Street photography is about capturing life as it happens where it happens. There’s very little that is staged or managed in street photography. It’s raw, it’s the world as it really is, and it’s beautiful in the very essence of the meaning.
The act of street photography itself is where a photographer steps out into the world and takes unprompted candid shots of the world around them, and those within it. Just because the word street is in the name, that doesn’t mean that it has to happen in the streets. You can just as easily be a “street photographer” in any other setting.
The core of street photography is in the realism that it offers. It’s a fly-on-the-wall, documentary style of photography that shows people the world they live in.
Even though street photography sounds a lot like it’s a free-flowing and completely open sort of affair, there are some rules around it. Some of these even have a basis in legalities in some countries, but the majority of them are based on a moral code that most street photographers follow.
Maybe calling them rules is the wrong choice of word, in fact, what follows could be considered a code of conduct or a set of ethics. Whatever you decide to call it, the following list should generally be adhered to by any street photographers, wherever they are.
When you’re ready to take your first steps outside, camera in hand, and venture into the world of street photography there are a few tips that you should bear in mind before getting started. These tips and tricks should get you well underway:
When you’re starting out shooting from a distance is a great way to build confidence. You might not get the up-close detail that you desire, but you’ll get some great shots with lots of contexts naturally built in. Try to avoid using long-distance telephoto lenses when street photographs. Yes, you’ll get some up-close shots, but you’ll also look like a private investigator or a member of the paparazzi.
If you spot someone or something that you’d like to shoot, take the shot from the other side of the street. If someone spots you and asks what you’re doing taking their photo, go for the truth. That you’re looking to find beauty and great photos around you and you thought they’d be a great fit. Rarely will that be met with disdain, and if it is, offer to delete and move on.
The inside is a nice forcefield that can protect you from some of the intensity of shooting on the street itself. Position yourself by a window and take shots as the world passes you by. This tends to work best in areas with high foot traffic or a changeable scene. You’ll likely need to work against some reflections and lighting issues, but positioned right you should have very few issues to contend with.
Your camera, your lenses, and your whole kit should become, eventually, an extension of yourself. You want to know all of your settings inside out so that given any scene you’re able to take the best possible picture. Many street photographers focus on aperture priority with an Auto ISO. This gives you really quick camera speed so that you can capture those split-second moments happening.
If you’re looking for the best quality image you should shoot RAW and then use post-production to clean up pictures.
Shooting someone front on is certainly intimidating, especially if you haven’t asked their permission first. There are many occasions where taking someone’s photo from behind can create just as powerful an image. When starting out this is a great option to reduce the nerves.
Photographing silhouettes is a nice way to avoid shooting people or objects directly, plus when someone is silhouetted they are all but anonymous. Look for bright backgrounds or light sources and a subject that can pass in front of them. Just be careful that your silhouettes don’t blend into each other otherwise you’ll lose the clarity of the shot.
Street photography can’t be forced. It needs to come about organically. If you force it then you’ll either end up with a posed-style photo or you’ll end up upsetting people who don’t necessarily want their photo taken. Rest assured that the opportunity will present itself for you to take the shot. It might take minutes, hours, or days, but it will come.
Street photography is a special art form that requires a unique kind of photographer. It needs someone that is ready to be patient, ethical, and able to carefully observe the world around them for beautiful opportunities.
Once you’ve taken a great complement of street shots, you’ll likely find that some editing will be required. A great place to start is Pixelcut’s suite of free tools.