When it comes to street (or urban) photography, one of the most asked questions is what exactly is street photography? If you search for it, you might find close-ups of laughing faces, silhouettes in front of a sea of light or inverted skyscrapers that disappear into foggy expanses.
It’s a difficult question to answer because this photographic field is all-encompassing. It can involve architecture, landscape, portraiture, black and white, long-exposure and even macro.
But not just any photograph taken on the street, off the street or from the street counts as urban photography.
Landscapes are not street photographs and neither are studio portraits, for example. Urban photography takes into account specific compositional guidelines, the speed of photo taking and also different camera equipment. It covers a very wide range of styles and subjects while embodying its own techniques.
No other area of photography is so diversified. The public space is an ever-changing environment and it needs a wide range of themes to capture it.
Only in street photographs would you want shot-from-the-hip or blurry, out of focus, images.
It’s also one photography area where you want to read as much as possible about the law, understanding what you can and can’t photograph while sticking to strict ethical codes.
Just like urban photography itself, the camera choices for it are very diverse. The possibilities come down to what you are going to photograph and your own style.
Focusing on people, capturing them fast and candidly requires one type of camera. Photographing empty spaces, another.
This article goes through eight of the best cameras to use for street photography. It looks at rangefinders, DSLRs and mirrorless options.
Lenses, like camera options, come down to what you want to photograph. Are you aiming to get into people’s faces like Bruce Gilden (he uses a 28mm)? Or going for something that keeps you a little more hidden, like a telephoto lens?
Either way, lenses are the tool that defines your relationship with the subject. They also offer you emphasized depth of fields.
This article helps you understand what lenses are available and what the benefits of each are.
If you are trying to decide between the 35mm lens and the ‘nifty fifty’ 50mm lens, why not have both? These are both prime lenses, which means zooming isn’t possible, but attaining a greater depth of field is.
They both offer different results. The 35mm will capture more of the scene, whereas the 50mm has no distortion, unlike the former lens option.
This article goes through the positive and negative points surrounding both lenses, to help you choose the right one (or both).
One of the great things about being a street photographer is that if you miss that perfect, morning light, you can keep shooting. Whether harsh or muted, reflected or fired from a flash, there is no bad light in street photography.
Shards of light, falling through buildings in a built-up city, bouncing off windows and creating a dappled look on the pavement are just some of the many possibilities.
Have a look through this guide for inspiration and help to take advantage of all of those different light sources.
The number one rule of street photography is: always have a camera on you. This can even be your smartphone.
Nowadays, smartphones have the capacity to photograph using a large pixel size, which means good quality and sharable too! There are also tons of downloadable apps that can help you adjust the settings and even replicate old film styles.
Mobile shooting is its own niche within the expansive world of photography. This article gives you the low-down on how to use your device to capture great images.
There are benefits to photographing digitally (immediate images) over using film (subject selectivity). Digital photography allows you to make sure you have the photographs before you move on to your next location. This could be 10 shots or 1000.
Film, compared to digital, is slow, costly, time-consuming and problematic. But it still has a huge following in the photography world. Read here to get the best out of your photographic film and aid you in reflecting more on your own work.
The camera and lens are important to get the most out of your images. There are a few things you will definitely benefit from having, out on the street.
A good, ergonomic bag (your back says thanks) is a must and so is an umbrella for those moments of harsh weather. A lightweight, mini-tripod could also be an advantage for long exposures.
Read here for a few other suggestions to help you get the most out of your time on the street.
Because you are taking your camera everywhere with you (rule no.1), you will need to put it somewhere when you aren’t using it. A bag is also very important if you want to keep your camera safe, from the weather as much as from theft.
It is the storage unit for all of your camera gear and accessories, all neatly compartmentalised in one area.
Pockets or separators within bags are very helpful. They keep your equipment from getting damaged and knocked about. Some will even have space for laptops and reading material, plus all those little things you have no idea what to do with (tripod heads, cables, etc.).
What this article recommends is to use a bag that is spacious yet ambiguous. Read more to find out why and other tips for choosing the best camera bag for street photography.
Camera Settings for Street Photography
One question you might need to ask yourself is “Am I going to photograph in colour, or monochrome?” Black and white images have very definitive qualities that colour doesn’t give you, and vice-versa.
They might focus more on contrast or varying degrees of detail in the greys found between the blackest and whitest areas.
Some photographers shoot in black and white and revert back to colour during post-processing. Others do the exact opposite.
If you are using digital (and raw) this decision can be changed at a later stage. Film, however, doesn’t offer the same freedom, unless you digitalise the negatives.
Have a run through this article to see where colour might be a better choice over black and white.
There are settings you can apply to your camera and lens before you start shooting so that you can work faster and more efficiently.
One great tip that this article recommends is that pre-focusing is better and faster than auto-focusing. The basic idea is similar to playing space invaders. Shoot where they are going, not where they are.
This means that you are anticipating the subject, not trying to catch them up.
How to Shoot Powerful Street Photographs
What Is Street Photography?
This great article runs through the (lack of) definition of what street photography is, to which there is no one answer. Street photography encompasses many other photographic themes.
These could be portraiture and landscape and don’t even necessarily have to be taken on, from or of an actual street.
It’s all about human essence, and to be a good photographer of the street, you need to show this in all its glorious forms.
It can be overwhelming to see the world play out on this stage in front of you. It could take some time and practice to gain a selective vision of what you want from all of the available possibilities.
This article will help you get a better understanding of street photography and make it a little less daunting.
Getting started can be the most difficult task within street photography. You have your equipment and accessories neatly packed away in your bag and you are ready to hit the road. What next?
This article from a weathered street photographer really helps to give you a comprehensive look at all aspects of urban/street photography. Going from a brief history, to what she uses in term of equipment to be able to photograph the amazing images she does.
She also goes through tips on how to start and areas you should focus on. Get out there and have fun!
Whether you are shooting from the hip or going for a more set-up shot, life on the street is fast. You will need a high shutter speed to capture all this.
Something else that might help you get the images you want is not to move too much. If you spend a decent amount of time in one place, you might find that the action comes to you.
This is very helpful, especially if your location has a high-interest value, giving you a leading line or natural frame.
These are just a few of 7 great tips to help you progress with your street photography and create images you are happy with.
There are ethics in most areas of photography, typically when photographing people. This could be travel, documentary or fashion photography. Street photography is no different, as you might be photographing people in the public domain.
Empathy and respect should be the watchwords of photographing people on the street. You are putting yourself in their sphere of influence and into their daily life.
Some people will not want to be photographed and might ask for you to delete your images, others may even become confrontational.
Be aware of your surroundings by taking time to look around and getting a feel of a person before you photograph them. Put yourself in their shoes is a great piece of advice from this article on street photography ethics.
Photographing the street covers many themes, and there are just as many styles to go about doing so. If you wanted to follow in the footsteps of Doisneau, then you would be part of an unobtrusive style.
The opposite would be following the style of Bruce Gilden, as getting into people’s faces would be very obtrusive.
Are you looking for more of a documentary project of life on the streets, or something more fine art related? The former focuses on speed and realism and the latter would require time finding locations and setting up shots.
In this article, the writer goes through many different possible styles. With this, you can narrow down what kind of street photographer you aspire to be while giving you tips and ideas.
We have already covered the ethics of photographing people, now how to do it? You might be a little timid at the beginning and stick to shooting from afar with a telephoto lens.
It takes guts and nerves of steel to close that gap when photographing people, and that’s okay.
Once you do get close enough, you might even realise that most people either turn away or play up to the camera, stopping all ideas of realism fast.
One of the best things about being a street photographer is that after sundown, you have a completely new landscape to photograph. The locations you have spent all day photographing are now revamped areas of neon lights and speeding taxi cabs.
Here, the light becomes the prominent focus and your ISO will need to shoot up to balance the loss of light, or your exposure time needs to lengthen.
There are many ways you can take photos of the street. This you can see from the thousands of photographs published each day. There are also many photographers to emulate, from old masters to new Instagram feeds.
When we look at the street, one of the biggest tips is to try and take a photograph that makes the area different. Remember, the street is what people see all the time. We need to make it captivating to steal the viewer’s attention.
Let your creativity run wild. A part of you goes into every photograph. A creative photograph over a technically perfect image will win every time.
Street photography isn’t just about the street, it looks at the human condition, fashion and landscape. Researching about these topics might get you to see the street in a different way and create something unique.
Rain and other harsh weather conditions can really add some power to your street photography. It can turn a dull street into a sea of reflections, bouncing back images of the passing people and the buildings above. It adds a stunning textured effect to otherwise plain windows.
The people’s reaction is also a great theme to capture, which you might find easier to capture. The public will concentrate on staying dry, not you photographing them.
The weather shouldn’t stop you shooting. Grab an umbrella, take a camera you can put in harm’s way (Ricoh GR II rather than your Leica M) and get out there.
How to Use Reflections Creatively
Reflections in and around the street are everywhere. You can find them in shop windows, on all kinds of transport, such as cars and buses, and even on the pavement after a rainy afternoon. These are great ways to show the city bouncing towards you.
One huge benefit of these is that you can find ways to include two scenes in one and make what is almost a double exposure. You get two scenes for the price of one.
A great way to take advantage of these reflections would be a self-portrait project, following Vivian Maier.
This article gives you an in-depth idea of what to look for, and how to shoot them.
We get it, people can be a drag. You saved up enough money to be able to travel far enough to photograph your favourite landmark. The time has come.
Except, it is already swarming with people. These people ruin the shot, and it just wouldn’t be the same with them in it. It’s no good hung on the wall now.
Lines are a great way to help compose your images to give them that extra wowfactor. Lines can draw your eye to a subject, or take it away, out of the frame. They can also give a sense of direction, which in itself is movement in a still image and interesting.
These lines are everywhere. If you stand under a very tall building looking up, all the lines will converge and your eyes will follow them to the top. A long street, handrail, or zebra crossing are all examples of what can be found – you just have to keep your eyes open and look for them.
Natural frames are a great compositional tool, and a great way to, well, frame your subject. These exist everywhere, from doorways and windows to arches and vegetation. It is all about focusing on your subject. By framing them, you isolate and highlight what you want the viewer to focus on.
Street photography is all about photographing your surroundings. This technique helps you use the street as a tool or element in creating captivating images.
Understandably, photographing people on the street is not easy. Even when you finally pluck up the courage to get close enough, the people do not react how you want. They shy away, pose or start interacting with you. Worse, they could become confrontational or even violent.
Hopefully, you have read through our article on how to photograph people. Another great tip is to shoot-from-the-hip. This term means to photograph without using your eyes to compose the photograph. This is a faster, sneakier way to take images, but way less accurate.
Some photographers use what is known as a TLR (Twin Lens Reflex camera) which is used to frame by looking down into the viewfinder. The camera doesn’t go up to your eye level.
This is a great way to take candid photographs because people focus on eyes and faces. Bringing a camera to your face cuts the eye contact between you and strangers. It would be almost impossible to miss that you are photographing them.
By shooting from the hip, you end this problem. But, it’s a compromise between a candid photograph and a well-framed composition.
Using juxtaposition is a great tool in the world of picture taking. These work very well within the theme of street photography. The basic idea is that you place two or more contrasting objects in close proximity.
This can be something physical, like light and dark areas of a scene. They can also be something more ideological. A homeless person sleeping outside of Louis Vuitton is a juxtaposition, as are old and young people with happy and sad emotions. The two subjects add a photographic weight from their presence, which can be balanced or unstable.
These images work because they invoke an emotion or feeling from the viewer. They show the world we live in and how life is so contrasted. These subjects bring out the extremes in each other.
Negative space simply refers to the area that surrounds the subject or subjects in your image. The technique of using negative space effectively is about creating the right balance.
Here, you concentrate on the relationship between the subject(s) and the background. You can make the background almost feel like it is receding away.
Positive space, on the other hand, refers to the primary subjects of a photograph. Positive and negative space can dance well together. For more information on how to create and utilise negative space, read our article here.
Once you start looking for patterns, you’ll start seeing them everywhere. Everything has a pattern if you are close-enough or far away enough to see them.
Many of the best street photographers are adept at recognizing (and often breaking) patterns. They can be both man-made and natural.
Architectural photography is an excellent genre for finding geometrically perfect patterns. Finding the patterns and showing them off is a challenge in itself.
We know about the main ideas of composition. Rule-of-thirds, leading lines and contrast are the standard. But as the street is ever changing and very dynamic, it requires competent compositions.
Step out of the box a little, don’t be afraid of trying something new and even going against the general compositional rules. You might find that it works for you and your style in creating something unique.
Be bold, direct and shock people. Use lenses you are not used to. Try perspectives you haven’t tried, such as lying on the floor and shooting up. You will be surprised at the outcomes.
Post-Processing Street Photography
Lightroom is probably the easiest way to post-process your images. It has everything you might need, it is fast and can house many presets to do the work for you.
It also acts as a library for all of the photographs you take, which can be accessed with the click of a button.
This article helps run through the whole process from start to finish. Starting by selecting your images in the library module and ending with the finished result. You will be very happy with your images, even after only tweaking them slightly.
Presets are a great addition to any photographic workflow, not just street photography. These presets manipulate your images quickly and efficiently.
This means you can focus more on photographing and still get the best out of your work. It is also a great advantage to have a series of works with the same look and feel, which you can do effortlessly.
This article gives shows you ten free presets and lets you know what the changes are to your images. You are in control, every step of the way.
If you are the minority who likes to use Capture One instead of Lightroom or Photoshop, then this article is for you. This is a comprehensive guide and walkthrough to editing your images in post-production. From importing, to rating and to the final output, this really has everything you might need.
There is also information about the styles that Capture One uses, which will help with your workflow, and in turn, your images.
Processing images on your mobile has its benefits. If you photograph with your smartphone, it helps to keep everything in the same place. It is also easy to share from the same device. You can even process the images in the same location as you shot the image.
This is great because if the image doesn’t work so well in post-processing, you have the possibility to re-shoot. There are many apps you can use for your images, and photographers tend to use more than one. Different development companies offer different things.
There are apps that replicate old film styles from the 80’s that no longer exist. Others that can turn your images into double exposures. This article gives you smart choices for your smartphone, to take your street photography to the next level.
Street Photography Laws
You might be photographing the street, and then turn your camera to point it at a building that seems interesting. As soon as you do, a security guard comes to tell you that you need to have permission.
Photographers in the past have been harassed and searched for photographing things others tell them they shouldn’t. This is where knowing your rights really help you as a photographer.
These laws are to help you be creative and as free as possible, but you need to know them. This will stop you from taking unnecessary risks, cut down on wasting time and get stunning images you can use. Some photographers even resort to carrying around parts of the law with them in case of being stopped.
Wherever you might be, there are rights and laws protecting photographers and protecting the people in public areas. This article links to pages looking at the rights and laws in different countries, from Australia to the USA.
Every country has different laws regarding photography. Some are very strict, like Brazil, where consent is needed to photograph, share and use commercially. Others are very relaxed, such as Singapore, where consent is not needed, except for a few exceptions.
Use this list for a basic idea of what is allowed and what is not. In some countries, the risks are just too great. North Korea is a good example. Even if you are given the opportunity to photograph there, you might find yourself banned from sharing such images online.