I’ve been shooting street photographs for around 6 years and over that time I’ve learned a lot of helpful tips to get that perfect shot!
Street photography is a hard thing to learn and progress at, many people give it a go and many find that isn’t for them. For some of us, it has a meditative quality about it and we find ourselves more connected with the world and society as a whole.
If you want some great tips to increase your confidence and ability in the streets then check out the rest of this article!
Learn Your Cameras Basic Settings
Whether you’re shooting on film or digitally, you’ll need to have a basic understanding of your camera and how it works before you go out into the streets. An easy rule of thumb would be to shoot at around 400-800 ISO (Obviously with film, it depends on what ISO your film is, 400 is good so that you can shoot quickly enough). Digitally you could go higher if there’s much lower light. Most people shoot at around 1/1000 to reduce the chance of any motion blur however that’s a personal choice for you. And to increase the chance of your shots being in focus, shooting at F5.6-8 is probably a good range, however, some people will shoot at F1.8 or F 16, it’s a personal choice in that respect.
Obviously, if you’re shooting with a point-and-shoot, you don’t have those kinds of worries. It’s important to understand and feel comfortable with your camera before going out and shooting in the streets.
Find The Focal length That Suits You
Most street photographers shoot with a focal length of between 28-50mm. These focal lengths are more hands-on and looked at as a more ‘pure’ way of shooting in the streets. Of course, you can use 200mm+ focal lengths, there is nothing wrong with this way of shooting but it’s interesting to note that most of the well-known, successful street photographers got close to their subjects and shot either 28mm, 35mm or 50mm.
There are pros and cons to each focal length, when shooting with a 28mm lens it provides you with quite a wide angle shot, which means you can more easily show a ‘scene’, and it can offer more perspective and story to your image.
A 35mm Lens is similar to the 28mm lens, it’s still a slightly wide image, if you were to take a portrait with it then the subject would appear less distorted than with a 28mm. You can tell a story with this lens but it brings the viewer slightly closer in.
A 50mm Lens is basically the focal length of the human eye, if you were to raise the viewfinder to your eye and then move it away, the scene would look the same. The 50mm is a great classic prime lens that’s very versatile, and great for all kinds of photography. I think that it typically makes a better image in portrait than landscape whereas the 28mm provides better landscape shots.
Any focal length passed 50mm will start to zoom in and as it increases the way the image looks will appear more strange. Obviously, you can shoot with a long lens to get candid street shots from afar. There are questions in the street community about this kind of photography and whether it really counts the same. That’s up to you to decide what suits you best.
Always Be Prepared
A big part of street photography is luck and being in the right place at the right time, this means you always need to have a camera with you when you can. Help increase your chances of getting a special shot by always making that a possibility for yourself.
Also, to have your camera be easy to pick up and shoot with is really important. If your camera is too bulky then it’s not easy to carry it around regularly. Make it easier for yourself, try to start of with something that isn’t too big but it still takes great shots. Something like the ME Super.
Read The Future
Over time, you’ll develop an understanding of how things might play out when you’re wandering the streets. You need to learn to read when things may fall into place for your special shot. Being tuned in in this way allows you to be much more likely to get great street shots. A big part of this is to be switched on, not listening to music or being preoccupied with anything else so you’re more likely to see or hear something interesting taking place.
Put The Time In
You may believe that street photographers just walk out into the street and get a load of great shots straight away. In reality, you might only get 10-15 great shots per year! You need to get out and shoot more to up your chances of getting a good shot and learn to understand that these perfect shots are few and far between. This only really works for you if you really enjoy street photography and you’ll quickly find out if that’s the case.
Make It Easy
Make it easier for yourself. Have a camera set up that is easily accessible and that you feel comfortable having out with you. Sometimes if a camera is too expensive or too big then it will stop you from going out with it. If you feel comfortable with the camera you have, are not too afraid to use it and it’s easy to take out with you then you’re much more likely to have your camera available to you.
I would also suggest having some sort of bum bag that you could have over your shoulder so your camera is always easily accessible, I find that if it’s in a backpack then you’re less likely to take it out. If you have an SLR it can be good to get a wrist strap rather than a neck strap so you can have your camera at hand the whole time, also you look less like a tourist.
Get Into A State Of Flow
Getting into a state of flow can be hard sometimes but it’s such a valuable state to be in. Often when you go to start shooting you have some anxiety and you need to get yourself into the swing of things. If you’re shooting digitally then you can get into the flow by just taking shots of anything, purely commit to the act of taking shots in the streets but don’t worry about what you’re shooting, just get yourself feeling comfortable and remind yourself that no one takes any notice of you while you’re shooting.
If you’re shooting film then you can either take some shots with your phone or just hold your camera up and compose shots without shooting, again, just get yourself comfortable in the streets and take away all that initial anxiety.
Some days you might not get into the zone and that’s okay, not every day is perfect, that’s just the way life is. But actively trying to get yourself there before you start shooting will mean you’re much more likely to get the shots you deserve!
Gestures And Things
Looking out for gestures or unusual objects can help you to create an interesting shot in the street. Often random objects can line up in a really interesting way or a passerby may perfectly line up with a billboard. These kinds of things are perfect to look out for and they’ll add different elements to your shots.
Learn When To Speak
Generally, most street photographers don’t speak to their subjects, usually, there’s no need and most people value candid shots. There are certainly times when it might be necessary to acknowledge or respond to someone. Sometimes, if someone notices you it’s worth just saying what you liked about them or why you took their photograph “I like your hat” or if somebody has an interesting style you can acknowledge that. Make sure to appear friendly and smile, the last thing you want is to come across as creepy.
It’s good to avoid any kind of confrontation with a subject, of course, there are photographers like Bruce Gilden that get right up close and that’s fine but most photographers won’t shoot in that way. If somebody asks you why you’re taking their photo and seems upset about it then the wrong answer is “I’m allowed to shoot whatever I like”, or something of that nature. The right answer is something like “I’m sorry I liked your _______” or just apologise and move on. Most of the time if people can see that you mean no harm and you seem friendly then they won’t bother you.
Sometimes a quick acknowledgement may help you get a shot, sometimes if you’re in a smaller space and there’s a great image to be taken then half raising your camera and getting the eye contact of the person would be enough for you to understand if they are okay with that or not. Just make sure you have that person’s best interests at heart and you aren’t making a joke of them.
Don’t Be Shifty
By this I mean, own what you’re doing, if you’re doing it for the right reason then you won’t feel the need to sneak around. I believe that this is one of the reasons that ‘shooting from the hip’ can have such a bad rap. If you’re concealing the way you shoot then it’s visually more alarming than someone shooting normally. Now I know there are some fantastic photographers that shoot in this way or a variation of this way. It’s up to you how you shoot but it’s worth being aware of how you’re perceived while out in the streets. Be open and friendly and keep your wits about you.
Keep Your Elbows In
A lot of photographers shoot with their elbows out like wings, if you tuck your elbows into your body then you’re much less noticeable or intimidating.
Find A Busy Spot And Stay There
There are many different ways to shoot, personally, I would walk at least 10 miles around the city and see what cropped up, it was good for me in so many different ways. Another common technique is to find a good spot and stick around for a while. This can give you a chance to find a place with good light and a good background. You may switch between a variety of different spots to allow yourself to try out different areas. This is a good way to rest your weary legs if you’ve been walking all day.
Learning to notice is one of the most important things in photography, if you’re not aware or focussed then you may miss a really special moment. Most street photographers don’t wear earphones for this reason, so you can stay tuned into your environment and spot any potential events. Get tuned into your surroundings and you’ll get many more rare shots.
Learn From The Greats
There are many incredible street photographers so I’d like to provide a list of a mixture of the well-known street photographers of old and the well-known street photographers of Instagram. It’s important to learn from these people but also understand where you are yourself and the style that you might bring to the scene. If you’re not from New York then you’ll never quite have shots like New Yorkers do, be aware and be inspired.
Classic Street Photographers
Popular Instagram Street Photographers
Trevor Wisecup @trevorwisecup
Daniel Arnold @arnold_daniel
Andre D.Wagner @photodre
Brian Karlsson @voyeur1