Street photography is one of the most popular forms of the art, but it can be tricky to get good results; it takes time, patience and a good eye, not to mention a little chutzpah sometimes! Here are some tips to help get you started.
1. Build Your Confidence
It can take quite a bit of courage to shove your camera in someone’s general direction and actually take a shot. Most people actually don’t care, but it still takes some confidence to actually press that shutter button.
One way to build your confidence is to try shooting in busy events where there are already plenty of photographers around. Most of the shots in this post were taken at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For a few weeks every August, the streets of Scotland’s capital city are packed with performers, touts, tourists – and photographers. Being just one more photographer amongst hundreds meant I had no compunction about pointing my camera at pretty much anyone, least of all the performers – or other photographers!
Try to be open when you take a shot – you’re not doing anything wrong after all. If your subject notices you taking the shot, give them a smile and thumbs up. You’ll soon learn that most people don’t really care. So have a look around for an upcoming event like a fair, car or air show where you won’t be the only photographer and not feel too self-conscious.
2. Use that confidence
Once you’ve built your confidence (or if you’re lucky enough to have it anyway) use it to talk to or otherwise interact with people. Something as simple as pointing to your subject, then the camera to let them know you’ll be taking a shot can initiate a reaction that makes a great photo – whether it’s a smile or a frown. Show your subject the shot and be ready to capture their reaction, or their friends’.
3. Choose your weapon
Or rather, your equipment. Your lens will determine what kind of street photography you’ll be doing. A medium length prime such as a 35mm is a flexible option capable of handling full street ‘landscapes’ right up to three-quarter length portraits on a crop sensor camera. A long lens, say 300mm, will allow you to get more candid shots. Personally I prefer a 70-300mm telezoom. Try both wide-angle and long lenses to find out what suits you best.
4. Consider black and white
Black and white has a couple of advantages when it comes to street photography. Firstly, you’re less likely to get the opportunity for street photography during the Golden Hours, an hour after sunrise or before sunset. You’ll more often than not be shooting in the middle of the day, when the light is worse. Black and white conversion allows for punchier, more dramatic midday shots than colour. Another advantage is that black and white pares away distractions in the form of colour. This is especially true of portraits; the standard phrase is that colour shots capture the clothes, while black and white shots capture the person.
5. Pick an aperture and stick with it
In street photography you often need to think fast and just get the shot, so consider picking an aperture and sticking to it to free you up from thinking about settings. ‘f/8 and be there’ were the words to live by for photojournalists in days gone by. f/8 was aimed more at ensuring a vital detail was captured, and is perhaps not the best choice for the more creative art of street photography. f/4 will give you some creative shallow depth of field and help you get a decent shutter speed for sharper shots, while giving enough depth to prevent focusing problems.
You can either use Aperture Priority mode to fix your aperture and let the camera handle exposure, or if you’re more confident you can use Manual mode to enable you to adjust shutter speed on the fly for more creative results. One final advantage of using one aperture throughout a shoot is that it lends a certain consistency of style across the shots, which can make a street photo project hang together well.