Street photography is not as easy as most people think. You have to acquire quality equipment to capture great shots, choose a perfect location, or even get permission to photograph certain buildings.
Adequate preparation and open-mindedness is key to taking breathtaking street shots, and avoiding legal challenges. In the big cities, for instance, you need to know how to take good shots without standing out and attracting unnecessary attention.
You may also have to deal with people walking in and out of your action zone or, in some cases, angry outbursts when someone sees you take a picture of them. As such, it is essential to work on your interpersonal skills as well as your temperament before picking a camera and heading to the streets.
All in all, street photography is really cool, and can even earn you a respectable income if you become good at it. To help you along, I compiled the following essential tips on street photography:
1. Choose the Best Lens
While zoom cameras are widely used in different types of photography, they won’t help you much while doing street shots. This has nothing to do with their image quality, but their functionality and convenience.
For one, walking with a huge zoom lens in most cities will attract attention – the wrong kind, so to speak. Also, some passersby won’t take it lightly to have a huge zoom lens pointed to their face.
Instead, go for a decent wide-angle prime lens as they are easier to use, hence you won’t experience any significant issue. These types of lenses are relatively smaller, and look more savvy and less menacing than ordinary zoom lenses. Additionally, prime wide-angle lenses allow you to capture your subjects discreetly, without having to point the camera at them.
2. Best Camera Settings
In the streets, subjects are always in motion, and may appear and disappear within the flick of an eye. As such, you need to be armed with the right camera settings to capture lightning-quick scenes without compromising on image quality. The 3 essential settings for street photography are as follows:
Where there’s a lot of light, the shutter speed needs to be high to freeze the scene movements, and produce sharper images. During daytime, I recommend a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second and at night, you may set it between 1/1 25th to 1/160th of a second.
Smaller apertures give you more depth of field, which is ideal in outdoor photography.
While using a fast shutter speed and smaller aperture, in low light you need a higher ISO setting to get quality shots. Basically, use ISO 100 to 400 when shooting in daylight, and ISO 3200-6400 when shooting at night.
3. Tell a Story
As you go about shooting, try to capture scenes that will captivate your target audience and make them curious to know the intrinsic story behind the image(s). Just like in a film, have an idea of who your “actors” will be, the backdrop setting and what kind of emotions you want your work to portray.
4. Try a Shot Without People
It is undeniable that people add some depth to street shots. However, as mentioned earlier, taking a perfect shot might be problematic, as most people are always in motion, not to mention the potential legal problems.
As you get the hang of street photography, try to capture a few scenes without people in them. Whether it’s a shot of a parked vintage car or a classic building sticking out in the middle of modern skyscrapers, images can still make sense without the human factor. Matter of fact, some objects are stories by themselves and convey different emotions as well.
5. Get Permission
Although most street photographers would tell you otherwise, it is always a good (and safe) idea to seek permission before taking pictures of people. You shouldn’t experience any problems as far as that goes if you’re polite and charming in your approach.
Additionally, enquire about the photography policies of every building or institution you want to take portraits of. Just like individuals, some building owners or managers may sue you for the invasion of privacy if you go clicking your camera all over their premises.
For instance, there are buildings or areas (mostly government institutions) where photography is prohibited for security purposes. You are therefore advised to ask before pulling out your camera. Moreover, don’t forget to seek permission to share the pictures taken, especially on online platforms.
6. Get Closer to Your Subject
Being as close as possible to your subject is essential for two reasons. Firstly, it throws them off (in case it’s a person) and makes them think that you’re photographing something behind them. Secondly, closeup shots give the viewer the perspective of being part of the scene.
Notably, if you’re using a wide-angle prime lens, you will be forced to get very close to your subject to bring them into sharper focus. In that case, a 24, 28 or 35mm lens on a crop or full-frame camera would serve you pretty well.
7. Don’t Over Edit Your Photos
If you’re using a good camera with the right settings as highlighted above, you won’t have to do much editing.
Street photography is about capturing the streets in their natural state – people moving about, cars passing by, buildings in all their glory, etc. Adding too much color, over-cropping or using the wrong layers will most likely take the life out of your photos or even change the overall mood themes.
The key is to only add or remove the things that are missing or excessive in the original photos, and that’s all. Over-edited photos will make you look like an amateur, and you can bet someone on your Instagram will rudely point that out!
All said and done, the most essential thing in street photography is to be authentic and have fun. Just go out there with an open mind and eyes and the scenes will bring themselves together.
What other street photography tips you have to add to this list?
Stefano Caioni is the founder of Pixinfocus. His passion for photography helps him discover new places and live new adventures.