Street photography is excellent for spontaneously capturing those little fleeting moments. It’s addicting to go out people-watching and capture the moments that others may not notice, documenting them in a creative and fun way. Below are seven tips to help you improve your urban street photography while still having fun with your photo walks.
Table of Contents
1. Carry minimal gear
It’s best to travel light with minimal gear. As such, mirrorless cameras are a great lightweight alternative to traditional DSLRs. For example, an excellent digital option for street photography is the Fujifilm x100v.
It has a beautiful and classic look with great high-quality specs while also being light and compact. It offers a great LCD screen and electronic viewfinder to help you set up your perfect shot.
Sony cameras are also amongst some of the best mirrorless cameras around. There are plenty of great cameras for street photography these days, so do your research.
I often get asked what the best street photography camera is. There is no real answer to this question as even compact cameras and smartphones are capable of great urban photography. One attribute to potentially look out for in a camera is that it is weather sealed. As capturing photos in urban environments when wet can look fantastic with the reflections (like night street photography).
Whichever camera you choose, ensure it’s versatile enough for this type of photography and especially photography at night. As long as your camera settings allow you to use manual settings and manual focus, you should be able to create an array of diverse and unique shots along your street photography journeys.
2. Don’t be afraid of a high ISO
When learning photography, you’re generally taught to keep your ISO as low as possible. This was because early digital cameras were horrible at ISOs over 400. New digital cameras are a lot better and can now create beautiful images with low grain/noise as high as ISO 1600 and 3200. Keep to your standard ISO rules in broad daylight, but don’t be afraid to experiment higher at dusk and night when you need to shoot handheld at high ISOs.
3. Pick a spot and wait
As a street photographer, it can be easy to go for a walk and shoot too fast as you go. To compose great street portraits, sometimes it’s best to find a spot you think has potential and wait. Snap a few shots to get your settings and focal length right and wait for the perfect moment. Be mindful of what’s exciting and unique about your location and try to be as candid as possible, so your subject isn’t staring at your lens unless you are doing street portrait photography.
4. It’s not always about the people
A big misconception is that street photography focuses mainly on capturing people in public. But that’s not always the case. It’s all about candid photography of life and culture to capture daily scenes that are interesting.
They tell a story no matter the subject, no matter how weird. Don’t focus on finding people as subjects but focus on what you want to capture for your vision and creativity. If that includes photos of empty fire escapes, then that’s the story you’re telling!
5. Embrace spontaneity
With other forms of photography, you can be a perfectionist about every detail of composition to make up your shot. With street portraits and photography, often you only have a split second to get your shot. Being loose and letting yourself go to the spontaneous moments in life will create great photos. Sometimes you may fail at this, and the photo won’t turn out as you hoped it would, but keep going, and you’ll eventually have a portfolio full of interesting photos that tell a story.
6. Check out other photographers
Look through hashtags on social media to find other street photographers. Scroll through their work to see how they see the world around them. This research might help inspire you to look outside the box the next time you’re walking around for inspiration to shoot. Never try to recreate an image you’ve seen exactly, but using this to inspire your photography can be a great way to notice things you may not have earlier.
7. Choose a theme
If you’re feeling uninspired, try choosing a theme (it can be a word or concept) and work with it. Whether you want to document graffiti, architecture, or a word like “joy,” you can walk around to find the moments around you that fit your theme. This strategy can be a great and easy way to get your inspiration back with street photography.
8. What setting should you use?
Unfortunately, if you are asking this question, there is no answer that will satisfy every scenario. Street photography requires you to be able to capture fleeting moments in all types of situations with different light sources, speeds and compositions. The only way to know what settings to use is through practice and experience.
Having said that, there are a few things that you can do to increase your chances of capturing a shot:
- Shoot in burst mode. By doing so you can select the perfect frame in post-production. It’s much more difficult to nail your timing with a single shot.
- Know your minimum speed. Everyone has a limit of how slow they can set the shutter speed before their photos suffer from camera shake. Test yourself to see what your limit is. As a general rule try to keep your shutter speed at least 1/80 or 1/100 sec.
- Shallow depth of field. Most of the time you will be shooting specific subjects so can keep a fairly shallow depth of field (i.e. f/5.6 or wider aperture). For extended range, you go smaller to f/8. But rarely should you need a smaller aperture than this.
Street photography is about having fun. Let go of your preconceived notions of what it is and have fun with it. Be loose, spontaneous, and open to the world around you. This attitude can be a rewarding style of photography as it leaves the structured rules behind to create an environment more conducive to acting quickly and inspiring creativity.
Along the way, you’ll learn some things about composition to help you improve your photography in other aspects as well. The great thing about street photography is that you never know what might come out of it.
YouTube – Why not take this opportunity to check out our brand new YouTube channel for tips, advice and some inspiration.
Instagram – Check out our photos on Instagram
Facebook – Join our Facebook group and share your photos and chat with other beginner photographers.
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Kav Dadfar is a writer and travel photographer who has written over 400 articles on photography. He is also a judge on the Wanderlust Travel Photography of the Year competition and a speaker at camera clubs and events. He has years of experience shooting assignments with his images having been used by some of the biggest brands in the world.
This article on street photography is subject to copyright. Words and photos by Kav Dadfar (That Wild Idea). Copying or reposting of photos or article elsewhere is strictly forbidden.