Street photography is not natural. Photographers, whether beginners or pros will agree. However, street photography can be the most rewarding. Documenting strangers in everyday life can sound daunting. With a bit of patience and some guts, you can do street photography in no time.
Let’s go over what street photography is. Then, let’s see how it compares to other types of photography. We will then help you get acquainted with street photography.
Maybe you are a beginner. Perhaps you have shot travel photography. Or maybe wedding portraits. However, many find street photography as challenging yet fulfilling. Street photography will take patience. Street photography will also receive a bit of luck and timing.
You need to think about your best intentions. It’s very much like shooting wildlife. You must tell a story with your street photography. You also want to draw your audience in. And make your photography compelling. Let’s go over how to capture the right street photography.
What exactly is street photography?
Street photography is defined as “photography conducted for art or inquiry. Street photography features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents.”
If you open up a tabloid or fashion blog, you will see street photography is about capturing candid life in the public. Street photography can be done in your home town. Work can be done in your favorite place to visit. You could be in New York, Paris, or in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
No matter where you are, it is still street photography…
You can find your street photography subjects anywhere. You can find your subjects on the train. You can your subjects at your shopping mall.
You can find your subject by walking down the street. You will find your favorite place to find your subjects in due time. Even in small, rural areas, snap photos in your subject’s element.
Making a quality street photograph
Flip open Facebook or Instagram. You will see some sub-par street photography in front of your eyes. Just because the picture from on the street does not make it proper street photography.
Set up your photo correctly. You will get the right shot.
First of all, you need a defined subject. Use the rules of composition, the rule of thirds, and everything in between. Tell a story with what you see in front of you. Make your photography questionable. Start a movement.
To keep the people in or go without people
Many photographers debate if street photography needs a human featured in it. Pros will say that to qualify for street photography.
At least one person needs to be highlighted. Some throw caution to the wind. However, shadows can capture the imagery that a person was once there in the view.
Taking photos of places left behind by people is artistic. It will leave your audience with the burning question of what the story is in the photograph.
Must street photography be candid?
Professionals will say that all street photography must be candid. Again, you can play around with the idea. Getting to know your subject may bring out some emotion in your human subject.
However, if you see someone candid and you hear a story in your head, then snap away.
You can make eye-contact while photographing your subject. Many will say this takes away from the scene. It may offer some sort of emotional shot, such as humor or intimacy. Though, many will tell you to make it your rule not to have eye contact with your subject.
What kind of camera equipment do you need for street photography?
Simplicity is the key to street photography. You wear an invisible cloak while shooting street photography. Have a small camera at your disposal. You never know when will be the right time to snap a photo.
So, have your camera ready. Doing street photography with a DSLR might cause too much attention to you. Most smartphones are useful for snapping a quick photograph on the fly.
If you’re not using your phone, try using a prime lens. Prime lenses are smaller and fit in with our rule of thumb on camera equipment. Keep your focal length at 23mm to 53mm on a sensor camera.
Be consistent with your focal length. You will know what type of frame you are getting in your shot.
Try out places to get the right chance by trying out different stances in each shot. You will learn which standing place it right for you, and you will become more consistent. These candid moments can go away in a flash, so knowing where and how to stand is key.
Always bring a small camera bag, easy enough to maneuver. Whip out your camera on the fly. Always have extra batteries and business cards. Not to mention your phone and identification cards.
A wrist strap will also do the job. Remember not to bring bulky items as you will be on the go and need to capture humans in the wild.
Remember to dress for comfort. You may be walking a ton, depending on where you shoot your street photographs.
Know how to conduct yourself while shooting street photography
It’s legal to take photographs in public for most cities and counties. If you are in a new area, always know the local laws and your rights. Always be aware that you cannot stand too close if your subject is unaware of you snapping a shot.
And remember: it’s illegal to shoot someone without their consent in the privacy of their own home or office.
Respecting others in public
If it is clear someone does not want their picture taken, respect their wishes. Find some other subject and apologize. Do not take anything personally if your subject does not wish to be in the frame. You can find another subject easily.
Remember to smile at others. You want your subject to feel welcome. If they ask you to delete a photo, do it with respect. For instance, you are snapping away, and your subject makes eye contact and says something along the lines of not wanting to be photographed.
Quickly apologize. Show the image. If they decline, then delete. Best case scenario you make a new acquaintance.
Children as the subject
It’s a rule of thumb always to get a guardian’s permission to shoot a photograph of a child. If there is no guardian around, then snap away with caution. Know the laws of the area you are photographing in.
Remember to respect those less fortunate. It’s not always a good idea to shoot homeless or those in unfortunate circumstances unless otherwise agreed upon.
Think if you were them. Would you appreciate being photographed in a less than fortunate position? I highly doubt it. Try to exclude those in these unfortunate circumstances.
How to become comfortable with street photography
Give yourself distance
Be farther away than you usually would be until you are comfortable photographing your subjects. Check out your scenery first. Look at the details in your surroundings. Take an approach like a documentary and shoot from across the street if it makes you more comfortable at first.
Try out photographing musicians on the streets first
Street musicians are comfortable getting their photograph taken because they want publicity. Try out shooting musicians on the street to get a feel for what street photography is like. Try out different angles. Be patient while snapping away. Make sure you exchange business cards afterward so they can receive the pictures you took.
Shoot from a window
If you’re new to street photography, you most likely have a fear of confrontation with your subjects. Try out shooting from behind a window in a coffee shop or restaurant across the street. You will feel protected by the window being there. Remember to smile if your subject catches your eye.
Get photographs from behind the subjects
Want an artistic twist and still be comfortable? Photograph from behind. Make sure your subject has an interesting look to them. You will get the subject’s backs and will not have an awkward encounter.
Start out photographing pets
If you see a dog or cat on the street, photograph them. Photographing pets is a great way to start street photography comfortable. Who knows, you may strike up a conversation with their owners.
Always crouch down low to the height of the animal when shooting them. Being close makes for a more artistic shot.
Find the right scenery
Find a place with nice lighting and the right aesthetic that you are looking for. Watch as people go by and observe the way the setting fits them. Understand the setting and know what you are going to capture.
Next, get your image framed up. Get ready to focus on where your subject will fall. Then wait patiently as the right subject approaches. When the right person and the right moment intersect. Snap your shot. Have an action plan before your subject gets there.
Get the right silhouette
As a novice, approaching silhouettes is a great place to start without actually capturing the subject. If you have strong backlighting and the right subject, you have set the scene.
Underexpose or spot meter to your light source to get your subject into shadow. Be sure to not overlap elements inside the frame. Make sure your subject is defined. Always experiment and have fun with this technique.
Contrast the light
Playing with light could create the perfect opportunity to capture the light and shadow while shooting street photography. Pockets of light create artistic moments. You can even play with color as it comes out of the dark.
Take a look at your exposure and play around with it. Make sure your subject exposed to the light.
Deciding where to begin
Timing is everything when it comes to taking the right photograph. Take your shot at the moment. You know when it will be the right time. If you miss it, the moment is gone.
Remember to have a quick reaction time while capturing. Have your settings figured out before snapping your shot? You will be happy you got the right shot at the right moment. Not a blurry photo.
It will be scary, at first, when you are approaching potential subjects. Yet, once you get comfortable in approaching people, it will be like riding a bike!
Start with flattery. Everyone likes to be flattered, especially if they might be having an off day. Thus, you could start by telling them you love the way their hair looks in the light. Or the way a person smiles.
Get to know them by introducing yourself as a street photographer. You will have an established rapport.
Always have your camera settings ready to go before approaching someone. It would be rather embarrassing to fumble around, unprepared. Be sure to be patient with yourself.
Ask your subject if they would not mind moving to get the right amount of light. Always offer up a business card afterward, so you can send your subject their photograph and potentially network after that.
Remember to experiment
Have fun with your street photography. Having fun is uniquely right when you are starting. You want to get a feel for your new photography style. Play with different lighting and camera settings.
After capturing artistic and human photos, you will find your new art rewarding as you shoot mixed emotions, people, and environments.
Do not be nervous. Have fun with setting up your frame. You never know what you will get out of each shot. Playing with different settings will open your eyes to a brand new world.
You will see new lands and meet fascinating new people. You never know what you will get out of trying street photography as a beginner or as a professional.
Welcome to the world of street photography. The land of the unexpected. Street photography is like a box of chocolates when it comes to photography. Happy snapping away!