Street photography has to be one of the most difficult genres of photography out there. It is a style that is considered to be a stealthy, shutter sniper way of capturing images. Not all street photography is about aiming your camera lens directly at people though. With street photography, literally everyone and anything interesting is a subject just waiting to be captured at that precise moment. Because street photography is considered one of the most misunderstood photo genres out there, a lot of people really don’t know how to approach it, or what to shoot and are immediately intimidated by attempting to photograph people on the streets.
Street photography is personally my absolute favourite form of photography. It’s raw, it’s honest, it’s challenging and fun! I love meandering through the streets of a city and capturing architectural shots and documenting locals just carrying about in their everyday lives. I recall very vividly one time when I was shooting on a 35mm film SLR camera on my first trip to Europe when I was 20 years old and seeing an opportunity for the perfectly timed shot and I literally RAN to capture the image. Since I was shooting on 35mm film, I didn’t even know if I had caught the image I envisioned until after I had my film processed and printed. I’m happy to say that I DID get the shot. All in a day’s work!
So if you’re a photographer that’s new to street photography and don’t know how to approach the idea of pointing your lens at someone in fear of them noticing, don’t fret…my ultimate guide to street photography will list some ideas, tips and tricks to ignite a passion for street photography, build confidence and have you searching for your next shot as you find yourself walking through city streets.
This is probably the most important tip to give anyone wanting to give street photography a shot (pun intended). Not having confidence is what makes street photography so daunting in the first place. You have to be willing to have enough balls to point your camera at someone sometimes in order to capture that perfect shot. Most of the time you’ll come across people that don’t even give a damn about you aiming a lens at them, but sometimes you may encounter people that really DO NOT want their photo taken at all. I haven’t run into the latter…yet, but I definitely know people who have found themselves in a situation where they had to prove to the person that they deleted the photo. It was a bit harder back in the day with 35mm film, but now a simple click of the delete button can solve an uneasy situation. Confidence is key though when shooting on the streets and if you can muster up that confidence, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at your photographic results.
Document the Hustle & Bustle of Everyday Lives of Locals
Capturing candid moments between locals carrying out their daily jobs, shopping and just living their lives is one of my favourite things to photograph while travelling. There is something very static about taking a staged photo to me. I’d much rather prefer to see people in their natural state and in their everyday environments. You get a much more real and raw image in my opinion.
Ask for a Portrait
If you see someone that looks interesting to you, gather some confidence and approach them. This is the hardest part of street photography because not only do you have to approach a stranger, you have to explain to them that you want to take a photo of them and have them trust you enough to get pretty close to them with a camera. Once you engage in a conversation, you’ll be surprised at what you learn from taking the time to get to know a local and listening to what they have to say. If you are photographing children, ALWAYS ask the parents’ permission before snapping unwanted photos. Nobody wants to deal with an angry parent, especially on the streets. Once you’ve taken your photo, offer to email, or show them the photo. More often than not, they are actually really happy with how it turns out.
Always Have Your Camera Ready
Street photographers rarely have their cameras put away in their bags. It’s always a good idea to have your settings ready to go, but that being said, don’t be afraid to shoot in Auto mode as well. When shooting street photography, you are striving to capture a moment, not perfection, so if a moment happens right in front of you, you want to be sure that you snag the opportunity as quickly as possible. If your photo is blurry in some areas, don’t be upset because it does add a touch of movement to the frame. You are shooting street moments after all.
Wander Down Side Streets
The one mistake that a lot of people make when they are in a new city, or out exploring, is sticking to the main streets to photograph. If you head down a few side streets, you’ll be shocked at the hidden gems you can find tucked away off the main drag. Some of my favourite photographs have captured down tiny side streets. It’s a great chance to get some shots that aren’t typical of the place you are visiting as well, not to mention side streets have virtually no traffic to disrupt you while you shoot.
Photograph Local Animals
Street photography isn’t just about shooting architecture and people. There are fuzzy friends roaming the streets as well and make great subjects. It’s also a great way to showcase the cultural difference of animals in other countries versus here in North America. When was the last time you saw wild animals roaming freely around the streets of your town in traffic? My guess would be probably be never.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Fun fact… I used to want to be a photojournalist when I was younger. I loved heading into the streets with just my camera and rolls upon rolls of film and shooting anything and everything. Street photography tends to lean on a photo-journalistic style in a sense. The key to great street photography is being aware of your surroundings and looking everywhere, not just straight in front of you. If you ever have a chance to view street photographers, or photojournalists in their natural habitat, you’ll notice that they are always moving their heads, up, down, sideways, just trying to find, or search for that perfect shot that tells a story.
Graffiti & Street Art
Long gone are the days of ugly and useless tagging that is anonymously associated with graffiti and street art. A lot of cities around the world are embracing street artists to brighten and liven up their blank and dismal concrete walls and buildings by adding a touch of art to these open canvasses. A lot of artists are even being commissioned for their art, which is a great way to showcase their talents and earn extra cash. These bright pops of colour make for amazing street photographs and some murals will tell a story of politics, love, peace, or just something bright and cheerful to visually stimulate its townspeople and visitors.
Look For Quirky Details
While meandering through the streets of a city, or town, you’re bound to find some unusual and charming details hidden in plain site. Street photography is not only about paying attention to the obvious, but looking for those special little eye-catching details that don’t normally stand out to the average shutter snapper, or passerby.
Look For Patterns & Textures
Finding visually interesting patterns and textures while exploring city streets is one of my favourite parts of street photography. Everything from peeling paint, to crumbling walls of buildings showing a glimpse into the past, there is something about an up close look at these overlooked details that bring a photograph to life and makes the viewer think about the feeling of the texture. Textured photographs are most eye-catching when you pay attention to curves, contrasts and patterns, so making sure your photo showcases these requirements will make for a bigger impact on your viewer.
Use Architecture, Leading Lines, Shapes & Symmetry to Create Strong Images
As I mentioned before, street photography isn’t always about shooting people in the streets. Photographing architecture is some of the best ways to create strong street photographs. The key to shooting visually interesting architecture is to look for leading lines, shapes and symmetry that draw your eye right into the image. The use of vertical and horizontal symmetry is a very powerful tool to utilize as a photographer. The human eye is naturally drawn to symmetrical things and by doing so with your street photography, you’ll find that you will produce images that are stronger and more pleasing to the eye.
Wait For The Moment – Patience is a Virtue
In everyday situations I lack patience. I know it and own up to it. No doubt about it. There is one aspect of my life that I do practice patience though and that is with my street photography. There are two types of waiting while engaging in street photography – actively waiting and passive waiting. Actively waiting while shooting is when you are in position, more alert of your surroundings and are anticipating something, or someone to enter the frame to capture the image you are envisioning. Passive waiting while shooting is when you are in position and are waiting for the frame to clear of say a car blocking a shot, or unwanted people gathering around within the frame. Passive waiting is my least favourite of the two types, clearly.
Don’t Over Edit
Editing photos is not a bad thing, but over editing is and unfortunately, it is EVERYWHERE these days, especially on Instagram. I’m not a fan of Lightroom presets. They do make photos look pretty, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t look natural to me. To each their own when it comes to photo editing techniques, you do whatever works for you, but I am more a fan of making the photo look as close to what I am seeing with my own eyes. I’ll slightly adjust the brightness, contrast and sharpness if need be to show details a bit more, but that’s about it. Over saturation in photos is a crime in my books. I want to enhance the photo, not make it look fake.
Play Around With Different Lighting
When it comes to street photography, there is no such thing as bad lighting. You need to train your eye to work with any light that is provided to you, whether it be dusk, dawn, or that harsh overhead midday sunlight. Soft lighting during dusk and dawn is great for capturing the sleepiness of a town and city at its calmest, dreary rainy days are great for making reflections in puddles and cobblestone streets glisten, bright sunny days are great for making colours pop. Any type of lighting is good lighting, so long as you know how to make it work for you. I actually really enjoy wandering the streets while travelling during rainy days because the streets are virtually ghost towns and gives me chances to catch moments without interruption. Shooting at night will amp your street photography game to a whole new level. You have many chances to play around with sources of light, such as car lights, traffic lights, street signs, which look amazing when you slow your shutter down and adjust your aperture correctly.
Have Fun & Practice, Practice, Practice
The most important tip for street photography is just to have fun and practice. Capturing images and moments that tell a story, or depict the everyday lives of people around you is just part of the enjoyable aspect of street photography. Be creative, get out there, explore the streets and meet interesting people that will help fuel your passion for shooting street photography. If you truly enjoy practicing arranging subjects in your frame and you find yourself consistently looking for ways to improve your photography, it’ll show within the final images that you produce.
Hopefully this guide has encouraged and inspired you to get out and explore the streets and to be creative and experiment with different ways of shooting photos while abroad, or even in your own city, or town. Do you have any special moments you’ve captured while shooting street photography? Is it something you actively try while travelling? Let me know in the comments below! xo