The most important part of being a photographer is being an observer. Photographers closely observe and study the world around them and then try to capture interesting and meaningful moments in their photographs. For those photographers who love the spontaneous and observational aspects of photography, street photography is the perfect genre.
Street photography is indeed a riveting genre of photography, but becoming an expert in it is not so easy. It requires years of practice both in honing your camera skills and your observational skills. You also need to connect well with your surroundings and gain some people skills in order to convince people on the street to let you photograph them. How do you do that? Well this article should be a good start.
Let us first understand what is street photography and then we can take a deep dive into how to start street photography and some tips and tricks to help you start out!
What is street photography?
Street photography is a popular genre of photography that focuses on taking candid pictures of people out and about in their daily lives. As the name suggests, street photography is mainly done on the streets. While urban life forms a major part of the genre, rural street photography is also popular.
Street photography is a genre that combines both zen and spontaneity. You can capture the calm of your surroundings as well as the bustle and joy of the people in it. Street photography can be an exceptionally emotional and poignant genre because it captures people being themselves and living their lives without any artificial posing or instruction. It captures the daily history of people.
Unfortunately, this same quality can make street photography somewhat controversial. Since the genre, by its very nature, relies on photographing strangers, issues of consent and the comfort of the subjects can be an issue. Keeping ethics and legal issues in mind is very important for being a responsible street photographer. This is especially true for photographing children who may not be able to give proper informed consent.
Street photography is similar to photojournalism in that it captures real, unposed pictures of people. Photojournalism also has the added feature of being journalism, which means that the photographs should have journalistic value or newsworthiness. Unlike photojournalism, the goal in street photography is to capture people and property visible within or from public places without any concern for their newsworthiness.
How to start street photography?
Now that you know what is street photography, you’re probably wondering how to dip your toes in? Lucky for you, starting street photography is not that difficult. This is because unlike other genres of photography like product photography or wedding photography, you don’t need specialized equipment or a full-fledged studio set up. You can simply take your smartphone out into a public area and start shooting. These iPhone photography tips can be useful for you in starting out.
It is also useful to understand what makes for a good photographic composition in street photography. For this, you can look through the portfolios of other street photographers and photojournalists to understand what works. Do your research to figure out street photography fashions and what kind of photography is trending at the moment. Learn from the example of others and experiment with your own photographs to understand the basic principles and fine tune your own style. These examples of photojournalist portfolios can be a good place to start out with your learning journey.
Camera equipment and techniques for street photography
As we have already mentioned, you don’t need a fancy camera for starting street photography. In fact a lot of street photographers use small cameras or smartphones because they are easier to carry and less obtrusive when taking photographs on the streets. That being said, a good professional camera can definitely help you take some really high quality photographs.
One thing to keep in mind is that it's better to use small, easy to carry and understated cameras and equipment. The role of a street photographer is to be an invisible observer. Large cameras and lenses and heavy equipment like tripods etc. can be obtrusive and cumbersome. They are also flashy and eye-catching which causes them to be overly visible to bystanders who can become intimidated or conscious of being photographed. This prevents you from taking natural looking street photographs. Some mirrorless cameras do have a silent shutter mode, which is great for street photography.
A popular camera mode for street photographers is aperture priority. This mode allows you to simply select an appropriate aperture based on the subject matter and the depth of field, and the camera will automatically determine other variables like shutter speed and ISO. For example, if you want to get as much of the scene in focus, you could set your aperture to f/5.6 and above. The camera will then determine the optimal shutter speed and ISO based on the given aperture.
If you want to use manual camera settings for street photography, the following can be useful guidelines. Remember that there is no one way of taking street photographs and you may want to use different camera settings based on your style or the subject you are shooting. However, if you are just starting out and don’t really know what to do, these camera settings should work well in most scenarios!
Narrow aperture settings allow for a greater depth of field. This is useful in street photography because it helps in taking spontaneous photos and capturing fast moving subjects like cars or children running around.
An aperture of f/8 to f/11 should work well for most street photography where the subject is not more than a few feet away. This gives you good depth of field while still maintaining the sharpness of the subject.
Moving subjects are common in street photography. Subjects like moving cars, children playing, people walking or moving about often form the main focus for street photographers. For subjects like these, a fast shutter speed is necessary. This allows you to take sharp, focused and yet dynamic photographs.
A shutter speed of around 1/250 seconds in the shade and around 1/1400 -1500 seconds in the sun is good. Change up the shutter speed based on your own experience and circumstances. For example, if you are standing still while shooting a group of people walking, you will need a slower shutter speed than if you were shooting fast moving traffic.
In street photography you are mostly trying to keep the shutter speed fast to capture moving subjects while keeping your depth of field as good as possible. This requires a high ISO. An ISO of about 400 in direct sunlight, 800 in light shade, 1600 in dark shade and about 6400 for night photography is recommended. If you are using an entry level camera, you may need to choose a lower ISO depending on your camera’s capabilities.
Here are 9 Top Tips on how to take amazing street photographs:
Spontaneity is key
Spontaneity is an important aspect of street photography. Capturing scenes from the day to day life of people on the street, in the moment, is part of the genre’s description. You will rarely find the opportunity to plan or predict how a day of shooting will go. It is important to be observant and keep an eye out for moments that can be photographed. A lot of these moments tend to be very ephemeral and disappear in a moment. Be ready to whip out your camera at a moment’s notice to capture a sudden event like a bird taking flight or a person suddenly laughing. Sometimes, photos taken spontaneously don’t always turn out like you want them to and that’s okay. Candid photography is different from posed photography. It does not always tend to create the results you want. Trust your gut and let yourself fully embrace the moment even if it doesn’t always result in a great photograph.
Shoot from a distance
When photographing strangers for street photography, it might be a good idea to keep your distance. This is especially true if you are a beginner photographer. This is because you may not have the confidence or people skills to shoot people up close yet. People might get uncomfortable if you try to take close ups of them or they may refuse to consent. It is better to take a documentary approach as a beginner. Observe your surroundings and look for interesting situations and people. Try to take photographs from a distance, for example across the street. This also allows you to focus more on the scene itself rather than the people in it. This can give your photos extra depth and allow you to tell a story through your work. Here are some more beginner photography tips that every rookie photographer will appreciate.
Use windows as barriers
When you are new to street photography you may feel confronted or intimidated by people. It’s not always easy to get up close and personal. Shooting from behind a glass pane, for example a window or from inside a building can help you. The glass gives you a protective barrier through which you can photograph without having to actually confront your subject. Windows also give a sense of a fourth wall and allows you to emphasize the invisible observer aspect of your role as a photographer. Windows can become an excellent prop and framing device for your street photography while also giving you a sense of safety and comfort which is important for any newby street photographer.
Use different locations
A lot of street photography tends to focus on busy urban centers but don’t feel constrained to only use these locations. Rural areas can also provide brilliant inspiration and opportunities for street photography. The focus in street photography is always the subjects and not the location. The goal is to capture the details and bring the place alive. Hone your craft by photographing different kinds of places, both urban and rural as well as busy and quiet neighborhoods. Shoot at different times of the day to understand how lighting and atmosphere changes affect photographs both in terms of technique and mood. Focus more on the area that you live in and the areas surrounding it. Familiarity with locations is a big part of street photography and shooting what you know is useful when you are starting out. Familiar locations may also make it easy for you to shoot human subjects because you are more likely to know them or at least the area and the people around them. Check out this article on how to find spots for photography to understand where and how you can find shoot locations.
Use contrast lighting
Harsh lighting can indeed be intimidating for a lot of photographers, especially new photographers. Too much shadow and overexposure can be difficult to work with and can ruin shots easily. This is probably why many photographers tend to hang up their gear when the light is harsh. Be a little more adventurous! Light and shadow can be a lot of fun to play with and an excellent opportunity for you to hone your skills. Experiment with light and how it plays with the subjects. You can also play with how individual points of light and color pop out in dark surroundings or during night time. When working with harsh lighting, pay 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. This article on using natural light in photography can be especially useful for street photographers.
Practice photographing strangers
People are at the heart of street photography. Even if you try to avoid human subjects, shooting in public spaces means that you will encounter strangers during the normal course of your shoot. Instead of avoiding strangers, embracing human subjects within your street photography repertoire will be helpful in helping you grow as a photographer. You don’t need to focus exclusively on people or street portraits. Instead, you can simply try to incorporate human subjects into the scenes you photograph. Instead of photographing a stray dog, try to capture a person interacting with the dog in some way. This way you add more depth to composition. It adds story to your photos which is one of the biggest components of good street photography. Don't be stealthy about taking photos of people. Let them know you are shooting them and, if possible, take consent. Interacting with people before photographing them makes them feel more at ease and is overall an important aspect of ethical street photography
Get closer to the subject
A common problem with a lot of photographers is not getting close enough to the subject.It is understandable for novice street photographers to not want to get too close to a stranger while photographing them. However, you need to remember that your camera’s zoom can only do so much. If you truly want to capture some detail and get the right angles, you will eventually have to overcome your fear of getting too close to your subject. Getting close does not necessarily mean you have to shove your camera right in the subject’s face. Also, not all your shots need to be close-ups. Like we have mentioned before, taking a step back can help you focus more on the scene rather than individual subjects which is helpful. However, getting close enough that you can properly capture the subjects and the details of the composition is important. If you are trying to capture a group of people chatting at a street corner, you may not alway get the shot you want from across the street. Crossing the street and yet maintaining a respectful distance can do the trick!
Be mindful of the ethics of street photography
While public photography is perfectly legal in most countries including the United States and Canada, you may still run into issues sometimes when photographing strangers. Some people may not be comfortable being photographed and if you try to take a picture of them without consent, you may be confronted. Even if you are not taking a photo of the person directly, they may not prefer to be in your shot.It is always better to ask permission first than forgiveness later so ask people in a particular area if they are comfortable with being photographed before you start clicking away. When it comes to children, check if there are guardians around and take permission before including the kids in any shots. Many street photographers also avoid taking pictures of homeless individuals or underprivileged people because it may be seen as being ‘exploitative’ of another’s misery.
Create a street photography portfolio website
When you are just starting out in street photography, you probably just want to take interesting photos and share them with people. But what platform do you use to share your photographs? While social media channels like Instagram and Tumblr are quite popular with many photographers, nothing beats having your very own portfolio website. Having your portfolio website enables you to share your photographs on your very own platform where you are in full control of how you want to display it. You can also use your website as a central point from where you can share your work, market it and even sell prints and digital content. With a website builder like Pixpa you can do all this and more. Creating your street photography portfolio can be a breeze. All you need to do is take your pick from Pixpa’s stunning range of photography website templates and start building your website. Create a full-featured street photography website with multiple galleries, e-commerce features, SEO and marketing tools and more -- all without touching a single line of code!
Do check out these Street Photographer Portfolios built with Pixpa
Jens Rosbach is a photographer based in Berlin specializing in several different genres of photography including street photography. His street photography work covers scenes from the daily life of places like the Philippines, Moscow and Cuba. Jens work focuses on both people as well as their surroundings. His photographs document the lives and histories of these different countries and their natives.
Naser Bayat is a photographer based in Helsinki, Finland. He is a self taught photographer whose work reveals the creative interpretation of everyday life’s fleeting moments. His street photography work is unique in that it is mostly composed of monochromatic, black and white photographs and beautiful silhouettes. His photographs evoke the shape of the city and focus more on the mood than the subject.
Turkish photographer Erdem Donuktan is based out of Izmir and works as a documentary and street photographer. His photographs consist of both color and monochromatic photography. Urban landscapes and buildings are a larger focus than the people themselves. Erdem has worked extensively in Turkey as well as the UK capturing cities, people as well as lifestyles.
We hope this guide was useful for you, especially if you are a beginner to street photography. If you are interested in some other related genres of photography you may want to check out some of our other articles. Take a look at this guide to documentary photography. Also, if you want to know more about photojournalism, this article on how to become a photojournalist might be useful!
Do you want to create your very own street photography portfolio? Pixpa can help you out! Create a beautiful, professional street photography website easily and without writing a single line of code! Sign up for a full-featured, 15-day free trial right now to test drive Pixpa. No credit card required for sign up and no hidden charges!