Familiarity with our environment often results in fantastic street photograph opportunities being overlooked in spite of them being right in front of our eyes. Without the application of good street photography techniques, such opportunities can pass us by.
Gaining confidence to get closer to your subjects is the key to successful street photography. These street photography techniques are intended to help you do just that. Follow our advice and you will capture the special scenes as they unfold before you and produce interesting street images.
Street Photography Tips for Beginners
Street Photography and the Law
There are low-level legal issues when shooting street photography such as including commercial brands in your images. If you are selling to microstock websites then you may need eliminate any brand names or have them cleared.
It is vital that you do not break the law when shooting street photography and you should always prepare for this by applying common sense. If you are in a foreign country, be aware that they may have different laws to back home so always research this.
Be Confident But Show Respect
The first thing to be aware of is that if someone doesn’t want to have their photograph taken then don’t do it. Even if you are not doing anything wrong from a legal point of view, always respect your subjects.
Be aware of your subjects situation and do not photograph vulnerable people or someone in an awkward or unpleasant position. The question to ask ourself is, “Would I feel comfortable with having my photograph taken in this situation?” If not then move on.
If you go about taking photographs in a sly manner or look nervous, people are more likely to be suspicious than if you act positively. Therefore, you are less likely to experience confrontation if you are unobtrusive yet confident.
Know When to Walk Away
One of the most useful street photography techniques to learn is when not to shoot. Experience will teach you when an image is worth taking and when it is not. Can you shoot the photograph quickly enough to avoid interrupting the scene? If the answer is no, then its best to leave.
More importantly, you don’t want to put yourself in danger. Taking pictures of a private or sensitive nature can land you in hot water. For example, if you get caught photographing people arguing or fighting, you could find they stop fighting each other and gang up on you!
Notwithstanding the advice above, remember that street photography is about capturing a moment and being spontaneous. It should also be an enjoyable and exciting way to create photography. However, trust your common sense and remove yourself from any potentially dangerous situations.
How to Approach Street Photography
Capture What You See to Create Better Images
Best Street Photography Situations
Learn about what makes good street photography. The ability to capture something happening, a spontaneous moment makes a good street image. Try to capture what comes your way and tell the complete story within the image.
Use other sources as a reference for what makes a composition work and try to discover the street photography techniques involved. Think about how the photographer has captures the humour or drama of the moment and research the equipment used. This link offers some superb examples of the application of street photography techniques.
Should I Take Street Photographs Alone?
You can be more inconspicuous as a solo street photographer than with someone else or in a group. Therefore, it is usually more advantageous to be alone on a photo shoot. However, photographing subjects in the public domain can be daunting as a beginner so taking a friend can help to build your confidence. You also have the advantage of someone else’s view and this could throw up more photo opportunities.
Plan a Route Before Embarking on Your Street Photography Shoot
Look at a map of the place you plan to shoot and try to think of what might be the most productive locations for your street photography. These could be places were there are a lot of people or there is space to give you plenty of room to take photographs. Plan your route in advance to take in these locations but don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track a little every now and then. Once you have a route planned, you can concentrate on applying sound street photography techniques to create better images.
Search for a Good Background
Find the right photography background and wait for the best photo opportunity to arise against that backdrop. This approach can take patience but can be a viable alternative to looking for the perfect moment for a street photograph.
For photographs where location is important such as when incorporating travel photography into composition, add a sense of location to the image. This can be achieved by the inclusion of landscapes, buildings or even street signs that may give the location away.
Street Photography Equipment and Tools
Understand the Most Essential Lenses and Equipment for Street Photography
The Best Kind of Camera to Use for Street Photography
Whilst you can use any camera to take photographs on the street, it is probably not a good idea to carry a DSLR around all day. When choosing a camera for street photography, you are looking for portability as a heavy camera will become a burden after a while and a large camera will make you more noticeable.
Speed is another important consideration. A quick camera that allows you to easily set lighting and hyperfocal distance will allow you to capture a fast-moving street scene.
Having a wide-angle is also a useful feature. Most good street photography techniques require something in the region of 28mm.
The Richo GR camera is made with street photography in mind and is a small APS (Advanced Photo System) sensor camera. The camera has a feature called full press snap whereby if you fully press the shutter release, it will default the focus to a set level.
Other Ricoh Cameras such as the Ricoh GR-1 will also serve well for street scenes. This has the unique feature of dictating autofocus or hyperfocal depending on how you use the shutter release. A drawback of this camera is it sometimes allows dust to enter the camera.
Consider carrying a good, compact point-and-shoot camera to give you the option of capturing chance situations.
Digital cameras have the important advantage of the ability to instantly review images so that you can make adjustments for the next image. The emphasis in is the subject matter and to capture the moment. Therefore, in many situations, the best camera settings to use for street photography is the camera’s own program mode. This allows you to concentrate on reacting to situations. Pay attention to light, however, as some conditions may require manual override.
The Ideal Street Photography Lens
Long lenses isolate subjects from their environment and are therefore do not lend themselves to the ideal street photography techniques. Circumstances in the street may throw up more than one subject and this can have major bearing on exactly how much of a scene you include in your composition.
With this in mind, wide, intimate images are not possible with long lenses. Shoot with lenses between 28mm and 50mm for the best results.
Street Photography Techniques to Avoid Being Seen
Take your camera everywhere so that it feels like a part of you and have it set, ready to shoot. Set the camera strap high if you wear it around your neck. This will reduce movement when taking photographs.
Apart from your camera, the most basic piece of kit you need pay attention to when photographing scenes on the street is your clothing. Try to wear dark clothes as bright colours will make you stand out.
Always Have Backup Memory
Imagine how frustrating it would be to miss a great shot because you’d run out of memory. The best street photography techniques involve working at a scene by taking multiple shots. This can be a memory-hungry technique so be prepared.
In the old days, professional photographers would deliberately use up the final frames before reloading a new roll of film to avoid missing a good shot. This logic still applies today.
How to Execute Street Photography
Create Great Street Images with Confidence
What is the Best Time to Shoot Street Photography?
As with any type of photography, timing and, in particular, lighting is vital. In summer, mornings and evenings are good times to take photographs.
Do I need Permission to Take Photographs in a Public Place?
It is legal to take photographs of people or places in most countries if you are in a public place. You should, however, take careful notice of the laws and customs of the country and surroundings as taking photographs can get you into serious trouble.
Something else to bear in mind is the intended use of your images. You may need a model release form for any images intended for use in stock photography.
Perform thorough research before you photograph strangers in the streets as every country has its own customs and legislation.
Communicate With Your Subject to Capture Candid Street Portraiture Photography
Some photographers can feel more daunted by the prospect of having a conversation with their subject than by just going ahead and capturing a candid image. If you take the advice of the point above and ask permission of your subject before shooting, this can combat fear and put your subject at ease.
It’s a good idea to show the subject the resulting image and tell them why you chose to take their picture in the first place. This generates goodwill with your subjects and stands you in good stead for the future. If your subject requests a copy of the image, give them your card or exchange email addresses so you can email the photograph.
Where is the Best Place to Begin Taking Street Photography?
A bustling public environment such as a market or event is a good place for beginners to start. You can mingle with the crowd the cover that this affords can help you to conquer any fears about photography in public. At a public event, performers expect to be photographed and make for good, engaging subjects. Performers are on public display so this should create a safe environment for the beginner photographer.
When applying the best street photography techniques to location, try to concentrate on one small area, rather than being overwhelmed by attempting to photograph a whole city.
Develop Quick Reactions
Make allowances for the location of your picture shoot. In busy locations such as city centres, carry your camera in your hand so you can shoot photos quickly, if required.
To take this a step further, you may like to keep your eye to the camera for longer periods of time in really congested areas. This gives you the chance to react almost instantly to changing situations.
Find Interesting Street Photography Subjects
It take time to find and interesting subject but patience will pay off in the end. Often, one interesting element will not make a good picture by itself. Waiting around for something to happen can be time-consuming but a change in the scene can add to the original element to create a winning street composition.
Look to combine elements to create humour or odd juxtapositions to create an interesting scene. Remain alert because an apparently static scene can suddenly burst into life and have you scrambling to capture the best picture.
Shoot Plenty of Frames
Don’t make the mistake of taking a single image and then leaving the scene. If you find yourself in an interesting location, stay and take multiple images while the scene changes and develops.
Street Photography at Night
Night Street Photography Challenges
Night Street Photography Settings
A shutter setting of between 1/160th and 1/60th is best for most conditions but it may be possible to use a 1/250th setting in lighter locations. It is difficult to capture good images at 1/60th as it requires steady hands, and the ability to stay completely still for the long duration of the shot. This can be achieved with some practice.
Its better to use a handheld camera to be able to react quickly to situations and capture the moment. However, you may wish to use a tripod to occasionally, for example, a busy location with many people and a high level of movement. When using a tripod, try slow shutter settings.
All night-time street photography techniques require a long duration because of the exposure required to capture the required detail. Consider using a wide-angle lens of 28mm – 50mm to make the use of a handheld camera easy. The ability shoot at f/2 will increase opportunities. ISO levels need to be set at ISO 3200 or even ISO 6400 in some conditions
For street photography, it’s usually better to go handheld because you never know very well what interesting thing will happen, and where it’s likely to occur. However, one of the right times to employ a tripod is when you wish to capture a busy scene, with lots of motion and people.
Try to use a high ISO to get the correct exposure for your images. However, sometimes, especially when photographing at night, you have no choice but to shoot in areas with insufficient light. Sometimes the compromise is worth it to capture an image with exceptional content.
Seek the Light Sources First
Start each shoot by locating an area with a good primary source of light and then be patient and wait for something worth photographing. Whilst you are waiting, observe how the light falls on the subject. Subjects may be hit by light as they pass by a stationary light source providing opportunities for interesting compositions.
Another method is to point the camera at the light source. Here, the source itself becomes central to the composition and the light is not as bright on the subjects but this can create some interesting effects.
When to Use Flash Photography on the Street
Exercise caution when considering whether or not to use the flash as it can lead to disagreement. Use the natural street light where possible to avoid confrontation.
The big advantage of using a flash is that many of the restrictions of night-time photography no longer apply. Your images can have less grain, you can utilise fast shutter settings and incorporate more depth of field.
To make the most of the situations where the flash can be used, ensure that the subject area is covered by the flash light and the background is dark. You can also use settings similar to shooting without the flash and use the flash light to highlight the foreground.
Night Time Street Photography Should Be Dark
Don’t make the mistake of trying to make night-time images look light. They are meant to be dark and to look like they were taken at night. Make sure you capture all of the aspects of the scene with dark shadows and areas that are hard for the viewer to see. Use the histogram and make sure that it is closer to the dark end of the scale.
The camera will try to over expose any image shot at night if you use automatic settings. This may create a bright image where everything is visible but it won’t have the feel of an image taken at night. Override the automatic settings and lower the exposure.
Experiment with Distance from the Subject
Shooting photographs at night throws up more opportunities to capture beautiful background photography that isn’t possible during the day. If a spectacular background reveals itself, try making this the main focus of the composition and making people secondary to this.
By shooting further away, you don’t require fast shutter speeds to capture the movement of your subject. From close up you will need a setting of something like 1/125th of a second and 1/160th of a second from distance.
Perfection is not Always Possible
We all strive to make our images crystal clear and sharp but there are circumstances where a little artistic licence can produce stellar images even if they are not technically perfect.
This is more true when photographing street scenes at night than during the day. Daytime images should be of a higher technical standard than night as the conditions should be better. The content of the composition is what really matters at night and images can still be interesting and valid.
Experiment with blur at shutter speeds around 1/30th and 1/60th. This can add a little motion to your images to create the impression of movement.
Take Care When Photographing at Night
Nightlife makes an excellent subject for street photography. Ideally, you should look for where the action is in any town or city and try to capture the characters and the stories they create. However, this may not be safe depending on the location of your shoot. Don’t use heavy equipment and be careful where you go. In addition to applying sound street photography techniques, you should exercise caution when considering taking photographs of people and consider taking someone with you. Caution is necessary with any aspect of street photography and especially at night.
Should I Use Colour or Black and White Images?
Recognise that Colour and Black and White Photos Can Evoke Different Feelings
Black and White Street Photography or Colour?
This is a question to which there is no right or wrong answer. Black and white can lend a timeless, classic quality to many subjects and also has the effect of reducing the effect of distracting colourful features from the composition. This puts more emphasis on the subject of the photograph.
Sometimes colour is a vital part of the scene and you will want to reflect this in the final photograph. It is a matter of judgement and artistic interpretation as to whether colour or black and white is used.
Black and White Silhouette Street Photography Techniques
Silhouettes can make interesting street photographs and photographing in black and white can add an atmosphere. Always make sure that the subject is thought-provoking and can be easily recognised. This type of composition works best when it is clear what the subject of the photography is.
Street Photography Techniques Conclusion
One of the best aspects of street photography now is there are no official rules. There is no official street photography camera. The camera is a tool to help you achieve your artistic goal. Nobody can tell you what is or what is not street photography, although we think our post on what is street photography will give you some ideas.