Five Tips to Help You Take Your Street Photography to the Next Level – Petapixel

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The art of street photography can be an extremely rewarding experience for photographers who are looking to capture the current state of the human condition. Candid street photography has allowed artists to capture the nature of the world and reflect on how society truly acts when it does believe it is being watched. If you’ve begun your venture into the world of street photography and already have a good handling of the basics, here are some tips to take your work to the next level.

Disclaimer: Before I begin, I would like to point out that the photographs I am using in this article were shot by myself. I am far from the world’s best street photographer, and my photographs are simply here to illustrate possible points of focus on your next adventure. However, if you do indeed like my imagery, I thank you very much for your kind words. In addition, everyone’s style of capturing art is different, so if you disagree with my tips – that is perfectly okay!

Stop Being Afraid of People

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The number one issue that fledgling street photographers have with their craft is that they are afraid to approach people. Due to the idea that street photography is a focus on the humanity around us, this can be quite a significant problem. A good portion of learning to overcome your fear is understanding what exactly you are afraid of when it comes to people – do you think they will yell at you? Do you think they will attack you? In practice, I’ve never had anyone react violently or viciously towards my process, but I’ve also never tried to take photographs of someone I believed might be hostile or whipped my camera out in known crime areas of the city.

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There are two methods for snapping a photo of someone; one is to ask their permission, and the other is to not ask their permission. Quiet simple, right? Obviously, asking their permission would kill a candid moment, but you can obtain some excellent portraits from the situation. Just last week, I was in a restaurant with my camera when I saw a gentleman in what could only be described as a ‘dapper suit’. I kindly asked him if I could take his picture and was able to get him to stand exactly where I wanted. That photograph now sits on a roll of film next to me, ready to be developed. The worst that could have happened? He could have given me an odd look and said no, then I would have gone on with my day.

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When people see your camera, they want to know why you are taking photographs and that your intentions are pure. If you capture a snapshot of someone and they look at you, simply smile back and bow your head – a simple action like this sends positive signals and helps to comfort people who may be wary. If someone asks why you took their photograph, be honest; tell them you loved their hair, the clothing they were wearing, or the way the light was shining on them. If you decide to approach someone for a photograph, be sure to smile and have an air of excitement to your words. The key is to put people at ease.

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Your fear of people will take time to overcome. By simply going out on the street and snapping more photographs, you will find yourself becoming more confident. Just remember to smile and be honest with your subjects; they may be wary of the situation, but your entire demeanor will direct the situation. Also, be sure to carry business cards on you, many people want to see their snapshot once it is developed!

Learn to Look for the Moment

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Many photographers don’t know what they should be taking photographs of when they go out street shooting. I can’t tell you what to shoot exactly, but I can tell you what I look for when I am out around town. As I walk, I tend to focus on what people are doing and the expressions on their faces. For me, emotion is a large part of street photography; I am trying to capture the joy and hardships of life with my camera. I keep an observant eye to see what the people around me are feeling. A couple smiling together while at a coffee table, a woman collapsed on her knees in stress, or a man lost deep in thought – all ranges of emotion I aim to capture.

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You may find that when street shooting, your own interests weave their way into your photos. I have a great joy in shooting photographs of people reading magazines or books. I cannot tell you why these subjects bring me as much joy as they do, but my mind finds them as points of interest. I also personally love to depict people in suits against contrasting environments – maybe a properly trimmed businessman against the poorly maintained tiles of a subway station.

You must find an interest and photograph it yourself. Just remember that you are capturing life around you and that life is made up of emotion – that is the human element.

Learn to Wait for the Moment

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In complete contrast to my last tip, you must learn to also wait for the moment and be patient. Unless you are on the streets of a major metropolis, chances are there won’t be a million opportunities walking around. However, you can create your opportunities.

Find an area where the light or background is perfectly as you like it and then just wait. Chances are that someone will walk by the spot you are waiting, and you can snap a picture of them perfectly setup in your ideal scene. If you lucky enough to be in a busy area, you may be able to wait for exactly the perfect subject.

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While I was in New York City recently, I saw a rusty old metal garage door aside the sidewalk. I could see, on my left, a man approaching. I raised my camera and framed the metal door. Within seconds, the man walked into my frame, and I snapped the photograph I wanted.

While the world may be full of moments around you, use your eyes to note spots of interest – strong areas of light or simply interesting backdrops, and then wait for your subject to walk into your frame. As the famous saying goes, “let them come to you”.

Take Closeups of People

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The majority of street photography today seems to be taken from quite a considerable distance, whether the photographer is using a telephoto lens or simply taking a wide angle shot, no one wants to get close. However, did you know that you can take close-up photographs of people without them even realizing it?

One possible method is to stand close to someone and take a picture of something above them (it can be a tree leaf – get creative). Then, when you are bringing the camera down, you snap their photo. Many people will think that you had taken a picture of something else and then are reviewing the image. Unaware that you are not chimping, but instead continuing to photograph, you can obtain some stunningly up-close images.

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Another option is to pretend you are taking a quick panorama and snapping the photograph as you pass the subject. It is important to note that because of your hand’s movement, you will need a relatively fast shutter speed for this trick.

Lastly, an option I had not even considered, but was introduced to me on a Facebook group, is to make use of your camera’s built-in Wi-Fi capabilities. Simply hang the camera around your neck, initiate remote control from your smartphone, and then snap away without people even realizing what you are doing. I can’t speak for all manufacturers and mobile applications, but the iOS app for theFujifilm X100T allows complete manual control over the unit.

These tips won’t always work, but can be an excellent way to try and get that close-up photograph you want.

Acknowledge that Street Photography is Not Perfect

21 street photography tips from the professionals – Matt Stuart – Nick Turpin – David Solomons

Fantastic street photographs are readily available in every public space, but over-familiarity with our environment means we often miss out on special moments and scenes unfolding in front of us.

These street photography tips will help you see those decisive moments and learn to trust your instincts. Once you’ve picked up the confidence to get close to your subjects and you’ll be able to use your camera as a mirror of society and come away with unreal, witty and dramatic-looking shots.

Street Photography Tips from Matt Stuart

Before he discovered his passion for photography, Matt Stuart was a professional skateboarder and also indulged in a brief, ill-advised affair with Kung Fu. Matt’s father, keenly aware that his son wasn’t going to be the next Bruce Lee, introduced him to photography. Matt lives in London and makes his living shooting on the streets. More of his work can be found on Matt Stuart’s website.

1. Plan a street photography route

I have a street photography route. It’s made up from the places in London that are most fruitful – these are the places with the most people and also where the pavements are widest so there’s more room to work. Every now and then I’ll go ‘off-piste’ and try somewhere new.

2. When NOT to take photos on the street

The key to not interrupting a scene is to be quick. The longer you’ve been shooting street photography, the easier you’ll find it to take what you want and leave. It’s important to know if an image is worth taking, though. Ask yourself if it’s worth the hassle – for example, taking a picture of someone wiping a baby’s bottom is bound to get you in trouble, as is photographing a drug deal. I have a gauge of the people I’m going to photograph and if it’s worth it. I used to try to photograph fights when I saw them but I don’t now – it’s not worth aggravating two people whose adrenaline levels are soaring. All the attention can easily be turned to you, the person with the camera.

3. Street photography and the law

Whether or not you should worry about including commercial elements in your shots depends on what you’ll end up doing with them. If you sell them on to a stock library you may need to make sure that the image within the image is cleared. I don’t sell my pictures to stock libraries so I worry less about these issues.  I’ve had a few run-ins with the police when I’ve been photographing on the streets – I stay polite and try to explain to them what I’m doing.

4. What to do when confronted

When people spot you taking a picture of them, smile – it works! Sometimes just looking at anything but the person you’re photographing is good too. A switched-off iPod is useful as if people ask you what you’re doing you can pretend to be listening to music.

5. Do I need permission to photograph people on the street?

I don’t get permission. I don’t interact with the people I’ve photographed. You only need permission/releases if you’re going to sell the picture for commercial use. I can’t imagine asking the people I photograph for releases, as it would take forever and probably be quite awkward.

6. How to avoid being spotted when shooting street scenes

• Wear dark clothes. Bright colours will make you stand out.
• Keep your elbows in when you’re shooting.
• Have the camera set. Don’t play around with exposures too much. Be ready to shoot and go.
• If you wear the camera around your neck, keep the strap high so there’s less movement between bringing the camera up to your face.
• Take the camera with you everywhere. Get so used to the camera that it feels like a second skin.

Street photography tips from Nick Turpin

Nick worked as a photographer on The Independent in the UK for seven years, leaving in 1997 to pursue his personal photographic ideas. He founded the international street photographers’ group, in-public, with the aim of bringing street photography to a new and wider audience. Nick makes his living by shooting on the streets for clients who include VW, Sony and IBM and he’s taught street photography at Tate Modern, Yale School of Art and on the Discovery Channel.

 See his work at Nick Turpin’s website.

7. Learn from street photography books and photography websites


The best street photographs are moments, they contain a happening and usually one that, a moment ago, you didn’t see coming – that’s the difference between street photography and reportage, you’re not photographing a ‘subject’, you’re simply out to see what comes your way in the busy change and flux of a public place. Generally, street photographs are self-contained. It’s the humour, a narrative or some drama that makes them work without the presence of other images – they’re one-offs. Look at a lot of good street photography in books and on the web. See why the pictures work. See how the photographer made the joke or framed the moment. See what devices photographers have used on the street.

8. Street photography locations 


Don’t try to look at and photograph a whole city, it’s overwhelming. Instead concentrate on a small section of a street or a corner – that’s where street pictures happen.

9. Choose interesting street photography subjects


Finding a subject can take lots of time. Often I’ll find someone who looks interesting and hang around or follow them, in the hope that something will happen or come the other way that suddenly makes a wonderful scene. One day I followed two bald men in suits; they looked interesting but they weren’t a picture on their own. First they went past a hat shop with lots of hats floating on poles that made an amusing Magritte-type picture. Then on a corner two workmen came in the opposite direction wearing hard hats and a lovely juxtaposition was made. I often create a picture like this – find one element and then try to add to it. Occasionally you’ll turn a corner and find a picture just waiting to be taken and then you have a mad scramble to get into the best position to shoot it.

10. Always carry your camera

I think most street photographs are made during the course of an ordinary day. Of course I go to the city specifically to shoot, but the number one rule is to carry your camera at all times, always be ready to make a picture… this improves your luck vastly.

11. Learn to work fast

I get the most satisfaction from shots taken so quickly that I barely had time to think about why I was taking them; pictures that are a raw reaction to a small trigger. I took one shot of a man running fast, outside Liverpool Street Station, predicting roughly where he’d be by the time I’d raised my camera. It was over in a second but the photograph reveals a fleeing mugger being chased by the young businessman, whose phone he’d stolen. It’s this ‘revelatory’ aspect of street photography that I find appealing.

12. The best time for street photography 


The moment is always paramount, good light can add or detract from it but it rarely ‘makes’ the picture in itself. I’m more concerned with quantity of light than quality of light because I need upwards of 1/250th of a second and a decent bit of depth of field in order to freeze my subjects. Having said that, the morning and evening are particularly nice times to shoot, especially in the summer months.

13. Where to shoot from in street photography 


Stand close to people and shoot with a small, slightly wide-angle lens – you look more conspicuous when you’re standing across the street.

14. Shoot plenty of frames


When something is good, don’t take a single frame and leave. Watch the scene develop and change, picking out the best moments to make your picture.

15. Street photography in crowded places 


Put yourself in a place where there are plenty of people about and you should be able to make a good street picture at pretty much any moment. You’ll develop a sense of whether a particular place is going to deliver or not – it’s a bit like getting a few bites when you’re fishing. If there’s a buzz, then hang around. The trick is to maintain your focus and concentration and not let a photographic trip turn into a shopping or drinking excursion.

Street Photography Tips from David Solomons

David Solomons loves London for its never-ending supply of colourful characters and its changeable cityscape – and has lived there most of his life. He completed a BA in Documentary Photography at Newport, South Wales in 1996, and has been working freelance since then. He’s been shooting street photography more than 17 years. See more of his work at David Solomon’s website.

16. Always have plenty of memory available

I’ve mostly missed shots where I didn’t have my camera with me or it was lying in my bag. In the film days, most pros – especially press and sports photographers – would burn off the last few frames of a roll and reload in case they missed out on an important moment. Much of street work involves taking a single frame of a specific subject matter but it’s important to try to work at any particular scene as most of the time you’re unlikely to get the best shot first time.

17. Pick the best focal length for street photography 


Any small portable camera is suitable for street photography and the camera  of choice has historically been a Leica, though I’ve never used that system.  I’ve mostly used SLRs and other rangefi nders like the Contax G2 and a Ricoh GR1. I think using a fixed focal length of between 28mm and 50mm encourages more discipline as it forces you to be more active and thoughtful in your composition.

18. How to avoid confrontation when shooting street photography 


I think trying to remain unobtrusive as opposed to unseen is important. People become more suspicious if you try to take pictures sneakily or if you look nervous, whereas if you act as though you’re doing your job and you project a more positive body language, then you’re less likely to encounter problems.

19. Which camera mode to use for street photography

In most situations, I find using the camera’s Program mode to be very reliable and it certainly gives you one less thing to worry about in terms of reacting quickly to subjects. Because I’ve shot a lot of transparency film in the past, however, I’ve learnt where certain tricky lighting situations can fool the camera’s metering, so when I encounter that I switch to Manual. The great thing about using digital is that you can review exposures immediately and adjust accordingly. A quicker method is to use the exposure compensation setting if I feel I need a quick adjustment in P mode but, of course, you need to remember to zero it again when you’ve finished.

20. What type of lens to use for street photography


Using a long lens isn’t a good option as it isolates a subject from its environment and produces a very different type of shot to traditional street photography. Many interesting situations in the street involve more than one or two subjects, so that should be a major consideration when deciding how much of a scene you include in your pictures. Long-lens shots don’t allow for a wider, more intimate viewpoint, and the vast majority of memorable street work has been shot with lenses between 28mm and 50mm.



21. Quick reaction times


I think you have to take into consideration where you’re taking pictures. For example, when I’m in London I’ll always have my camera in my hand as opposed to hanging on my shoulder as I know that events can unfold very quickly so it’s important to be able to react fast to things. In really busy areas such as Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus, I’ll sometimes just put the camera to my eye for 10-15 seconds at a time and if I see anything interesting come into frame – I know I can react to it within half a second. I think in a less congested area it’s not as important to go to those levels but I’d say it’s always good to have a small point-and-shoot compact to hand wherever you go.

Street Photography Tips for Beginners – ROMANAS NARYŠKIN

It is a very natural urge for photographers to document the swirling life around them. We often find ourselves drawn into, as observers, a number of situations and noticing interesting details about other people on the streets. Photographically capturing these moments is a very different thing, however. While landscape photographers will usually find themselves alone and sports photographers are expected to point huge lenses at people, it is a much more self-conscious process to photograph random people in public places. I am sure many of us have regretted leaving our cameras in the bag in the face of interesting everyday situations. In this article, I will provide several street photography tips for beginners. Hopefully, it will help you start using your gear more freely without fear of being confronted by your subjects.

1) What is Street Photography?

In essence, street photography is a type of candid photography done in a public place, be it a street, a restaurant or even public transport. It is similar in approach to photojournalism and mostly involves people (and/or animals) in a populated environment (which provides the context of a story told), such as a city. However, street photographers often focus on everyday lives of strangers rather than some kind of important event photojournalists are more interested in. Usually, street photographers try as much as possible to stay unnoticed when photographing. The goal of street photography is to capture scenes unaffected by the author of the work so as to show a natural story and subject. Story and subject are possibly the most important aspects of a good street shot. Henri Cartier-Bresson, arguably the best street photographer of all times, “the father of photojournalism”, had once said: “Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.”

Street Photography Tips for Beginners

Noticing and telling a story through a photograph is one of the most difficult tasks to master when doing street photography. Crucially, it involves the not-so-simple matter of actually taking the shot.

2) Be Daring About It

There’s no point in talking about gear and various street photography tricks unless you actually push yourself to take a picture. Now, it may not seem like such a big deal when reading this article, but once you’re out on the street, things can get a little less comfortable. Sure, every now and then people may smile at you or pay no attention to your camera at all, which is preferable. But at times, you may find yourself in less than friendly situation. See the image above? The two young men on the right started swearing at me while still about a hundred meters away. I didn’t put my camera down, but it wasn’t easy not to do so. They made interesting subjects in the end and I liked the emotional contrast between them and the old lady. Interestingly, it also gave me an idea of bringing a friend along whenever I felt like doing some street photography.

Street Dancer (1)

 

Canon EOS 5D Mark III + EF50mm f/1.2L USM @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/320, f/2.0

Even when not dealing with the aggressive type, it takes a lot of courage to invade someone’s private space by photographing them without permission. Think of your motives. Why are you taking these photographs? Are you actually doing anything wrong in any way? Would you be angry or annoyed if you saw some other photographer taking a picture of you? There’s no reason why anyone should be angry at you for taking their photographs, unless you give them the reason to be angry. It is important to know how to behave in a friendly manner and not make your subjects angry. Getting into a conflict could potentially ruin both your and your subject’s mood for the day. Try to look friendly and interested, smile at people who notice you – being obviously secretive can lead to suspicion. Be sure you are not doing anything illegal. Read up any laws concerning photography in public places (you can start by reading our “Know Your Rights as a Photographer” article). In most countries such photography is permitted. Sometimes you may be approached by authorities when you’re not doing anything wrong – stay confident. However, photographing children, for example, may get you in more trouble. Laws concerning them are often more strict.

Of course, you may want to choose a different approach and actually ask for permission to take an image. While it will disrupt the natural turn of events (mind you, no one can guarantee anything worthy of attention will happen in the first place), some people make interesting subjects even when deliberately posing for your shot. Read more about approaching strangers in our “Are You Afraid to Ask?” article.

Street Dancer (6)

 

Canon EOS 5D Mark III + EF50mm f/1.2L USM @ 50mm, ISO 2500, 1/320, f/2.5

If you still feel uneasy, but really want to try your hand at street photography, start with simple situations. Not in all cases you will find your subject facing you. Finally, take up simple measures to draw your own attention away from being self-conscious. Try listening to your favorite music while you’re out, for example. This may help you feel more like an observer of the life surrounding you rather than a participant, and distance you from any unwanted reactions.

3) Alright… But what if I Don’t Want to Be Noticed?

It gets a lot easier to remain hidden once you’ve learned how to react when you’re seen taking the picture. Natural behavior attracts much less attention. First and foremost, learn to anticipate. This will help you keep that camera off your eye for longer, yet allow you to capture that decisive moment. Watch everything around you. Look at what people are doing, where they are going and who are they likely to run into on their way. Notice the surroundings, too. Look for interesting shapes, colors, posters, ads and secondary subjects. Get into a suitable position beforehand. If there isn’t one, keep moving around. Finally, once you can see that story unfold, be quick about taking your photograph. Have the settings right before you even start, and pre-focus to an anticipated distance if you can – it will save you precious seconds. At that point, all that’s left to do is bring that camera to your eye and snap away.

Street Photography #3_

You can also practice a more discreet technique by shooting from your waist with the camera hanging around on the strap. Just stop down your lens, choose a hyperfocal distance to ensure everything within reasonable focus distance is sharp, and shoot away merely by pointing your camera in the right direction. With time, you will find yourself getting to know your lens better. You will then handle composition much more confidently, too.

If, by a probable chance, you do get noticed and don’t feel like smiling in apology, don’t take the camera off your eye after you’ve taken the shot. Just keep photographing things around you, or pretend to do so. Turn off your auto-review function, too – your subject may not even realize you’ve photographed them already. Always remember – those people out on the street are probably just as afraid of talking to you as you are of photographing them. It is likely they will try to pretend they haven’t even seen you.

4) What Gear Should I Use?

Now that you’re ready to storm the streets, it’s time to choose best tools for the job. What sort of camera and lens should you bring? In short – use anything you have. If it’s a big, professional DSLR – good for you. If it’s a point-and-shoot or a budget 5 megapixel smartphone – just as well. It’s best if there’s some manual control available, as in certain cases you may want to choose specific exposure settings. On some occasions, you may also prefer to set focus manually.

Street Photography #1_

Street photography started with Leica. Today, this is where mirrorless system cameras come in their own. High quality, fast, small and quiet, they are likely among the most discreet photographic tools you will find and share many of the properties that made Leica rangefinder cameras so popular decades ago. Mind you, a pink Nikon J2 will get you noticed quickly, but an Olympus OM-D E-M5 should be a cracking camera for the job. Black or metallic colors work best. Still, don’t worry if you don’t own a mirrorless camera. Even with its loud shutter and big size, the more noticeable DSLR can also be great for street photography, as can lightweight, pocket-able point-and-shoot cameras. Remember that due to weight, size and overall presence, DSLR’s will require more skill in handling discreetly.

Lenses make for an interesting debate. There are photographers who believe using longer focal length and thus standing further away helps stay unnoticed and ensures that the subject remains natural. I personally find it to be a slightly creepy approach, never having used a longer than 85mm focal length for street photography (on a FF camera). Imagine a photographer pointing a monstrous 70-200mm lens at you from the other side of the street! I can’t see someone being too happy about it. Lets face it – large gear is scary for the non-photographers. All those huge white and black lenses are intimidating and will hardly leave your subject smiling, not to mention friendly even the slightest bit. This is one of the reasons why many good street photographers prefer small, wide-ish angle prime lenses. Among other things, these lenses also help with discretion. The most important advantage of a wide-angle lens is, however, the sense of presence. A perspective drawn by a wide-angle lens pulls the viewer in, makes him feel as if he’s in the captured image. As if he’s part of the story unfolding. Such a lens also allows for more background, which means more context.

Tele-lenses, on the other hand, compress perspective leaving out more detail that may otherwise be interesting. They make the subject seem more distant. Looking at an image taken with a 200mm lens feels like you’re looking at something that’s very far away. It’s just not as involving to observe. For this reason, I usually choose a wider-angle lens, ranging from 50mm to 24mm or even less. Your preference will vary.

5) The Settings

When doing some street photography, I prefer to rely on manual exposure settings. This is because AE (auto exposure) readjusts shutter speed and/oraperture whenever you change framing. Settings chosen by AE hugely depend on the amount of lights and darks within the frame. So, if I want to photograph a person walking down the street, but frame my shot so that there’s a lot of sky in the picture, AE will underexpose. I find manual exposure to work quicker than AE-Lock, but that’s a matter of taste. I set up and fine-tune my camera exposure whenever I have a free minute. I try to memorize the exposure difference between light and shadowy areas of the scene. On a sunny day, the difference might reach even 3 stops!

Street Photography #5_

Depending on the results you’re after, you will want to choose a decently quick shutter speed to stop movement. During day-time it’s not a problem, but as soon as light levels start to diminish choosing a higher ISO value will become essential. Consider 1/200th of a second to be your approximate minimum. At times, you may want to slow down your shutter speed in order to achieve movement blur around your stationary subject, thus separating it within the frame.

Aperture’s easy – select a value that leaves you with a quick enough shutter speed and also plenty of depth of field for backgrounds and foregrounds.

6) Shallow Depth of Field Doesn’t Matter

Let’s face it – shallow depth of field is often enough to make even the most simple photograph look good. It is only too easy to get caught up in shallow depth of field aesthetics. Point that cheap 50mm f/1.8 lens at an old shoe and done – looks awesome. Even though it’s just a shoe. But we are not fooling anyone in street photography. Here, shallow depth of field is far from being enough to make that picture good. It’s about time we remember our lenses can also be stopped down to actually increase depth of field.

By no means am I saying you can’t do street photography wide-open. As a matter of fact, very rarely do I ever stop down my lens even slightly. But learning how to shoot with most of the frame in sharp focus can be a great experience. Extensive depth of field helps provide more background to the story, literally. Also, it counters any slight focus errors that may happen. Every now and then you may notice you’ve captured more than one interesting subject in the frame. Imagine being surprised at your own image! Whenever you’re out looking for good photographs, make shallow depth of field one of the options rather than default choice.

7) …Nor Does Image Quality

Don’t take my words straight to your heart – you should always stride for high image quality when possible, unless you expect lower quality to add to the mood of your photograph. However, in street photography, this aspect moves down the list of importance. Subject, mood, story, light and composition – all these things are ultimately more important than sharpness and low noise. Getting the mentioned points right will result in a great photograph even if it’s somewhat blurry and noisy. However, even the sharpest image will be worthless if there’s nothing to really look at apart from crisp detail and clean tones.

Street Photography #4_

Capture the moment using whatever settings necessary. As long as you make out faces and shapes, as long as there’s good light, interesting story and well thought-through composition, there’s a large enough probability you’ll be glad you did.

8) Final Words

Look for particularly interesting subjects and focus on the story. Don’t lose your head trying to photograph every stranger you meet. By doing so, you are likely to fail to notice something that’s really worth your attention. Try to separate the more interesting people. Can you see someone eating on the run? Or is someone reading a paper and not looking properly at where they’re going? Is there someone heading for a deserted alley? Try finding a good background for your images, look for interesting light to emphasize your subject, possibly separate him from the rest of the world around.

Street Photography #2_

Most importantly, raise your camera swiftly and without doubt so as to not miss that crucial, “decisive moment”, so craved by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide for Street Photography – Erick Kim

Marseille, 2012. Photo by Eric Kim
Marseille, 2012. I saw this man passed out on the beach, and took about 5 photos. This one turned out the best.

If you are a beginner in street photography, all you need is this guide to get started. I was quite frustrated when I started street photography. I had no idea what camera to use, what settings to use, what to look for, how to approach strangers, and most of all– how to overcome my fear of shooting in the streets.

All of the information in this guide are my opinion and isn’t the only “right” way to shoot street photography. But I hope it is a good starting point. Take everything with a pinch of salt– take what you want, and leave the rest.

What is street photography?

Downtown LA, 2012. I saw this guy in a Starbucks, talked with him for a while, and asked if I could take a few photos of him. He said yes.

 

Downtown LA, 2012. I saw this guy in a Starbucks, talked with him for a while, and asked if I could take a few photos of him. He said yes.

The first question you might be thinking is: “What is street photography?”

Simply put, street photography is about documenting everyday life and society. I personally don’t think street photography needs to be shot in the street. You can shoot at the airport, at the mall, at the beach, at the park, in the bus or subway, in the doctor’s office, in the grocery store, or in any other public places.

Furthermore, street photography is generally done candidly (without permission and without knowledge of your subjects). However I personally don’t think that street photography has to be candid. You can ask for permission when taking a photograph of a stranger. I don’t think just because a photo is candid makes it any better than a photo with permission. The most important thing in street photography is to capture emotion, humanity, and soul.

Therefore if you are drawn to taking photos in public (of mostly people) you are probably interested in street photography. Also as a side-note, I don’t think that street photography has to include people in it (although the best ones generally do have people in it).

So don’t worry so much about what “street photography” is and isn’t. The most important thing at the end of the day is creating powerful, compelling, and emotional images.

For some of my more in-depth thoughts about the definition of street photography, you can read my article: “What is Street Photography?

Cameras, Lenses, and Technical Settings in Street Photography

If you are curious what cameras, lenses, and technical settings are ideal in street photography– check out my guide below:

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide for Cameras in Street Photography

What to look for when shooting in the streets

Okay so now you have your camera, lenses, and technical settings sorted out in street photography. Now what do you look for when you’re out on the streets? Here are some things you can look for:

1. “The decisive moment”

Henri Cartier Bresson, 1932. The "Decisive Moment" of the man about to land in the puddle.

 

Henri Cartier Bresson, 1932. The “Decisive Moment” of the man about to land in the puddle.

“The decisive moment” was a phrase coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the earliest practitioners of street photographers. “The decisive moment” is the same as the “Kodak moment” where everything comes together in a perfect moment, and you hit the shutter. So essentially it is capturing the photo with the perfect timing.

But realize “the decisive moment” is a bit misleading. There can be many “decisive moments” when you’re out shooting in the streets. This means if you see a good street photography scene, don’t just take one photograph. Take a ton of shots (I recommend 10-30 photos if possible). Even Henri Cartier-Bresson took 20+ photos of a single scene (if he thought it was interesting enough). Then afterwards in the editing process he would choose which image he felt was the best.

You can catch “the decisive moment” by the position of a person in the frame, in their facial expression, in their hand gesture, or their action or movement.

2. Juxtaposition

Zurich, 2011. Note the "juxtaposition" of the figure on the left and right

 

Zurich, 2011. Note the “juxtaposition” of the figure on the left and right

In street photography, you can create a strong image by juxtaposing elements in your frame. Juxtaposition is essentially a fancy word for contrast. But to be more specific, juxtaposition is when you put two different elements in a frame that directly contradict one another (while having a relationship). For example: taking a street photograph of a fat man next to a skinny man, a grandmother next to a child, someone in a red shirt in front of a green background (juxtaposing colors), etc.

To create a strong juxtaposition shot, you can either start off by looking for an interesting background (let’s say a billboard of a man looking happy) and waiting for someone who looks really happy to enter the frame.

Another strategy could be looking for certain emotions in people when you’re out on the street, and trying to find emotions of other people in the street that either are similar or dissimilar– and include them in the frame.

3. Emotion

London, 2012. Note the emotion in the man's face and hand-gesture. What do you think is on his mind?

 

London, 2012. Note the emotion in the man’s face and hand-gesture. What do you think is on his mind?

To me, the most memorable street photographs are the ones that have strong emotion and show some sort of reflection on the human condition. This can include happiness, pain, sadness, loneliness, humor, anxiety, youth, and love.

To find emotion in street photographs is difficult. First of all, you have to find the emotion in the streets through peoples’ body language or facial expressions. Then you have to be quick enough to take the photograph before people notice you. However if you do it well, you will create a compelling and emotional image that people can connect with on a deeper level.

4. Graphical/visual elements

1x1.trans Street Photography Composition Lesson #7: Perspective

 

© Rene Burri / Magnum Photos. BRAZIL. Sao Paulo. 1960.

Not all street photography needs to be super emotional. Some street photographs are purely visual images– that appeal to our sense of geometry, composition, and composition. These images are generally shot in good light with nice lights and shadows, have strong diagonal lines, leading lines, curves, and shapes of interest.

5. Focusing on details

Downtown LA, 2012. Sometimes just by focusing on the hands, you can make a more powerful image.

 

Downtown LA, 2012. Sometimes just by focusing on the hands, you can make a more powerful image.

Some of the best street photographs focus on the details, not the whole picture. When you are shooting on the streets, you can focus on small details. This means rather than taking a full-body shot of someone on the streets, focus on their hands, their face, their earrings, their hands, their feet, or anything else they are holding.

By showing less of what is going on in the photograph, you create more mystery in your image. Less is more.

6. Urban landscapes

Pittsburgh, 2013. Note the juxtaposition between the abandoned soda machines and the dilapidated buildings in the background.

 

Pittsburgh, 2013. Note the juxtaposition between the abandoned soda machines and the dilapidated buildings in the background.

I don’t think street photography has to include people in it. Sometimes you can create compelling urban landscapes that show some sort of human condition and reflection on society.

The hardest thing to do in urban landscapes is to find a scene that somehow elicits a sense of nostalgia, emotion, or societal critique. For example, photographing a run-down building can make a strong societal statement.

When photographing urban landscapes, it is also extremely important to have a nice composition, sense of symmetry, and balance.

It is hard to make interesting urban landscapes– but to better capture them you can read my guide on urban landscapes.

7. Commonly found objects

21_colors-5

 

Melbourne, 2012. A photograph of a colorful mattress I saw in a garage.

Sometimes the most interesting street photographs are of stuff on the ground. So take photos of common objects you find in public places. Get close up to them, juxtapose them against other objects, and experiment using a flash. Try to be creative and find ways to make them interesting.

8. Self-portraits

1x1.trans Street Photography Composition Lesson #9: Self Portraits

 

Self portrait by Lee Friedlander

If you have a hard time finding an interesting subject, use yourself as the subject. Superimpose yourself into your images with your shadows and reflections. Create interesting frames and compositions, and see how you can add a sense of mystery or intrigue to your images by having yourself in it.

For good inspiration, check out Lee Friedlander’s Self-Portraits and Vivian Maier’s Self-Portraits as well.

Conquering your fear of shooting street photography

Below is a presentation of some tips I have to conquer your fear of shooting street photography:

You can also see the presentation on Slideshare here.

Composition and Street Photography

To become better at capturing graphical/visual street photographs, I recommend reading my series of composition in street photography below:

  1. Composition Lesson #1: Triangles
  2. Composition Lesson #2: Figure-to-ground
  3. Composition Lesson #3: Diagonals
  4. Composition Lesson #4: Leading Lines
  5. Composition Lesson #5: Depth
  6. Composition Lesson #6: Framing
  7. Composition Lesson #7: Perspective
  8. Composition Lesson #8: Curves
  9. Composition Lesson #9: Self-Portraits
  10. Composition Lesson #10: Urban Landscapes
  11. Composition Lesson #11: “Spot the not”
  12. Composition Lesson #12: Color Theory
  13. Composition Lesson #13: Multiple-Subjects

You can also see a Powerpoint I’ve done on composition and street photography below:

You can see the full presentation on Slideshare here.

FAQ’s

Q: Do I need an expensive camera for street photography?

A: No! You can use practically any camera for street photography. I know some street photographers who only shoot with their smartphones and take incredible photos. Check out the “Tiny Collective” (all street photography done on smartphones).

Q: Does street photography need to be in black and white?

A: No! All the classic street photography was done in black and white (that is all they had back then), but some of the most exciting new street photography is done in color. Use whatever medium expresses your vision of the world the best.

Q: Is street photography illegal?

A: In most countries, no — as long as your subjects are in a public space.

Ask any more questions you may have in the comments below– and I’ll add them here!

A Cowards Guide to Street Photography – Angie Muldowney.

I love the poignancy of street photography; the way it can portray the world in an ironic, tragic, educational or funny way – often all at the same time! I would love to have the confidence to point my lens directly at someone and shoot, even from a distance – more often than not though I just don’t have the ‘hutzpah’.

Whilst I may be cowardly in this respect, I am determined, so here are some ways I have found to make the whole process a little less daunting for me and less intimidating for my subjects. This isn’t a technical guide (there are already some great ones on this very site); rather, I am suggesting some sensitive and less confrontational ways of getting candid street shots.

1. Go to a place where everyone has a camera

If you go to a popular tourist attraction or public event then you will probably stick out if you DON’T have a camera – this is the perfect environment for candid people shots as no one is really taking any notice of exactly what (or who) you are taking photos of.

2. Line up your Shot and wait for Someone to Walk into the Frame

Sometimes you can see the perfect shot in your minds eye, in which case simply set up your camera with the focus in the right place and wait for somebody to walk into the frame. It doesn’t even matter too much if they notice you as they will instantly think they have ruined your photo and may even apologise to YOU.

3. Backs of Heads

This is a great way of getting people shots without anyone noticing and can often tell just as poignant a story as if it had been shot face-on.

4. From Above

If you can get above the people you want to photograph there’s a very good chance they’ll never spot you – not many people look upwards unless they really have to. The angle may not always be ideal as you are not likely to see any faces but it’s a good way for us cowardly types to practice.

5. Look for People Engrossed in an Activity

If your biggest fear is being spotted and challenged when engaging in street photography then seek out people who are way too engrossed in a particular activity to care about nervous photographers.

6. From a Car Window

Sat in a car you are often at the perfect height to get shots of peoples faces – plus having the locks on the doors and an accelerator gives you a bit more confidence! Be safe, you will need someone else to do the driving here (although I have been known to grab my camera whilst manoeuvring in slow-moving traffic).

7. Use a Small/Unobtrusive Camera

My Canon 5D MkII camera when coupled with a big, meaty zoom lens weighs the same as a medium-sized cat and protrudes alarmingly – anyone having this pointed at them is going to feel, at best, a little unsettled. You will find you are less obvious or intimidating if you use a small point-and-shoot type camera, or even a camera-phone – you can have this ready to go in your pocket and whip it out at the last minute.

8. Shoot from the Hip

Eye-contact can be a powerful thing and pointing your camera at somebody’s face will only heighten the effect. If your gaze is directed downwards, the removal of eye-contact means taking candid photographs becomes much easier – cameras with a tiltable viewfinder are perfect for this. If your viewfinder screen doesn’t tilt then you could try one of these [ http://flipbac.com/angle-viewfinder-about.htm ] nifty stick-on mirrors; things will appear back-to-front but it means you can move the camera away from your face which is the important thing.

Alternatively, hold your camera at hip level, pop the auto-focus on and point and shoot – you can get great results this way but you will need a certain amount of luck, too.

9. Use a Stooge

If you have a little time to compose your shot, you can get an ‘accomplice’ to position themselves near your intended subject and get them to strike a pose – start out by pointing your camera at them, then deviate slightly to capture your intended subject.

10. Ask. Oh, and Smile

Sometimes you have to forgo the candid nature of the shot and simply ask if you can take someones photo – try to quickly and truthfully explain why you want the photo too. Coward that I am though, the very thought of this strikes terror in me! I have though been able to ask buskers and street entertainers for a photo, they are usually always prepared to be a willing model for a small contribution to the hat.

However you take your photos, remember to smile – I have found that is generally all it takes to turn a potentially awkward situation into something much more pleasant.

Angie Muldowney is crazy about photography. Based on the south coast of England, when she’s not out with her camera she can be found writing, drinking coffee or generally procrastinating on the Internet. You can see more of her work at angiemuldowney.co.uk