You’ll find all sorts of tips out there – what to shoot, what not to shoot, the best settings for street photography. You might as well throw them all out the window because street photography doesn’t abide by rules.
That’s the magic of street photography, isn’t it? Finding and capturing those unexpected moments in everyday life. If you’ve ever felt the urge to bring your camera along on walks through busy streets or new locations, by all means give street photography a try.
We put together some excellent tips to help you (an aspiring street photographer), to make the most of the genre to produce spectacular shots.
Tip #1: Reconsider your equipment and try to blend in
The first tip is to be conspicuous. Imagine walking the streets and seeing someone with a giant telephoto lens aiming a shot at you. That would make you quite uncomfortable, wouldn’t it? You have to put yourself in the shoes of the inhabitants and really try to blend in a little.
It’s advisable to use a compact camera that is lightweight and isn’t the standard DSLR. Yes! That’s street photography secrets. You have to respect the personal space of people around you and especially the people that are going to be in your shots. Get a compact camera and get into where all the action is.
Tip #2: Getting up close and personal
Instead of zooming in and compromising the quality of your photos, come closer to your subjects. Use a wide angle lens and focus on being at the right place, at the right time instead of passively snapping pictures and zooming in. Move your feet, don’t focus on your lens.
Remember to be respectful of people, make sure you’re a comfortable distance away. Some of the best pictures are the ones that are taken from a very close distance, just meters from all the action. Be observant! Keep your eye out for subjects that interest you and action that’s always evolving as part of the liveliness of the streets.
Tip #3: Trust your gut to capture the moment
Your initial instinct might be to shoot everything that catches your eye. And it’s true, so many moments on the streets seem special and worthy of being captured on camera. With street photography, you have to develop an editing eye. You need to pay attention and spend more time observing and people watching.
Instead of coming home with thousands of pictures that you’ll have to sift through, try to focus more on quality and not quantity. Street photography doesn’t wait for anyone so get out there and really learn to look, more so with your eyes than your viewfinder.
Tip #4: Experiment at different times of the day
The streets most literally transform at peak hours. Early mornings are special because you might get very unique shots with little activity, there’s also the golden hour and an opportunity for night photography. Be mindful of all these great timings because timing really is everything with street photography.
Each time of the day will give you different lighting conditions. You can come back to the same spot and never get the same image. It’s therefore worth your time to experiment with the different times of the day. After all, lighting is what makes a photograph.
Tip #5: Learn to ask for permission, don’t get discouraged by hostility
Sometimes you know you’ll have a winning shot if you just catch that one person that stood out to you. Many street photographers will say that you just have to learn to ask. Candid shots are usually those taken when the subjects are unaware and going about their tasks but don’t be afraid to meddle with your shots a little.
Learn to ask, you never know what your next encounter will bring. Let them know you find them interesting and ask to take a portrait shot. Some people might be on board and maybe even feel flattered that you chose them. If you stumble on hostility, this is also routine procedure. Just move on.
Tip #6: Keep an eye out for dramatic lighting and juxtaposition
The success of many street style photographs is the element of surprise. What you’re essentially doing is capturing much too familiar places and showing them in a new light. You’re capturing a moment, a fragment of the day that will never be the same.
What I mean by dramatic lighting is the play between two extremes – light and dark, shadow and light. This is the sweet spot for a lot of great street photography shots especially if you’re shooting black and white.
A lot of the magic of street photography is about juxtaposition – the juxtaposition of humans and their environment. Look for surroundings that will help you send a message, something that’s a little contradictory. People’s emotions and their facial expressions also fall under this point.
Tip #7: Chill, in case you’re worried about street photography and the law
What throws many photographers off from shooting people on the streets is the fear of, ‘is it legal’? The only time it would be illegal is if you were to use photographs with people for commercial purposes. If you’re not selling the photographs, you can keep them as part of your personal collection.
If you’re planning to sell your photographs with stock websites, you can classify them as ‘Editorial use only’. This means that your photographs don’t have any release forms and can only be used for editorial purposes to illustrate an event or a story.
If anyone questions what you’re doing as you’re photographing on the streets, compose yourself and kindly explain to a stranger what you’re doing. Smile, and remember that some people will just naturally be curious about what you’re doing wandering the streets with a camera pointing at the crowds.
Tip #8: Don’t just photograph, be a storyteller
You are the quiet observer, the creator behind the photographs. You choose your subjects carefully, and you work with the context around you. Keep this in mind – you are also telling a story, one that won’t be the same tomorrow.
What distinguishes snappy photographs of people and great street photography is this element of storytelling. What are you trying to communicate? Why did you choose your subjects? What kind of emotions are you trying to convey? If it takes someone a few minutes to study your shots, you’re doing something right. Ask yourself these important questions as you’re taking photographs.
Tip #9: Steet photography secret – shoot from the hip
Of course you like being in control of your shots. You have to see what you’re shooting to be able to get those winning images. Remember that there will be times when this simply won’t be an option as you’re standing in front of remarkable street scene. Shooting from your hip, without looking into the viewfinder is a method many street photographers use on occasion.
It’s true, you don’t know how the shot will turn out but you’re also getting a different perspective. Shooting from the hip will also produce more candid pictures. They’ll be a surprise when you look back at them but remember that it’s also the ultimate discrete move.
Tip #10: Make it a habit, go out there and do your thing
Take your camera with you everywhere! When your camera isn’t there, take pictures with your phone. The truth is that everyday there’s something going on, someone walking by that’s an image waiting to happen and unique situations that just won’t wait for the day you have your camera with you.
As a last piece of advice, you need to practice and learn to see to be able to perfect your photography. Many of the tips here will maybe nudge you in the right direction but remember that you will get better with practice. Street photography is an art in its own and those that discover the magic of street photography never look at everyday life the same way.