This is a guide covering street photography tips.
Capturing street photography can be an exciting yet nervous experience.
You want to capture great images, but you are also dealing with a live environment where anything can happen.
There are some tips you should know to ensure you capture the best street photography images!
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
What is Street Photography?
Street photography is about capturing people, places, and cultures in a candid fashion.
Street photography is an exciting genre of photography that offers some of the most breathtaking compositions you can ever hope to make.
At the same time, street photography can be a daunting genre. You may find street photography a bit difficult at the start.
After all, no one feels at ease pointing their camera at a stranger standing at a place one has never been before.
If that happens to you, we recommend starting with a longer lens and slowly gaining the confidence to use a shorter focal length and step in closer.
Here we have assimilated a list of the most essential tips that you are going to need to get started in street photography.
7 Street Photography Tips
Here is a list of street photography tips that we have curated for you to get started.
1. Use the Lines and the Curves and the Natural Shapes
Street photos are about drawing attention to the subject which might be something in the middle of a lot of clutter.
It may not be obvious what the subject of the photo is if there is nothing that is guiding the viewer’s attention toward it.
A lot of photographers use lines, to draw attention to the subject.
Sometimes those lines can be straight, sometimes those can be curved. But the idea is simple – you need something to draw attention toward the subject of the photos.
A tram line for example is an excellent example of a leading line that can help you to draw attention towards the subject.
Sometimes the line may not be as obvious as a tram line or a street curb.
Sometimes you may have to use implied lines like shadows or the rooflines of the buildings along a street to focus on the subject.
2. Catch Reflections
A great way to shoot street photos is to capture unique perspectives of the city on reflections.
You have to try this in the monsoon when there is rain and puddles on the streets. The hazy reflections make for a compelling image.
When you catch reflections using a water puddle you also start to see things from a different perspective. You are forced to think out of the box and experiment with different camera angles.
3. Wait for the Decisive Moment
Henri Cartier-Bresson who was arguably the greatest street photographer of all times founded this concept of the Decisive Moment.
To further explore this concept, we recommend this video by Photo Tom:
He would often make his composition and then wait for the final piece to fall into place.
That final piece could have been a person walking down the street or a cyclist or even a couple.
To achieve something like this a photographer can often have to sit and wait for hours before the final piece comes into the picture.
4. Shoot in Black and White
Sometimes shooting in black and white lets you concentrate on the subject at hand rather than the colors.
Colors can sometimes be distracting, and street photographers often want to rise above that limit.
They want to express what they were thinking when they took the photos, what they wanted to tell through that photo in a simple black and white composition.
Colors won’t add anything to the frame. It would be more of a hindrance and a confusion.
There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to shooting black-and-white photography. One school thinks that the image should be shot in color and then transformed into black and white.
The other school thinks that the image should be shot straight away in black and white. That way you can save a considerable amount of time converting the image from color to black and white.
Also when you start shooting in black and white you will have a much better understanding of how a scene will appear in black and white. You can visualize an image before you have captured it in your camera.
Whatever school of thought you follow try to play around with the different shades of gray there in the scene.
5. Choose the Lens You are Most Comfortable Shooting In
Just because the legendary Henri Cartier-Bresson shot with a 50mm prime all his life and made remarkable street photography does not mean that you can be equally successful with the same rig.
We recommend that you choose the lens that you are most comfortable with when shooting.
A 50mm prime will force you to get in close to your subject. A 35mm prime will push you even closer. That may be a little disconcerting at first.
Many photographers prefer to stay back and zoom in on their subjects from a distance. They prefer a longer lens, which is fine.
We recommend a balance between too long a lens and getting in too close.
In that respect, we recommend the 85mm prime. This is a portrait lens and is designed to capture facial details in the right proportions.
Half the street photos that a photographer captures are portraits in an urban environment. The 85mm with its fast f/1.8 aperture is the perfect lens for that purpose.
These lenses are also considered short telephoto lenses and that means you can work with them in a wide variety of situations.
Does that mean you should not be shooting with a 500mm or a 35mm prime? No, it is not what we mean. The 50mm and the 35mm primes are still two of the best lenses that you can keep in your bag.
In some situations, you need to shoot from the human eye perspective and for that, these two lenses are very useful.
6. Shoot in Aperture Priority
There is one simple rule in street photography and that is there are hardly any retakes, ever.
If you miss the moment, you miss it forever.
We don’t recommend posed shots for street photography because it is against the essence of the art.
The reason for this long prelude is that the short time you get to make an image does not allow you to tinker with the settings of your camera.
You can either focus on the composition and make the exposure or tinker with the settings which will not give you enough time to make the shot and you lose it forever.
This is the reason we recommend that you always set your camera to Aperture priority mode with Auto ISO.
If it is an 85mm lens that you are using, we recommend that the minimum shutter speed be 1/100 sec.
Set this in the Auto ISO option and every time the camera determines that the ambient light is too low for the aperture you have selected, and it needs to use a slower shutter speed (slower than 1/85 sec) the Auto ISO feature will trigger, and compensate.
Selecting Aperture Priority with Auto ISO gives you a lot of freedom to concentrate on the focusing aspect.
You don’t have to think about what shutter speed to dial. You don’t have to think about the ISO number you should be using. So, you have two fewer things to think about.
7. Aperture: Choose Your Aperture According to the Situation
Most street photographers shoot with a 35mm or a 50mm prime. Some others prefer to shoot with zoom lenses like the 16-35mm or the 24-70mm. All of these are fast lenses. Even the zoom lenses we mentioned above come with a constant fast aperture of f/2.8.
Now, the problem is many photographers feel that they must shoot at the fastest aperture available to them. We don’t recommend that.
Plus, it is not always a good idea to obliterate whatever there is in the background. Especially when you are shooting street photos.
Buildings, people, automobiles, and everything else in the background are there to give you that feeling of the street and if you completely obliterate them it takes away vital pieces of ingredients from the image.
There might be situations where a fast aperture makes sense but that does not mean that you always must shoot at f/2.8 or f/1.8.
The reason is you are looking for background blur you can easily achieve that when your subject and the background have sufficient space between them. You don’t need a fast aperture to blur the background.
But on the flip side, when you use a fast aperture your depth of field becomes too narrow and that can be an issue, especially when you are shooting on the move, hand-held.
With a narrow depth of field, even the slightest movement of the hands can cause an image to be blurry.
To further explore street photography tips, we also recommend this video by Mike Chudley:
What Makes a Good Street Photographer?
A great street photographer is one who can capture emotions and expressions while staying inconspicuous.
He or she is often that person who curates RAW human emotions in a photo forcing the viewer to ponder and think, without influencing it in any manner.
What are the Rules for Street Photography?
To be honest with you, there are no rules to street photography. One rule I follow is never to intrude on someone, be rude, or be disrespectful.
- Camera Bag
- Lens Hood
- Neutral Desnity (ND) Filters
- Tripod or Monopod
- Comfortable Shoes and Clothing
- Choose the Right Camera and Lens: Select a camera that is lightweight, inconspicuous, and easy to carry around. A compact mirrorless camera or a DSLR with a prime lens (e.g., 35mm or 50mm) works well for street photography, allowing for versatility and capturing the essence of the scene.
- Study Street Photography Techniques and Styles: Research and familiarize yourself with different street photography techniques and styles. Study the works of renowned street photographers to gain inspiration and learn about composition, storytelling, capturing emotions, and capturing decisive moments.
- Find Suitable Locations and Explore: Identify vibrant and interesting locations for street photography in your area. Seek places with bustling streets, markets, parks, or public events. Take time to explore and observe the people, the architecture, and the daily life unfolding around you.
- Overcome Fear and Interact with Your Environment: Street photography requires stepping out of your comfort zone. Overcome the fear of photographing strangers by being respectful, friendly, and non-intrusive. Practice observing and anticipating moments to capture candid and authentic images.
- Pay Attention to Composition and Timing: Develop an eye for composition by considering elements such as leading lines, patterns, contrast, and framing. Be patient and anticipate the right moment to capture engaging and meaningful shots. Experiment with angles, perspectives, and different lighting conditions to create visually compelling images.
Hopefully, the above tips may have been useful for you to begin your journey as a street photographer. The best approach is to go out and begin shooting.
Start from the areas of your city/town where you are most comfortable shooting in. Experiment, get a feel of the art and then slowly venture out of your comfort zone and explore the rest of the city/town.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are good street photography settings?
Good street photography settings often involve a balance between capturing candid moments and ensuring technical quality. Opt for a fast shutter speed (around 1/250 or faster) to freeze motion, a moderate aperture (around f/8 to f/11) to maintain a sufficient depth of field and an ISO setting that allows for proper exposure while minimizing noise.
How to get sharp street photography?
To achieve sharp street photography, consider the following tips: use a fast shutter speed to freeze motion, keep your camera steady by using proper handholding techniques or a tripod, focus on the subject’s eyes or a specific point of interest, and use a smaller aperture for greater depth of field if needed. Additionally, consider using single-point autofocus, pre-focusing, or zone focusing techniques to ensure precise focus on your subject.
Rajib is an avid travel photographer and an overall shutterbug. The first time he ever clicked an image was with an Agfa Click IV back in 1984. A medium format film camera. From that auspicious introduction to photography, he has remained hooked to this art form. He loves to test and review new photography gear. Rajib travels quite a lot, loves driving on Indian roads, playing fetch with his Labrador retriever, and loves photography. And yes, he still proudly owns that Agfa Click IV! You can find my Model Mayhem profile here.