Use These 10 Street Photography Tips to Create Compelling Images
Photographers who have tried street photography understand how difficult the art form is. On the surface it sounds easy. Just walk around and snap random photos of everyday people in their daily lives. But when you actually try it yourself, you quickly realize the challenges: the fear of confrontation, the speed at which scenes and subjects change, the difficulty of getting something unique and not boring. To help you elevate your craft, here are 10 street photography tips, complete with examples and inspiration.
Camouflage is Key
In street photography, one big challenge is not to get noticed while capturing candid shots of strangers. To avoid any awkwardness, try this: if someone catches you taking their photo, just look past them with squinted eyes, as if you’re trying to get a better shot of the background. Move a bit to the side, pretending to adjust your angle. Most people, unless they’re celebrities, won’t think they’re interesting enough to be photographed and will go about their business.
Act confidently, as if you’re on a professional assignment. This makes people think you’re working on something important, like a newspaper article or a project, and they’re less likely to interrupt. In tourist areas, just blend in as a typical tourist; people usually don’t mind.
“Bright colour outfits grab people’s attention, and I don’t like it when people know if I am shooting them. Wear dark colours and simple outfits. But no need to cover yourself like a ninja, as you may scare them,” says Irwan.
Another street photography tip is to pretend you’re filming the scenery. Move your camera around casually. This technique tends to work better in busy city settings. Wear inconspicuous, dark clothes and try to blend in with the crowd, avoiding standing out too much. This way, you can capture great street photos without drawing attention to yourself.
“Avoid eye contact with people you’re shooting. Give a blank stare to the object behind them, so they think that you’re not shooting them. Sometimes I act like a tourist even in my own town,” says Irwan.
Try a Smaller Camera and Lens
Beware of GAS, or Gear Acquisition Syndrome, where the temptation to constantly upgrade and acquire new photography gear can be overwhelming. Yet, there’s something to be said for its opposite, which I call “Gear Avoidance Syndrome.” This approach can actually benefit your photography. Getting too caught up in technical details can lead to “Paralysis by Analysis,” where you lose sight of the true essence of photography.
Instead of being swamped by too many technical choices, which can distract from creative decision-making, consider simplifying your gear. Stick to one camera body and lens that work well for you and consider selling the rest. With fewer options, you might find yourself discovering more creative ways to capture your visions. Essentially, the limitations of a minimalist setup can transform what were once technical options into creative solutions.
“Imagine you’re walking down along a street and you notice someone holding a big camera and lens aiming at you. You may avoid, stop or change your walking direction. I don’t want this to happen, so a smaller camera or even mobile phone camera is perfect for me. In fact, I shoot most of my street using my iPhone 7 camera. Small, light and always in my pocket. Remember, the best camera is the one you have with you.,” says Irwan.
Don’t Worry Too Much About Bokeh
“F11 all the time. I want everything to look clear and in-focus, from foreground to background. I love to combine each element in one frame into a story,” says Felix Irawan.
One of the most important street photography tips, is to use natural contrasts. Always aim to place your dark subjects against bright backgrounds, and bright subjects against dark ones. This might sound obvious, but overlooking this simple rule is a common mistake that can drain the energy from your photos. You might have experienced taking fantastic shots that just don’t pop because the subject blends too much with the background. To avoid this frustration and prevent losing an amazing photograph, pay close attention to contrasts in your composition. This small adjustment can make a huge difference in the impact of your images.
Work on Patience and Observation
In street photography, much like in sports photography, having a quick reaction time is crucial. It’s essential to practice and improve this skill. You can easily do this at home. Choose an object, like a vase, and challenge yourself to photograph it as quickly as possible from various angles and positions. Swiftly turn around, duck, jump, or even lie down to capture your shot. Although it might feel a bit odd, remember that in photography, especially in dynamic genres like street photography, decisive moments are fleeting, often lasting no more than a blink of an eye. By practicing these quick movements and reactions at home, you’ll be better prepared to capture those ephemeral, once-in-a-lifetime shots out in the real world.
“Not just observing the light but other important elements such as colours, people behaviours, street signs, and the probability the moment will happen again. This is the same theory as fishing a fish. You observe water, fish, wind, which spot has more chances to see fish, and you wait for the right moment,” says Irwan.
Pre-Focus and Prepare
This street photography tip is for DSLR and Mirrorless shooters. “Moments in street photograph pass super fast. It’s better to set the camera focus area from 1m to infinity. By doing this, I have confidence that above 1 meter everything will be focus, so I can capture a frame without looking to my camera,” says Irwan.
Shoot Less, But Then More
What I basically recommend is to take the analogous approach and take as little photos as possible. Spend way more time looking around, understanding your environment, observing people and falling in love with what you are shooting than taking hundreds of photos. It’s just going to be exhausting to weed out all the bad ones at the end of the day. But if you find a really exciting moment, hit the shutter numerous times with the burst mode. Here’s why: especially in street photography, it’s all about the perfect millisecond, the so-called decisive moment. You don’t want a person on your photo with their legs in a weird position. They should look natural. But to get the perfect “leg angle” you have to take some more shots, because usually you won’t get the best one with just one shot.
Choose a Theme
One way to get over the hurdle of not knowing what to photograph, is to choose a theme. It could be a physical object or a word or concept. Maybe you want to do a study on graffiti or homelessness in your city. Or you could choose a word like “joy” or “hope.” You could even just pick a color to watch out for while you’re photographing. You might not even know what your theme will be until you get out on the street. This street photography tip will also make your images more cohesive.
Going on a photo walk is the perfect time to brush up on your composition skills without the added pressure of a paying client or even a human subject. Take the time to look for ways to add interest to your images. Here are things to try:
- Look for reflections
- Look for light and shadow
- Look for shapes, lines and patterns
- Shoot from above
- Shoot from below
- Frame your subject
- Find symmetry
- Find asymmetry
- Play with color
- Experiment with depth of field
What else could we add to this list? Tell me in the comments.
Enjoy the process, the result is a bonus!
“Bigger expectations come with bigger disappointments, and that can lead to stress and suck the joy out of shooting. When passion becomes pressure, the craft is no longer enjoyable. I never expect to get a great photo when shooting street. I enjoy every single step. I am just like a kid in a playground, and street is my playground,” says Irwan.
In conclusion, mastering street photography is about more than just understanding your camera; it’s about honing your instincts, embracing spontaneity, and capturing the essence of everyday life. By practicing the tips discussed—like understanding the importance of natural contrasts, improving reaction time, and being mindful of your surroundings—you’ll be well on your way to creating compelling and dynamic street images. Remember, street photography is as much about storytelling as it is about technique. So, keep your eyes open, stay patient, and most importantly, enjoy the process of documenting the world around you in its most candid moments. With practice and perseverance, you’ll find that street photography not only improves your technical skills but also deepens your appreciation for the world’s unscripted beauty.
For more information, see this helpful video from our friends at COOPH.