Top 9 Tips for Remarkable Street Photography
Lifestyle
Top 9 Tips for Remarkable Street Photography

I adore street photography and find it some of the most interesting photography to look at it. It really is so appealing to me.

However, it is hard stuff. You would think taking your camera to a city you would find 1,000 things to photograph. Well this is true but finding ways to make them interesting and appealing is a challenge.

After many days of practice in the city, I have narrowed it down to 9 tips to help you take stunning street photography.

What is considered street photography?

Street photography is capturing every day candid life. It usually involves people and public places and has more of an artistic side to it.

Imagine you are just a fly on a wall in a public place, what do you see? That’s street photography, it’s not posed or perfect. It just shows real life wherever you are.

Two people carrying bags walking in front of a blue house with dark blue shutters.

How can I get better at street photography?

Street photography is a beautiful and creative way to show the hustle and bustle of a city you love, but if you’ve ever tried it you’ll agree it was harder than it seemed.

No worries those I have a few tips you can apply today to improve your street photography.

Read more: How to Find your Unique Photography Style

1. Pick one or two lenses

You probably don’t want to be lugging around all your lenses while trying to capture the world around you. Remember cities are fast moving places so you want to be ready and also try to blend in so you can really capture what is going on.

I suggest having a prime lens that you really love like the 35mm and also having a zoom lens if you typically shoot with zoom.

My last trip to NYC I took my 20mm and my 50mm 1.4 so I had two prime options.

Read more: When and Why you Should Consider a Camera Lens Rental

Black and white image of a FDNY fire truck from a wide angle for street photography

2. Choose a wide angle

When it comes to street photography including your surroundings can help set the tone of your image. It helps to give context to your subject.

You can shoot with a wide angle lens like the 24mm or many photographers enjoy the classic 35mm as it allows a little bit of a wide angle but doesn’t distort the photograph as much.

Read more: 5 Reasons to Shoot With a Wide Angle Lens

3. Don’t be afraid step in the street

When I was in NYC I really wanted a street shot of the taxis. Of course, I was not crazy enough to step in front oncoming taxis in NYC, so I had some help.

When the light changed for pedestrians to cross, I would walk into the middle of the street and take pictures of the taxis at the red light.

It’s a good idea to have someone with you on the sidewalk to let you know when you need to stop snapping and get walking across the street.

Black and white photo of taxi's in street photography

4. Find a flat surface to play with motion blur or panning for street photography

There is so much movement in the city and it is a good idea to capture it. I have used railings as a tripod so I could capture a slow motion shot.

It’s fun to play with panning as well and having a rail to lean on to keep you steady will help get that shot.

Read more: How to Take Unique Photos that WOW Using Slow Shutter Speed

Beautiful image of taxi's and cars driving in a city using motion blur.

5. Capture people in street photography

Feel free to snap a few pictures of the people living their lives on the street. However, please use good judgement. For example, I would never photograph children on the street.

Check out this great post written by Sarah Wilkerson – Street Photography and the Law: 7 Things you Need to Know.

6. Don’t be afraid to convert to black and white

Often times a black and white photo takes us back in time. It can help draw the viewer into your subject which is extremely important with street photography where there is so much in the image to see.

Black and white photo from the inside of a train looking out into the train station.

7. Shoot the details

You can photograph people without photographing their faces. What are the details about them that you find interesting. Look for patterns in buildings that are interesting. There is plenty to photograph.

8. Ask someone to take their picture

Yes, a super scary thought to walk up to a stranger and say, “May I photograph you.” But I did it and it isn’t so bad.

When I was in NYC I saw this guy with this awesome mohawk! I loved it! Yes, I could have been sneaky and gotten the shot, but instead, I walked up to him and asked if I could photograph him. He kindly said yes. His friend then slyly says, “He’d like a copy of it.” So, I got his email and said I would send it to him.

Black and white street photography of people sleeping on the street.

I was super nervous doing it and didn’t really think about my shot ahead of time. So I freaked out and snapped a photo. But you know what, I did it!

Now, I won’t be as nervous and next time I will take some time prior to approaching the stranger to figure out the shot.

Read: 8 Ways to Weave Intentional Design into Documentary Photography

9. Get creative

Use different compositions and framing to really show case your subject. That’s a fun thing about street photography, you have so many beautiful opportunities to try unique compositions and different framing techniques.

Black and white photo of a skateboarder framed by columns on the street.
Photo credit: Laurie Flickinger – used with permission

Read more: 4 Unique Framing Photography Composition Ideas for Creative Photos

What are the best camera settings for street photography?

Your primary subjects when it comes to street photography will most likely being moving, think cars, and people. You want to capture sharp photos!

Read more: 7 Tips to Take a Sharp Photo (No More Blurry Pictures)

Keep your shutter speed high

If you aren’t working with motion blur like we talked about earlier, I recommend keeping your shutter speed at 1/125 or higher.

This will allow you to get crisp clean subjects even if they are moving.

Aperture for street photography

This is very subjective your what shot you are trying to get and your own style of photography.

People walking and one person on a bike in front of a row of multi colored houses.

I like to keep my aperture at around f/3.2 so I can get a nice blurry background, maybe some bokeh, and still have a clean subject.

If you want more of the buildings or cars in focus then stop down to maybe a f/4.

Read: Essential Landscape Photography Tips for Breathtaking Photos

ISO

With cities having very unpredictable light, you will more than likely need to utilize your ISO. Set your aperture first, then select your shutter speed to fit freeze the moment, then set your ISO to properly expose the photo.

I try to stay as low as I can with ISO but don’t be afraid to raise it to get the light meter at 0.

Read more: Complete Guide to Understanding the Exposure Triangle

What is the best focal length for street photography?

Street photography is such a unique environment so there are a few things to consider when picking the perfect lens for it.

Photo taken from outside of a cafe looking in. Two people are sitting at a table and there is fresh bread in the window.

Consider the lighting

Street photography might not always give you ideal perfect lighting so you should consider a lens with a wide aperture that allows a lot of light in.

Quick and sometimes discreet

The city doesn’t stop moving especially not for a photoshoot. So I suggest a lens like the 50mm or the 35mm for street photography.

These lenses will allow you to travel light, and not draw too much attention to yourself if that’s what you need.

Zoom in

While the 35mm and the 50mm are almost always preferred for street photography, you might always want a zoom lens for those shots you just can’t get close enough to.

The 24-70mm lens will give you a really nice focal range to choose from if you prefer to not use a prime lens.

FAQs for Street Photography

How do I overcome fear of using my camera in public?

The more you take your camera out in public, the easier it will become. People will probably stop you and ask questions but that’s a great way to share one of your passions with someone.

My advice is to challenge yourself by getting out of your comfort zone and just take your camera with you, and use it!

Do I need people in photos for street photography?

Not always! While street photography is defined as candid shots of public place, that place might not have anyone there.

You can also be doing street photography if it involves a shadow or even a blur of a person, think a moving car. These are shots that show people are there.

If you are photographing the real life candid scene and no one is around, you are still doing street photography. Just make sure you’re telling a story with your shot!

How do I practice street photography if I don’t live in a big city?

Street photography can be practiced in a rural town as well. It might even be easier in some ways because life is slower than in a big city. Start where you are then maybe even take a trip to your nearest city.

Read more:
3 Ways to Find Inspiration in Your City
Two Cameras One City

12 Comments
  • April M
    October 13, 2012 at 9:17 PM

    This post and the linked post to legal matters is so timely for me! I am going to my uncle’s wedding in Los Angeles and I am planning on walking Olvera Street and China town. Thank you for the wide variety of topics covered. I love this blog!

  • October 15, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    These are awesome! What a wonderful trip!!! Your blog has helped me so much! I recently started using BBF full time and I don’t know why, but just by doing that I now shoot manual 97% of the time!!! When I switched to BBF it all just clicked for some reason! Haha The only time I don’t use BBF is when I’m outside in chasing the kids in mixed light. Thanks so much!!!

  • October 15, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    I wanted to add, we recently took a trip to Dallas and I was shocked when people started taking pictures of our kids on the train with their iPhones. They thought it was no big deal and didn’t understand why I was turning them away from the phones. Urgh…unfortunately it sounds like the iPhone users weren’t breaking any “laws”.

  • November 9, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    Lifestyle and Street Candid are my very favorite genres, and I got started by doing exactly as you suggest here: by approaching someone with an interesting look and asking to photograph them!
    It’s usually the same two sentence spiel, but I don’t believe I’ve ever been turned down yet!
    And of course, they get a contact card which contains a link to the site where they can see the photos of that day. I am careful not to make any promises about whether their specific photo will be appearing, too.

    Something I wanted to add: when you, (as the photographer), try to snap a shot real fast without getting “caught” or do not engage your subject other than to blatantly shoot and ignore… then that gives the subject the feeling that you’re doing something shifty or on-the-sly, further raising the anxiety (and maybe even anger) level.
    By letting the person know that I am not SELLING their photos for personal gain and behaving “normally”, with a genuine interest in something uniquely interesting about a person (especially in a crowd)… I’ve found that I am better received both at that moment, and on future re-visits.

  • Susan
    December 29, 2013 at 7:06 PM

    As always, so me great advice here. Thanks so much

  • tom mewborn
    June 29, 2014 at 4:07 PM

    Thanks for the tip’s.

    Pray your vacation has been restful and fun.

    I have found using a Tamron 17-55mm f2.8 has been a good all around lens for street photo’s, Grandson’ Basketball, etc. The lens is has a nice range and is reasonable fast enough with some iso crank up in the Basketball Gym’s. A very good lens that does not bust the bank account for daily use in my opinion.

    Also, love the Nikor 50mm f1.8 and my Nikon 70-200mm f2.8. I would use the 70-200mm more on outings but due to the weight, etc., at age 74 it can wear one out in a few hours. (I use it mostly for Grandson’s football at night and often take a monopoly to give me some relief. Shooting football with the Monopole does limits the flexibility on action shots)

    Excuse my rambles…Enjoy your site, learning experiences, etc.

    Blessings,

    tom

  • August 27, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    Thanks so much for sharing! I love all of the tips that you give. I just recently found this website and I’m in love with it! Thanks again!

  • Dee
    August 27, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    I love your creativity and the black and white makes it even more interesting! I am from NYC so the pics are close to my heart although now I live in Vegas so color will be the key!! Thanks for the tips I will shoot this weekend!!!!

  • Paty
    October 2, 2014 at 1:21 AM

    Thanks for sharing I always learn something that I can put to great use.

  • M Lipsy
    November 16, 2014 at 1:08 AM

    Thanks for the great tips – and also for letting me know about traffic lights for doctors: From tip #3 “When the light changed for pediatricians to cross…” ;-)

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