Every Street Photography Tip and Technique You Need to Know
Street photography can seem like such a simple genre – just go out and wait for those special moments to occur.
And while that patience is the key to the genre, the reality is that it is one of the most difficult forms of photography.
But there are a set of tips, tricks, and techniques that if you work on, will make street photography so much easier, and eventually second nature.
So practice these tips and you will quickly improve!
1. Linger and let the action come to you
Everyone wants to get to that next spectacular location. I got into this type of photography because I love to get lost and walk as much as possible.
But a main key to this genre is to stop along the way. Find a good location and let things come to you.
The same moments will occur whether you are walking or not, so you might as well be in a good location and ready with this camera.
This will also make the dynamic much easier as people will be entering your personal space instead of you entering their space. You will already be in place and waiting with your camera.
2. Walk slow and don’t take things for granted
Taking this technique further, when working with photographers, I notice that many are always on the move looking for that new place and disregarding what’s around them.
Take it slow and try not to disregard anything. Many of the best photos are hiding in plain sight in the most mundane places.
Some of the most interesting photos are of things that you see every day and might disregard because of that.
So if you notice yourself thinking that you’re in a place where you can’t possibly get a good photograph, use that as a challenge and slow down to see what’s really under your nose.
I think you’ll be surprised.
When I say acting, I don’t mean that you need to go overboard – just play the part.
It’s a simple trick, pretend like you’re not photographing your subjects.
I will just walk around looking like I am photographing backgrounds and not really noticing the people around me. I try not to make eye contact and make it look like I’m a slightly spaced-out photographer just engrossed with what’s around me.
This goes such a far way.
Often I just take a shot quickly so people don’t really notice, but when I really want to be candid, I will aim the camera up at the environment behind a person, then move the camera to them, take the shot, and then move the camera back to aiming to the side or behind them. It seems like I’m looking around with my camera, obvious to them.
4. What to say if you get caught
This is a powerful thing to realize – if you can talk to people the right way about what you are doing, you will become much more comfortable with street photography.
You can get close and shoot in pleasant ways that will generally stop people from asking you what you’re doing, but it still happens, and the key is to be obvious about it.
When someone stops me, I smile and flatter them. I tell them I’m a photographer doing a project on the area and I had to capture the scene with them as they looked great. I smile and act like I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong because I wasn’t.
This goes a long way and usually ends in a pleasant conversation. I offer to send them the photograph as well.
But in the situations where the person is still uncomfortable, offer to delete the photograph and apologize. Legally you don’t have to of course, but it’s the nice thing to do.
On a similar note, I also want to highlight that the more comfortable you look and act while photographing, the more people will disregard you.
People will notice you no matter what, so acting sneaky from afar will get their attention, while smiling, getting in the action, and looking like you’re having a great time photographing will put people’s guards down so that they leave you be.
5. Street portraits
While the technical definition of street photography is about candid moments, street portraits are a huge aspect of the genre.
They are a way to capture the spirit of the people in your area and to help tell a story.
And if you are just getting comfortable with street photography, they can help set you on this path. You will quickly find that many people will be receptive and pleased – they are looking for a connection as well.
Think about what you will say ahead of time. It can be as simple as just asking if you can take their picture, or you could tell them you are doing a photography project or taking a class. Tell them you stopped them because you thought they had a great look.
Once they say okay, you have the responsibility to then take a good portrait! Think about the background behind them and how that is going to look. Including the details of a good background can really make a portrait sing.
And try to make them as comfortable as possible. Many people will pose, but I like to tell them that I just want them to look and stand as naturally as possible. This gives them the permission to let their guard down and be themselves.
And talking to them will also go a far way in getting them comfortable. Ask them an interesting (or even just a chit-chat type) question. Get them talking.
Because ultimately we do want our street portraits to have a candid and real feel to them – to show the spirit of the person.
6. Raise your ISO
“Sharpness is a bourgeois concept,” yes as Henri Cartier-Bresson famously said and has been repeated a million times.
Despite this, you need to know how to capture a sharp shot in this fast-moving genre, and the trick to that is raising your ISO in most situations.
By raising your ISO, it will allow your camera to use a faster shutter speed and a smaller aperture to minimize your mistakes.
I typically shoot on Aperture Priority and try to start around F8 (and go lower if needed). But I prefer more depth of field because if I miss the focus somewhat, it usually means that the shot will still be sharp. And there are also many moments with multiple subjects at different depths, where you want all of the subjects to be sharp enough.
I will then pay attention to my shutter speed and always try to have it above 1/200th or 250th of a second to freeze motion in people (at night going down to 1/80th is fine).
But with a baseline of F8 and 1/250th, if you are not shooting in perfect light, something has to give and that’s the ISO.
This is why I typically shoot at ISO 400 in strict sunlight, 800 on sunny days (where there are shady areas), 1600 on overcast days, and 3200-6400 from dusk into night.
On most sunny days I will shoot with ISO 800 because I always want to make sure my settings will work well in the shady areas as well as the sunny.
7. Prime lens / Small camera
You can do street photography with any camera or lens combo, but for many of you, a mirrorless camera and prime lens will be the ideal situation. You can read my article on the best street photography cameras here for review.
A prime lens will lighten your camera and make it less obtrusive to the people you are photographing. But most importantly, you will get used to the focal length and much faster with your camera.
Eventually, the view of the lens will become second nature. You won’t have to think about zooming, you’ll just move into the right position. And often the camera won’t even feel like it’s there because you will be so used to it.
I strictly use 35mm and 50mm (full-frame equivalent) focal lengths. I find that these wide angles allow you to get close and still capture the entire scene. I typically use a 35mm in busier areas and a 50mm in quieter places where it’s tougher to get as close.
8. Photograph the everyday
Capture everyday things. Don’t always look for the unique and spectacular – think about what someone who is not from your area might find interesting.
Try to make things that aren’t typically supposed to be beautiful or fascinating, beautiful and fascinating!
9. Shoot your area
Photography is all about advantages. The photo gods will reward you the more you photograph, but you have to get out there.
And there is no place that you have a better chance to do this than the areas where you live and spend most of your time.
It’s what you know best. No photographer can swoop into your area and do a better job than you can on a daily basis.
Think about photography as you would going for a regular walk or going to the gym. Schedule some weekly sessions, and take your camera with you on everyday excursions (this is where the small camera/prime lens comes in handy).
Photograph your block, your neighborhood, passersby, neighbors, parking lots, empty corners, main street, supermarkets, homes, quirky things, and places you find. Open yourself to all these random photographic opportunities that most people pass by.
I know you will find yourself surprised with the outcome.
Looking for an Intimate Photo Community?
If you’re looking for some inspiration with these ideas and for some collaboration with other photographers, you might be interested in The Close to Home Photo Salon – which is a worldwide photography community based upon the idea of learning to capture your surroundings.
In addition to lots of resources and education, the community splits photographers from around the world into intimate groups of 20 who all grow together, comment and help each other improve, and inspire each other to get out the door!