Street photography is a genre of photography that has been around for centuries. Street photographers aim to capture candid moments in public spaces, as well as documenting aspects of everyday life and society. A great street photo not only requires technical skills and creativity but also some bravery and luck to shoot strangers on the bustling street. As all things on the street are ever-changing and uncontrollable, you may also need some patience and persistence to get the photo you want.
This article will discuss the art of street photography, including the necessary gear and tips for achieving impactful results.
What is street photography?
Street photography refers to “photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents.” According to the definition, street photography is not confined to take place on the street. It can be all the public areas. Therefore, street photography means the candid photograph of life in public areas.
What makes a good street photograph?
Story – A good street photo should convey something and/or elicit an emotion. Does it tell a story or portray an emotion and feeling? Is it impactful simply for its beauty? Start with the story and the rest will follow.
Light – A good street photograph often has interesting light. While this can be soft or flattering light, it can also be hard, dramatic light. It can mean utilizing silhouettes and other techniques that play with shadows. When taking photos outside, especially on the street, the lights you can rely on are only the natural light and the existing artificial light. Therefore, pay close attention to your surroundings and find those moments when opportunity meets preparation for the perfect shot.
Composition – Thirdly, find interesting composition, such as the rule of thirds, negative space, and leading lines. While street photography can seem spontaneous, the good photos are actually the result of a planning and waiting with a creative composition in mind. But keep in mind that because of the spontaneous nature of street photography, it is reasonable to have some strange compositions in your photos, which express a much more real feeling.
Equipment and camera settings
Small camera & prime lens
Cameras – To make street photography more smooth and invisible, a small camera such as a small mirrorless camera or even a smartphone is typically better than a large DSLR. Small cameras are much easier to carry around, and they can also ease the psychological resistance of the passers-by on the street. In addition, look for a camera with silent shutter mode. Without hearing the shutter firing, the photo will be more candid with no interruption to the subject’s facial expression and emotions.
As for lenses, also consider the size. In general, prime lenses are smaller than zoom lenses, making them potentially less noticeable on the street. The recommended focal lengths are 35mm and 50mm. The main disadvantage of a prime lens over a zoom lens is the need to move around without the ability to zoom for the ideal compositions. Many photographers argue that this is an advantage and forces photographers to “get in the action” for more interesting and intimate photos of the subject.
Camera settings count for much in street photography. The fleeting moments on the street will not wait for your adjustments. Aperture priority and shutter priority are highly recommended for beginners in street photography. However, as you get more comfortable in manual mode, we suggest graduating to that as soon as you’re comfortable. Manual mode will give you more control over your image and create more consistency from image to image. For more info, see our full article on the exposure triangle.
If you’re using aperture priority mode, you should choose the ISO and aperture that gets you a fast shutter speed. Thus, if there is any sudden expression or movement, your camera can perfectly capture the frozen motion. As for shutter priority, you may need to give more consideration to the ISO. Since a small aperture is required to have a sharp background, you may need to shoot with a higher ISO to get more light. The recommended ISO is 400-600 in the daytime and 3200-6400 at night, but these general guidelines depend on the low light performance of your cameras.
Simple but practical tips and ideas
How to overcome the fear of shooting on the street
The fear of being caught may be the toughest part of street photography. The most useful way is to pretend that you are a tourist who is just shooting some cultural or artistic pictures for fun. Then, you can choose some busy places, such as an event, a fair or a busy corner. The hustle and bustle corner is the least-noticeable place to feel at ease and comfortable to practice your shooting. Lastly, you should know what to do if you get caught. Trust me, a smile works wonders. Give a sweet and sincere smile first and explain what you are doing. At this moment, flattery is the key. Say that the photo is fabulous and you love the emotion, gesture, or feeling and can not help to have a shot. You can leave your business card and offer free photos. Most people are willing to have a great photo.
Try some special angels
It is always challenging to shoot face to face. Then, you can choose to shoot across the street. Try to find some interesting elements in the environment and wait for the right subject to walk into the scene. Shooting from a distance would largely ease your nerves and help you to make a great photo with a good composition. You can also shoot the building through the window. Similarly, the window would also provide psychological protection. If there are some subjects wearing interesting clothes and hats, shooting from the back would turn out to be a sort of unexpected gain.
Play with light to get artistic photos
Street photography is not always daytime creation. It is a good time to play with light and shadow. Keep an eye on the places where there are pockets of light. Reverse how the light hits the subjects walking by and wait for some pops of color to highlight the photo. Remember to use exposure compensation to make sure your subject is properly exposed in the photo. Another way to play with light on the street is to capture silhouettes. Shooting where there is strong backlighting and waiting for the right subject to walk into it. The point is to not overlap your subject with the elements in the background so that you can get a clear silhouette.
Be patient to the decisive moment
A great street photo should tell something. Being a creative photographer, you should know when to click the camera to capture the composition, expression, or motions. And the decisive moment is the moment to create a great photo. To capture the fleeting and decisive moment, you may need a bit of luck, have a better understanding of your camera, and quickly react when it comes.
Street photography is a challenging but rewarding genre of photography. It makes the ordinary everyday into extraordinary and is really worth a try. Hope you have fun with street photography!
Street photography can been an excellent creative outlet for a photographer. It challenges you to get outside of your comfort zone, forces you to create in unpredictable lighting and background scenarios, and gives you the opportunity to tell impactful stories. For those reasons, it’s worth giving it a shot, even if you only own a smartphone camera! For more recommended reading, see the following resource: How to Choose The Right Photography Background?