If you love people watching, then street photography could be perfect for you, and this guide to street photography will guide you through what you need to know about street photography.
Welcome to the AP Improve Your Photography Series – in partnership with MPB – This series is designed to take you from the beginnings of photography, introduce different shooting skills and styles, and teach you how to grow as a photographer, so you can enjoy producing amazing photography (and video), to take you to the next level, whether that’s making money or simply mastering your art form.
Each week you’ll find a new article so make sure to come back to continue your journey. The start may seem basic to some photographers, but it’s an important step in making sure you’re comfortable with your equipment and the basics of photography, as it’s part of the foundations that help build into great photographs, and once you know these, you’ll be able to play with them, and understand further articles in this series.
What is Street Photography?
Street photography is photography that includes random or chance events in public places. It can include people and how they behave, becoming a document recording life in a specific time, period and place. However, street photography doesn’t always have to include people or getting in people’s faces, you can also take an aesthetic approach by looking at buildings, architecture, colours, lights and shapes.
Pioneered by people like Paul Martin, there are a number of other famous photographers who are known for street photography including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Garry Winogrand, and Tony Ray-Jones. Have a look through some of their photographs, and you’ll find inspiration, as well as be able to notice how fashions have changed over the years.
What camera should I use for Street Photography?
The camera – It’s up to you what you use. Some recommend using a small camera, and minimal amounts of kit, but other street photographers have used larger DSLRs like the Nikon D5, and even cameras with a flashgun – hardly subtle! Bruce Gilden is famous for using flash in his street photography. If you don’t already have a camera, and think Street Photography is going to be your primary subject, then have a look at our guide to the best cameras for street photography.
You can use whatever camera you have with you, be that a smartphone, a real camera (more fun), and use autofocus (assuming the camera has it). You may prefer to use a camera with an optical or electronic viewfinder, such as a Digital SLR or Mirrorless camera, or you may prefer to “shoot from the hip” and use a camera with a tilting screen, so you can shoot from down low or high up.
How should I prepare for Street Photography?
Perhaps it goes without saying, but ensure your camera battery is charged, and your memory card has plenty of space. Also make sure your mobile phone has enough charge in case you need it.
The main thing is to be familiar with your camera, and to use the camera you have, if you have a choice between different models, use the camera that brings you the most joy, or you’re most comfortable using in public spaces. In terms of comfort, wear comfortable clothes, and as you’ll most likely be walking a lot, make sure you’re wearing comfortable footwear.
Make sure you’re familiar with the environment you’re photographing, it may make sense to walk around the area with your camera in your pocket the first time you go somewhere to see if you can see any good places to shoot, as well as assess how safe the area is. Don’t worry about the weather, shooting when it’s raining, or when it’s dark, at night, can add a whole new level of atmosphere to an image.
Four “Simple” Steps for Street Photography
1 – Look
It’s no good trying to do street photography if you’re staring at your phone. Put your phone away, and hold onto your camera, ready to shoot when needed. Observe and watch people, look around you, see if there are any interesting sights that could combine to make an interesting photo. You could look for juxtaposition, between the subject, such as a person and the surroundings, this could be matching colours, or contrasting colours. Be on the look out for interesting people, streets, art, and buildings, or anything else that can make for an interesting composition or framing device.
2 – Wait
Patience is key. Be ready for something to happen at any time and expect the unexpected. Often, you’ll need to wait for something to happen. Or wait for the right person to enter the scene or frame. Other times you might have to move to another location, or frame the scene differently by moving your camera, till you find something that looks interesting. Other times you’ll be waiting for the light to bring another element into the scene.
3 – Snap
Take the photo and use a quick enough shutter speed (1/200s), use a bright enough aperture (f/2.8 or similar), use whatever ISO speed is needed to keep your shutter speed quick enough. Noise doesn’t tend to matter too much in street photography, and it’s more important to capture the moment, than worry about noise. Plus, you can always convert the photo to black and white if noise is excessive.
4 – Edit (this is optional)
If you want, you can present your images as they are, especially if you’re more interested in ‘reportage’ photography or simply a record of the people and places you see, but for the most impact, it’s likely you’ll want to edit your photos, whether that’s for contrast or to boost colours, or to crop your images, or you may want to convert your images into black and white (monochrome) images. See our guide to editing photos to make them pop.
Practice makes perfect…
Don’t be discouraged, it takes a lot of practice, and as life unfolds in front of you, you will sometimes get a striking photo, and other times, a number of ordinary, potentially even boring images. Often this is the case with the majority of photographs, and you shouldn’t worry about it. Professional and established photographers don’t show their average photos, but no doubt they’ve got hundreds, if not thousands of normal photographs.
Keep going, if at first you don’t succeed, try again a different day, or at a different time. You may need to work out when somewhere is busy, is it rush-hour, or is it lunchtime? If you’re interacting with other people, remember that a smile goes a long way. You may find people are friendlier if you smile and explain what you are doing, if asked.
Shoot all walks of life, all types of people, warts and all. You’re capturing reality and presenting a view of the world as you see it. So taking photos of your community and life around you is a great way to have fun with photography.
Street photography and the law – make sure you read our guide to street photography and the law, as well as our guide on how to be street smart when out taking street photographs.
More inspirational tips and ideas to inspire your street photography
Street photography is such a popular form of photography, that Amateur Photographer has covered it numerous times, so you’ll find lots of street photography articles on this website, but here are some of our favourites that we think you should have a look at for some more inspiration! Simply click the titles below.
Tips from three professional street photographers:
Black and white street photography tips from Brian Lloyd Duckett and Edmond Terakopian:
10 commandments of street photography:
David Gibson on great street photography:
Heather Buckley on challenging the rules of street photography:
Terms to learn:
- Shooting from the hip – In photographic circles this refers to holding a camera at waist level, or the same level as your hip, and by using a tilting screen you can see what you are taking a photograph of.
- Pop – Making an image “pop” means making the photo stand out, making it more striking or dynamic. This could be by increasing contrast, saturation, and colour, but there are other ways that images can stand out.
Tune in next week, for the next article in the series of the AP Improve Your Photography Series – in partnership with MPB.
- Part 1: Beginners guide to different camera types.
- Part 2: Beginners guide to different lens types.
- Part 3: Beginners guide to using a camera taking photos.
- Part 4: Beginners guide to Exposure, aperture, shutter, ISO, and metering.
- Part 5: Understanding white balance settings and colour
- Part 6: 10 essential cameras accessories for beginners
- Part 7: Beginners guide to the Art of photography and composition
- Part 8: Beginners guide to Photoshop Elements and editing photos
- Part 9: Beginners guide to Portrait Photography
- Part 10: Beginners guide to Macro Photography
Find the latest Improve Your Photography articles here.
If you’re looking for a great lens for street photography, have a look at the best lenses for street photography, or have a look at the best cameras for street photography.
Why not try using smartphones for street photography?
Be sure to stay up to date with street photography and the law before heading out.