Street photography can be really hard, never mind doing it on film! Luckily, over the years I’ve figured out all the steps to do it well.
If you want to save yourself time and money because of silly mistakes then read on!
I’m going to impart all of my experience of shooting street photography on film, this isn’t really about ‘how to get better at street photography’ compositionally or technically, this is about ensuring that you get all the film parts down to a T!
1) Choose The Right Camera Film
In street photography ‘the right kind of film’ is a bit more open to interpretation than in other kinds of photography. Street photography is thought of as a more artistic kind of photography, so there tends to be more experimentation with film.
However, if you want the best camera film possible for the job and money is no object then I’d suggest Kodak Portra 400, Kodak Portra 800 or even Cinestill 800T if you’re shooting colour. As for black and white, I’d suggest Kodak Tri-X.
Now, these are some of the best film stocks around and they provide you with great exposure latitude and fantastic colour. That being said, I shot a hell of a lot of street photography on Kodak Colorplus, which is super basic, 200 ISO film.
The right film stock for street photography is the right film stock for you based on price, look and feel.
2) Find The Right Camera For You
Street photography isn’t all about using ‘the best camera’, but using the best camera for you and your work. Sure, you might see people rolling around with a Leica or Contax G2, but that doesn’t mean that these are the best cameras for you.
People use all kinds of cameras, from point-and-shoots, SLRs, rangefinders and even medium-format cameras. However, if you’re on a budget what I would suggest is a basic SLR, like the Canon A1, Nikon FM or Minolta X300. These are still great cameras and they’ll help you to produce fantastic street shots.
Otherwise, you could try something more automatic, like the Nikon F6 or Canon EOS cameras. Ultimately, it’s about what works for you and produces the results that you want.
3) Use A Lens Hood
Using a lens hood can be super important, especially when you’re doing street photography, the variety of light means you can’t always control what light is hitting your lens.
A lens hood stops stray light from hitting your lens which results in a hazy picture. Lens hoods make for a better image with more contrast and no haze!
It’s a small thing that can make a big difference, get yourself a lens hood.
4) Vary Your F Stop
Street photography definitely needs a bit more variety when it comes to your aperture. Sometimes you’ll want to shoot wide open and that’s fair enough, however, when you’re out in the street a much safer aperture is something like F/5.6 or F/8.
If you’re just shooting wide open all the time there’s a good chance that you’ll miss that decisive moment because you didn’t quite make focus. F/5.6 or F/8 is a great spot to still get a slightly shallow depth of field while also ensuring you get the shot in focus!
5) Take A Bunch Of Shots Of Those One Of Moments
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed those special moments because I’ve only taken one or two shots of it. If one of those moments arises then take a bunch of shots from different angles to ensure you actually get it.
All the professionals back in the day used to make 10-15 shots of the same thing and pick the best one, that’s how it was!
Above is an instant where I didn’t quite make the shot despite shooting multiple shots, this ties in with the issue of shooting wide-open rather than shooting at about F5.6. If I’d had been more prepared and been able to get a few more shots off then I might have nailed this shot!
6) Over Expose By One Stop
Overexposing by one stop can help us to get better exposure on film photographs.
This is because it’s easier to get the information back from the highlights than it is from shadows. Since light can vary so drastically when shooting street photos, it’s well worth trying to overexpose just a little bit.
7) Consider Buying An Automatic Film Camera
It can be easy to get caught up thinking you need to shoot fully manually. This isn’t the case, you need to use the camera that suits you and the kind of photography you’re doing.
Choosing an automatic film camera with autofocus can be a great way to help yourself take photos more intuitively, this can help you to capture the moments that matter without fumbling around.
This includes cameras like the Nikon F5/F6, Nikon F90, Contax G1/G2, Canon EOS 1n and many more.
8) Learn More About Light
Since light changes so much throughout the day and from location to location, it’s really worth learning about different kinds of light and how that light can change your image.
For instance, if it’s a bright sunny day then looking for shade or bounced light can help us to get nice soft images. Or if you’re shooting in the morning or night you might want to try to understand what direction the light is coming from.
Photography is all about light and learning about how to harness it in order to get better pictures is an absolute must.
9) Always Have Another Roll Of Film
We all know that feeling, you’re just about to leave home for a day of shooting, you look back and think, nah, I won’t need that extra roll of film, I’ll be fine with what I’ve got. TAKE IT, take the roll of film, you’ll always regret taking less.
Be prepared, always have more film than you’ll need or else you could seriously regret it. I can’t tell you how many magical moments I’ve missed because I was too dumb to grab that extra roll of film.
10) Use A Prime Lens
This isn’t a must, I know some people like a zoom lens, especially something like a 70-200mm. However, generally street photography is shot on 28-50mm focal lengths.
I’d always suggest a prime lens is you can afford it, your pictures will be sharper and your overall image quality will be much better.
Also, it’s much easier to start to develop a defined style if all of your shots are taken at the same focal length.
11) Get Your Pictures Processed And Scanned At A High Standard
The quality of a film lab can vary drastically. You might receive scans back from a lab and think ‘that’s just how film looks’, but that’s often not the case.
If you want your film pictures to look really good then you need to shop around for a really good lab and ask for your film to be scanned at the highest quality.
In the UK, I use Filmdev, I’m not sponsored by them but I genuinely think they’re an amazing development lab that always produce brilliant scans.
Shop around and you’ll reap the rewards!
12) Edit Your Pictures
Please, please edit your film photographs. I don’t know why there’s this assumption that film doesn’t need editing but generally it at least need basic corrections.
Film photographers have been editing pictures in one way or another for years before Adobe Lightroom ever existed.
Small corrections to highlights, shadows, exposure and contrast can make a big difference.
13) Print Your Best Pictures
Printing your pictures can really help you because you’re finally seeing them how you should. It’ll give you more understanding of your composition and allow you to see finer detail that you might not have noticed before.
Also, printing your pictures will allow you to sell them or gift them to people which is another incredibly rewarding aspect of photography.