Street photography is enjoyed by many enthusiasts around the world and is very much an open book as far as the rules go. But if you want to improve your street photography and become a well-rounded photographer, there are tips and best practices that will help you get there.
In this article, we will explore a number of street photography tips that will make you a better photographer. We’ll cover the useful gear you’ll need and the software that will help you process your images.
1. Use Aperture Priority as Your Walk-Around Mode
Aperture Priority is a semi-automatic mode that is well-suited for street photography. When Manual mode isn’t an option, you should consider being in Aperture Priority for the duration of your outdoor photography sessions. Why?
Aperture Priority lets you choose your aperture, and your camera will determine the appropriate settings to get the best exposure for your image. This allows you to be ready at all times to photograph scenes when they happen, regardless of the lighting conditions.
To learn more, we discuss at length how to use Aperture Priority to get out of full-auto mode.
2. Shoot with Prime Lenses
Prime lenses are set at one focal length as opposed to zoom lenses, which have a range of focal lengths to choose from. For example, one of the most popular prime lenses is the 35mm. Journalists and street photographers alike have made good use of this prime lens for many decades and it remains a great focal length for street photography.
In street photography, 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm are probably among the most popular choices because the field of view for each of these isn’t too extreme. You can shoot wider than the 24mm or with a more narrow field of view than the 50mm, but these lenses are for specific subject matter and situations. The 24mm to 50mm focal lengths will cover more scenes effectively.
There are several reasons why prime lenses are great choices for street photography and will serve to make you a more well-rounded photographer.
- You have to “zoom with your feet” to frame your subjects. This will improve your composition skills tremendously rather than relying on a zoom lens to dial in the correct focal length with every shot.
- Prime lenses typically produce better quality images than their zoom lens counterparts. They’re also “brighter” and therefore considered faster with common apertures being 2.8, 1.8, and 1.4.
- With only one set focal length, photographing rapidly-changing scenes will automatically be faster. Even reducing one set of parameters (like focal length) will greatly increase a street photographer’s speed when required.
3. Go Fishing and Wait
There’s a term in street photography known as “fishing.” This means you’re waiting around in one spot for someone to walk through your frame, or that you’re waiting for something to happen within your chosen frame. In these situations, you already envisioned the shot and you’re just waiting for that missing element.
In these situations, the street photographer may not opt to use any additional gear. But using a tripod or an off-camera flash unit could come in handy to get the correct exposure in low light conditions or to separate the subject from the background.
The concept of anticipation is similar to fishing but applies to any time the photographer is actively shooting, especially while on the move. For example, if you’re shooting street photography and can anticipate the path of your subject, you may be able to line up your subject against a desirable background.
Another example would be recognizing patterns and anticipating the best time to take a shot. Worksites are great for patterns because often workers are doing the same things, like hauling dirt from a pile to another location. Anticipating the best time and place to shoot beforehand will guarantee a better result.
A great feature to take advantage of on many point-and-shoot, DSLR, and mirrorless systems is the LCD screen. If you use the LCD screen in live view mode instead of the traditional viewfinder, you’ll be able to observe your environment at all times while actively shooting. You won’t miss the action because you have the camera held up to your eye, which effectively obscures everything outside of your frame.
5. Shoot in 4D
Shooting in 4D simply means revisiting locales at different times of the day and season. You’ll become a more well-rounded photographer because you’ll learn to take shots throughout the day in varying lighting scenarios.
Shooting in the morning during Golden Hour is very different from shooting at night with fewer light sources. Mastering these different times of day will make you a better photographer.
The same applies to shooting in different seasons. Photographing subjects during the summer months will require different settings on your camera when compared to photographing the same subjects shot during the winter months—again, this is due to the quality of light.
You may also have to use accessories like a plastic cover for your camera and other gear to prevent rain and snow from damaging electronics. Dust and other particles can also damage your lens and sensor, therefore it’s recommended to carry the appropriate lens wipes and an air blower. Always carry the appropriate gear for inclement weather.
6. Extra Batteries and Memory Cards
Professional photographers always carry extra batteries and memory cards. The reasons are obvious: if you run out of charge, you’re done shooting. If you run out of space on your cards, you’re done shooting.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t act like a professional even if you’re not one by profession. If you’re prepared, then you’re never going to be caught off guard by gear failure and charging issues. Redundancy is key. Pack as many spare batteries and memory cards as necessary, even for short sessions. If you’re using flash units and other accessories, make sure you have extra batteries for those as well.
7. Juxtaposition and Basic Composition
Juxtaposition in terms of photography is two or more elements that are within the same frame. They can either be compared to one another or contrasted. For instance, two young boys playing and two old men sitting would be a perfect example of a juxtaposition.
Training your eyes to see juxtapositions and other patterns, like leading and parallel lines, are important to hold your viewers’ interest in your compositions.
On the subject of composition, adhering to the basics, like the Rule of Thirds, is always good if you’re not exploring more complex possibilities, like say, the Golden Ratio. Most cameras have the option to add gridlines to your viewfinder or LCD screens when in live view.
The gridlines feature often has only one option or defaults to the Rule of Thirds view. Either way, it’s a good feature to have activated while shooting to improve your composition.
8. Learn to Post-Process Your Images
Post-processing or photo editing is vastly important if you want to have your images stand out from the masses. Too many photographers opt to avoid programs like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop when they’re beginning to learn photography. This is either because these programs are too expensive or difficult to learn.
The good news is, you’re not only stuck with Adobe products, although they are considered among the best and usually come with free trials. Other less expensive options include Affinity Photo, DxO PhotoLab, and Capture One.
There are also plenty of free Photoshop alternatives you can use to start editing your photos.
9. Use a Polarizing Filter
A polarizing filter is a photographer’s best friend. Most DSLRs and mirrorless camera lenses can make good use of these. It’s highly recommended to use a polarizing filter on your lenses for two important reasons.
Polarizing filters are clear or slightly gray in appearance and serve to reduce atmospheric haze and other environmental distortions, like reflections. They also increase the color saturation in images, which landscape, architectural, and street photographers utilize to get the most out of a scene.
Another reason to use polarizing filters is to protect your lenses. Having another layer of glass over your lens will prevent scratches, smudges, dirt, water, and other unwanted elements from damaging your lens. Most polarizing filters cost only a fraction of that of a new lens, so it’s a great way to cheaply insure your gear.
10. Always Use a Regular Camera Strap
There are many fancy ways to hold your camera with the assistance of various camera strap accessories, like slings and wrist straps. But the best practice is to use just a regular camera strap, likely the one that came with your camera. Why?
When you’re actively shooting, a regular camera strap can be adjusted so that it securely holds the camera in your hand. If someone or something bumps into your camera hand, your camera won’t fall to the ground.
Also, there may be times when you’ll need both hands free for other reasons than shooting. With a regular camera strap, you’ll be able to wear your camera around your neck. If you use some kind of wrist strap, you’ll have to undo the strap and set your camera down someplace, which increases the chances of your camera getting damaged or stolen.
Street Photography Is an Excellent Way to Learn Photography
The skillsets of street photography easily apply to most other genres of photography. Street photographers rely on speed, anticipation, and patience, as well as a host of other skills that are learned only from photographing subjects in public spaces.
Having the right gear for the job and using a preferred photo editing software is extremely helpful in advancing from a beginner to an advanced or expert photographer. There are no shortcuts. Learning the fundamentals of photography will certainly elevate your craft, regardless of genre.