Street Photography! This is some exciting stuff. Many of you are totally oblivious to photography and the wonderful community of photographers. Never mind, this article just might capture your attention towards this awesome genre of photo making. For those who are already familiar with this art form, I hope that you will enjoy reading this post.
As the title suggests, street photography is all about capturing life on the street. We, as photographers take up the mantle to capture the most obvious and visible scenes in our surrounding. I’m sure you have many questions like Why do we do this stuff? What is so important about it? and likewise. So, in this article, we are going to deal with such intriguing questions and in the end, there will be nice little tips to help you on your way to becoming a Street Photographer.
What is Street Photography?
So, let’s start with the most basic question – What is Street Photography? and the answer is, there is no fixed definition, set of rules nor any boundaries on what can be called as street and what not (barring a few ones which I’ll be discussing shortly). The point is, it is the most flexible, pictorial and one of the toughest genres to pursue. Not that the other genres are easy, it is just that the intricacies of the street like interacting with people, their behavior towards cameras, lighting, and expertise of your gear, makes street photography somewhat complex.
I am a street photographer and have been practicing it for the past few years but in no way, I consider myself an expert of this art. I don’t think anyone should call themselves a street photography expert because you always learn something new, witness something new on the street. Every time you go for a walk for a shoot, you come back with something delightful and full of life, something which only you have captured with your camera. This process of learning and exploring takes an entire lifetime. I hope you understand my point.
As for the boundaries of street photography, let me explain them in detail. I wouldn’t call them boundaries as much as limitations set by people on themselves. The first is – Candid shots. In this era of fake candids, people often merge this concept with street photography. Candid means un-posed and I prefer them over the staged ones. People often portray staged shots as street photography which is not the best practice. Though the shots come out to be very appealing, they do not represent reality. It is unnatural, often morphed. We don’t want that! Nobody wants to be lied to, isn’t it? In the same way, it is immoral (at least for me) to twist the reality. There are times when talking to people and making them comfortable with the idea of photography is okay! But asking them explicitly what to do and what not is certainly not what street photography is about.
Another thing which people don’t realize is that these images are not to be morphed. The core idea of street photography is to portray reality. If you play around with morphing, digital illustrations, digital painting, etc, you will end up with something that is called fantasy. Morphing and digital art is a completely different stream and one should never smudge this border. Let me give you an example, look at this image below. One can easily make out that it is not real. The sky never looks this way, does it?
Street photography has always provided me with a sense of fulfillment. I’ve had countless encounters with amazing people living inconspicuously among us. It opens your eyes and forces you to believe that what we see is not always the truth. It allows you to talk to people, interact with them, know their culture and most importantly you realize that every shot you take is a story and it’s up to the viewers to come up with their own.
Anyways, the big question is Why do we do this or Why does this branch exist? The simplest answer to this is to show the people, a reflection of our society, the place where we live in. Today’s life has become a rollercoaster, full of speed and ups and downs. In this so-called era of modern times, we don’t stop and bother to look around, to see how beauty can be found even in the tiniest of things. Different people have different reasons- to some, it is a way to portray the society, to some it brings joy and for some, it’s a matter of responsibility, a debt to future generations to preserve the street thriving with life.
Street photography does not demand a lot of gear. You can easily make do with a single camera body and just a couple of lenses! This is one of the main reasons why beginners are so attracted to this form of art. I have seen many people using street photography as a stepping stone and moving onward to explore new genres. But well, from my experience I can list out some guidelines for you all. So here are a few things which you must keep in mind before choosing your gear for the shoot.
The camera is obviously the most important tool here and if you are using a point and shoot, then well you are kinda set. But if not, then continue reading this paragraph. See, the important point is that street photography has to be done on the street which is full of people. So how would you like if a photographer points a big bulky camera at you in the middle of the crowd? Wouldn’t it be awkward? Of course, it will be. My point is you have to be inconspicuous in the crowd. How can you do that? Take a smaller body with you on the shoot – If you are to buy a new camera go for the mirrorless series. They are small, light and powerful. The Sony Alpha series is definitely worth looking into. Not that DSLRs are no good but it is better to have a smaller camera.
Instead of taking your entire arsenal, take one or maybe two lenses with you only. This again relates to the above-mentioned point that the more you attract attention the harder your work is gonna get. Also, you don’t need a superzoom or anything above 140mm because you need to be flexible, so having wide-angle lenses definitely helps. My advice is to keep your focal length in between 18mm or lower to 105 or 140mm. Nikon produces the 18-105 and 18-140mm both. Canon makes an equivalent 18-135mm. They are fantastic pieces of glass and should be enough for your daily photographic needs.
Note: If you want to learn to compose take a prime (35mm or 50mm) only and go shooting with just that lens. The lack of ability to zoom will teach you to manually move back and forth and a lot about elements and their placement.
Well, honestly you won’t be using a tripod much in this field of work because you are constantly on the move and you won’t have enough time to set up a tripod and capture a moment. A tripod only comes in handy when it is almost dark on the streets or if you wanna try out something creative like headlight trails or something to do with low light. But it never hurts to carry a Gorillapod. They are light and can easily fit in your bag. Here is a detailed review of the Joby Gorillapod.
Click here to learn more about creative ideas for photography.
Well, that’s all I can tell you about choosing gear for street photography. It is not rocket science and if you have ever done street photography before you will surely be able to relate with them. Next up I am gonna talk about some really nice tips which are easy but will require patience and continued practice from your end. So here are my top 5 tips for budding street photographers.
1. Setting the Exposure
Street photography requires you to be very precise and fast when it comes it operating the camera. One must be extremely familiar with all the menus, buttons and dials on the cameras. This is because you will be working in varied lighting conditions and good knowledge of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is necessary.
Most people are not comfortable in using the manual mode because the chances of making a mistake while setting the exposure and missing a shot are maximum here. You can start with the shutter priority mode and shoot for a few days. Then once you are accustomed to the various effects of using different shutter speeds, you can switch to aperture priority mode. Take one mode at a time and master it, that’s how you will understand exposure. Manual mode requires lots of practice but once you are comfortable with it you will realize that you can be more creative with your shots.
2. Approaching People
Approaching people is an art and you cannot master it overnight. Sure, if you are good with communicating
with people this will be easy for you. Here the goal is not to scare people or leave them puzzled but to make them feel comfortable around you. Mind you these people are complete strangers and possibly possess a different mindset than you. You have to be open-minded while approaching them.
Once you are successful in doing so, they won’t mind you shooting around. If you interact with a group of children before shooting them playing or doing stuff, you are more likely to have better and natural-looking pictures than you would have otherwise. This is just an example but I hope you get my point.
3. Composition and Framing
Composition and framing your shot are essential parts of making a picture aside from the technical aspects like exposure. They can literally make or break a picture and one needs to put in a lot of time and practice is mastering those. The best way to learn how to compose is to study the works of distinguished people. There are many good photographers in each genre. Google them up or join photography groups on Facebook, ask people for feedback and try work on them. That’s how you learn. I personally enjoy pictures of Mr. Steve McCurry, Ansel Adams, Sudhir Shivaram and many more.
Remember you have to study them, the placement of elements in their photos, the exposure, the foreground and background and most importantly the implementation of compositional rules. Yes, there are many rules which one must keep in mind before making a picture. Here is a page that gives in-depth information about these rules (Click here).
4. Wait for the Right Moment
Impatience – There’s no place for it in street photography. But most people fail to realize that. If you have identified the perfect setting of your shot. If all the elements fit into place, the lighting is perfect, your camera is ready for that click of a button that will make a mind-blowing image and you are waiting for that perfect subject to arrive in the frame and complete the shot, then you must have the patience to wait long enough.
Wonders can happen if you wait for that opportune moment but remember that it happens only if you are patient enough to stay in the same position as a sniper. Stick your gun to your eye, take a deep breath and hold. Believe me this trick works and you won’t regret the pain and time. Many times, it so happens that the moment doesn’t happen, something goes wrong, don’t worry it happens with even the best photographers in the world. That’s just bad luck and nothing else. Keep clicking!
5. Respect People and their Privacy
This is by far the most important tip and you should always keep this in mind whenever you are shooting people. There are times when people just don’t want someone shoots their pictures, its completely natural and you as a photographer must not persist. No means a no!
There is no chivalry in shooting a person if you are infringing their privacy. Always respect people and their consent. There are times when people get aggressive but that’s okay, maybe that’s their nature, your job is to move aside and continue your job with a new subject. This lady here was kind enough to have a talk with us. She resisted anyone taking here photograph but once we talked, she became more comfortable. Had she persisted on not clicking any photographs, I wouldn’t have done it. But here’s the result. Always remember: Communication is the Key!
Phew, that was a long read and I believe you have a question in your mind – “How the heck am I going to do so much (changing camera settings, composing, following rules, etc) when I just have a moment to shoot?” I know it sounds intimidating but that’s what it is. It takes years of practice to understand the nuances of street photography but eventually you become habitual with all the concepts and then you begin composing and shooting naturally. That becomes your style!
Well, guys, there you have it that’s my take on How to do Street Photography. I hope you enjoyed reading and learned something. If you have any questions or doubts, questions, comments or feedback, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I’ll be more than happy to answer them.
Hello! This is an interesting article for me and I must say that I found this tips golden. But concerning the part of approaching people for street photography, I haven’t had any good luck with that. Most people don’t want to be snapped and they always seem way too sensitive towards a photograph. So, can y9u share tips for me on how you win them over to allow them give you permissions to shoot?
i enjoyed every other parts of this article except that I need clarifications on the above. Thanks in advance
That’s a very good question and I’m sure that most beginners face this problem. Well, you can start by introducing yourself, then tell them about why are you doing this, what your reason and ask about them? Just try to have a normal but friendly conversation. Keep in mind that it has to be totally informal.
I hope this should get you started.
Thanks for this nice article on choosing a gear for street photography. I love the list given in this post as to what js required during a street photography, my oldest son is a photographer but isn’t focused on street photography alone. But I’ll tell him about this post, abit of extra knowledge wouldn’t do any harm. A really nice post I must say
Thanks. Glad you liked it
Thanks for this great article.Hope the upcoming photographers will like it.Although street photographs are sometimes difficult to take, but I agree with you,that these kind of photographs are very attractive.To be honest I like the fact that you can’t call yourself an expert in this career because you are still learning new things everyday.Congratulation for such wise Ideas..
Glad you like it.
Wow, there is so much information on this writeup that I was so overwhelmed with it. I love photography but I have never tried using a tripod when doing it. I have found that it is important too. Having read this post about street photography and making use of the tripod, I can tell the importance of making use of the tripod. Well, I believe that with a tripod, it’ll be easier to wait for the right moments to take a capture. I’d like to ask, you said sreety photography is about reality and tweaking the effects will make it lose that taste, does this mean I should edit the photographs?
You should retouch the photos only until the point where it doesn’t look unnatural or fake.
Thank you so much sharing this post based on photography. The post you have provided is about Street Photography, how to capture life on the street. I am very much interested in photography and this is my passion. I just loved your post because you have provided many learn-able information about photography specially on street photography. You have given enough description about what street photography is, how we should take street photography, about the camera setting and so on. Your post was really learn-able and helpful to all who are photographer and interested in photography.
Thanks again and I will definitely share this post.
You are welcome 🙂
I love taking pictures on the street but always felt strange carrying a tripod around. I’m glad to read that it is a common practice although I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable because of what I think others are thinking about me. I agree that people’s privacy is important but do you go up and ask people with they mind you taking their picture? How do you figure out if someone does or doesn’t want their picture taken before you start taking pictures?
That’s a good question. Well, it’s pretty simple you know. You must continue doing your work, if people mind you doing then go and have a nice chat with them. It depends on the subject and the story that you are trying to show. If the subject is the main component of your story then it’s better to do small talk with them(but keep in mind to never tell them to pose or do any such thing, you want it to be as natural as possible) but if he/she is just a part of an overall story then you shouldn’t have any problem shooting.
Hope I answered your query.
Thanks. I like your first photo because he looks very serious but at the same time he has the earbuds in which adds a modern quality to the otherwise not so modern picture.
I like what you said about candid photography being more honest then staged photography. I also like what you said about respecting people and their privacy. That is definitely important and you can still get good photography even while respecting people and their privacy. Thanks for your article and thanks for sharing your photography too!
You are welcome 🙂
Thanks for this excellent article! I hadn’t realized street photography was such art with so much going into it. I especially loved the section on respecting people’s privacy. In the age of social media, people will snap a picture on their smartphones and post it on Facebook or Instagram, never realizing not everyone agreed to have their pictures taken, let alone posted online! Usually, it’s innocent, a girl had a hot guy come and repair her windows and wanting to show her friends how hot he is. This is the usual case in one of the book groups I’m in. People just don’t think about that kind of stuff anymore. I love it that you included that here, thank you! I wouldn’t want someone taking pictures of me when I wasn’t looking and posting them somewhere!
Actually, it’s a very serious issue. If the picture taken is not for artsake, nobody has the right to do that. Sadly, people have forgotten that and therefore it makes it all the more important for me to include this section here. Glad you liked it.
That was a really nice and informative read on Street photography. I didn’t really know everything that was involved with it other than just snapping some pics of people. Are all of these pics in this article yours? If so, they were brilliantly done. Even as a kid, I always loved the rawness of street photography compared to posed pictures. I loved looking at all the images in National Geographic since that was my first window into looking at different cultures. I really enjoyed learning about street photography and I look forward to reading and see more of your work!
Yes, all of these pictures are my works. I am glad you liked them. Keep checking back for more such content.
Excellent advice on how to capture amazing photos on the street and the right gear to use. I feel like one of the biggest challenges is approaching people to ask for their consent in order to capture the moment. This is one area that I’m not sure photographers are aware enough about these days, but it is important to make sure you have permission to shoot a person’s likeness if you plan to use the photo in any kind of publication.
Glad you liked it.
These are great tips for street photography, and you are right, a tripod would be a bit cumbersome to carry around with you. By the time you have set it up, you will have missed the moment.
I find with this type of photography, people are rather defensive and complain when they see you snapping them with your camera. However, if asking permission first you could miss the moment as well. Maybe once the photo is taken you could show it to them and offer to send them a copy.
Hey Michel, actually that’s one of the techniques to communicate with people and make them feel comfortable. Thanks for this addition.
Having this tool of trade so to speak when travelling or needing to really nut out some pictures is a great idea.
If you are an avid traveller, the opportunities for snapshots, great roadside pics, etc. is endless, and you can really capture some magical pictures along the way.
Some of the most glorious pictures can be the simplest ones, what better way than doing it in comfort with a tripod that is handy and affordable.
I cannot agree with you more. You don’t need many elements to make a beautiful picture, but what matters is how you use the elements available to you.
I love street photography, and I found most of the works in this post is really astonishing. With the development of smartphone technology, now I use my phone to capture most of shots due to the convenience.
And, I think the key is as same as you mentioned in this post – Be Candid. no matter your mind or your photos and it takes lots of practices.
I think the framing and composition are very difficult since sometimes I use the same frame to capture different but the outcome is totally different, so I ended up deleting that photo. I might go practicing more to be more close to you, and Mr. Steve McCurry, Ansel Adams, and Sudhir Shivaram you listed in this paragraph draw my eyes. Once I went to their pages, I found it’s real masterpieces!
Thanks for sharing, I love it!
Glad you liked the website. Keep checking back for more content.
Like!! I blog frequently and I really thank you for your content. The article has truly peaked my interest.