February 23, 2021

Banner image by Brandin Colon.

Street photography can be one of the most difficult types of photography yet at the same time, hold some of the lowest barriers of entry. On the one hand, you have to work for every shot. The scene is constantly changing and you are often dealing with unpredictable human subjects. On the other hand, all you need to get started is a camera, a public space and a bit of courage.

Breaking into the world of street photography is an exciting endeavour and if you’re itching to learn how to dive in, here are our top tips! 

1 Think about your composition

There’s a preconceived notion that all street photography is candid and spontaneous. Sure, there is always an element of unpredictability when it comes to urban photography but at the same time, the same classic rules of photography still apply. Don’t go blindly pointing your camera and hoping for the best.

When starting out with street photography, you should first think about the scene and the type of compositions you might be able to shoot. Look for leading lines, remember your rule of thirds, think about the subject of the photo and where the viewer’s eye is going to be naturally drawn towards. Once you have nailed down your rough composition, imagine the scene with people in it. Where would be the best place for them to stand or walk? Visualize how it might look with moving subjects and the patiently wait. Stay for as long as you need to get your shot.

marcin-skalij winter street photo
Photo by Marcin Skalij

2. Find the right light

Good light always seems to be the crux of a good photo and of course, golden hour is often lauded as the gold standard for photography light but there are plenty of ways you can get creative with the different light available in an urban environment.

Harsh mid daylight is often considered a no go in photography but if you play your cards right, you might be able to make it work. Harsh light can create dramatic contrasts in the photo which is great for street shots. If the lighting is blowing out the colours, consider switching the photo to Black and White in Lightroom when editing.

If you’re shooting later in the afternoon or early evening, you’ll also be able to play around with the many sources of artificial light in the city. Lamp posts, car headlights, lit up street signs all offer plenty of opportunity for creativity.

Person taking a photo of a city street in winter by Carl van den boomPhoto by Carl van den Boom. 

3. Choose your lens

Choosing the right lens for street photography requires walking a fine line between a lens that can get the photo you want and a lens that is discreet enough to not draw too much attention to you as the photographer because let’s be honest, most people feel slightly uncomfortable when they realize they are being photographed so the more inconspicuous, the better.

A telezoom lens is great for capturing portraits at distance but the long bulky lens tends to draw lots of attention to you as the photographer. A wide-angle lens will give you a big sweeping image but may distort your image.

Most street photographers agree that if you’re going to only take one lens on your shoot, the 35mm prime lens is the clear winner. This classic focal length provides a wide enough viewing angle that captures everything you want while still giving a natural perspective of the environment.

Person taking a photo in the streets
photo by Carl van den Boom

4. Dial your settings

Your settings will depend on what you’re trying to capture in the scene but unless you have a telezoom lens or you’ve asked permission to shoot a portrait, you shouldn’t focus too much on the depth fo field. We recommend keeping the aperture somewhere in the middle (f/5.6 - f/9) which will help keep the majority of your image in focus.

If you’re aiming to freeze the motion of the city, you should have at least a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second. If you want some motion blur to show movement, you can go down to about 1/60 before you need to involve a tripod.

We recommend keeping the ISO as low as possible to reduce noise so once you’ve dialled down your aperture and shutter speed, choose the lowest level of ISO that will still give you enough light to capture your image.

bicycling in snowy city streets
Photo by Herr Bohn.

5. Pack minimal gear

Part of being a street photographer is blending in and quietly capturing a natural scene unfolding in front of you. Street photographers aim to tell a story about the urban world and how humans interact with public space so if you want to get a genuinely candid moment, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself because once you’ve been found out, people stop being candid and start being awkward.

As a photographer, you don’t want to be someone who is dragging around a tripod and multiple lenses. If you can, stick to one lens and ditch the tripod. Not only will this help you move around and be more flexible, but it will also force you to get creative. You won’t be able to rely on different focal lengths and instead will need to move around to get the shot you want.

For winter street photography, remember to wear warm clothes and dress in good layers. Once you have found your ideal composition, you may be waiting a while for your subjects to appear and complete your scene. A good beanie to keep your head heat in and a solid pair of photography gloves will keep you out there longer but don’t stress too much. If you get too cold, a warm cafe and a hot cup of coffee are never too far away in the city.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo.
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

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