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 with 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.
What is Street Photography?
Street photography is about capturing people, places, and cultures in a candid fashion.
What Makes a Good Street Photographer?
A greet 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.
How to Do Street Photography?
Start slow. Use the camera and lens combination that gives you the greatest confidence. Find emotions and expressions and follow your heart.
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 towards 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 towards 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 have 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. He would often make his composition and then wait for the final piece to fall in 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 the 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. Set your Auto ISO maximum shutter speed at a level you are comfortable with. Ideally, it should be the inverse of the focal length you are using. 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. 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.
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.
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 to shoot 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.
Check out our article 9 Best Lenses for Street Photography in 2021
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!