I’ve always loved street photography. It’s easy, it’s fun, and it has a colorful history. But if you want better street photography, what do you do? Here are five tips I’ve found to be most useful when it comes to taking better street photos.
Five Tips for Better Street Photography
Forget the Rules
When you research street photography, you’ll find a lot of opinions on the subject. Some people even label these opinions as rules. Truth is, no one has really codified what street photography is or isn’t, in any concrete terms. Or if they have, I call BS and say you should forget about it. If you want a working definition, consider it “capturing the essence of humanity – directly or indirectly – in an urban environment”. Use whatever gear you want (DSLR, point and shoot, iPhone), and take whatever approach you want.
Experiment (…with lenses)
Okay, you should just experiment in general, but for DSLR users out there, try different lens setups. Better street photography is arrived at by not only finding your voice or style, but by finding your tools as well. A lot of people will vehemently oppose any lens with a focal length outside the 24-28 mm range, while others may extend that to 24-50. Some even recommend longer lenses. Each one has its pros and cons, but suffice to say that if you don’t have brass cajones, and shy away from getting up close and personal with your subjects, you may want to work at 50 mm or longer in terms of lenses.
That being said, my personal favorite would the be 35, 42, or 50 mm focal lengths. Why? The 35 mm mark is a great place to start if you like getting lots of stuff into your frame. Street photography is as much about the environment as the people in it. One shapes the other, and vice versa. Around 40 or 42mm, you begin to see images that mimic scenes as they are perceived by the human eye, which can be a very powerful effect. Of course, the 50 mm focal length gives you a little more distance, but may help in grabbing subjects you don’t necessarily feel right in approaching.
Take Your Time
When you’re trying walking all over town trying to get interesting shots of people in an urban environment, you can easily feel out of place and unwelcome. Everyone else is doing their thing – hurrying to jobs or hurrying home, working or engaging in recreation. I find myself hurrying to take photos and move along as quickly as possible, caught up in the flow of my environment. But that isn’t always good. If you want better street photography, go against the flow and take your time. Don’t rush, taking in the sights and sounds and be aware of everyone around you.
Sometimes, in sketchy neighborhoods, time can be of the essence. When safety is an issue (and it may be depending on time of day and location), you can always double back or walk around the block to get back to your shot.
Candid Shots Rule
This instance of the word “rule” is a verb, not a noun. It’s an opinion of mine – and there are other people out there who might agree – that candid shots are better than non-candid ones. This doesn’t mean you have to be a creep about it, but you should never be afraid or feel bad about taking a photo of someone unawares, so long as it is lawful. Most people would rather see someone doing what they do with a natural look on their face, than someone posing with an awkward grin or smile.
Are there certain pieces of photo gear that can lead to better street photography? Perhaps, but what that gear is, largely depends on your preferences. Choose bags and cameras and lenses that work with you. Eschew a backpack for a messenger bag or a holster-style camera bag. Consider using a smaller, more discrete camera body. And use a lens you feel comfortable using, or have the most fun using.