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How Do You Take Good Street Photos

written by: CLARKE SCOTT 
people on a tram in Melbourne

Street photography is a unique form of art that captures life as it unfolds in public places.

For me, the allure of street photography lies in its candid nature, the ability to freeze a moment in time that reflects the true essence of daily life. Unlike other photography genres, where the setting or subject can be controlled, street photography relies on spontaneity, a keen eye for detail, and an ability to find beauty in everyday scenes. The challenge is to create compelling images out of ordinary moments, telling stories that might otherwise go unnoticed. It requires a combination of right timing, a sense of the environment, and an understanding of human behavior.

Gear and settings, although less emphasized in street photography than in other genres, still play a crucial role in the outcome. Knowing my camera’s features and settings allows me to quickly adapt to changing conditions. I realize that the technical quality of my image is not the end goal, but it does support the story I’m trying to tell. Therefore, choosing the right gear and understanding its capabilities is foundational. From there, I employ various techniques and approaches to capture the essence of the street, such as mastering compositions and being ready to capture fleeting interactions.

When it comes to post-processing and sharing my work, I consider the balance between preserving the authenticity of the moment and enhancing the visual appeal of the photograph. I’m mindful of legal considerations while photographing in public and always respect the privacy and dignity of my subjects. After processing my photos, sharing my work with the world is a gratifying experience. It not only allows me to showcase my perspective but also helps in starting conversations and raising questions that contribute to the collective understanding of our social environment.

Key Takeaways

  • Street photography is about capturing spontaneous, authentic moments.
  • Knowledge of gear and camera settings can enhance the storytelling aspect of street images.
  • Responsible post-processing and sharing are integral to the practice of street photography.

Gear and Settings

To excel in street photography, it’s crucial for me to make informed choices about the gear I carry and the settings I use. The right combination unlocks the potential for stunning, candid shots that capture the essence of street life.

Choosing the Right Camera and Lens

Camera Choice: Any mirrorless camera will do but my choice is Fujifilm. The colours and great and the files are a breeze to work with. I shot on Canon for studio work but Fuji for street. Now I shot on Fuji only.

Lens Selection: A prime lens with a focal length of 50mm is excellent for capturing scenes with a perspective close to the human eye. However, a wide-angle lens might be my go-to when I wish to include more of the environment. My picks often fluctuate between a 35mm and a 50mm lens for their portability and versatile field of view.

Understanding Camera Settings

ISO: For street photography, I usually set my ISO at 200 to begin with, adjusting higher as needed to compensate for lower light conditions.

Shutter Speed: I aim for a shutter speed of at least 1/125s to freeze motion and avoid the blur in my subjects.

Aperture: Starting at f/8 ensures a good depth of field, keeping both the subject and the surrounding environment reasonably in focus, which is often ideal for street scenes.

Camera Modes: Aperture Priority mode allows me to control the depth of field while the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed. However, I sometimes switch to Manual mode for greater control over the exposure triangle.

Focus: Manual focusing or zone focusing can be useful, but I frequently rely on Autofocus with Continuous focus mode to respond swiftly to spontaneous action.

The Art of Composition

Composition is paramount for impactful images. I strive for a framing that tells a story, using techniques such as leading lines and framing devices. I pay attention to the edges of my frame to ensure that every element contributes to the overall narrative.

Light and Shadows

Light is the essence of photography. I observe how it interacts with the urban environment, casting shadows and creating highlights. These elements can add depth and drama to my images, often shaping the mood within them.

The Decisive Moment

Coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson, the “decisive moment” is about capturing an event that is ephemeral and spontaneous. Patience is my ally, as I often wait for that perfect alignment of composition and timing that tells a compelling story.

Techniques and Approaches

In the realm of street photography, every decision I make from the approach to technique is crucial in crafting a compelling photograph. Here’s how I navigate through candid and posed moments, engage with subjects, and make the most of the environment.

Candid Versus Posed

I focus on composition and shooting techniques while capturing candid moments, always prepared to snap a photo without disrupting the scene. My experience shows that the essence of candid street photography is about observation, waiting for that perfect intersection of subject and setting. With posed photographs, however, I take a more direct approach.

I make eye contact, offer a smile, and communicate my intentions, ensuring respect for the subject’s personal space and ethics regarding their portrayal.

Interaction With the Subject

When interacting with strangers, confidence and respect guide my conduct. I initiate contact with a smile or a nod, which helps to establish a rapport and sometimes leads to a more in-depth engagement. It’s a delicate balance, as I must read the subject’s body language and gauge their openness to interaction. Whether in a bustling urban setting or quieter rural areas, my aim is to maintain an air of professionalism while showing genuine interest in the people I photograph.

Utilizing the Environment

The environment plays a key role in street photography.

I am constantly on the lookout for intriguing backdrops, whether it’s the geometry of a public mall, the dynamism of public transportation, or the serenity of a beach on rainy days. I seek to incorporate environmental elements to enhance the image, using public spaces to frame the subject or to tell a story. Background is not just scenery; it’s an active component of the photograph.

It’s in these public places that I also adjust for composition, applying photography tips and techniques to align subjects within the frame, conveying the narrative of the street.

Post-Processing and Legal Considerations

In street photography, a good grasp of post-processing enhances the visual appeal of your images, while a solid understanding of legal parameters ensures your practice respects privacy and complies with the law.

Editing Techniques

In my post-processing workflow, I focus first on the RAW files, which provide the greatest flexibility for adjustments. My main focus is typically on the following:

  • Exposure and Contrast: Adjusting these settings can help in bringing out the details and dynamic range captured in a public place.
  • Color Correction: I ensure the colors in my photos reflect the scene as I remember it, or I may stylistically alter them to convey a certain mood.
  • Cropping and Composition: Sometimes, I find that a tighter crop improves the overall composition and can remove distracting elements.
  • Sharpening: A small amount of sharpening can make a photo appear crisper, but I am careful not to overdo it.

With these techniques, I aim to maintain the authenticity of the moment while improving the aesthetic quality of the images.

Understanding the Law of Street Photography

When I’m out with my camera, legal and ethical considerations are always at the forefront of my thoughts. Here’s what I keep in mind legally:

  • Expectation of Privacy: In a public place, I understand that there is generally no expectation of privacy. However, I respect individuals’ privacy and try not to be confrontational.
  • Model Releases: While not always legally required in public areas, if I intend to sell my images or use them for commercial purposes, obtaining a model release is prudent.
  • Ethics: Beyond the law, I adhere to an ethical code that respects the dignity of my subjects, aiming not to misrepresent them or their circumstances through my edits.

I stay informed about the local laws wherever I am photographing because regulations can vary greatly, and what is permissible in one country or state may not be in another.

Sharing Your Work

After capturing the raw essence of the street and the stories that unfold there, the next pivotal step is to share my work with a wider audience. I consider where and how to showcase my street portraits to ensure the public and viewers can access the tales I’ve witnessed.

Building an Online Presence

Social Media Platforms:
To reach a broad and diverse audience, I leverage social media. I create dedicated profiles for my street photography on popular platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr where storytelling and visual content thrive. Here’s how I optimize my social media presence:

  • Instagram: Use hashtags relevant to street photography and engage with the community.
  • Facebook: Join street photography groups and participate in discussions.
  • Tumblr: Craft a blog to share series of my work and the stories behind the photos.

Photography Websites:

I do not use these anymore. It’s Instagram and here.

My Own Website:
For a professional touch, I maintain my own website as a central portfolio of my work. It includes:

  • A gallery of select images.
  • A blog for deeper storytelling.
  • Contact information for those interested in prints or collaborations.

Physical Displays and Publications

Local Galleries and Exhibitions:
I look for opportunities to display my street photography in local galleries and at exhibitions. This in-person viewing experience offers a tangible connection between the viewer and the artwork. Here are steps I take:

  1. Research galleries interested in street portraits.
  2. Submit a portfolio for exhibition consideration.
  3. Attend opening nights to network and discuss my work.

Photography Books and Magazines:
Publishing my work provides a tangible asset that people can own. I identify relevant street photography magazines and pitch my projects to them, or I consider self-publishing a photography book to tell a larger story.

  • Magazines: Shortlist publications and send submissions according to their guidelines.
  • Photography Books: Select a cohesive series and publish for a comprehensive narrative.

By sharing my work both online and through physical means, I aim to captivate and inspire viewers. I want the public to sense the spontaneity and emotions of the streets I’ve walked, immortalizing those fleeting moments through my lens.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, I aim to provide concrete answers to some of the most common inquiries regarding street photography, covering everything from gear to shooting techniques.

What equipment essentials are recommended for street photography?

For street photography, a camera that is small and inconspicuous like a mirrorless camera or a high-end compact is often recommended. Prime lenses with focal lengths between 24mm to 50mm are ideal for capturing the hustle and bustle while still maintaining a degree of intimacy with the subjects.

How do I approach composition in street photography to capture compelling images?

Composition in street photography should be intuitive and reactionary. I keep an eye out for leading lines, patterns, and symmetries that occur naturally in urban environments. Capturing the decisive moment often involves understanding the rule of thirds and knowing when to break it for dynamic effect.

Can you offer safety tips and etiquette for shooting street photography in urban areas?

When shooting in urban areas, I remain aware of my surroundings and respectful of the people I am photographing. I avoid photographing in potentially dangerous areas and always ask for permission if I feel the situation calls for it. Respecting privacy and local customs is also crucial for harmonious interactions.

What are some techniques professionals use to capture candid moments in street photography?

Professionals often employ a technique called ‘shooting from the hip’ where the camera is held at waist level without using the viewfinder. This allows for unobtrusive shooting and capturing candid moments. I also stay patient and often return to the same spot several times to catch spontaneous interactions.

Could you provide some tips for shooting in low light or challenging weather conditions?

In low light, I increase the ISO setting on my camera to retain a faster shutter speed and avoid blurring. A lens with a wide aperture, such as f/1.8 or f/2.0, allows more light into the sensor. I embrace overcast days or rainy conditions as they offer unique opportunities for dramatic shots with reflective surfaces and less contrast.

Who are some street photography icons, and what can be learned from their work?

Icons like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Vivian Maier have shaped the art of street photography. From Cartier-Bresson, I’ve learned the importance of the ‘decisive moment’, while Maier has taught me the value of curiosity and exploring unnoticed details in everyday scenes. Studying their work offers insights into the art of capturing life on the streets with authenticity.

Further Reading