Street Photography and the Great Beyond of Individual Existence

by: Sergio Burns

Street Photography and the Great Beyond of Individual Existence

Light, shadow and colour, not to mention brightly decorated trees, sparkling street illuminations and snow? Well, maybe snow. Okay, you guessed, well done you, yes, yes, yes, it is Christmas.

At this time of year I like to sift through my favourite memories of the previous 11 months and pick out, for me, the best moments. In music, Britney Stoney’s O.D. just oozed class and was featured on the Churchill insurance advert with the skateboarding dog – I actually loved her video too. My favourite book was Brian Merchant’s deep research of Apple : The One Device – The Secret History of the iPhone. The iPhone? Well let me tell you that the iPhone has the best selling camera in the world.

I also had the privilege of interviewing and writing features on some of the best street photographers around in 2019. Great for me, because as well as someone who likes to practice street photography I also like to think quite a bit about it, to let it tick over in my mind, to think about what street photographers are trying to do, and I have a theory they are, in some existential way, all really trying to find themselves. All looking for their own personal Idaho.

Every year I look at a lot of photographs, which, for me, is sheer joy. Each photograph offers a chance to work out who the people are, what they are doing, where are they going to/coming from?

With the above in mind, this year I have curated five photographs which, for whatever reason, resonated with me and I wanted to talk about.

In 2019 I have looked at some really great shots, and those I have listed below are excellent examples of street photography. I am not saying these are the BEST photographs of 2019, but these are five shots which captured my imagination and I want to share with you.

In November I interviewed Yiannis Yiasaris, an astute, thoughtful shooter whose Coca Cola project absolutely captivated me. The documentary-street photography set was centred around a series of shots Yiannis had taken which somehow related to the Coca Cola brand. It is a very…sociological, existential and psychologically corporate project.

The world in motion stalked by powerful representations of a fizzy drink.

The contemporary capitalist world as part of a massive movie set, where one raindrop, frozen in time, is stolen from the biggest ocean in the world.

Copyrightⓒ Yiannis Yiasaris

A bearded man in a blue turban sitting in a Domino’s Pizza is turned toward the street photographer. The world beyond the multinational restaurant chain reflected in the glass. Office skyscrapers, symbolic of corporate success reach toward the heavens, the branded universe reflected in the windows of the pizza house, and in reflection in the top right hand corner of the photograph the word ‘enjoy’.

So, ‘enjoy’ what? Why Coke of course! And then the soundtrack : Holidays are coming…

Copyrightⓒ Adam Miller

Like the solitary man in Yiannis Yiasaris’ photograph, New York’s Adam Miller also chooses a lone figure. A man caught in a blizzard, a newspaper tucked neatly under his armpit, maybe he’s been reading a review of Brian Merchant’s book on Apple?

Who is he? Certainly sharply dressed and young(ish). A hard working executive type, heading home to his wife and kids, or maybe he has just left his mistress and is now cursing staying so long when he knew the weather was closing in? ‘Where are all the New York cabs when you want one?’

This is a super lonely photograph, whoever the man is, wherever he is going to and from is irrelevant. He now finds himself in the teeth of a storm beneath a street light somewhere in New York.

For me he looks as if he is just about to disappear beneath the snow which might be a metaphor related to his job – drowning in work? Help me here, but, for some reason, I always associate this image with Radiohead’s How To Disappear Completely (which is from the band’s Kid A album, 2000)

Copyrightⓒ ILAN BURLA

Ilan Burla can always be counted on to lighten the mood. His photograph of two ladies, I assume, heading from a local beach made me smile. This is one photograph I really like.

His use of the back view, makes me think they are moving away from something – enough sunbathing for one day? But look at the swim costumes? Psychedelic street, acid street, and the low slung…bum bag (literally) and hint of a tattoo on the leg of the woman to our left draws us in. The phone in the palm of the lady to the right – has she read The One Device?


Notice also how other pedestrians are drawn to the ladies, and the guy to the left, looking at the photograph, with his camera poised ready. Street photographer taking a photograph of a street photographer taking…yeah yeah we get it…too complex…

Copyrightⓒ Gustavo Minas

Equally intriguing is Gustav Minas shot of the girl with an umbrella looking down at her phone – her iPhone? – while a blurry Spiderman swings toward her.

The girl is a meme of contemporary existence. How much time do we spend looking down? An awful lot. It made me wonder how much time we spent on our phones or looking at our phones in any one day?

Her girlfriend, just out of focus is looking over toward her perhaps seeking her attention while the Spiderman is swinging toward her to let her know her friend would like to engage her in conversation.

This is the city as that giant movie set. Light hitting the street is reflected yellowish from the rainwater.

Copyrightⓒ Gonzalo Goméz

Lady Looking Back and Nun Gonzalo Goméz and Gustavo Rosas

Why, is the first word that springs to mind when I look at this photograph. Why is the lady with the knee length sexy boots looking back? What is the nun, to her right as we look at the photograph, thinking or doing, or is she speaking? ‘Dios mio!’ (Oh my God), Spanish because the street photographers this photograph is attributed to are Uruguayan.

Has someone wolf-whistled. Maybe the lady in the boots is part of the ‘Yo Tambien’ (Me Too) movement, maybe the nun is also offended. With one gesture a man (and we presume he is a man) has offended a young liberated woman as well as a woman wedded to Jesus Christ – which somehow seems fitting for Christmas.

The above are a few photographs I curated from the interviews I have undertaken and features I have written this year.

Good as they are I am not claiming they are THE best photographs of the year, only that they intrigued me enough to want to write about them.

Maybe these photographs say something different to you. That’s great…

Right now I am listening to REM’s Shiny Happy People. What else would anyone be doing at 9.30 on a Friday evening only days away from Christmas?

40 Inspiring Examples of Street Photography

by: Stephanie Kay-Kok

Street photography can be either easy or difficult to pick up, depending on your perspective. On the one hand, you have a wealth of interesting subjects to photograph. You don’t need to plan a photo shoot or buy special gear to get awesome shots. If you live or work in a city, great street photography is right at your front door.

Bahadır Bermek – sweetcorn seller Turkey – Istanbul – Taksim

On the other hand, street photography comes with ethical challenges that other photography genres don’t have. Questions of privacy and respect are often discussed, as not everyone appreciates being photographed unknowingly.

Street photography can be beautiful, fascinating, and even necessary for photojournalism. But it can also be obnoxious and disrespectful, causing anger and resentment. In some areas, you could even get into trouble for taking street photos.

For example, France has strict privacy laws, which includes street photography. And in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, street photos of sex workers are forbidden. You could try it, but your camera might end up getting thrown in a canal. (Try one of these beautiful Amsterdam neighborhoods instead.)

In many places, though, street photographers are given a lot of freedom. They can legally take photos without asking permission as long as they’re on public property where privacy can’t be expected.

But then, the law isn’t everything. As photographer Jamie Windsor says in this thought-provoking video about street photography, “Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it’s ethical.”

When you start dabbling in street photography, you have to consider what your ethical standards are. For instance, is it okay to publish humiliating photos of people? Should you ask for permission before taking photos of children? Are any photos off-limits from an ethical standpoint?

These are tough questions you’ll have to answer for yourself. But regardless of your standpoint, here are some techniques and ideas you can apply to your own street photography.

Street Photography

The following ideas and techniques can help you take stunning street shots that are candid and authentic, yet also respectful.

Play with silhouettes and shadows.

Shadows and silhouettes are classic elements in street photography. They’re mysterious and interesting, yet familiar and commonplace. You can find good silhouettes and shadows everywhere in a city. As a bonus, they help disguise the identities of the people you’re photographing, so they can remain anonymous.

Ömer Diyelim – Shadows

Danny Santos – Untitled

Giuseppe Milo – Sunset in Tiraspol – Moldova – Street photography

Joao Cruz Santos – The lord of the streets

Shirren Lim – walk in the light.

Capture the environment.

Much of street photography focuses on people, but the surrounding environment is no less important. Like including people in architectural photos, including architecture and other surrounding elements in your street photos can help provide context and depth, making your images more powerful.

Gokulnath – Blue street

Shirren Lim – .sunset in nepal.

Bryon Lippincott – Silhouette and Cloud

Fabio Boer – Violinist in Lubiana

Frame your subject.

Framing is a compositional technique used to guide the viewers’ attention to the main subject. It’s like putting a frame around a piece of artwork to make the artwork stand out. Only in photography, this frame doesn’t have to be a four-sided box. It can be anything that highlights your subject by surrounding it on one or more sides.

Giuseppe Milo – Under the snow – Dublin, Ireland – Street photography

Michiel Gransjean – Untitled

Amlan Sanyal – MUMBAI

Nimit Nigam – Blue Morning….

Use juxtaposition.

Juxtaposition is when you place two subjects close to each other, so the viewer will naturally compare them. Of all the techniques in this list, juxtaposition is perhaps the trickiest. You have to find a comparison worth photographing, and then you have to wait for both subjects to be positioned just right.

And then there’s the question of respect. Sometimes, juxtaposition is used to misrepresent people or mock the culture being photographed. However, you can also create humorous and interesting juxtapositions without this mockery, as the photos below demonstrate.

For more examples of juxtaposition in street photography, check out the work of Ilan Ben Yehuda, who uses humorous yet insightful juxtaposition in his street photos of a Jewish community in Jerusalem.

Adam B – London 2018

Ferry Noothout – Hi there….I am real!!!

Eric Kim – London, 2014

Find symmetry.

Symmetry can give a street photo a sense of organization and harmony in the middle of a chaotic city. While you might not spot exact symmetry very often, you can find elements of symmetry quite easily. Consider the symmetry of streets, windows, stairs, and other urban features which may seem unremarkable at first, until they’re composed perfectly in a photo.

M. Accarino – Monotony

Dom Crossley – Ofxord Street Sunrise

Giuseppe Milo – FEAR – Dublin, Ireland – Color street photography

ands78 – Untitled

Experiment with motion blur.

Cities are constantly active. Day and night, you see movement on the roads and sidewalks. Cars, cyclists, trams, pedestrians, buses… There are a lot of moving subjects to photograph. Instead of freezing these subjects in a moment, try working with motion blur, so your photos capture the relentless energy of the city.

Bahadır Bermek – Look at me Turkey – Istanbul – Taksim

Amine Fassi – Street Peek

Bahadır Bermek – Panning Turkey – Istanbul

Tuncay – wet night

Hemzah Ahmed – Eight o’Clock…

Empathize with individual people.

Candid photography and street photography often go hand-in-hand. While some street photos are posed (like the Humans of New York portraits), the majority capture genuine moments, expressions, and emotions. This authenticity is one thing that makes street photography so compelling.

To get nice candid shots in street photography, you’ll need to work on taking shots without being noticed. (For tips on that, check out our post: 8 Ways to Get Candids Without Being Noticed.)

Besides going unnoticed, you’ll get the most meaningful candid shots if you empathize with the individuals you’re photographing. Step into their world and see what they’re seeing. This empathy will deepen your understanding of the situation and allow you to capture the real picture.

Ramesh SA – Light

saddarkness – proud grandma

Ferry Noothout – Relax with a good book in Lisbon….

Mario Nipoti Ranzini – The wait

Watch social interactions.

Emotions are most likely to come out when people are interacting. Whether it’s the joy of friends laughing, the boredom of kids shopping with their parents, or the love of a mother and daughter walking together, you can capture a wide range of emotions when you watch people interacting. Every conversation is a story waiting to be photographed.

Ferry Noothout – You can walk under it…believe me.

Ferry Noothout – Meeting point and a chit chat

Ferry Noothout – Mother and daughter in Philadelphia…

Ferry Noothout – Waiting is boring….

Look for unique scenes and situations.

When all else fails, look for something unusual. As every urbanite knows, unique scenes happen every day in a city. If you walk around for a while, you’re sure to find something interesting to photograph.

However, if you prefer certainty over spontaneity, search online for local events and peculiar city sights, then plan your photo walk around those. At the very least, it’ll give you a good place to begin.

Ferry Noothout – With Christmas Charles Dickens is back in town…

Nimit Nigam – Hawa Ka Jhokha…

Matthew Johnson – Precautions

Xavier D. Buendia – The beauty of street photography

Franck-Emanuel GOGUER – (Bordeaux – France) Unreal

Many of the above photos were selected from our fantastic Flickr community. Next time you take some cool street shots, post your photos in our Flickr group or tag #thephotoargus on Instagram, so we can appreciate your work!

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.


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.



Member Gallery November 2021