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Smart Tips on Street Photography for Beginners

Street Photography for beginners

If you are looking forward to start shooting on the street, here are some street photography tips to get you started. Like every genre of photography, you need to have the utmost patience when it comes to street photography. People seem to be in a complete dilemma about what to shoot on the street, what camera to use, what settings to use, when to shoot, how to approach, and so on. Let’s make it a bit easier for you.

What is Street Photography?

a street photograph with shadows of people -- street photography tips
Photo Credits: Martin Hricko

Street Photography is basically all about documenting everyday street life and society at large. Street photography is not necessarily about shooting on the road. It can also be done inside a mall, at a railway station, airport, restaurant, park, beach, inside public transport or subways, in grocery stores, or any such public places.

The best thing about street photographs is that they are candid, in most cases. However, you won’t be breaking the rules if you take permission before taking a photograph of a stranger or of any personal property. The sole motive of street photography is to capture humanity and its many moods.

Cameras, Lenses, and Technical Settings in Street Photographs

Shooting on the street with a DSLR is a good habit, if you have one. But even a good point-and-shoot or a mobile camera (not less than 5 megapixel) can be a good option. Street photography started with Leica but now cameras like Olympus OM-D E-M5 have taken over this genre of photography. However, if you don’t own such mirror-less cameras, there’s nothing to worry about. You can always use a DSLR on the street discreetly. Try not to spend a lot of time in choosing cameras for street photography.

When it comes to lens, the focal length varies according to the usage. Remember, wide angle lenses allow you to capture your subject from a wider perspective when you are doing street photography.

You can take the following criteria into consideration while choosing lenses for your camera:

  • Avoid using lenses with focal length larger than 85mm.
  • Lenses with focal lengths between 70-200 mm or larger are not suitable for street photography.
  • Try using lenses with focal lengths lying between 17-55 mm or 10-22 mm. Lenses with focal lengths of 24 mm (minimum) or 55 mm (maximum) are suited for this purpose.

Using large lenses will make your subjects feel uncomfortable and you will end up drawing too much attention on the streets. Always remember that your subjects should be at ease. In street photography, the subject as well as its environment is equally important.

While setting up your camera for the perfect shot, three things should be kept in mind: the shutter speed, the ISO and the aperture. Shooting on the street in broad daylight requires fast shutter speed (1/100th of a second), minimum ISO (not more than 400 depending on the availability of light) and a small aperture to achieve high depth of field for foregrounds and backgrounds. To control all these factors simultaneously, you have to use manual mode. Becoming a pro in handling the manual mode requires time. If you are a beginner, go for the Av mode (Aperture priority mode) or Tv mode (Shutter priority mode). Proper understanding of exposure difference between the light and shadowy areas of the street is necessary to capture good pictures. While shooting at night or in the evening, try using prime lenses to avoid grains (due to high ISO) and camera shake (due to slow shutter speed).

What to look for when shooting in the streets

You can try these:

  • Decisive moments

Try to look for unusual situations on the street. Time is an important factor in street photography, and so you must always be ready with your camera because you never know when the right moment will turn up. A decisive moment can be any kind facial expression, action or movement, hand gesture or position of a person in the frame. Keep an eye open for such situations.

  • Emotion

While composing your shots, always look for strong emotion. Emotion on the street can include pain, happiness, sadness, anxiety, humor, love, youth, loneliness and just about anything. Try to connect with the people on the streets to capture the strong emotive content in your photographs.

  • Graphical or visual elements

It is not always necessary to bring out emotions in a street photograph. Like many street photographers, you too can go for pure visual elements when composing a street photograph. There is a lot of geometry out on the streets. Light, shadows, strong diagonal lines, leading lines, interesting shapes, curves and patterns are important visual elements which you can implement in your photographs.

  • Self-Portraits

You can superimpose yourself into your photographs with strong reflections and shadows. Self-portraits can be an interesting subject when you are out on the streets. Did you know that you can capture interesting frames and add a sense of drama in your photographs just by including yourself in it?

Try applying a creative touch to the commonly found objects and urban landscapes that you generally notice on the streets. The biggest hindrance for a street photographer is the fear to shoot in public with everyone watching them. This is one of the most important factors you need to work on in street photography as a beginner. The best antidote to this is walking the streets regularly with your camera in hand.

While shooting outside, you need to explore every corner of the street, improve your sense of intuition, indulge yourself in conversation, spend time with your subject, be patient and always be on the lookout for newer photography elements.

And whenever you are in doubt, just go by the words of the renowned street photography aficionado, Robert Capa, from the Magnum photographer’s organization, “The pictures are there, and you just take them”.

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Tristan Taylor

Tristan Taylor, a proficient fashion photographer, is associated with various photography workshops, seminars and symposiums. He keeps himself updated with nitty-gritties of fashion photography industry. Tristan found Gulf Photo Plus extremely helpful to extract information regarding Fine art printing, Giclee print and other aspects related to photography.

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