2.0

Is All Street Photography Candid?

Again, the sticklers out there will say “yes,” you must shoot street photography candidly. Still, I disagree. While some folks say that street portraits are another genre of photography, I lump them under the street photography umbrella.

X-T2 + XF50mm f/2 R WR @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/125, f/3.6

A street portrait requires you to interact with your subject. Interacting with a stranger may strike fear into those just starting. However, I have met some fascinating people this way. I will talk more about getting over that fear in a bit.

X-T2 + XF18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS @ 18mm, ISO 200, 1/180, ƒ/6.4

Another type of non-candid street photography occurs when you make eye contact with your subject. Purists will say that eye contact takes away from the spontaneity of the moment, and thus alters the scene. I make it a rule never to initiate eye contact by hovering over a subject.

X-T2 + XF16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR @ 28.3mm, ISO 200, 1/160, f/5.0

However, if my subject notices me and looks up just as I snap the shutter, I don’t disregard the shot. These chance encounters often add a bit of humor to the image. And eye contact often makes an image more intimate.

X-T2 + XF35mm f/2 R WR @ 35mm, ISO 6400, 1/55, f/4.5

Camera Equipment for Street Photography

In terms of street photography, less is more. You want to become invisible when you are on the streets. Using a small camera makes this much easier to do.

Smaller camera systems are less obtrusive than big and heavy DSLRs. They are easier and less painful to carry around, especially when taking long walks. They also do not have the same psychological effect on people as big cameras – most people are used to seeing small cameras that look like a tourist point-and-shoot, so they do not feel as intimidated. Lastly, some mirrorless cameras have a silent shutter mode, where you won’t even hear the shutter firing. Those could be great for documentary-style photos and candids.

X-T2 + XF50mm f/2 R WR @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/640, f/4.5

I like to use prime lenses. My favorite two focal lengths are 23mm and 50mm on my cropped sensor cameras. Prime lenses tend to be smaller than zooms. But more importantly, when you consistently use the same focal length, you become aware of what your frame will look like even before raising your camera to your eye. You learn where to stand to frame your subject. Action on the street can happen quickly. By taking the zoom variable out of the equation, you will be more prepared to capture fleeting moments.

When I’m out for a day of street photography I bring one small sling bag with me (the Peak Design 5L Sling). In it, I bring extra batteries, business cards, my phone and ID. If I’m using my Fujifilm X-T3 and 50mm f/2 combination, I carry it on a light-weight sling strap. When I shoot with my Fuji X100F, I use a wrist strap. I don’t ever bring extra lenses with me. That complicates the decision-making process. I zoom with my feet, usually get close to my subjects and don’t think about “what if” I had a different lens with me.

Comfortable shoes are almost as important as your camera gear! In a day of street photography, I can easily cover 10 to 15 kilometers. The last things I want are blisters and sore feet. I also dress to fit in. I don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to myself.

Street Gear

Code of Conduct

Taking photographs in public spaces is legal in “most” countries. In both Canada and the United States, this is true. If you are in a public area, you are well within your rights to take pictures. However, it is important to realize that even if you are shooting in a public space, you must exercise a reasonable expectation of privacy.

For example, photographing into someone’s bedroom window from the street is unethical, and probably illegal! If you are unsure, make it a point to do a bit of research to become familiar with local privacy laws where you will be shooting.

Respect and Smile

Respect goes a long way in street photography. If someone does not want their picture taken, apologize and find another subject. The streets are full of interesting people, and another is sure to come along shortly.

A smile works wonders. If someone notices you after you have captured an image of them, smile and nod a thank you. Most likely your subject will smile back, and you will both go on your way. I have never been asked to delete an image. But, if I were, I would certainly do so. No shot is worth a confrontation in my opinion.

In the image below, my subject noticed me just as I was pressing the shutter and shot up his hand in front of his face. I immediately lowered my camera and apologized. I then showed him the image I had captured, at which point he laughed and told me I could keep it!

X-T2 + XF16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR @ 55mm, ISO 6400, 1/110, f/8.0

Photographing Children

The ethics of photographing children is a tricky one. Parents get very protective of their kids. In order to avoid getting into an altercation with an angry parent, do not forget to get permission from them before photographing their children. This should be an absolute no-brainer.

If you see a great opportunity for an interesting photo that involves kids, ask for permission from their parents/guardians, and give them your contact information. Many parents will be grateful for the beautiful pictures of their children since they do not get to photograph them every day with professional equipment.

If you cannot see the parents or guardians around, my recommendation would be to conceal children’s faces in your composition. That’s what I sometimes do, although my preference is to always get approval first to avoid any potential conflict.

This past summer I was in Normandy, France. Now I do not speak any French. So when I noticed this young boy making a sandcastle, I motioned to the boy’s grandmother, pointed to my camera and then to her grandson. She was so excited and nodded yes right away. Then she ran up to the boy. The next thing I knew she was posing with the child and I was photographing both of them! We all had a good laugh. I was lucky enough to capture this candid shot after the family portrait!

X100F @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/800, f/11.0

Photographing the Less Fortunate

I make it a point not to shoot the homeless or those in compromised situations. For me, it is a case of putting myself in my subject’s place. If I were in their shoes, would I want to be photographed? If the answer is no, then the image is off-limits.

Street Photography Tips and Ideas to Get You Started

Photographing people close-up is a little different than photographing street architecture or doing documentary-style street photography. While the main reasoning behind street photography itself is to get away from posed, artificial and repetitive, photographing random strangers provides a great opportunity to work with raw beauty.

X-T2 + XF50mm f/2 R WR @ 50mm, ISO 6400, 1/60, f/8.0

But it is a challenging task for many of us – those people on the streets are not your paying clients, they do not know who you are, and most of them do not wish to be photographed at all!

Without a doubt, photographing strangers can be a little intimidating at first. Here are a few tips to ease you into street photography.

Know Your Gear and Have the Right Settings

Before approaching people, it is essential to have the right settings in your camera. Remember that a moving subject is not going to wait for you to adjust your settings.

For street portraiture, aperture priority mode is pretty much ideal for me. In addition, I use Auto ISO to make sure that my shutter speed is fast enough. This way I know that if anything happens suddenly, that my camera will be ready. Capturing a subtle gesture, like a gaze or hand movement can be the difference between a good street photo and a great one.

X100F @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/125, f/8.0

I leave the rest of the settings at default values since I shoot RAW and most other settings generally do not matter. If the occasion calls for it, having a speedlight may be useful, but I generally do not like the look of artificial light and flashing people with it. Still, if the subject is OK with it, having fill-flash can be helpful in some situations.

Shoot from a Distance

Until you are more comfortable getting close to your subjects, shoot from a bit farther away. I do not mean pull out your telephoto, though. Instead, look for environmental scenes with interesting characters and take a documentary approach. Shooting from across the street can make you feel more at ease.

X100T @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/480, f/8.0
X-T3 + XF56mm f/1.2 R @ 56mm, ISO 160, 1/480, f/1.8

Take Pictures of Street Musicians (Buskers)

Buskers are used to having their picture taken. However, busking is how they earn a living!

So, before you start to shoot, drop a couple of bucks into their hat, making sure they notice you doing so. Now you can shoot away to your heart’s content. Take your time, shoot from different angles, and play with the light. If the entertainers have a card, take it and tell them you will send them some images when you are done.

X100T @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/320, f/8.0
X-T2 + XF18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS @ 55mm, ISO 800, 1/250, f/8.0

Shoot From Behind Glass

Many novice street photographers have a fear of being confronted by their subjects. Try shooting into a building from the street. The safety of the window gives you a bit of perceived protection! Remember though, if you get caught, make sure to smile!

X-T3 + XF56mm f/1.2 R @ 56mm, ISO 200, 1/125, f/1.2
X-T2 + XF50mm f/2 R WR @ 50mm, ISO 2500, 1/125, f/2.0

Photograph the Backs of People

Who says that you need to see your subject’s face? Shooting from the back is a great way to photograph without being seen. Look for characters wearing interesting clothing and hats.

X-T2 + XF23mmF2 R WR @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/160, f/2.8
X-T2 + XF35mm f/2 R WR @ 35mm, ISO 400, 1/1700, f/2.0

Photograph Street Animals

Who doesn’t love a good shot of a dog or a cat? Furthermore, shooting street animals often leads to conversations with their owners, making an excellent segway into shooting a street portrait too! When photographing animals, don’t forget to get down low. A close, wide perspective makes for far more interesting shots.

X-T3 + XF56mm f/1.2 R @ 56mm, ISO 2500, 1/125, f/1.2
X100F @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/500, f/10.0

Set the Stage

I use this technique when I find an interesting background and good light. I take the time to watch people come and go and observe how the light hits them, or how a certain background element interacts with them. Once I understand the scene and know what I want to capture, I frame up my image. I pre-focus where I want my subject to be, and then I wait for the right person to enter my stage.

X100T @ 19mm, ISO 800, 1/100, f/8.0

Patience is key here. I don’t click the shutter button when just anyone walks by. I wait for the right person. Maybe they are wearing a fabulous hat, or their coat is flowing behind them. Resist the urge to fire at anything that moves. Be deliberate in what you capture.

X100T @ 23mm, ISO 6400, 1/70, f/11.0
X100F @ 23mm, ISO 1250, 1/125, f/5.6

Capture Silhouettes

Capturing silhouettes in street photography is a great way to anonymously capture subjects. Look for strong backlighting or a bright window to act as a background and wait for a subject to pass in front of it. Use your exposure compensation to underexpose your image or spot meter on the light source.

X100F @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/1250, f/8.0

Both these techniques will throw your subject into shadow while correctly exposing your background. Take care not to overlap the silhouetted elements in your frame so that you capture clearly defined subjects. And once again, be patient. Wait for interesting characters to walk into your image. Silhouettes can be a lot of fun, so experiment with this technique.

X-T3 + XF50mmF2 R WR @ 50mm, ISO 160, 1/600, f/11.0

Use Contrasty Light

Most photographers tend to hang up their gear when the light is harsh. However, this is a great time to play with light and shadow in street photography. Look for pockets of light and observe how the light plays off people walking in and out of it. Look for pops of color coming out of the darkness. When you are shooting in these conditions, pay careful attention to your exposure. Use your exposure compensation to dial back a stop or two to ensure that your subject is correctly exposed as they step into the light.

X100F @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/350, f/8.0
X100F @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/550, f/8.0

Wait for the Decisive Moment

Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of street photography, said in an interview with the Washington Post, “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.” Capturing the decisive moment takes a bit of luck, quick reaction time, and a good knowledge of your camera.

X-T2 + XF50mm f/2 R WR @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/100, f/2.8
X-T2 + XF50mm f/2 R WR @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/8000, f/2.8

Learn the Right Way to Approach Strangers

A word of warning, making street portraits is addictive! I remember being so nervous when I made my first portrait of a stranger. But once I had the image I was on a natural high! I think I asked another half dozen strangers that afternoon if I could make their portrait!

X-T2 + XF50mm f/2 R WR @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/6400, f/2.2

The key to getting permission to take a stranger’s picture is flattery. Don’t go racing towards someone, camera waving, yelling, “Hey, can I take your picture?” No, approach them with your camera at your side. Tell them that you love their smile or the way their hair is being backlit in the afternoon sun. Talk to them and let them know that you are a street photographer documenting life in your town. Once you have established a rapport, then ask them, “Would you mind if I make your portrait?” I have found that by using this approach, nine times out of ten I get my shot.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when you are creating street portraits. Firstly, as I have already pointed out earlier, make sure to have your camera settings prepared before you approach someone. You do not want to be fumbling around with your camera when they say yes. Also, take your time.

Once someone has given you permission, they are usually open to having several shots taken. If the light isn’t right, ask if they would mind moving a bit. After you capture their image, show it to them on the back of the camera to get their feedback and reaction. Many will be psyched to see themselves captured with a nice camera, and will be willing to pose for more shots if needed. And lastly, offer to send them an image. I keep my business cards with me for just that reason.

X-T2 + XF23mm f/2 R WR @ 23mm, ISO 200, 1/340, f/2.8

Show Gratitude

Don’t shy away from complimenting and thanking the person who agreed to be your subject. This is the least you can do. You can certainly walk away by thanking your subjects, but do give them an opportunity to see the photos you’ve taken by offering them your business card.

Some people will actually contact you to get the photos. And if the subject loves their photo, they might contact you in the future for their photography needs.

X100F @ 23mm, ISO 1000, 1/125, f/2.0

Taking street portraits is extremely rewarding and a great way to meet wonderful people. Give it a try, but remember my warning!

Street Photography FAQ

How do I get started in street photography?

To get started in street photography, all you need is a camera (any modern camera, including a smartphone, will do), and public space to photograph. Start with a busy location with lots of people, and see if you can find something or someone interesting. Observe people’s behavior and appearance, and aim to showcase a clearly defined subject to the viewer. Watch for patterns, textures, lines, and always try to take advantage of available light to bring out your subject(s) in the best way possible. Use compositional rules to position your subject, and watch out for distractions that might take away the viewer’s attention.What is good street photography?

Good street photography showcases the lives and the emotions of people at a given moment of time. They show clearly defined subjects, tell their story, as well as bring emotions to the viewer. If a photograph is able to make the viewer pause and ask questions, it is often considered to be a successful street photograph.Does street photography have to have people in it?

That’s up to the photographer to decide. While some photographers might argue that street photography has to show people, others believe it is perfectly OK to photograph public spaces by themselves without anyone in them. Personally, I take a more laid back approach. While I believe that street photographs do not need people, they do need the suggestion that someone was there.Why is street photography so popular?

Street photography offers many different opportunities to practice creativity, as well as a chance to document the lives of people and their surroundings. Many photographers find street photography to be rewarding because it is their way to showcase different moments of time.Is street photography legal?

In most countries, photographing public space is perfectly legal. In the USA, it is legal to photograph any subject within the public space without needing their consent. However, one has to exercise caution and understand local laws and regulations, as well as consider photography ethics when doing street photography.Is it illegal to take a picture of a random person?

Unless you are on private property, or there are specific rules for the public space you are in (such as “no photography” signs, etc), photographing random subjects is not illegal.Do I need a model release for street photography?

Most countries do not require model releases for street photography. In the USA and Canada, you do not need a model release, as long as the person is within public space. It is always a good idea to review the local rules and regulations before doing street photography, as they might vary by country, and sometimes even by region.

Conclusion

When you first venture into street photography, don’t get too hung up on the definition. Instead, record street life from your own unique perspective. Experiment with different focal lengths, until you find one that resonates with you. Play with light and how it illuminates your subjects. But most of all, have fun.

If you want to hone your photographic skills and are up to the challenge of capturing emotions, gestures, and moments in time that tell a story, then give this genre of photography a try. If you do, you will find that capturing life on the streets in ways that make the everyday seem extraordinary is extremely rewarding. Additionally, you will find that your photographic skills improve! Consequently, the things that you learn shooting street can be applied across the other genres of photography that you like to shoot.

source: https://photographylife.com/author/liz

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