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Street Photography: Our Top Tips for Beginners

Street photography is a specific type of photography that documents normal, “real” life. In street photography, you’ll normally see candid shots of everyday activities and people.

Because of this, it’s often tricky to get perfect street photos – it’s all about the timing, the subject, and your composition.

Below, we’ve listed our top street photography tips to help you nail the shot every time you step outside.

What is street photography anyway?

Street photography is about capturing the urban environment and the people and objects within it. The best street photography captures the unexpected—random occurrences and candid moments. Street photography can include an array of subjects, from people to graffiti. 

Easy tips to help you perfect your street photography

japan-street-at-night

Ditch all the gear and be selective about your street photography camera & equipment

Street photography often requires stealth. You’ll want to be as discreet as possible so you don’t spook your subjects. The less equipment you’ll have on you, the less intimidating you’ll appear and the more nimble you can be.

A compact system camera, also called a mirrorless camera, is the perfect stealthy companion for street photography. With professional capabilities in a petite frame, they will help you get the shot you need without hauling a heavier DSLR around. 

Having a mirrorless camera with a fully articulating screen, such as the Canon R5 with its vari-angle LCD touchscreen, means you can also shoot from an array of low, high, and awkward angles. 

Another bonus is that you can swap out the lenses on a mirrorless camera, so you have exactly the right lens you need for street photography. In this case, that lens would be a wide angle lens between 25mm and 50mm.

You might be tempted to carry a zoom so you can take photos from afar, which will feel less awkward, particularly for beginners. But street photography is about getting up close and personal with your subject.

A prime lens built with a wide angle is usually compact and discreet. As another bonus, you can also avoid pointing the lens directly at your subject—thanks to the wide angle, you’ll still be able to capture them, something you can’t do with a zoom lens. 

Street photography composition: make your subject the point of focus

Composition is about the way your photo is framed. Think about the point of focus of your shot. Is it the person walking past or the graffiti on the wall behind them? 

Look for simple scenes

Street photography is about simplicity so try not to have too many elements that clutter the frame and confuse the eye. Either fill the frame with a single scene or embrace some negative space.

Experiment with different angles

Shoot from up high and down low, from far away and up close, so you can figure out what framing works best for you. 

Look for leading lines

Streetscapes are filled with interesting geometric patterns, curves and lines. Look for strong lines, shapes, and textures. They help add drama, character and emotion to your photos.

A New York street on a cloudy day

Leading lines could be alleyways, driveways, or light poles and they add an element of interest to your background. Once you’ve found a good scene with leading lines, try the “fishing technique” we mention below and wait for something interesting to happen in that space.

You can even add more intrigue to your photos by experimenting with angles. Why not shoot diagonally, for example?

Look for opposites

A common feature of street photographs is juxtaposition. This is where you find contrasting elements that still have a relationship to one another.

Look for contradicting emotions, subjects, composition, or themes – anything that might surprise.

Zoom with your feet, not your lens

The essential component of any good street photography is the intimacy you’re able to convey. This means it’s important to get physically close to your subjects.

It’s easy to tell which photos have been shot from across the street with a zoom lens and which have been taken in the midst of the action. Put your viewer in the action by placing yourself there when you take the image.

Street photography camera settings: Watch your shutter speed

Much of street photography is about spontaneity so it’s important to think carefully about the best camera settings to use so you can set and forget. 

When you’re out on a shoot, you’ll be on high alert for any unexpected shot. Street scenes can be fleeting, which means you’ll want to have a high shutter speed capable of capturing split-second action.

Your shutter speed should sit above 1/180th of a second if you hope to freeze sudden movements. Keep your ISO between 200 and 400.

Alternatively, if you want a more creative shot, blur can add an element of intrigue. To blur vehicles or people – or if you want to pan a moving subject so the background is a blur – try slower shutter speeds.

Shadows and light can make a great effect in street photography. Dial down your Exposure Compensation setting to negative numbers: -1 or -2 exposure compensation. This can help add more negative space by creating dramatic shadows in the background and highlighting your subjects.

Find new locations and fish for photos

Finding new locations is far easier than you might expect. Using Google Street View on Google Maps, you can check out virtually any street anywhere in the world to find potential subjects and interesting compositions. 

The fishing technique is common practice for street photographers. This requires you to find an interesting scene or background and wait for an intriguing subject to step into it.

Of course, you’re going to have to be patient – you could be waiting ten minutes or you could be waiting an hour. You’re basically “fishing” for the shot.

Take dozens of photos

When you’re just starting out, you might be tempted just to take one or two photos of a scene before moving on. This is a common beginner’s mistake.

Professional street photographers will work the scene, capturing the same scene from different angles and perspectives. They could take anywhere from 10 to 20 photographs of the same subject.

Naturally, you’ll need to make sure you have plenty of memory on hand, which is why it’s always ideal to carry around additional memory cards.

Asking for permission

This is a difficult question. Many beginner street photographers will experience awkwardness when taking someone’s portrait and it can help to approach interesting subjects and ask respectfully to take their photo. Just be aware that many people can start acting differently in front of a camera.

Another option is to discreetly take someone’s photo and then—if your intention is to publish the shots in a public space—ask them for permission.  

If you’re shooting for professional publication, you will need a Creative Release form, outlined in the video below. 

Ready to put these street photography tips into practice?

The best way to get into street photography is simply to start, whether you begin by snapping shots on your smartphone as you walk your dog or you’re looking to upgrade and start taking it seriously. 

We’ve got plenty more tips where these came from. Follow our Camera House YouTube account to receive photography tips, advice, and product updates. 

Discover more useful articles below:

Travel Photography: Your Essential Guide

A Guide to Photography When It’s Raining

Prime Lenses vs Zoom Lenses: Which Should I Buy?

8 Creative Photography Tips for Cloudy Days

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